One of the great things, to me, about the Game Developer's Conference this year was that it was held in San Francisco. Not only is San Fran a great place to visit, but it is also the home of Perpetual Entertainment, the people who are bringing us the historically-based MMORPG, Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising.
On Tuesday last, I had the opportunity to not only tour Perpetual's studio, but also to get some hands-on time with Gods & Heroes. That being said, let's start with the cosmetic side of the game. How does it look? Well, I have to be honest when I say that it looks great. On top of the graphics, which are competitive with this new generation of MMOs, it's the animations that really set this game apart. Combat, for example, doesn't feel repetitive as your character not only acts to attack his opponent, but he also moves as not to be hit. I was pleasantly surprised when I killed an opponent and noticed that not only had I reduced his hit points to zero, but that I'd also literally buried my sword to the hilt in his gut. Mobs also get their own love, with special attacks that come with special animations. I watched, helpless, as one of the tiny goblin-esque creatures that I was fighting somersaulted under me, knocking me over, at which point I found myself with the creature on my back, pummeling me by jumping up and down. The animations weren't clumsy either, and the overall effect was quite real. If you're the kind of MMORPG gamer that enjoys graphical quality and interest, you're definitely going to want to at least give this new title a look.
Looks aside, it seems as though Perpetual is set upon the idea of giving players something new. This isn't your typical fantasy MMORPG. The typical fantasy MMO is set in a fantastical world. Gods and Heroes is set on Earth. The typical fantasy MMO includes many different playable races, while everyone in Gods and Heroes is Human. Typical fantasy MMOs rely on the idea of a player having control of only one character. Thanks to this game's minion system, Gods and Heroes allows you to control both your character and a number of minions. Obviously, this isn't your typical fantasy MMO.
Character creation, even at this stage in the game's development, is fairly impressive. It gives the player enough options to compensate for the game's lack of other playable races. I was able to feel as though my character weren't just generically pumped out of a mould, which I think is an important aspect of a game dominated by humans. Not only do you choose your character's class in this area, but you also have to choose your character's God. This choice plays a vital role in the progression of the game for your character.
While they might be the only playable race, the Humans certainly aren't the only race to appear in the game. Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising was built to take advantage of the plethora of real-world lore that comes out of the mythology of the ancient world. Centaurs, Cyclops and their mythological kind all have a place in Gods & Heroes. The petty and powerful gods of Olympus play an important role, guiding their children (the game's characters) through the game, and on to glory. With an idea like this, the game's makers are already talking about expansions. These expansions would add new areas of the world. Egypt, as only an example, is equally as rich in lore and mythology as were the Romans. "In five years time", says Chris McKibbin, the game's Executive Producer, "we want this whole thing to become Mythology Online".
The game itself though, should hold up to the history buffs among us (you know who you are), as the game is based in real-world history. "You can Google this stuff", said McKibbin.
Now that we've got some of the background out of the way, let's dive in and talk about game play elements and features for this game. After all, McKibbin said that the design included "Reward driven, excitement driven gameplay".
One of the first things that we were told about the way that this game is put together is that they are a story-driven game. Right from the beginning, players are meant to feel as though their characters are special, or unique. To that end, each character learns that he or she is the literal child of a God. The key to a story mechanic like this is that it has to be supported by game play mechanics. On top of being told that you are a god, the game supports this through the use of God Powers that are granted to the characters as they progress. These powers help to make you feel less like a mere mortal and more like the epic, half-god heroes of legend (think Hercules, but not Kevin Sorbo).
Now that we've discussed some of the myriad of other game features and issues, I want to talk a little bit about one of the game's most defining features, and also the focus of the tour. The Minion System.
The Gods & Heroes minion system allows each player to take control, not only of his or her toon, but also of a cadre of allies that will assist you and follow your orders. They will attack when you tell them to attack, and they will hold back when you tell them to hold back.
As you progress through the game, more and more opportunities present themselves to add to your growing number of minions. While the most that you can have active at any given time in a public area is four, you can have far more than that in your player's camp, ready to be called upon at the first opportunity. The total number of minions that you can have in your entire camp is limitless. "Collect them, use them, trade them with your friends". It sounds like a jingle for a child's game, but really describes the different uses for the multitude of minions that are available in the game. So far, there are 132 different minions that are available in the game. Each has different looks, feats, personalities and histories. Some will be easy to find, while others will be rare, and very difficult to come by.
Minions can be from one of a number of cultures: Romans, Gauls, Etruscans, Pirates, Bandits and more. On top of your run-of-the-mill human minions, each player will also have access to Myth Minions. Myth minions are exactly what they sounds like; minions born out of mythology to aid the half-god player in his / her tasks.
Controlling the minions is a fairly simple process, as you can designate the group's formation. You could, for example, place your minions in front of yourself like a human shield. This would be a sound tactic for nearly any spellcaster. At the same time, you could spread your warriors out, creating flanking opportunities. There are a number of pre-set formations for your minions. However, if you want to be more creative, players are given the opportunities to design and save their own formations that can be used at any time.
Minions level in the same way that players do. As they level up, their skills and stats improve the same way that a player's would. They gain new feats and new abilities, so your favorite minion will stay competitive with you as you advance.
As mentioned before, while you can only have four minions walking with you in Public Areas at a time, the other have to have somewhere to go. That brings us to the Player Camps. Player Camps were created not only as a place that will house minions, but also as a kind of home away from home. The camp is a totally instanced area where you can take care of a good number of "housekeeping" tasks. Things like equipping your minions, leveling them up, that kind of thing. These player camps will be populated by NPCs and occasionally, you will find a quest-giver there to help send you on your way to a new quest. You can also sell your loot here, which cuts down on traditionally tedious trips to cities in search of vendors.
With the very impressive models, graphics and above all, animations; not to mention the game's unique design elements, this is certainly a game to watch as it makes its way through its development process and into a retail launch.