I have to give Perpetual and SOE credit; not since the days of Asheron's Call 2 have I had the opportunity to play a game this much before beta - and then only at a public events. And never have I experienced a company that has made the key members of the team - the Design Director, Art Director, Producer and leads - so immediately available and willing to answer questions. Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising may have been rather quiet before this year, but I give them credit for waiting until they had something solid and ready to show. Hero Camp this last Thursday, was rather fun! (And yes, death by big scary Telchine goddess can be fun. Really.)
Hero Camp was less of a private "Ophelea gets to run around and drive Chris McKibbin crazy" event; less of a "see everything you can see in 3 hours event"; and more of a "getting a lot of very interested press together in a room to play in groups and really experience what the various environments, character levels and minion groupings are like" event. Be forewarned, the press are really quite bad at playing characters that are far above any level their patron god intended for the point of a demo. Death may ensue.
McKibbin stood before us to speak (as he is wont to do - the speaking part) to let us know of the evening's planned events. I use the word planned here because nothing ever goes quite as expected when showing an incomplete game and this time was no different. Really, though? It's half the fun.
We were to receive a level 5 character with 1 minion; a level 20 with 2 minions; and finally a level 40 with 4 minions and enter the first of 3 private instances designed for elder play intended to ship with the game. If you've missed the extensive coverage of G&H here at GI.n, let me attempt to give you the 2-minute pitch.
Deep in the recesses of time, the Olympians fought the Titans for supremacy in the Titanomachy. The Titanomachy is one of those confused Greek (but not Roman although used here) tragedies of mother and son trying to overthrow dad, dad figures it out but all Hades breaks loose. The Telchine have all kinds of odd mystery surrounding them; there are whisperings that they may have something to do with Atlantis - who knows, this is Mythology and they made it up as they went. But, the important part is they were believed to have become evil sorcerers and Jupiter, nee Zeus banishes them.
Now they are back. They likes us! They wants us! We are precious to them! And we needs to defeat them!
Gameplay from level one through level forty is primarily quest driven (you can just go out and hack and slash if you want to but you will be missing a key element in the end - minions). When you choose your class at creation - scout, priest, nomad, mystic, soldier or gladiator - you must also choose to align with one of two gods with that class. Twelve unique gods for six unique classes. What does this mean? Unique spells, unique attacks, unique armor, unique quests, and unique minions.
How does one quickly explain minions? They're not pets. I mean, who has over 100 pets? Who dresses their pets? A pet is usually a tool, like a spell or a weapon. Minions are grouped in various formations of four for maximum efficiency dependent upon the situation. Minions level as you use them, with their own feats and skills. They complement your own skills, or supplement them - it all depends upon who you bring to the party. And you can trade them! Minion-loot is cool.
Moseyin' on back to Hero Camp...
After having played Gods & Heroes a few times, you would think I'd no longer be in awe of my surroundings. The simple fact is, I've not seen even a small percentage of the environments available in the game; and what I have seen is so markedly different and so detailed that I tend to just run around looking. The areas are themed by their patron god. As you can imagine, the land under the protection of Vulcan has a rather distinct area of volcanic activity. Venatrix Glades is verdant and full of stalwart fauna indicative of Diana, goddess of the Hunt. Aricia City was stunning in its detail and accuracy. The first large city I have had the pleasure to encounter, I actually stopped to notice the texture on the tiles on the ground. I ran up to each of the 12 gods in the pantheon to look at their very distinct and different faces.
There are bath houses, though I didn't have time to enter. I asked about vomitoriums. Decadence! Where are the vomitoriums! I was told that although it doesn't actually say "vomitorium" on the building, the holes in the ground where one would lean over to leave one's lunch are there. I laughed. They've included everything.
Our game time began with our level 5 characters running around a village collecting and playing with the quest system. Well, let me rephrase. First, we found the emotes for dancing. Thriller was fun (the hips on the men are sexay), as was Riverdance. I think every game made in the next few years will include Napoleon Dynamite; but my personal favorite was West Side Story. Wanna be a Jet!?
Quests. Gods & Heroes is a very story driven world, full of angst and emotion and a bit of anger. Fickle gods do unfathomable deeds and those whacky Telchine are in there just mucking it up even further. But, at level 5 we were just getting our bearings. I know I've said this before but I truly love that the quests are in character (no, not Latin but some wanna-be idea of ancient Roman cum English). If the language befuddles you, the summary at the bottom will do nicely to make things clear. Better yet, Chris McKibbin indicated that should you want to learn more about the true history of what was placed in the game, you'll be able to search an extensive encyclopedia within the game. The history buff in me gets goose bumps when I think of this.
In the village several of the quests I took had to do with killing this spider/octopus hybrid things of which I neglected to write down the name. Not that I could have spelled it even after looking at it repeatedly - that whole "authenticity" thing they have going makes pronunciation and spelling a game in itself! After killing some of the squishy things I ran around a corner and was attacked by some local bandits. By this time I was in need of aid from my minion. [Ed. Update - I'm told the spider/octopus hybrid things are called Phorcid - told you]
This gave me the opportunity to try out the nifty new UI they placed for managing minions. The placeholder UI previously used was a lot of icons in rows and while fine for a single minion or even two, it was far too complex for greater numbers. This new UI still takes some getting used to - there have never been minions to manage in a game before - but it is a rather slick interface. You have a small circle in the right hand corner. You can click and extend to the left of this, a single panel that will let you set their stance (aggressive, defensive, etc), and group orders such as attack, retreat or defend. From the top of the same circle you can raise a vertical bar that has an icon for each individual minion; from this there are additional horizontal bars that allow you to order individual commands to each minion dependent upon their skill set. You can have them attack a specific monster, heal you, heal another minion, etc.
A common question was, "will we get to have more than 4 minions?" Ya know? Managing myself, my four, the monsters around me, my group and chatting...how fun would eight or ten be? I dunno...
My level 20 character was a bit more fun. She could summon Medusa. Medusa didn't do much but stand there but boy does that catch the attention of any monsters in the area. You'd think she was her original beautiful self before acquiring her legendary haircut. As a god power, I couldn't cast it often but it was handy to have when I had my ranged minions in tow. They just *plink plink* and down came anything staring at her writhing locks.
Normally, there would be a nice level progression, learning of spells, earning and training of minions, collection of loot and big ole' over-arching quest line. For Hero Camp? Not so much. No sirree bob. Minion management? Who needs to learn that? Those pretty icons? Ahhh...I dun't need to know what no stinkin' icons mean! That's why I have Binky the Wonder Community Manager to set up my hot bar!
Level 40. Four minions. The first epic instance. Chalcon: the 50-foot Telchine Goddess of Nightmares. We are the games press. We eat Telchine goddesses for breakfast. (Hah!)
I still think it's the little things that really stand out in this game, at least for me. My barbarian (melee class of some type) has reflective armor! This is new since the last time I visited. It's like the chickens in town; the rats on the docks; the faces that adorned the wall near the molding...they aren't the same. There were four faces. The four repeated twice, but there were four unique faces. This was 30 feet above my head in a room that was a staging point to enter a battle. What need did it have of four different faces? What need did the non-vomatorium have of the holes in the ground? But they are there.
After I finished looking at the architecture I noticed something different about one of my minions (I have four now). One has horns. "Stieg? One of my minions is a man with horns. I have a horny man!" After he groaned in disgust at me, he let me know that I had one of the unique and very difficult to obtain god-aligned minions. Mine was a Minotaur.
Twelve gods, twelve unique minions. I got the names (and spelling!) of nearly half - those tricksey developers and their secretive ways - but not their alignment: Minotaurus, Silenus (Faunus/Satyr), Furia (Fury), Automaton,and Dryad,. I even managed to beg a few images from them.
Back to my horny man...uhh...minion. Now grouped in a party of five, which is truly a group of 25, we head up two flights of stairs to take out a few random creatures with unpronounceable names and a chimera before descending upon Chalcon. As the Telchine Goddess of Nightmares the room is bereft of color, a "modern-day" black and white if you will. It's rather eerie and only adds more fear as we enter the room since we really don't know what we're doing. And there she stands. And there we die.
Apparently, the wonderful people at Perpetual managed to set up one side of the room with all healers and the other side with all melee; then they grouped us by sides. This led to much death. My poor minions. I revive them - I'm a demi-god, I can do that! We regroup; 2 melee and 3 healers in our party.
Now five minutes more familiar with my hot keys, I have an understanding of what my minions do - 2 are ranged, 2 heal - and I realize that I have to get UP CLOSE to Chalcon to do damage, that whole melee thing...I am ready to go. We head out, a ragtag bunch, not in formation but still this is five of us represented by 25. This is large scale warfare in a manageable group size. The only thing holding us back from being truly effective is our inexperience. That being said, we concentrate...I've figured out how to replenish my minions' health. I've set them in an aggressive stance on attack (forgetting to set one to heal me as priority); I've noticed that Chalcon focuses on one player at a time and I'm packing a wallop. Uhh...so does she. Yeah. It's cool to watch your minions finish a fight while you lay on the ground. Apparently, I don't have the minion that has the Gods & Heroes equivalent of resurrect. *sigh*
The rest of my evening I spend running around with various characters, killing anything I come upon. I like that I can take as many quests as I want; I like that simply killing something doesn't become a quest; I like that I can sit back and say "hey there, Adena, you go kill that bird thing and I'll stand back and watch, " and then laugh myself silly when my minion dies. (Chris McKibbin hates minion abuse.)
I'm anxious to get to know this game for more than two hours. I don't believe it's going to hold me in my chair for hours on end, 5-7 nights a week and I'm glad of it. I do believe I'm going to come back regularly - whatever that may mean - and build my army. I'm going to become heavily steeped in this bastardized Roman/Greek mythology. I hope that I'm going to find a few friends to play with and not need on an army of acquaintances to complete tasks. This is only what I believe based upon what I've seen to date. Time will tell. But Rome endures...and conquers all.
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.