I recently had the opportunity to fly out to San Francisco to attend Hero Camp, an event organized by Perpetual Entertainment to show of their upcoming mythology based title: Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising. Between refreshments and social gaffes, I had the chance to get a hands-on preview of the game along with a number of my fellow journalists.
My overall impressions of the game are good. The only problems I found with the game were the types of problems that are to be expected from a game still in closed beta, a floating bush here, some pathfinding issues there. There are still some kinks that need to be worked out and some polishing to do but the game appears to be on track.
The overall look of the game is beautiful. The dynamic environmental effects add not only a level of beauty to the game, but also bring about other useful consequences. Dynamic shadows that move across the ground as the sun moves across the sky are more than just pretty, they allow for objects of the era such as working sundials that will tell you the time of day in game.
Each zone that I visited was themed with the patron deity of the area in mind. For Diana, the goddess of the hunt, it was a verdant forest filled with centaurs and nymphs, while Vulcan's land had a distinctive volcanic theme.
I was impressed by the how enthusiastic the folks at Perpetual are about their product. It shows when they talk about the game, and it shows when you play the game. As I stood on a precipice behind a temple of Diana, looking down on a lakeside Roman village and admiring the view, Development Director Seth Olshfski commented on how the village I was looking at was actually in its second incarnation. The original looked good but he said it just didn't look Roman enough, so they went back to the drawing board and rebuilt it from scratch. Seth went on to talk about the precipice, or more specifically, places similar to it, in general. Currently, members of the quest writing team are wandering the lands looking for those spots in the game that are worth visiting just for the visual splendor, and putting quests and other goodies there. To some, this may seem like an obvious and straightforward way to plan the games quest content, but few games have put such a conscious effort into linking the visual design to the game content design.
The quests that I saw seemed fairly standard compared to other MMOs, but I can't say much about that as I only had time for a superficial look at the quest system. And I didn't get a chance to play through the over-arcing storyline to see how the quests come together in that context. One thing that I can say about the quests is that there are lots of them. One of the complaints that they've been getting thus far in the beta is that there are too many quests.
One of the game play features that makes Gods and Heroes stand out from the crowd of MMOs set to hit the market around the same time is the minion system. First off, the minions in Gods and Heroes are far more than mere pets. The minions are almost as varied in abilities, temperament, and purpose as the player characters. Although a player of high enough level can have a maximum of only four minions active in their squad at one time, there are roughly 130 different minions that players can acquire in the game. A common question among those who have been following this game is: why only 4 minions? The answer is simple: four is all you need, any more and high level play would be unmanageable. This became apparent to me during the high level play session of the evening. We were put in teams of five players with 40th level characters and four minions each. With the minions, a small group of 5 becomes a raid group of 25 which can be chaotic, but also opens the world of raiding to players who can't commit the amount of time and organization to get a large raid group together.
You will need a fair amount of help from a number of your minions to be successful in the game. That's because the system was designed to encourage a bit of strategic thinking. For example, if you're playing a gladiator, the main tank class of the game, you'll probably want you're first minion to be a healer and set them to hold back from combat and automatically heal you when you're hit points reach a preset level. When I had the opportunity to play as a 20th level Priest, I had two minions, the maximum at hat level. They were both melee types I'd send them in first to do the dirty work while I stood back healing them and firing off the occasional damaging spell. My tactics were basic, but the potential is there to manage every detail and build the perfect squad for the job. The min/maxing crowd will be very pleased. But the system is straight forward enough that those who prefer a more laid back style of play can automate most their squad's activities and not have to worry too much about getting trounced.
For the demonstration, we were pitted against the Telchine, Chalcon, a member of the pantheon that the Olympian pantheon overthrew to gain their status. I had a pretty poor showing, firing off a group heal mere seconds after most the group and all of my minions were killed by one of Chalcon's area attacks. I was then promptly killed while running away to, uh... regroup. Luckily, our group's tank was able to hang in there long enough to pull off the win by the skin of our teeth.
I have to say I'm a fan of the minion system. Some of the first games I ever played were adventure games and RTS games and this system is an innovative cross of the genres, making it an innovative MMO to keep an eye on.