Demigod – What Could Have Been

Demigod TitleA few years ago, MOBAs were just beginning to surface as actual games.  Defense of the Ancients: Allstars, the Warcraft III expansion custom multiplayer map had elevated the concept to a large enough playerbase to support an entirely new genre.

At that time, quite a few started to spring out of seemingly nowhere, from Heroes of Newerth, to League of Legends, to DotA2.  The overall feel of each new MOBA was largely the same, however, with a rather strictly defined formula which no game ever really deviated that far from, and even today, that formula holds true.

There was, however, an exception.

In entered Demigod, a MOBA not quite like the others, relying on a smaller number of more in-depth character designs, and vastly more team-based play rather than individual strength.  Demigod could have been a major contender, and could have stormed the market, flattening those in its path, yet this was not meant to be.

All it takes for failure in the games industry is a single, fatal flaw.  In Demigod’s case, there were two such fatal flaws, and this sounded the deathknell even as it tried to exit the gate.

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What went wrong?

The first of the two issues Demigod faced was a choice by the producer to entrust the multi-player programming to an unqualified team, rather than the main developer.  This lapse of judgement led to the first few months of a multi-player only game having little to no multi-player support due to frequent server crashes, errors with connections, and just all around failure to be playable.  As can be imagined, this would have killed most games on the spot, but this wasn’t the only issue.

Making matters worse, a second issue arrived: Gamestop decided to start selling copies about a week earlier than they were supposed to by breaking the street date.  This is a massive no-no in game sales, and instead of the development team getting the Easter weekend off and then having a few days to fix the last few issues once finally rested after crunch time, they discovered their game has been unexpectedly released early, while still ridden with some major bugs.  Having your game released without being prepared for it has killed many a game in the past, as first impressions are a big deal.

Had it not been for these two errors, we’d likely still be talking about Demigod in e-sports today. Such is just how things go, however.

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What went right?

Fortunately, a lot of things went right with Demigod, despite the horrific failure of the multi-player release.

The actual design of the game works very well; the controls are tight, the graphics stylized and level design unique and robust.  The mechanics that went into Demigod were vastly different than those of any other MOBA on the market, and honestly, I find I personally rather prefer the concepts employed beyond those of the others like LoL, DotA2 or the more recent addition of Dawngate.

Where other MOBAs focus primarily upon the player characters as truly being the center stage of everything, with the minions being little more than free gold and experience to farm, Demigod took a wildly different approach to things – the whole point of the battle is that the players are the generals of a massive army, and exist primarily to support that army rather than stealing the show.

In theory, this could leave many players leery of the idea of not being the big shots, yet in practice, the demigods themselves are still the main attraction, they just also have an enormous army to back them up.

Success for handling a concept such as what Demigod provided relied solely upon the ingenuity and design principles of the mechanics, and they were handled spectacularly.

As such, let’s take a look at what Demigod had, and still has to this day, to offer.

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The War

The basic concept behind Demigod is that a god has died, and a successor must be chosen.  Several demigods with the blood of a deity running through their veins have to prove themselves in combat, not just by fighting each other, but by showing their capacity for leadership as well.  Being a god is, after all, as much about who worships you as it is about the deity themselves.

In this manner, the mechanics are designed with the concept of the demigods controlling a vast army.  Large portals are erected from which masses of soldiers spring forth to do battle.  While the basic concept is much the same as any other MOBA, here’s where things start to diverge from the norm substantially.

The first of these changes is the value of capturing key strategic locations.  These are represented upon the map by large flagtowers, which grant powerful bonuses while controlled.  Some of these points will grant useful benefits to your team, such as stat bonuses like health or mana regeneration, while others will grant control of nearby buildings, such as gold mines or even the portals which spawn soldiers with each wave.

In addition to these benefits, capturing flags are worth fairly substantial experience boosts for those who capture them, and having more flags captured than your opponent will generate substantially faster war score for your team and substantially less for theirs.

The war score applies to either team, and a higher war score unlocks larger team-wide upgrades available at your main base, the Citadel.  These team-wide upgrades range from shorter death timer penalties, to faster passive gold generation per second, to upgrading the weapons and armour of your minions or towers, to even spawning new units with every wave in addition to your standard troops.

As such, though it’s quite possible to spend all your gold on upgrading a single demigod to excessive strength – and trust me, there are some absurdly powerful items available in the game – often it can be more strategically valuable to upgrade your army instead.

This is one of the largest differences between the basic premise of Demigod and every other MOBA out there – every other MOBA to my knowledge, to date, has relied upon the basic assumption that the two warring factions are at a stalemate with neither side being any stronger than the other, as even a small difference in power can quickly snowball out of control in these games.

In Demigod, it’s quite assumed that this is the whole point.  Your army can spawn more units every wave, or have their units be stronger than the other team’s for each individual unit.  To help combat this power discrepency, the towers which are present tend to be vastly stronger than in most MOBAs and deal splash damage to multiple troops at a time, as well as being able to be upgraded to gain rapid health regeneration and extra health total.

These traits combined lead to Demigod being quite a great deal about the larger scale of war going on, and leaving a lane alone just because you have the flag captured may or may not be a wise choice.  Indeed, many games can be won even if you’re vastly losing on kills and can’t win a team fight to save your life, simply because one of your generals funneled a massive amount of resources into upgrading your army and keeping more map and flag control than the opposing team, to the point that the enemy team is simply overwhelmed by the sheer mass of basic soldier units.

  • Oak Oak
  • Oculus Oculus
  • Queen of Thorns Queen of Thorns
  • Sedna Sedna
  • Lord Erebus Lord Erebus
  • Rook Rook
  • Regulus Regulus
  • Unclean Beast Unclean Beast
  • Torch Bearer Torch Bearer
  • Demon Assassin Demon Assassin
     

The Demigods

These are who you play as in Demigod.  These are the champions or heroes of other games, yet you’ll quickly find that there are far fewer characters to play as in Demigod compared to other games.  Rather than spitting out a new character with four abilities every two to four weeks, Demigod stuck with a smaller number of more heavily unique and customizable character designs.

Each and every demigod in the game has an elaborate backstory, and each of which is remarkably well written compared to other MOBA standards.  Furthermore, each demigod has a rather large list of unique skills available to them in their skilltree.  As each player can only reach level twenty, and there are vastly more than twenty skills available per demigod, it’s quite possible to play the same character every game and yet completely alter how they play each time.

For one example, Sedna is my personal favourite among the demigods to choose from, and she has three main playstyles, which range from being a powerful general with a small army of summoned yeti and purchased mercenaries to back her up, to being a strong supporting character with many healing abilities, silencing, and powerful auras, to a highly mobile assassin who is specialized in hit and run tactics with immense health regeneration to outlast opponents in lane.

Each of the demigods have their own unique features to them which truly stand out, such as the case of the iconic Rook, a towering castle in the form of a man which literally builds up his body to support a full working army in his ramparts, such as an independantly firing poisoned arrow tower, a long ranged trebuchet, and a crystalline tower which can connect to the tower network from your base, and the towers the rook himself can construct, to fire powerful laser beams at your enemies.

In essence, each of the character designs within Demigod are closer to three to four characters in any other MOBA, which is a major difference to what most players are used to, so it takes some getting used to, yet works remarkably well once one’s used to the concept.

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Generals VS Assassins

The Demigods themselves come in two main flavours; generals, and assassins.

Generals have the capacity to lead a great many units into battle, with each general having some method of summoning expendable units to fight for them, as well as being granted special general-only items which allows the general to hire several very powerful troops to aide them at a substantial cost.  The generals also all have a special set of upgrades at the bottom of their skill tree which benefits their summoned troops and hirelings with increased passive stats.  Note that, just because a demigod may be listed as a general, it doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to be a terror on the battlefield in person, as every general also has some very powerful abilities that allow them to go toe-to-toe with even some of the strongest assassin characters if built right.

Assassins, on the other hand, are designed primarily to be demigod-slayers, and gain more abilities and passives dedicated to increasing their own personal strength over those of others.  Again, however, just because a demigod is listed as an assassin, it doesn’t mean that the same demigod can’t be played entirely differently.  The Rook, for example, can create a web of towers, deconstruct enemy towers to heal himself, and toss a long ranged line-AoE stun, as well as several other nice abilities that benefit allies, and make him excellent as building demolition.

As such, the easiest way to think of things, is that generals have about 2/3rds of their potential abilities dedicated to allies, and 1/3rd of their abilities right on par with an assassin, while assassins are roughly the reverse.  In this manner, while any character can be played any way, some simply have more options for mix-and-matching at their disposal for one playstyle over another.

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Level Design

The levels in Demigod are quite interesting compared to the offerings of other MOBAs, to put it mildly.  While most others follow a rather standard formula, even to this day, with a few lanes through a jungle or forest, Demigod has picked a whole host of rather unique places for combat.

Ranging from a massive marble statue of a man fighting off an enormous snake floating in orbit above the world, to a giant frozen peak of ice which has entombed a monstrous daemon of some sort within its confines, able to be seen beneath your very feet as you move about the icy surface, you will most certainly have to appreciate the design and beauty of the levels when contrasted against other MOBAs.

In addition to such, the levels themselves vary wildly in nature.  Some of the levels have extra minion-spawning portals out in the middle of the map to fight over the ability to capture and push with, while others may be riddled with extra gold mines or even rapid healing points that must be controlled to maintain your grip upon a lane.

With each of the flags available for capture having their placement, their passive buff, the buildings they control nearby, and the need for war score to power your team-wide upgrades, just shifting the location and value of the flags alone would make for major differences between maps.

Interestingly enough, however, the maps themselves are wildly different as well, even excluding the flag points and the rather pleasant background images and textures.  Each map has a different number of lanes and shape as well.  Some are large and circular with several different paths running concentrically, while others are the more traditional two or three lanes most MOBA players have come to expect.  There are maps in Demigod ranging from one lane, to four lanes, circular paths, and one map even is just a large, flat plateau with the two bases quite near each other, allowing for very quick matches to take place.

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Resources

Demigod does things a little differently than most other MOBAs in almost every way imaginable, and resources are no different.  Gold is primarily gained not from last-hitting minions, but rather is generated by gold mines upon the map, or by purchasing upgrades to your team’s gold generation at your citadel.  While gold is awarded for killing an enemy, with half the value given to each other player who helped (if more people help, more total gold is awarded as every assist gets an equal bonus), the bulk of your income stems from controlling the map’s gold mines.

The war score resource is also generated by controlling the map’s flags, as has been mentioned previously, and directly affects the outcome of a battle by unlocking team-wide upgrades.

Finally, Demigod also has favour.  Playing a game of Demigod nets you awards at the end, based on what you did to help your team.  Some of these are pretty obvious, such as getting the most kills, or the most assists, or even most damage, while others involve things like buying the most upgrades for your team, or destroying the most towers, or capturing the most flags.  Even an underpowered player can still be of great use to a team, and the awards system showcases this by elevating the best supporting player up to the status of a carry.  Additionally, there are awards for just being a participant, and for winning, so everyone will walk away with at least a tiny bonus, though those who work the hardest will get the most awards.

With each award you get, you are granted favour. This favour is used to purchase permanent items which are free for a player to choose from at the start of a new game.  For example, a player may collect several hundred favour over the course of a few games and decide to purchase a favour item which decreases the cost of all purchased items by 15%.  From that point on, at the start of any game, that player may choose to pick one favour item out of any they have unlocked and use it for the match.  These favour items range from being able to activate a rapid healing ability every 45 seconds, to a 15% movement speed bonus, to being able to teleport to any allied building on a 45 second cooldown, making trips back to base, or returning to battle after a death much quicker.

In each case, a player may have only one favour item, yet they are free to use once purchased with favour the first time.

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Multi-Player Experience

As MOBAs go, now that Demigod has been patched up, it has become one of the most enjoyable Co-op games out there, and maintains such even if one were to broaden one’s horizons beyond only MOBAs.  The player base, however, is lacking, as few people play Demigod online anymore, and there’s no real matchmaking system, nor any ELO or other ranking system that really matters.

Bot matches are available for multi-player games and there are a wide wealth of options to fine-tune their difficulty, from lowering or raising the experience or gold they gain, to enhancing their AI, or how many you want to fight against in total.

Each map has a recommended number of players, usually listed as 2v2 to 5v5, but there’s nothing stopping you from doing a 2v5 match if you so desire with a friend against some bots which have been heavily rigged for added difficulty.

In terms of the PvP, however, as stated, there’s not many people left who play Demigod.  If you want to pick a fight, you’re probably going to have to bring your own friends.  On the plus side, Demigod regularly goes on sale on Steam, and the 4-pack is quite cheap, clocking in at only $19.99 American, or $21.99 Canadian.  With a good Steam sale, it’s fairly common to see Demigod 4-packs available for about $5, so I’ll confess I’ve purchased more than a few copies for myself and friends during various sales.  Demigod won’t, however, ever stand up to the giants of the MOBA world any longer, simply due to a lack of player base, so don’t go in expecting many people around to play with unless you bring them with you.

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Single Player Experience

 Demigod does, technically, have a single player game mode.  Two of them, in fact.

The first is just a skirmish mode, which plays identically to the multi-player game, but solely is populated with bots.

The campaign mode isn’t much different, to be honest, except that you play through several games in a row, across various maps with various team compositions, and your favour score, generated by the number of awards you win at the end of each battle, are tallied up at the end of several skirmish matches to see if you win.

Completing the campaign mode awards you with a nice little narration about what your chosen demigod’s future holds, if they will be a benevolent goddess, such as Sedna, or a terrible scourge upon the world, such as the Unclean Beast.  In addition to the narrated ending, you’re also treated to a simple, pre-rendered 3D cinematic of your chosen demigod atop a pillar wherein the camera rotates around them as they go through a series of basic idle animations.  It’s not exactly the most compelling award ever, by any stretch of the imagination, though the conclusion to the story of each character is kind of a nice bonus, and it’s still rather impressive that there’s any ending at all for a MOBA in the first place.  Low standards, perhaps, but one does have to admit that other MOBAs don’t tend to have an “ending” at all.

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Conclusion

If it hasn’t become obvious by now, let me tell it to you straight: I liked Demigod.  I still like Demigod.  I continue to play Demigod with friends, and sometimes just on my own, simply because I find the gameplay to be very highly refined and enjoyable.  I like the character designs, I like the map designs, and I love the mechanics that were implemented.  By all rights, Demigod should have been a first-rate AAA quality title and should have been at the forefront of the MOBAs vying for attention.

Note that this is coming from the woman who literally wrote a 700 page treatise on LoL champion design, as found here, and was responsible for the addition of Abaddon to DotA back in the days of WC3.  I have a massively long history when it comes to MOBAs, and there are less than a half dozen game designers out there who understand the intricacies of their mechanics as well as I do.  This isn’t a bragging session, it’s simply a statement of where I’m coming from so that, when I say that Demigod is very different to other MOBAs, but in a very good way, and is still well worth checking out, you will appreciate that this isn’t just coming from a random journalist who played DotA2 once and suddenly thinks she’s an expert.

So, to be blunt, if you catch Demigod on a Steam sale, which happens fairly regularly, it’s well worth looking into.

Just keep in mind that there really is no community left, pretty much at all, and if you want any multi-player experience, you’re going to have to bring your own friends.  The gameplay, however, is worth vastly more than it was ever given credit for, and in my honest opinion, if it hadn’t been crippled with server problems and an early release before it was ready, we’d likely still be hearing about Demigod to this day.  Well, hearing about it from someone other than me, I suppose.

 

About Catreece MacLeod

Catreece MacLeod has worked as a writer, editor, video game designer, teacher, 3D artist and quite a few other roles. Her specialization is pre-production writing, most notably, world design and IP creation.
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