Not two hours after we concluded our 10-hour flight from sunny Durham, North Carolina to sunny San Francisco, California, the intrepid members of Team Humidor were on the ground and running in a decidedly non-linear route from our hotel to Perpetual Entertainment's offices, to check out Gods and Heroes and Star Trek Online. A presentation and a party later, we've emerged unscathed with a few notes.
Gods and Heroes
After dodging the security guard on the bottom floor, JR, Dana and I filed into a small meeting room, dimly lit with steampunk-ish bulbs and filled with six computers, one of which boasted a 30-inch LCD screen showing off a 15-foot cyclops.
We arrived a bit late - weird directions from the airport - and Chris McKibbin had already started his presentation. Speaking from a Powerpoint slideshow, he was going through a well-rehearsed Gods and Heroes spiel.
Set in a loosely accurate ancient Rome, G&H feels like a game licensed from history. You play the part of a demi-god, like Hercules, only you've not yet reached your full potential. So, rather than helping dear old Dad fight the Titans, you spend your early life whacking acolytes and centaurs.
The game definitely looks combat-heavy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, and Perpetual's combat system is set to raise the bar on how people fight in MMOGs.
First off, you'll rarely go into a fight alone. Before even your fifth level, you'll have recruited a minion or two, to form a squad. These minions act a bit like the AI party members in Guild Wars, but they're a lot more advanced: They have a set function (primarily fighter, caster and a skirmisher hybrid), and you can retool how they attack and move strategically. Minions move in a variety of historically accurate formations, but since you can't control more than four at a time, it's hard to tell how effective those formations will be.
Squads are a core concept in the game. Many of your character's powers affect how your minions perform their specific actions, and certain minions will enhance the special moves your character does.
Speaking of special moves, I've never seen anything like what G&H has pulled off. You just haven't lived until, as a level 2 Gladiator, you've smacked an enemy in the face with a shield, sent him reeling and jammed your sword into his gut after his neck snaps back. At level 2. When I hopped onto a level 10 character, the numerous special attacks I could make were varied enough that I actually enjoyed watching myself fight.
Perpetual seems to have recognized the theatrical quality of their game. The camera doesn't pan similarly to any other MMOGs; it feels more like a Zelda game in the way the camera intelligently finds the best angle to show you off. I did have trouble tracking my squad as I watched my guy flail and spin and kick (and get kicked and flailed - enemies have their own special moves, too), but they were smart enough to function on their own.
What really blew me away, though, was when the show returned to the big screen, and we went to a high-level raid area. We arrived in front of a Telechin god (a faction of gods from Roman mythology that factored into the gods/Titan wars in Roman pre-history), who started going through his numerous special attacks.
He had the normal raid type attacks - "breath" area of effect stuff, big gestures - but his singular attacks stunned everyone in the room. The god picked up the demo character fighting him, tossed him into the air, then swatted him with the sharp blade of his 20-foot scimitar - which erupted in a loud, dull clang - then slid him off the sword and stomped him with a gold boot.
However, when I try to predict G&H's success, I keep coming up dry. There's no crafting to be found, and the chances of seeing an auction house by release aren't great. It's hard to say whether the game can keep its hold on players with just combat. Perpetual says they're working to make quest content stand out, and if the newbie experience we ran through is any indication, it just might. And Jupiter knows the world of mythology is a compelling environment (Perpetual hopes to add other mythologies to the game via expansion packs - they specifically mentioned Egypt and Arabian Nights-era stuff a few times). But at the end of the day, G&H looks and feels like World of Warcraft. Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Seven million people seem to like the way WoW works, but I just wonder how many of those people are going to leave two years' worth of character investment for a very similar game.
But I'm not sure that's Perpetual's fault. What WoW did to revolutionize the market wasn't really in its world or its gameplay. It was in its polish. The fact is, WoW is tight, and any game with even the slightest chance at success needs to be, too. And given the slowing rate of technology growth, "tight" is going to mean "similar" for a long time. That's not really a bad thing, though. This means MMOGs, for the first time, are approaching an interfacing/gameplay standard only RTSes and FPSes have achieved, which of course means MMOGs might finally be judged not on the color of their GUI skins, but the content of their design document.
Star Trek Online
After we checked out G&H, we hung out with the crew and checked out some very early info on Star Trek Online. Not too much to report here yet, but what excited me the most was learning Paramount was giving Perpetual a lot of freedom with the license. They're already hard at work on a new race to introduce to the story, and they have aspirations of new movies being linked to their storyline in the game.
Graphically, the art team is reveling in a powerful toolset to generate all kinds of world terrain on the fly, and the interstellar graphics are already on par with EVE.
As we wrapped up the night, I asked a few people an extension of an old debate: Who would win, STO or Star Wars Galaxies? For some reason, everyone laughed.