'Tis much the same with games; more often than not, I love the process of making the games and the creativity more than the game itself. I still play them; I still enjoy them; but rare is it that I find myself in expectation. Last week at the Game Developer's Conference I had the opportunity to visit Perpetual Entertainment twice; Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising has brought out that expectation in me and wow, is it a good feeling.
Assuming all goes as planned, Perpetual is doing something unique and really wonderful with their preview process. Instead of the usual "we ask questions, they answer and send screenshots", they're inviting the press out to a series of hands-on events where they'll show us different features of the game each visit. This will afford us the opportunity to actually give you our impressions from what (I hope) is an experienced gamer's perspective; or at least, one with hands on time. This visit was about the minion system. I'll get to that in just a moment. For now I'll attempt an all-encompassing overview of the game for those who are unfamiliar.
Don't misunderstand; Gods & Heroes is not about Rome - only the chapter Rome Rising. The goal is to eventually encompass the mythos of many ancient cultures including the Egyptians, Huns, Carthaginians and many others. This will afford the opportunity to open up some fantastic nation versus nation gameplay over contested territories.
Chris McKibbin, who I know best for his work on Ultima Online, but has a resume longer than my arm, was first to speak:
"We call this an MMOG - Massively Multiplayer Online Game. We want it to be about playing the game, getting into the fun. It's very action and adventure oriented; it's very quest driven; you should feel very much like you're in Rome…"He continued on using the word "very" in most of his descriptions as he made it quite clear they wish the player to make no mistake regarding what they'll be playing. This is about entertainment, not grind; mythology and lore are about giving you reasons to play, not level; this is adventure, not a race.
I digress, as I do often. "…you're in Rome…"
Character creation is much as it is today in massively multiplayer games - options galore for a truly unique looking character and the impossible task of ever creating the same character twice. But, there's a twist. You've got to choose an alignment with a Roman god. And this isn't a minor choice. You've six schools of combat from which to choose; then you must choose one of twelve deities with which to align yourself. Still, it's not quite as simple as saying "I like Mars over Minerva because I'm a guy". The deity you choose will determine your skills, your quests and the minions you may keep. And gods have been known to be jealous from time to time…
"All players are the sons and daughters of gods…"It's a hefty weight to carry, this mantle of demigod power and responsibility, especially when you don't have the shoulders of Atlas or the strength of Hercules. And at the beginning of the game, you aren't aware of your demigod status. You only know that you're a poor gladiatorial candidate, killing other candidates and working on getting better swords and armor. But, all of the characters in game lead you through a series of trials designed to teach you the basics and lead you to your first minion.
Combat isn't overly-visceral nor does it emulate a punching bag; but it is in the style of Virtua Fighter or Soul Calibur, very over the top with acrobatics and flourishes. And best of all, as demigods, every player gets "effects" as McKibbin calls them - bright, magical, blasting cool stuff. You don't have to be a mage to look like one in G&H, just a god.
Then again, I'm not wholly convinced this is a good thing, either but it could just be a personal preference. There was this "incident" you see. I was fighting Runts. And well, the darned thing poked me in the foot and when I grabbed my foot it knocked me over and then proceeded to jump on my back. I looked back at Steig Hedlund, Lead Designer, and said, "He's jumping on my back! He just poked me on the foot and now he's jumping on my back! I'm not sure I want to play this game - it's rather embarrassing!"
I'd find more of these little gems as I played. They really made the world stand out for me.
Spending two days at Perpetual afforded me the luxury to go back and play the game as I wanted after the presentation. I started from the beginning through level three (later playing with higher level characters) and even received my first minion (twice!). What struck me was the care taken with keeping the entire world "in character".
The humans I fought against did not all have stereotypical Roman features. There were visible differences and influences from tribes such as the Samnites, Visigoths and Gauls among others. Quests were given in character (but not in Latin) which could lead to a little confusion; to help reduce this summaries were available at the end of each quest so you never found yourself thinking "what did he say?" At the same time, you never found yourself losing that sense of, "I'm in Rome".
Ok, basic quests over, humiliation by Runt completed and I'm off to get my first minion. Minions, the stuff gods are made of.
As this particular press tour was to be about the minion system specifically, Steg Hendlund, creator of the Diablo loot system we've all come to know and love, stepped up to speak because well…minions can be loot. Ok, I'll try and explain; they gave us a lot of information.
A minion is a separate entity, an NPC, which follows your character through the game world and complements or supplements your skills as you so choose. If you're of a heavy melee class and want a healer in solo play, you'd take a minion to supplement those skills you lack. However, if the situation you're heading into requires a lot of heavy hitters and your fellow demigod is a ranged character, you'd bring minions that are also heavy hitters and thereby gain the advantage of not only the extra bodies but a bonus of combined skills.
Minions will come in three flavors: infantry, skirmishers and spellcasters. Like the gladiatorial candidates I fought against in the tutorial, they'll also be from cultures surrounding Rome; they have their own histories, visuals and personalities; they're aligned with gods; they have their own skill trees they follow. There are currently 132 different minions available and you can have them all, except those restricted by deity alignment. 'Tis just a few.
Obtaining a minion can be as simple as buying their contract in town. It can also involve completing a long and arduous quest. The quality of the minion is proportional to the difficulty in obtaining it. And some are unique; you can get them only once. This is where the whole "loot" factor comes in to play. You can trade their contracts (ergo the minion itself). However, unlike pets in other games, after getting to know them - you can talk to them and they respond - fighting alongside them, leveling them, outfitting them (does this remind anyone of Barbie?) - you just may grow rather attached.
McKibbin stated specifically, "We're going for that Pokemon effect." Somehow Mom didn't prepare me for collecting minions…
Yeah, but how do they play?
Surprisingly well, and I'm not someone who surprises easily. I killed a few rats in town (normal town rats…not oversize RPG rats), a creature or two, then ran onto the docks to complete a quest…where I was beset by pirates. Scurvy knaves! Basic commands such as attack, heal and defend are available for your minion; later you can set formations in the vein of a Half Column, Half Quincunx and the like for larger groups.
I'm a melee type and my minion is ranged so I tell him to attack and I run up to the annoying pirate because well…I didn't know I needed him and his boat. I'm stabbing at him with my sword, doing this half-pike thing in the air - it all looks really fancy, but I don't see my minion! Steig says to me, "Scroll back". Ahh, there he is; slingshot in hand, thwapping the guy in the head with rocks. Thunk. Thunk. But, he stops. (Which, by the way, annoys me; because, you see, I'm not doing so well.) Steig says, "Just wait a moment." Then it comes - my minion heals me. Ok, he's a keeper.
Using a single minion feels a bit like using a pet in other games so Perpetual sent us on a quest using two; there were many of us in a single area using two minions a piece. Another of those little gems I mentioned before occurred here.
Apparently, a "good" centaur was angry with some "bad" centaurs and it was to become my lot to go forth to recover an item. As I was receiving the details of my quest the player behind me ran forward to begin. He didn't run through the centaur; he didn't bump into the centaur; he didn't run around the centaur. The centaur reared its front quarters to let the player and his two minions through. Cool.
During this run, my now male and rather hairy avatar (of which I'm neither) is a mystic. The might of the gods is with me. My two minions are both infantry class. And if you've never seen a centaur up close (who hasn't?) they're rather large and imposing creatures. I decide to just stand back and let my minions do the work for me.
They run forward, screaming wildly, swords blazing, no hint of fear in their eyes and besiege the beast! Ok, so there was no screaming, maybe a little blazing, I couldn't see their eyes…but they did run forward and besiege the beast. I stand back and periodically heal them and cast some really cool spells. I especially like the stone hand that reaches up from the ground and cages - roots would definitely be the wrong word here - the target. Then, without any prompting from me, my character complains that the minions are simply taking too long. Ha! The brute is mine!
All of this is occurring in a very large public space with at least eight other players, their two minions and more NPCs and centaurs than I can count. I'd asked earlier about the system I was using and how it compared to recommended versus required specs and was told it was about mid-range. I encountered no noticeable lag, graphics were beautiful, and reactions were immediate. I was pleased and what's more, I was having fun.
Want more? Move onto Part 2!
My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.
I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.
I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.