It was touch and go for a while there for Gas Powered Games. Coming off of the moderate success of Supreme Commander and its expansion pack on the PC, they delivered the Xbox 360 port and wound up finding that their game simply didn't fit on the Microsoft console. Their next game, Space Siege, was a resounding failure - and rightly so, as it was about as dull an action-RPG as there has ever been. But since then things have started to look up. Square Enix went ahead with funding a sequel to Supreme Commander, and now it's looking like GPG are going to have a hit on their hands with Demigod.
There's a story behind Demigod and its participants trying to reach godhood through some kind of big tournament, but I recommend players skip the intro video and dive right into the game instead. The game is loosely based off of Defense of the Ancients, a mod for Warcraft III that has players using a wide range of abilities and items on hero characters to fight in a more one-on-one environment. And that describes Demigod fairly well: there will be two teams, each with one or more Demigods, each controlled by a player, on either side. The arena is split down the middle, with each side controlling portals for spawning monsters, automated defenses, and more, and other independent towers that defend against incoming assaults. The controls are simple: you control your Demigod as you charge with your forces into battle, destroying the enemy forces as well as their Demigods, advancing your front line and capturing their resources to eventually destroy their citadel in the heart of your enemy's base.
It does seem strange, having a real time tactical/strategy game where you only control a single unit (or handful of units as one of the General-type Demigods). The "reinforcements" that come in through the portals fight on your side, but they're 100% AI controlled and while they can be formidable once you've upgraded your citadel to start spawning in additional creatures like Priests and Angels, these monsters are generally little more than speed bumps for the Demigods over on the opposition. Still, they can whittle down weak points in the many ways into your base, so it's good for players to sometimes split up and clear out enemy troops. And they will require you to be at the front lines somewhere in the battle, as the peon-type creatures that emerge from your portals won't ever really be the deciding factor in battle.
Every kill nets you experience points for leveling with (so that you can upgrade your Demigod with new abilities and better stats), and you'll also gather up money with every kill in order to equip your character with a very wide range of items. This gear is generally highly specialized to increase specific aspects of your character, like mana pool or attack speed. That's how all of your character's "statistics" are set up too: you won't find classic RPG stats like Strength which have some nebulous, unclear influence on how you fight. Everything is spelled out here in simple terms: hit point and mana pools, attack speed, mana or health regen, poison attack, and more. You'll want to figure out a specific build that specializes in certain areas, like say, attack speed with the ability to teleport around the map quickly. Much of this is made easier to micromanage since you can set up a window at the bottom of the screen showing your character's combat stats.
Tossing in some quick skills and basic gear and running into battle is easy, but if you've done a poor job of building your character, you'll find yourself respawning back at your base after only a few seconds of fighting. If you want to start really winning, you'll need to do a bit of number crunching and thinking about what makes the Demigod you chose work best in certain situations. There are eight Demigods in all to choose from, and either side can use any of the eight (except in Pantheon mode). There's a Demigod that's great at healing her allies, another is fast at sliding into and out of battle, another has a fast melee attack and the ability to poison and slow the enemy, while still another can snipe from a distance. My favorite Demigod so far is the Rook, this game's version of a tank-type character, with a large amount of health and a huge body. He's pretty much a walking castle that, once he's leveled up, can pound enemies into dust with his hammer, throw boulders, build defense towers anywhere on the map, and install independently-firing towers on top of his shoulders.
Demigod has a definite fantasy look, but it pulls from medieval and Japanese influences at the same time - you won't see the stereotypical type fantasy art here that you've probably been getting sick of. The guys at Big Huge Games also accomplished something similar with Rise of Legends, even if the rest of their game kind of fell apart under its own weight. This one has those same production values and originality in the character design, but it's also got a much smarter focus on differentiating itself from standard RTS games, where you build your character and configure it to be a powerful damage dealer or support class alongside other Demigods.
The tight-knit matches that a team takes on in Demigod will test their ability to work together and crunch the numbers. If it goes anything like the way DOTA has, then we'll see tons of drama on various forums about which builds are the best. The developers will also be performing a dangerous tightrope walk as they desperately try to balance the whole thing out with one patch after another. I don't expect they'll ever fully succeed to make something balanced like, say, Starcraft, but sometimes a mildly imbalanced game can actually be kind of fun - just ask any serious Street Fighter player about character "tiers".
Some of the things I loved about SupCom have made it into Demigod. The biggest one is the ability to spin the mouse wheel to zoom all the way out and back in, which makes it easy to survey the admittedly small battlefield. It's so useful that the minimap at the top of the screen only seems handy for glancing at map control and general troop movements. Also, the game speed can be fixed or adjustable, and a good range of game settings are available so that you can configure a session to your liking. Want to speed up how fast all teams gain gold? Slow down leveling? Make defense towers more or less of a hindrance to their enemies? All of that can be fiddled with by the game's host. And the detail options for adjusting the game's performance are competent if a bit sparse, but the plus side is that even though you will often see a couple hundred reinforcement units at once in a game, the fact that each player is only actually controlling a relatively low number of units makes it easier on the frame rate than Supreme Commander.
The beta includes a lot of depth, even though the current build only includes online play. It includes a wide range of difficulty in the AI bots you can drop in, and the 5-on-5 play will feel pretty hectic once front lines are created and people start piling up in one spot for a big push. With six maps so far, there's an interesting range of map types here (and each one looks very distinct once you jump in). Whether this game can keep players coming back for more than a couple of weeks remains to be seen, especially when we're comparing the full-priced Demigod to DOTA, free mod for a game that millions of players already owned. I think it's got a damn good chance, though, and the single-player and LAN modes hopefully will round it out. There's also a Pantheon mode that has been added to the latest beta, which adds some MMO-like features to online games in a persistent struggle of Light against Dark.
Demigod will make it onto store shelves and will also be available for purchase on Stardock's Impulse platform, but unlike with Valve's Steam service, you don't need to start Impulse in order to run Demigod. The big thing here is that as with other games released by Stardock, this one will include no disc-based copy protection or draconic DRM, although you'll have to log in to Impulse and use your legit game key to get any updates that are posted after release. So far, the Impulse system for downloading, installing, and playing Demigod has gone very smoothly - and that's kind of an important thing to know if you want to buy it online. The release date is currently set for April 14th and word on the Stardock forums is that a demo will be released sometime after the game's launch. If you're interested in anything that ranges from Diablo to Warcraft to Heroes of Might & Magic to Supreme Commander, it's worth looking into Demigod - its unique mix of strategy, action, and RPG elements really is compelling.