In the beginning there were the Telchine, ancient magicians from the island of Rhodes and possibly related to the tale of Atlantis. When the Titans rose up and Jupiter (Zeus) threw them down, he banished the Telchine for practicing evil sorcery. The Telchine have returned to mortal lands, promising riches and power to the people of Rome; but, not to be fooled, we - the children of the gods - will find ourselves in battle against them. They are in fact, collecting Roman heroes to retake their place in this realm.
Grand back story established, you've a setting for some pretty serious battles. There's nothing like cyclopes, gorgons, minotaur, sirens…bring 'em on!
It's hard to explain the magnitude of just a few players with several minions. When you start talking about many minions - 20-30 minions plus players - the sheer volume becomes staggering. Grouping becomes about managing armies! Good news on two fronts. First, there's a fantastic overhead view available ala RTS-style for group management.
Second, McKibbin addressed our concerns by assuring us that no more than four minions per player would be allowed in public spaces and that instanced regions would be used very liberally for linear game play and story progression. Don't let that word "instance" frighten you; he stated unequivocally that there would be "very large contiguous public spaces throughout the world".
I also asked exactly how many minions would be allowed in an instance. Five per player? Fifty? It will vary depending upon the scenario. Balance is imperative. Assuming they give us War Elephants and the ability to recreate Hannibal crossing the Pyrenees, the number of Elephants and minions scaling the mountains (minus the death due to exposure) has got to be just right.
Yeah, but do I just hang my minions on a coat rack? Or, do they stay in my backpack of unlimited holding?
Not exactly. Camp management is part of every soldier's life and apparently the responsibility of every aspiring deity. We were taken to a basic camp, in the realm of the gods no less. Here I found my Optio (quartermaster) and my Custos Armocum (minion outfitter). Long term you'll have barracks, dйcor, trophies and the like. But other than fancy Latin names, what exactly do these two guys do for you? Well…ever have an outfit ready for a Saturday night? (Ok, does your girlfriend have one ready for a Saturday night?)
First, you need to figure out the basics…shoes, pants, shirt…the composition of the formation you're building. Does this Carthaginian belong in the group of healers? Are these strapping Gauls here the tanks? Maybe this group will be the one I use with a bit of everything? That's what ole Optio is there for. Then you need your accessories…your earrings and purse and the like. Head on over to Custos Armocum and he'll give you the necessary weapons, armor and accoutrements. It's Saturday night! Time to kick some gorgon uhhh…tail? Grab the tanks! Ready, Sir!
After visiting camp, we took a brief respite from all the hacking and killing and divine acts and were taken on a tour of Rome. Perhaps in the previous few thousand words you have may caught on that I'm a bit of a history nut. (Or just a nut, but that's another review entirely). A bit of background I feel compelled to force upon you regarding ancient Rome.
All of the landmarks and symbols we know - the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Circus Maximus - either didn't exist during the same time period or burned in during the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. You know, the one that spawned the legend of Nero fiddling while Rome burned? Rome wasn't made of marble, not until after the fires and even then only the more affluent areas. It was made of pine.
Taking a stroll through Rome I was shocked that I didn't see looming 40ft statuary every three feet but narrow alleyways, wooden structures, and the only occasional marble landmark. Granted, all of the landmarks exist in this Rome at once, but how much fun would it be to play in a historical context so true as to only get to see one great structure of old? The Romans had no idea what they were building; they just tore it down to build something else for the next Caesar. Silly plebeians.
Next we entered a truly amazing instanced area: the Roman Aqueducts. For me, nut that I am, Rome wouldn't be Rome without the Aqueducts. These were flowing, misting, rusting, moist, dripping…the perfect place for a dungeon crawl where dungeons wouldn't exist. The art was exquisite. And this was only the first level. (There are two levels!)
Although I enjoyed the sightseeing trip it was time to get back to the more action-oriented part of our tour so we worked on completing another quest. For this one, we had to prove our worth to our god by desecrating the icons of another. Once completed, we placed a medallion in an enormous cauldron of burning oil. Our chosen deity spoke to us, magnificent effects resulted (truly fantastic!) and we received our first god feat.
God feats make skills and feats learned in regular progression appear as dance steps. They're grander in scale, power and impressive in appearance. Quite frankly, using them is just cool.
Obtaining feats is one thing. Picture this in your mind's eye if you will: you've got a series of skills that contains feats, both unique and god-designated. Your minions have their own skill set with feats. Combine those for a bonus effect. It gets a bit staggering to picture the damage that can be done when managed properly. Don't worry, your minions auto-level, you don't have to micro-manage every little bit.
After this little romp, we were sent on a short quest designed to stiffen moral fiber: to kill this monolithic monster in the gladiatorial arena. The thing had multiple arms and dwarfed Goliath. Needless to say, it killed each and every single one of us…and took us to a plane of existence where we learned that a) we were dead (duh!) and b) we were the favored children of the gods (also, duh!). A very nice fellow explained that each time we died we'd return here and then to our last place of worship - you know where you last offered tithing?
From here you make another offering to your patron, asking that they relieve the burden placed on your divine skills by your death. You can work to repair your damaged armor (and that of your minions). You can find your way back to camp. Or, like me, sit and pout about the developers setting you up for such a graceless death.
Last but certainly not least on our little tour around capital of The Boot was to visit a "boss monster". That's not what they called it (boss monster isn't exactly Roman) but you'll have to excuse me if I don't have the name they used but I wasn't taking notes at this point. I was just playing!
Behold, Hominus! If she wasn't a Titan she should have been; she's huge! And, well…not particularly Roman looking - she looks a bit like Kali the Destroyer, the Hindu Goddess. One lone developer runs up with his warrior - charge! He takes a swing; Hominus casts a spell of fire in a very long line where an army would be besieging her. Then, well, she drops her enormous sword onto the poor soul and lifts again, with him attached. Nice killing blow. Ick.
I asked Lead Artist, Michael Hines, about the style of Hominus and some of the other features encountered in the game. Hominus is Persian, of Babylonian descent. In fact, you see Babylonian Ziggurats as you're running through the jungle at one point; in the US, at least, we're most accustomed to Latin American Ziggurats. After more than an hour of talking about the research of ancient cultures, the Etruscan influence on design, Sparta, Greece, it became apparent that making the game unique with more than just a great combat animations and a unique minion system was important. Perpetual is doing what it takes to create a game that's carries within it all of the sights, the smells, the sounds and the language of the ancient world.
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.