Perpetual Entertainment let me play with their game again. You know, the one I wrote the tome about, Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising? I swear there has to be something seriously wrong with this game. I mean, I'm the jaded press, right? I'm not supposed to like anything. I'm not supposed to be able to sit down at a screen, and just play. And I'm not supposed to have fun. I'm certainly not allowed to gush. There's something wrong here.
To be honest, this time around I didn't get to niggle and play like the last time. I spent far too much time (ok, it was far too little time) interviewing Steig Hendlund and Chris "Binky" Launius for articles about loot and community support. I also got to see a rare occurrence (at least for me) - Chris McKibbin without his "CEO" persona. He was a gamer! It was fun to see him excited about his own game and rambling on about the great things (and not so great things) in other games. About all that they've learned and incorporated and what they want G&H to be. Sometimes? Being press can be cool.
Because I spent so much time talking (I do that), my play time was about two hours: enough to see some interesting new stuff, but not to get into the nitty-gritty. They plopped me down in Venatrix Glades. Apparently, the beta testers haven't been here yet. Wow. Look up the word verdant in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of Venatrix Glades.
Between my previous visit and this, I've experienced mountainsides, beachfront, caves, Rome, plebian housing, dock front, sewers and now lush green forests. And I've seen maybe three areas?
Bringing up a map of Italia, McKibbin explained that if you worked your way out from Rome in what amounted to four spines you'd be experiencing increasing difficulty along the way. Then he had me bring up a map of Venatrix Glades. The same applied here. From the focal point - Diana's Temple - you can branch out in four spines of increasing difficulty. The farther you move from the temple, the more difficult it becomes.
Did I mention Diana's Temple? Again, wow. I'm not a graphics person, I'm really not. I could be playing with stick figures and if it's fun, I'm hooked. But, if you're going to build Rome, build Rome. And my how they have. There stands Diana, imposing, larger than life. Frieze upon frieze on the walls in rich detail... Beautiful (and not so beautiful) men and women waiting to tell me of their tales of woe and ask for my help...
I'd brought a colleague with me and his first question was, "What are the specs on this machine compared to what you're going to require?" McKibbin scratched his head for a moment. "I know it's a 1.8 GHz and has about 2gig of memory because we're not optimized yet. The video card's nothing special. This is probably near a middle-to-high end machine for this game. We're not done, yet. We want to get that down before we're done."
Oh, I have three minions this time. And I'm a Nomad. I'd like to explain in detail what exactly a Nomad is or give you some comparison to some other game but... it's unique. TenTonHammer has a really great article giving some insight. Think of a really cool melйe character that can heal, but more versatile than a cleric. Umm... yeah, sorta. Anyways, so, I have a Nomad and three minions and I've been sent on an errand to find a woman's head (yes, her head) from the vicious Harpyaie. Ok, a quick look at my map and I've got to run off to some caves up in the left hand corner through what appears to be a small canyon (by the way, if you don't go the way Chris McKibbin expects you to, he gets anxious... it's funny!).
I head down the hill passing a gorgeous little hamlet on a lake. The world builders have really taken time with this game. Each area is quite obviously hand-crafted with unique items. There's a tree-stump here, a barrel there, a fishnet over yonder... the world feels like a world. I comment on this more than once as I'm running in the wrong direction because I'm so busy looking at how green everything is.
Eventually, I come to a crossroads at the bottom of the hill from Diana's temple and I look up to see, The Temple. It's quite a magnificent sight. I'm in this dark, cool glade of trees and grass looking at an enormous marble edifice against a blue backdrop of sky!
Stags have aggressive aggro. And they're huge!
Pike in hand, three minions to back me up and we take down the stag! Woot! "phawump" "swoosh"
Did I mention that stags have aggressive aggro? Well, so do bears.
Ok, wash, rinse, repeat, retreat to the road. Let's look at what skills this Nomad has.
I've got God Feats that let me call down fire from my patron God, Mars. I've got healing... ok, let's heal myself and the minions. Done. Then I've got this weapon buff thingy. So, I use it. Because, you see, I remember from my last visit that they specifically said they wanted even the melйe players to have cool effects; coolness isn't just for mages anymore. I cast and... three parts of a circle begin encircling my body. Let me tell you, anticlimactic.
I whine (I do!) to McKibbin. He assures me that the first time I attack something I won't be disappointed. I'm still mildly annoyed with the stags for so rudely interrupting my wistful gazing on Diana's temple. I run into the field, minions in tow - if I haven't mentioned it before, this whole minion thing is really really cool - and poke the stag with my pike. Nothing could have quite prepared me for what came next.
From on high (thank you, Mars!) came an enormous flaming pike that seared through the stag and pinned it to the ground doing untold amounts of damage. Um, cool? Yeah, ok, melйers get some cool effects... yup.
I play with this a few times - it's fun, but I'm supposed to be off finding a head from this uber-Harpy. Up comes the map and off I run. This is where I start to run the way I want to go and not the way McKibbin expects me to and the whole anxious thing kicks in. *grins* But, my minions are missing. So, I call them.
Apparently, when I had my map up a Bandit had snuck up on me and being the good little minions they are, they chose to protect me. This being the case, I ran off without them. This bandit? He's persistent. I'm running down the road, looking for the turnoff and you can hear it. "clink clink" The bandit is beating on one of the minions.
McKibbin asked me, "You going to do something about that?"
Off I run, check my map, run a little more.
"You're just going to let that guy beat up on your minion like that? Not going to stop it?"
I looked up at him. "Nah, I don't have much time and I want to get to the Harpy." (He didn't know it but I was doing it on purpose - he was pacing by this point.)
I stopped. According to my map I was at rivulet that would lead to a small pool, then an alcove. Beyond that was another pool, then up the hill should be the caves I was looking for. "clink clink"
"WOULD YOU JUST DO ME A FAVOR AND TAKE CARE OF THAT?!"
It's funny, but I think it illustrates a point and one that I was starting to understand. Your minions become precious to you. There's the inconvenience of having to revive them if they die, but there's also great personal attachment. It's like that shield you worked so hard to get. Maybe it's not as good or as shiny as the one you have now, but it's been with you for so long. You start to value "them". Your minions become a "them". Chris McKibbin said specifically, "He hated to see minion abuse." He laughed when he said it but there was a grain of truth in there.
Now to the Harpy so I can get the head of the fallen. (A quest for a head is just so... yuck.) Remember the title of this game, Gods & Heroes? It implies epic, does it not? I'm thinking that would explain the 6-foot scorpions I came upon. Now, I live in the deserts of Arizona, scorpions are not new to me. They come in many colors and sizes. But, 6-feet! The fiery pike of smiting came in handy about now.
The odd part was when I was done, I was still taking damage, yet I couldn't see any other 6-foot scorpions (it's not like they're not obvious). But the tiny one (the mostly life-sized one) now whittling at my foot, was causing me grief. And killed one of my minions. Ugh. And I've yet to find the harpy.
My now two minions and I spend a little play time with the scorpions while making our way through the ponds, alcove, weird looking green stuff on the ground that looks unpleasant and then this loud, red, flying, menacing thing attacks from out of nowhere. I've found the harpyaie. They attack in flocks. (Is flocks correct?)
It's here that I noticed something I'd noticed before. When you hit something in G&H it doesn't just take the attack and then hit you back. It reacts. It knocks sideways, or falls, or does something. They call it "paired animations". It gives you a better feel that you're actually fighting something instead of just swinging at it. It's something almost subtle at first, until you're thrown around a bit! MMOGNation has a fantastic interview with more details.
The "flock" of harpyaie continued to attack and I continued on, brave, intrepid (read: stupid) explorer that I am, trying to get to the Harpy that held the head. I was quickly running out of time. (The office was closing.) Then I was poisoned, and injured, and died. I give up! She can keep the head! Aaiiee!
I'm going to blame my failure on Mr. McKibbin, his nervous pacing, talking to me, giving me useful information about the game - does he think I'm the press or something? *grins* But really, he was quite anxious, he wanted me to succeed and my character hadn't levelled to the area it was in; it was just rather dropped there.
We talked a little bit more about quests and quest design. Had I gotten the head, then what? Well, in this case I'd have to return it to the woman fraught with worry at Diana's Temple. What next? There and back again, ad infinitum? Actually, no. Yo-Yo questing, as he called it, is something they've worked very hard to avoid by logically placing quest hubs throughout the world. So, though you may receive a quest in one place, you shouldn't have to come back to it time and time again to receive your next quest.
Though my game time was briefer than before, I found the same ease of use. I simply sat down and played. Nothing was so unfamiliar that I couldn't adjust quickly; the world had a sense of ease to it. Minions, still a rather foreign concept, are easy to use. Venatrix Glades is a beautiful, hand-crafted area of the world that shows attention to detail. Based upon my previous experience I expected nothing less, yet I still find myself surprised.
I know I'm not supposed to gush. I know I'm supposed to be critical. I know I should be jaded. I should point out faults and all the things that should warn you away from this game. But, here's the thing: Perpetual understands scale. Let me explain.
When many games open they have huge enormous worlds that they've worked for years to fill with content. They're "broad" games with "shallow" content. It's like a great big pond. The thing about a pond is once you schlep through it - and because it's shallow you can do so at a pretty quick pace - you're done.
Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising is like a slice of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. You're not going to get the whole ocean at once, but what you get will be deep and rich and teeming with things to do. Later, as time goes by, they'll expand... you'll see more of the trench and more of the ocean. And because it's deep, you'll find it very difficult to just "push" on through.
It's a good way to build content; players don't burn through it as quickly, you see what they enjoy and you can patch in monthly instalments (or have it waiting).
I see the game again in three days - me and two hundred other members of the press. I have no idea what I'll see. But, I look forward to it. Perhaps then, I'll figure out what's wrong. *grins*
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.