Bringing a new idea to life in the strategy genre is tough. Unless the game has "Craft" or "Civilization" in the title, or an established franchise to back it up, finding an audience large enough to make the game successful is an uphill battle.
However, it is a battle that Demigod seems prepared to embrace. This "action strategy" game does have some things going for it: the combined pedigree of publisher Stardock (Galactic Civilizations) and developer Gas Powered Games (Supreme Commander), and gameplay like that of the popular Warcraft III mod called Defense of the Ancients. Those are some solid pluses.
The gameplay offers several variations on the same theme: Use your demigod to capture so many flags, destroy so many structures, kill so many other demigods, or just dominate the map. Gold collected from gold mines or killing other demigods can be used to upgrade your base, or to buy stat-boosting equipment for your demigod. Points you are awarded at the end of each match can be used to buy other special items as your tournament ranking and expertise in the game increase.
Demigod is a multiplayer game, pure and simple. It makes no attempt at a story, although the intro has such double talk and highfalutin language that you can vaguely make out that you are part of a tournament to ascend to godhood. There is no single-player campaign, just a series of eight matches against the artificial intelligence designed to get you familiar with each of the characters. The name of this action strategy game is multiplayer, and Demigod has that cold.
Skirmish mode is recommended for newcomers. You choose one of eight assassins or generals, and one of eight maps used in both single-player and multiplayer, the largest being capable of 5v5 games. Assassins are solo characters, while generals can command six to eight supporting units. Each character has a variety of skills that can be increased as experience is gained. The AI has four levels, with easy and normal being a bit too easy, and hard starting to give seasoned strategy gamers a decent game. Nightmare AI opens up when you have bested the hard AI in a single-player "tournament."
What makes this strategy game different is that you only need to focus on your demigod. You don't micromanage resources and you don't manage a ton of different units. While the game gives you the feel of massive battles, your only concerns are augmenting your demigod, fortifying your base, and surrounding armies with upgrades. The AI controls your little armies, while you only control your demigod -- and, in the case of a demigod general, his very small contingent of forces.
It provides a rather refreshing change from traditional strategy games in that there is no micromanaging. The gameplay's simplicity allows for putting all your efforts into tactics and overcoming your foe. That's not to say there aren't decisions to be made, but the decisions are at the leader level, rather than deciding where to build a mine or a new base.
The art style is like an animated poster. Demigod utilizes a variation on Gas Powered Games' Supreme Commander engine, allowing players to zoom in as close as they want to get an incredibly detailed look at the character designs and battles, or zoom out for a full tactical view. The game doesn't take itself too seriously. Each character comes with its own variety of wry quips and quotes when responding to commands, capable of providing a chuckle or groan. One winged assassin character, as he is reborn after being killed in battle, pronounces that he will "take these broken wings and learn to fly again." Har.
The game's manual is fairly simplistic and doesn't give much in the way of guidance, so you are pretty much left on your own to figure things out. After playing several tournaments and learning the skills and abilities of the different characters, I developed a few favorites to take into battle against live opponents.
And such a humbling experience it was.
Two Crispyites are avid strategy gamers and I knew they'd be playing. I hooked up with Tom Chick and Troy Goodfellow, who had played in the beta and had some solid strategies. Aside from one win against Chick, I got the proverbial ass-kicking, and I enjoyed the process. You can't say that about every game that takes you to task so easily.
It was during a couple of these games where a nasty Fatal Error bug cropped up. The game does not support alt-tabbing while online. Oops. In this day and age, that seems a bit odd, so I decided not to try it again. However, my computer did it for me when I received an instant message and it minimized the game. Fatal Error again. Moral here: Don't alt-tab, and shut down anything that could minimize the game for you.
Bolstered by my education at the hands of Chick and Goodfellow, I tried my hand against a few other online opponents. My unknown partner in a 2v2 assailed me with expletives for faulty strategies and allowing them to "farm my sorry ass" for gold. The only good that came out of it is that I was able to watch more experienced players utilize the skills of their various demigods in ways that complimented each other. Being able to observe the different strategies allowed me, as a new player, to adapt my approach in future games. Yes, you can do that in other strategy games, but in many cases, you do not know how your opponents built their forces or accumulated gold so fast. Here, you can see how the team used its demigods together; you can see how it put its gold to reinforcements and upgrades. The simplistic approach allows for a more in-depth tactical experience.
Demigod offers a slight variation on the Defense of the Ancients model. Those who aren't interested in Warcraft lore, but like the mod's style of gameplay, should find Demigod a refreshing break from DotA. Stardock's Impulse content delivery should make it easy to deliver new demigods and new multiplayer maps to keep gamers interested after the initial luster has worn off.
You have to give Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games and Brad Wardell of Stardock credit for pushing a game with a relatively new style of gameplay onto the market at this time. It's a risky proposition, but something the two have never shied away from before.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.