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E3 2005 Preview

Dana Massey Posted:
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Fans of crafting, Gods and Heroes may not be the game for you. I was told that they do not think “epic heroes should be seamstresses”. Instead, they feel that camp and squad management is their form of crafting. Given the customization displayed and promised for camps, and the complexity of managing one’s soldiers – this will not detour me.

The actual mechanics of squad combat promises for the first time to offer a tactical combat experience in a real-time MMORPG. Previous design work from Steig Hedlund includes a role on the fabled StarCraft RTS, and this helps him greatly in squad combat design. Combat in Gods and Heroes works something like this: As the leader, you set a formation, tactics and other instructions, but once the battle is on, your minions have their own AI and will do what they think is best, within your instructions. Players have fully customizable formations, and in a matter of seconds, our demonstrator made a new formation as he stood on a hill, before charging down into battle. He led with javelins being thrown from the back. The enemies immediately charged, but rather than play the tired and contrived crowd control game of most MMORPGs, his warriors in the front simply got in their way and engaged them in hand to hand combat. This kind of positional combat is the key to the system. In larger encounters, I can foresee flanking maneuvers, and other complex battlefield situations that may well decide the winners and losers.

In the first squad encounter we were shown, the demonstrator’s squad won easily, however, in their second encounter, they were getting slightly outgunned. Rather than risk defeat, we were then shown the power of God Powers. These are favors players can dial in from their patron gods to turn the tide of a battle. To must earn God Powers before you can use them, and even then, they are slow to recharge. They can save your hide, but if you use them too often, they may not be there when you need them most, so be careful of crying wolf. In this case, lightning came down from the sky and electrified all the squad’s enemies. It was a deft move that allowed the squad of five to escape with only a single causality, instead of outright annihilation.

As mentioned before, each player is the child of a god. This creation choice adds a bit of customization to the game experience. In many class-based games, you pick your class and for a time – or even the whole game – you are much like everyone else of your class. As you must select a class and a god in Gods and Heroes, this makes each player more distinct. One may be a Gladiator dedicated to Mars, while another is a Gladiator dedicated to Pluto. Their characters and their experiences will differ quite a bit based on this choice.

Character customization was extensive, which is what players have come to expect these days. There was a full array of morphs and sliders that ensured no two players would ever look exactly alike. Artistically, the game’s style is hushed and realistic. You are a hero, but more in the style of a real person rather than a muscle-bound freak. One thing that particularly impressed us is that the game features some of the best water we have ever seen. When a character jumps into a fountain, the water actually moves with them and creates a wake. The game looks beautiful in motion, and while there are some graphical anomalies remaining, they seem well on their way to a solid if not outright jaw-dropping visual experience.

That said, the animation in the game is better than anything we saw on the floor this year. There have been a slew of videos featuring the reactive combat, which does not disappoint when seen in person. They fought differently based on the weapons of their enemy, and it seemed to stack up and look real against enemies of any size or shape. One on one combat is designed to last for about 30 to 60 seconds, which is enough to get into it, but not so much that it is low. The actual mechanics are much like the average MMORPG, with auto attack and feat based combat. The real meat of their combat system lies in the visuals and the squad combat.

While we’re on the subject of squad combat, fans of epic movie-style battles may find a home in Gods and Heroes. At high levels, each player can have eight soldiers with him or her. In a typical MMORPG, a good-sized group is eight players. Nine multiplied by eight is seventy-two. A good-sized group of eight real players could theoretically be an army of seventy-two. This adds another layer to squad-base combat. Individual heroes will need to coordinate to make sure their individual formations stay meshed. Any good army is only as strong as its weakest flank, and the designers do not want to take control out of the player’s hands. This means that you will need to keep yourself and your men in position if you want to have effective epic formations consisting of multiple groups.

Perpetual Entertainment is simultaneously developing Gods and Heroes along with Star Trek Online. This small, previously unheard of company out of San Francisco has a tall order in front of it. How then do they hope to accomplish this feat? They employ a core team of veteran experts on site at their office, including six lead animators, and then outsource much of the grunt work to other studios. This allows the core management team to focus on making the game fun and produce massive amounts of content without a massive team. While players would probably prefer to hear that it is all done in-house, this kind of decision makes something logistically impossible for a smaller company (like the complex animations in their combat system) possible and evens the playing field between them and a Sony or Blizzard.

The game is due out later this year and is shaping up to be quite different from most of the games on the market. While the company also has Star Trek Online on their plate, they won’t simply drop Gods and Heroes after it launches. The team outlined plans (subject to change) for two expansions after launch. The first will introduce the barbarian civilizations north of Rome, while the second will bring in Carthage and all that that entails. As the game is set in 300 B.C. and uses history more as a guide than a rule, there are wealth of ways the game world can grow beyond these initial two expansions. Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising looks to have a bright future and squad combat promises an entirely new gaming experience for the veteran massively multiplayer gamer, it should be fun!

Any comments on what you have learned? Let us know in the comments thread!

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Dana Massey