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Demigod – hands-on

For the tens of thousands who have played the enormously popular Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, Demigod will be a familiar, and in many ways, new and improved experience. For those who haven’t, imagine this: A perpetual war between mortal units was already raging before you set foot on the battlefield, with waves of minotaur soldiers emerging from portals on either side of the map every 30 seconds and clashing in the center. Even though both sides escalated their forces over time, they are locked in a stalemate. As a demigod, it’s your job to end it.

I played my first round, a one-on-one match, as an assassin called the Unclean Beast, a demonic dog-looking creature with a whip-like tongue and razor-sharp claws. In the other corner of the small, maze-like map was the Rook, a giant assassin that’s basically a walking castle. I began climbing the ladder up to level 25 the moment I waded into combat and shredded my first enemy soldiers, earning both experience and gold. I then picked a deadly ooze aura that slowed and damaged everything around me and a venom-spitting ability from the skill tree.

These new abilities increased my killing power, but weren’t enough to carry me to victory in my first encounters with the Rook, who flattened my Beast and sent me back to my castle for a 10-second time out. I nearly killed him the next time we battled, but before I could, he used the natural demigod gateway ability to warp back to his castle and keep himself alive - a trick I made note of for future use. As my level increased again, I earned a grip power that stunned my enemy and drained his hit points into my Beast, which also prevented the Rook from teleporting out. I used the gold I’d earned to purchase artifacts that dramatically increased the Beast’s strength and speed (though the game doesn’t pause while you buy upgrades or access your skill tree, so I had to move fast).

I finally had the Rook on the run, but I got overconfident; as I battled to capture a fortified point on the map, he slipped past me and attacked my castle, destroying my portal and cutting me off from reinforcements. From there on it was a losing battle - I couldn’t fight both the Rook and his armies alone. You win this time, Rook. The next round put me, my former adversary, and an AI player against three AIs on a wide-open map. This time I played as a general, the Vampire Lord. While my demigod was weak in combat, I upgraded my castle to produce units - basic soldiers and archers at first, but eventually powerful flying angels and massive giants - to do my dirty work for me, and backed them up with auras that strengthened them while weakening their enemies. The Vampire Lord’s auras drained enemies’ lives and lowered their armor, making them easy targets for my minions - and, if an enemy died from my aura, he was transformed into a tick-like vampire unit.

Whenever my units were killed off - in this case, I lost a lot of them to an enemy AI playing as the Torchbearer, an assassin whose fire and ice powers are a deadly combination, and the Queen of Thorns, a general with entangling and damaging auras - I’d use my gateway power to warp back to my castle and gather more troops. To reduce my trips back and forth from the front lines, I purchased an artifact called the General’s Ring, which made my Vampire Lord’s troops immune to knockback and kept them alive in combat considerably longer. My ally and I hatched a simple plan: while my giants and archers kept the enemy busy in the middle of the map, he, playing as the Rook again, went around the side and destroyed two of the three enemy portals. They managed to destroy one of ours at the same time, but we pressed our advantage with support from the Finger of God lightning-strike weapon from our fully-upgraded castles and won the match.

I think my personal favorite demigod will end up being Sedna, a general mounted on a giant white tiger; her supercharged healing auras make her troops extremely difficult to kill. As an RTS fan, I’m naturally predisposed to the generals’ mode of play, but I can see the appeal of getting my hands dirty as an action RPG–style assassin. These two distinct styles of gameplay will make Demigod’s take on the mechanics pioneered by Defense of the Ancients a challenge to master completely, and just as much of achallenge for Gas Powered Games to balance them against each other correctly. Nothing worth doing is ever easy!

Aug 1, 2008