Divinely Disconnected: Demigod Unreviewed

By Jim Rossignol on April 21st, 2009 at 3:28 pm.


What follows can’t really be said to be a review. The plan was that I would write up a “Wot I Think” discussion of Demigod for the week it was released, but that didn’t work out. Having suffered quite a bit of upset on launch, Demigod – which has been heavily patched and continues to evolve – remains troubled. The trouble is nothing to do with game design, it’s to do with the internet. A technical issue. I’ve only been able to connect to a single online game in countless hours of trying, troubleshooting, tweaking, crying. Alec seems similarly blighted. What follows is therefore is the incomplete account of an unhappy soul. But it should also be clear that I think this – in spite of it all – a brilliant game.

From the chiming harp noises of the menu screen to the writhing death-throes of the demigods themselves, Demigod is beautiful. And I don’t mean that lightly: this is one of the most exquisitely presented games I’ve encountered. I’m sure it won’t meet all tastes, but its mix of madness, monstrousness and meticulously detail is somehow exactly what I wanted.

The “gameness” of it is at the forefront: it’s a battle between supernatural beings for the throne of a god: the fiction instantly explains away game logic. It’s a battle on a celestial board. It might be filled with wraiths, giants and other shambling horrors, but it feels as pure as chess.

It is, of course, rather more complex than chess, despite you only having one piece to play with: the demigod. Each arena has two citadels, one light and one dark. The demigods of either side (arenas run up to 5v5) must defend their own citadel and destroy that of the opposing side. The citadels are heavily entrenched, with energy-blasting towers, archer towers, and fortresses (occasionally upgraded with trebuchets) defending the citadel. It’s a strategy game where the turtling has already happened.

Across the map are a series of flags. These represent strategic points and may come with an artifact shop or money making gold-making cog thing attached. They might also be attached to a portal. Portals are at the heart of the battle: from them waves of your forces pour through into the world. On meeting enemy forces, or enemy defences, they begin to attack. As your war-rank increases – through domination of the flags – so your citadel can be upgraded to unleash tougher and more impressive monsters from the portals: angels, dinosaur-trebuchets, giants. The battles can be quite frenzied, with hundreds of causalities on either side. And in the midst of it all are the demigods.

There are eight demigods. Four are assassins, and these are the great fighters and damage dealers. Four are generals, and their powers are in augmenting the efforts of the combatants around them. As the game progresses the demigods rely on two resources to increase their personal power: gold, which allows them to upgrade the citadel, or to purchase items for themselves. And experience. Capturing flags and killing opponents means that you level up, and these open up the trees of skill progression. Choosing your favourite build (ideal for the hours of offline experimentation I’ve been condemned to) is where the greatest pleasure lies in Demigod. Working out how a demigod can be made most brutally effective is a game in itself. (And, it’s worth noting, the game insists on such experimentation and exploration – it doesn’t have any kind of tutorial. This hasn’t been as much of a problem as it might seem.)

Torch Bearer is probably the demigod that most people gravitate towards, not least because he’s top left of the menu. He’s a damage-deal extraordinaire, with a battery of ice and fire powers with personalities to match. Shrill and exuberant with fire, earth-bound and tenebrous with ice. Like all the demigod’s he has a major weakness than needs to be patched up with purchased items – armour, potions, scrolls, powerful bound artifacts. Torch Bearer needs a bit of a hit point buff. And then he’s ready. Floating into a battle and circling everyone in flame, before blasting an opposing god with your fireball: it’s scintillating stuff. I got to grips Torch Bearer quickest of all, and I expect I’ll return to him. The flames are good.

Regulus, the crossbow-equipped angel, is another relatively weak character. But his ranged attack is deadly in world of melee. He’s able to do huge damage to both other demigods and the defensive towers. There’s something about his smarmy face, and the fact that the AI regular uses him effectively, which means he’s my least-played demigod aside from Sedna, but he’s clearly a unique role on the field. I’ll have to experiment with him some more.

Unclean Beast is, apparently, rather popular online. The diseased mega-dog must tap directly into the psyche of gamers, and perhaps that’s why he was the first demigod I used extensively. Something about being fast, but also being a strong melee character must be appealing. Or perhaps it’s the stinky ooze, it’s hard to tell. Unclean Beast, however, is savagely powerful on the field of battle: the damage-over-time infections in his attacks are particularly useful when fight a battle on a number of fronts, and I suspect it’s the all round most powerful melee character. When you just want to put down a lot of damage, he is the way to do it.

The fourth assassin is the iconic walking castle, The Rook. This stone-voiced behemoth is both a builder and a destroyer: awesome against enemy structures, and also able to put down his own, depending on how you choose to develop him as the game progresses. I’ve found him peculiarly vulnerable unless he’s equipped with teleportation items, which allow him (or any god that is able to purchase them) to zip back to base and buff up before heading back into the fray. The giant is quite clearly the most visually impressive of the demigods, and I feel as if Gas Powered missed a trick by not giving him a similarly immense foil among the generals.

The one point where a tutorial might have come in handy would have been in explaining the generals. The first of these, The Oak, I first played without assigning him any additional units whatsoever. He was able to summon wraiths from the copses of his enemies, and I assumed that was his lot. Not so, however, as generals are also able to summon extra creatures with items that only they can buy. There’s something brave about the Oak – his shield state makes him extremely tough, and his general metallic solidity makes you feel confident about sending him into a horrendous melee brawl. As my favourite character I’ve spent a long time playing with him, and he feeds into my defensive, turtling urge: everything I can sinks into buffing him up. More healing potions, more hit-point boosting items, more armour.

The Queen of Thorns – who is woman stamen of a giant writing flower carried on the back of four beetles – is the most bizarre and inspired of the demigod design. She plays in quite an esoteric manner too, with powerful area-of-effect attacks, and shambling monsters which defend her. As with a number of the other gods she can take on different states, giving her access to different powers. She can only summon her shambler minions, for example, when she is cocooned inside the closed flower. Perhaps it’s the sheer weirdness of her, but I hate finding the Queen as an opponent on my field, but also feel uncomfortable playing her. She feels treacherous and unwieldy.

Sedna – a woman riding a sabre-tooth cat – is, as I understand her, the classic healer. She provides huge buffs to minions and demigods alike. She also “silences” other gods, stopping them from deploying various abilities. She’s by far the least interesting design in the game, and therefore the character I’ve spent the least time with.

Finally, Lord Erebus. The floating vampire lord is far the campest of the demigods, but his no less entertaining to play for all that. Buffing him up as an offensive character means you can suck the life out of your opponents in seconds, while making Erebus stronger. He’s good with the minions too, having a bunch of “nightstalker” creatures raised from fallen combatants accompanying him. Playing as Erebus is perhaps the most “general” like of the general players. You do lord over minions, choosing your moment to strike at enemies, aiding your allies as you send in your minions to drag a demigod to his death. Splendid, classic, stuff.

When these gods collide among the hordes of their followers, their abilities going off like fireworks, things really are spectacular. And as engaging as it is to play, so entrancing it is to watch. The game plays well, and looks better. There are some design problems aside from the obvious, larger issues: the UI could be clearer and display more information, the tutorial could exist, the back and forth of the large maps could be less taxing, and mid game could be less about tower-dropping attrition. And yet, I enjoy it enormously. Demigod’s gods are interesting things to play with inside a tactical context that really engages me. There’s no pretense about the gaminess of it and, and when the booming voiceover dude channels Christopher Lee to announce a “double smite” it feels okay: especially as it somehow reminds me more of Clash of The Titans than Unreal Tournament.

And I want to take all this online, to crush my enemies and burn their minions. And cackle. Always the cackle. Alas.

So what about you, readers? How have your excursions into the realm of Demigod treated you? And your favourite demigod?

__________________

« | »

, , , .

93 Comments »

  1. danielcardigan says:

    Waiting on the demo. I’ll probably like it but I suspect the demo will suffice. I don’t do the competitive online thing.

    Still not sure why you guys are so behind this game when by your own accounts you’re not even playing it multiplayer. I get all swept up in the enthusiasm but then the games ultimately let me down. You need to dial back the rhetoric and use less of them flashy adjectives. Downplay expectations, then anything which isn’t abject crap will look good.

    Farcry 2, 2?

  2. Tei says:

    My favorite demigod is “Queen of Thorns”. She is bad news for other people. People tend to ignore it, till midgame, and before. But once you have updated his powers, and some decent mana generation is deadly. the combination of burst damage, and all other guys ignoring you, could be letal. Oack is also fun, but for PVE, imho.

  3. Finn says:

    @daniel: even if you play it offline it’s still great.
    I’ve been mostly doing solo tournaments and a couple of skirmishes with a mate or two and it’s great; feels like dota, plays almost like dota but without the micromanaging; the skills become second nature and it’s great grinding the little enemy buggers, putting a poison on a enemy demigod and then finishing him off. My favourites are the Unclean Beast and the Oak.

    I just hope they eventually add more demigods or at least give tools to allow players to make them; if the later happens, then I guess dota will disappear entirely and a booming community of players will appear with new maps, new demigods, items, etc.

  4. Jim Rossignol says:

    Still not sure why you guys are so behind this game when by your own accounts you’re not even playing it multiplayer.

    Because Stardock paid us off with gold! GOLD!!! RICH AT LAAAAAST! Because it’s still awesome single player? I’ve sunk hours and hours into it, and love it, which makes my offline exile all the more excruciating.

  5. Gorgeras says:

    I remain convinced the Unclean Beast is innuendo.

    I can’t figure the Torch Bearer out. I would have though his strength was a combination of Fire and Frost spells, changing between forms even gives a mild buff for a short duration, but this has turned out to be disastrous every time. It’s best to just focus on one: fire for Slaughter and Conquest and frost for Domination and Fortress game types. Changing forms has very limited benefit after level 6 for any reason. Fire especially contains a mana buff at the end of it’s branches that easily makes up for not getting the Frost aura in the other.

    Unclean Beast so far seems to be the most ridiculously powerful demigod, with no obvious weaknesses.

  6. SirKicksalot says:

    I regularly play it using Hamachi. The most difficult AI is impossible to defeat even when having humans in your team!

    The Rook is my favourite. His combat upgrades are amazing. Landing the hammer on top of a dozen “soldiers” is extremely satisfying, and I love it how he absorbs buildings. It feels somehow organic…
    I also find a weird pleasure in raising light towers and channeling the laz0r beams through him.

  7. Jim Rossignol says:

    Yeah the building-destruction Rook power is really splendid.

  8. Chiablo says:

    Tell me this…

    Is there a hotkey that will select JUST my demigod? I hate having to press M to select my minions, have them walk in front of me, and have to click on my Demigod to tell him not to run headlong into the fray.

    And is there a way to tell how many minions of each type I still have alive? A numeric indicator would be nice, because right now the only way I can tell is to try casting the summoning spell and see if I get an error message.

    These two things are preventing me from playing the General classes.

  9. MrMud says:

    I have only played a few games online and pretty much all of them have ended with everyone else disconnecting, at first I didnt even notice it because in pantheon games the game will fill out the rooster with AI players that have names that seem to be real players. In fact the only way to see that they are actually real is by checking that their ping is higher than 0.

    For now I have stopped playing as the Achivement/Favor system is completely broken and is constantly resetting, this combined with the quitting players makes it less fun than it could be.

  10. bansama says:

    Waiting on the demo. I’ll probably like it but I suspect the demo will suffice. I don’t do the competitive online thing.

    Same here. I’m tempted by the game, despite all the problems surrounding it, but that price tag just puts me off without a demo.

  11. Kestrel says:

    They’re bringing in global proxy servers this week, Jim. Hopefully that solves your connection issues because the game gets much deeper when you have 6 good players.

  12. Ginger Yellow says:

    I’ve had a grand total of two multiplayer games with actual other players. It took me a few to realise they were all bots. Apart from that, and the tutorial/documentation issue, I’m utterly, utterly loving it. Most fundamentally, it manages to make you feel like an important part in an epic battle without overwhelming you (as Men of War sometimes does). Also, it hides deceptive strategic depth under a fairly simple structure. Like Jim, I’m mostly an Oak, and I love the way there seem to be so many viable builds and strategies (the lack of functional multiplayer may be something to do with this), depending on the map and opponents. I started out as a minion farmer, focusing my money and upgrades on idols, Dead Ward and Soul power. That worked quite well, even without much micromanagement. At the harder levels, I realised I needed to micromanage my minions more than I cared to, so I switched to more of a melee build with Penitence, shield and surge of faith. This worked even better. Then there’s the whole buff yourself or your team dynamic, which adds another layer of strategy. I tend to spend quite selflessly, say 2 to 1 on citadel improvements vs items for me, avoiding large conflicts and stealing unguarded flags until mid game. This really works out on the larger maps, which I adore (just stock up on teleportation scrolls or the teleport favour item).

    What I’m saying, is that I’ve spent most of the last couple of days thinking up new approaches to try out in the evening. If that’s not the mark of a good game, I don’t know what is. Now if only I could try them out on other people.

  13. MonkeyMonster says:

    *shakes fist*
    I’ve got lots of games to play and I really want(ed) to play this too but was going to wait until I finished a few outstanding ones…
    But now you’ve opened the proverbial Hamleys Toy Store in the Orphanage of the World and I cannot resist…
    All the backstories of the demi-gods are on the [demigod] site and reading them is quite amusing… Some are blatantly evil – nosferato, unwashed dog and thorn lady but sedna far less so, I did wonder how she would fit in…
    Canny wait captain!

    Oh and Ginger – yes indeed sir, that is a good chuffin indicator of a game! Its when they start to invade your dreams that you might need to cut back :D

  14. DK says:

    “Is there a hotkey that will select JUST my demigod?”
    Yes. You can configure it in the options menu. Also, you probably want to configure the health toggle (something many people claim the game dosen’t even have – RTFM!) to something your keyboard actually has – GPG forgot as so many developers do, that the US keyboard layout is quite different from others.

  15. KJR says:

    My favorite so far has been the Queen. Dropping a big AOE bomb in the midst of my opponents is tremendously satisfying. Bramble shield is pretty nice too. For Assassins, I like the Beast.

    I was surprised to see how much I enjoy all the DG’s I’ve played so far. It sounds like I need to get back to the Oak soon…

    Still just playing it PvE, as I like to feel fairly competent at comp-stomping before I move onto the trials of flesh and blood competition, even if they can be fundamentally different.

  16. Xocrates says:

    I don’t really have a favorite yet. I experimented with Oak quite a bit, but my most played is probably the Rook.

    I’m a bit divided regarding the skill tree. On one hand it allows for more variability, on the other being unable to max out all skills (something that would happen in Dota by the time you reached max level) can cause you to risk ending with a crappy build, meaning that I tend to gravitate towards what I know already works, even though I’m aware that I’m forgoing some awesome stuff.

    A good case in point is the above mentioned rook building destruction. It’s nice and all, but if I don’t charge the buildings until I’m decently level I don’t really know why to invest in it when I can level and get enough money to upgrade so he has life steal and crits for around 2500-3000 damage. Towers go down fast!

  17. Galbrezu says:

    It’s so good, but yeah multiplayer has been painful.

    I’ve definitely had more luck then a lot of other people managed to get 4 solid games in last night with the same group of friends.

    I have a decent sized group of friends who all own the game now, problem is seems like every time we get 4+ people together to try to play it’s a crapshoot people can’t connect to each other, etc.

    It’s such a good game, just fucking wish i could get a decent 3v3/4v4 game with my friends together :(.

  18. Pete S says:

    Isn’t this like the 3rd “Not a review” of the game here?

    FWIW, I bought it, and returned it. Not at all my cup of tea; I’m more a narrative kind of guy. I wish they’d offered a demo at launch, it would’ve saved both me and Stardock some headaches.

  19. Jim Rossignol says:

    Well lots of things count as not a review. Me and Alec discussed our headaches with the game last week.

  20. Ginger Yellow says:

    Inifinity things count as not a review. Only one thing counts as a review. So I think you can cut them some slack on the review/not review ratio.

  21. Cooper says:

    As someone who rarely plays anything other than FPS games online, I’m much more interested in the single player aspect. Of the few RTS(ish – I see this isn’t a straight-up RTS) games I play, this looks likely to be one of them.

    If only to actually get to control the Alexander Summon from FF8…

  22. chiablo says:

    “Yes. You can configure it in the options menu.”

    I’ll have to dig a little deeper then, I was looking all over for it and couldn’t find it. I was hoping it would have been bound to the spacebar by default considering how important it is to have your Demigod selected.

  23. Freudian Trip says:

    I just can’t see a demo coming (unless theres one announced that I haven’t heard of)

    It’s not really a game where you can lock stuff away from people. Unless it implodes the moment you finish one game, which just isn’t enough to judge this game on.

    Your first few games might be rubbish, then you’ll find the hero, YOUR hero and YOUR build with YOUR items. It’s just not a demo game.

  24. Lorc says:

    They have announced that they’re working on a demo to be released “shortly”.

  25. lemming says:

    I’ve been playing this pretty regularly online with a couple of friends. The way we fixed it is to have us all on Hamachi, then go to the internet tab and host a game. The 3 of us can connect over the virtual Hamachi network and it doesn’t seem to stop other people from connecting over the internet. It can still take a while to get a a game though. Certain routers seem to be the main culprit for not being able to connect, a friend of mine has an old BT home hub and has had nothing but trouble trying to make it work. The only other thing to recommend, which im sure you’ve already tried, is to forward your ports. I cant even log in to the internet tab unless my ports are open.

  26. Serondal says:

    The real question that is on my mind and I’m sure it is on everyone else’s, when is the Sedna nude patch going to be released? I’m guessing since the game was released early by Gamestop we’re seeing a delay in it “yoink”

  27. Ginger Yellow says:

    My multiplayer problem isn’t connection, it’s that when it does connect, most or all of the players are bots.

  28. Tei says:

    @Ginger Yellow: Since the game is P2P, maybe if he is unable to make a whole game with humans, drop the ofending players with broken routers into “all bots” games.

  29. Stella says:

    It is, of course, rather more complex than chess

    It’s obvious that Jim is in love with this game, but let’s not get ridiculous.

  30. Hoernchen says:

    Singleplayer ? Awesome ? Bwahahahhahahhaah….. good one.

  31. Ginger Yellow says:

    Tei:

    a) I never get any of the connection error messages that most people on the forums who are talking about routers mention.

    b) I’ve set up port forwarding and it works fine with other games that require it.

    c) I have played two games with some people instead of all bots, and they started identically except for a “Waiting for other players” message at the loading screen.

    It doesn’t feel like the problem is at my end, although it could be. If I don’t get more real games by the time the fixes being worked on come through later this week, then I’ll start worrying. At the moment the main problem is that the bots seem to default to normal or easy, so the all-bot skirmishes are a walkover. I’m reluctant to quit them in case it causes ranking/reputation problems.

  32. DMJ says:

    The inability for the game to actually work in multiplayer is the only reason I haven’t stamped on all my friends’ heads until they’ve bought it.

    I like the way that I get to choose my Demigod’s role in battle. The skills are so varied that you can push most Demigods into most roles if you specialise and play to your build’s strengths.

  33. KJR says:

    My initial reaction on the complexity comment was similar Stella. I can see an argument that it’s more complex than chess by virtue of more pieces with a wider variety of options within those pieces. So while I’d consider chess deeper strategy I can hang with a DG has more complexity statement.

    If you want a story, the game is worthless to you, but I can enjoy some good single player comp killing. I don’t care for strategy game narratives, so it has everything I need. Put me on a contrived balanced battlefield and I’m happy. YMMV.

  34. MWoody says:

    Chiablo:

    “H” selects your demigod. So does clicking on his picture in the circle in the center of your UI.

  35. BooleanBob says:

    “The Oak, I first played without assigning him any additional units whatsoever. He was able to summon wraiths from the copses of his enemies”

    Un(?)intentionally hilarious pun?

  36. Mark says:

    This is real-time, right? Which means my enemies are going to sneak up on me when I’m still fiddling around with the controls, right?

  37. Jeremy says:

    @Stella, I’m thinking he’s talking about the actual functionality of it, not necessarily the tactics or strategy. In chess, you only have to know how 6 pieces move and that’s it as far as functionality, and obviously the strategy of it is more complex than that. With Demigod, you have a multitude of upgrades, items and abilities to bring into play, and then multiply that by 8 demis, along with different maps, multiplayer, etc. There is just a lot more to learn in terms of function, making it more complex. That’s my theory at any rate :)

  38. BrokenSymmetry says:

    Why no love for Sedna (who rides a giant leopard, by the way)? She can be extremely quick, her pounce and silence skills are great to use, and she’s the best general at keeping her minions alive with her passive healing skills. And I love her backstory.

  39. Stella says:

    @Jeremy+KJR

    Ok I see what he’s trying to say then…but if complexity is defined by “the shit you have to understand before you can play” then there are very few games that are less complex than chess. Thanks for clearing it up, I thought Jimmy had lost his head.

  40. Aphotique says:

    I swear, ever since I started reading RPS there has been a constant outward cash flow from my wallet. >.<

    I like all of the demigods, but I’d have to say the Rook is my favorite. Walking around with archers and a light tower on his shoulders, and a trebuchet on his head, all while stacking attack speed so he “whack-whack-whack-whack”s things in tremendous fashion is unbelievably satisfying.

    This games single player alone has already more than paid for its cost, so when multiplayer becomes solid it will just be a bonus to me.

  41. DMJ says:

    Chess needs an expansion pack. They never fixed the Knight bug, it refuses to go in straight lines.

  42. Stella says:

    I heard they were working on the Pawn’s Revenge expansion…that was like 200 years ago tho so its probably vaporware

  43. BabelFish says:

    My personal favorite is actually Sedna, she starts out pretty tame, but once you get a few levels (and she can creep better then almost anyone else thanks to the passive heal aura) she becomes this almost unkillable rock in the middle of your creep push. Add to that the healer negation (HUGE) and your creeps just become universally better when she’s around.

    P.S. sedna + torchbearer = unkillable fire man in your base killing your demigods.

  44. Sagan says:

    Alright I’m convinced that I will like it. Even though I didn’t like DotA (I was always more of a fan of Battleships) I still enjoy the genre, and would really like to play a professional implementation.

    Just tell us when the multiplayer works and I’ll buy it.

  45. Garreett says:

    If you like this, try DotA. It’s hundreds of times better.

  46. Crimsoneer says:

    I’m actually having no trouble at all with MP now…it still takes a couple of minutes or so to find a game, but so does DoW2. So now, it’s an incredibly fun piece of gaming.

  47. Xocrates says:

    @Garreett:

    Quite frankly, Demigod and DotA are as different as any two games in any given genre. So that’s like saying Half Life is hundreds of times better than Bioshock (just as an example. mkay?) while disregarding the strengths and weaknesses of both.
    DotA isn’t fundamentally better than Demigod, it’s just the trope maker.

  48. Tei says:

    I was able to play a few games today. Man, wen this game work, is cool. Wen it work. Wen it don’t work, It make you angry. Is 50/50 fail and win.

  49. NeonBlackJack says:

    You had me at “dinosaur-trebuchets.” Please let us know when the network is functioning the way it should!

  50. catska says:

    Demigod is a crude DotA clone that has literally 1/10th the depth of the game its trying to replicate. The game itself is a buggy mess, with the online component still being completely and utterly broken due to Stardock’s incompetence as well as massive piracy ( http://blog.wired.com/games/2009/04/stardock-88-per.html ). The singleplayer is just a series of skirmish maps and a complete afterthought. Don’t waste your money.

Comment on this story

XHTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>