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E3 2005 Preview

Dana Massey Posted:
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From E3 – Wednesday May 26th, 2005

In the weeks leading up to E3, we brought you a great deal of information and coverage on Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising, the debut MMORPG from Perpetual Entertainment and Steig Hedlund – the Lead Designer of Diablo II. Despite the scoop heading into the show, there was still a lot to be learned at the show. So, we sat down with the team at E3 and got a first hand look at the game in action. Gods and Heroes looks to be the real deal, and may well change the way we think about MMORPGs in the years to come.

Your role is that of a hero, a relative of a Roman god in fact, and do not begin as a worthless whelp, hunting beetles, snakes and the like. Instead, players have an instanced quest that takes them through their first three levels. The entire encounter is meant to last for thirty minutes and is completely different – with common themes – for each class. The example given is that if you chose to begin as a Gladiator, you begin as a soldier who has fallen into disfavor and is now locked into a gladiatorial training camp. Your goal in your first three levels? Escape and begin to forge your own name as a bona fide hero. This kind of set up seems like a perfect way to get into the game, learn the basics, and still gain an attachment to your character and begin to discover what he or she will become.

The defining feature of Gods and Heroes is squad combat. This was a key element that the team put on display for me. In Gods and Heroes you are a single hero, but like heroes of ancient myth and unlike avatars in the average MMORPG, you are not alone. In Gods and Heroes, each player upon creation is given their own personal instanced camp. This is Perpetual’s answer to housing in other MMORPGs. The team showed me several camps. One was a newbie camp that was scarcely a fire and a tent, while the other was a full out legionary installation with multiple tents, a large fire, wine casks, tables, chairs, etc.

In terms of personalization and decoration, your camp’s items range from functional to decorative. You can fully customize the camp simply by purchasing items and placing them where you wish – similar to Ultima Online housing. You can also invite friends and people you meet back to your camp to show off your achievements, or just go back alone to see your warriors and drop off loot.

The most important aspect of the camp is that it acts as a holding area for your minions. Heroes in Gods and Heroes are limited to a certain number of comrades at a time in the world, but you are allowed to have as many sworn to you as you can afford to maintain. One must manage these minions carefully, if you leave a minion in camp for too long they could become restless and eventually quit. You also have to pay their wages and advance their skills along with your own. It seemed to me that the best idea would be to have a core group of men that you use all the time, rather than a far-flung army. At the highest levels, players can take up to eight minions into the world with them.

You can earn minions through quests and hire. For example, one minion in the camp I was shown was a Minotaur. Obviously, you cannot just simply hire a Minotaur. Instead, this hero had completed a quest where he fought Minotaurs and in the end, the leader of his enemies proclaimed him to be a better leader then himself and offered to join with him. From the combat examples we were shown, it seems to me that recruiting a mythical companion will be quite the badge of honor in this game.

Squad management sounds much like managerial duties in real life. You need to balance your staff, keep them all paid, keep them well supplied, keep all your niches full, make sure they are all busy and make sure your office (or camp) is well supplied. A concern most managers do not share in real life is that they also get a little depressed when their minions die. If you can balance all these elements, you will have a squad with high morale that will follow you to the other side of the river Styx (and be careful, they may have to). Conversely, if your minions have low morale, they are more prone to flee the battle, which can be disastrous to the effect of half your squad being killed.

One neat twist is that when your minions die, they typically return to your camp. However, this is not a certainty you can rely on. Remember, in Gods and Heroes you must keep the gods happy as well as your squad. If Pluto is having a bad day, he may refuse to release your minion’s spirit for the customary fee. Instead, you and your squad will literally have to travel to the underworld on a quest to rescue them.

The game play is quest driven. At launch later this year, the team hopes to have one-thousand-two-hundred-and-fifty quests available for players to enjoy. These quests do not involve mindlessly bashing bunnies. Instead, the focus will be on being a hero and each area of the game will be full of different heroic deeds – in the form of quests – for you to perform. One surprise is that the quests did not appear to be constantly instanced. There is instancing in Gods and Heroes, but instancing is never done for the sake of instancing. Most of the game play in Gods and Heroes takes place in common areas that any player can access. This was a refreshing change from the highly instanced games that dominated this year’s show.

One twist they revealed is that while the quests will tend to be linear, they will be different depending on who you are. For example, if you a presented with a moral decision as one hero, you will need to go down the route that would be appropriate to your character’s moral affiliations. Yet, another character with an opposing moral view (based on whom they are sworn to) may have a very different route available to them. This should add a lot of replay value to the game.

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Dana Massey