It’s all too easy to imagine how the team at Gas Powered Games got the idea for Demigod. I can just envision one of the developers sitting at work, playing the popular Warcraft III custom map Defense of the Ancients (aka DotA), and thinking to himself: “Boy, this is really fun. You know what? Someone should make a full game out of this!”

And so they did.

Having played the hell out of DotA back in the day, I was half-tempted to write a review of Demigod that was essentially just comparing the two games – and really, to a point, comparisons are unavoidable given how similar DotA and Demigod are. But, while Demigod doesn’t pretend to be anything other than, er, heavily inspired by DotA, the game does enough to stand on its own merits.

The premise of the game is this: One of the gods has died, or been exiled, or something like that – whatever the nitty-gritty, they’re no longer around. To fill the void left by their absence, the other gods decide to hold a tournament between the god’s children to see who would be the worthiest to ascend. Carnage ensues.

Demigod is a strange yet compelling hybrid of genres. The game looks and controls like an RTS – click, drag and drop to select, click to move and attack with an isometric, top-down camera. But the game plays like an action game – using well-timed items and skills to get the upper hand on your foes, and you’ll never control more than one unit (with maybe a handful of little bodyguards) at any one time. Finally, your character levels up and purchases equipment and new skills like in an RPG. It might sound like a bizarre hybrid, but it’s also a tried-and-true formula.

It’s a team-based game, too: You choose your hero (from one of eight Demigods currently available), and fight on either the forces of Light or Darkness. Both sides will spawn constant waves of minor computer-controlled troops that clash midfield, and players must battle their hero through the enemy troops, defense structures, and – of course – enemy Demigods in order to win the day for their team.

Players will gradually earn gold over time that can be spent on items for their character – equipment for more health, armor and mana, potions and power scrolls, and so on – but Demigod offers an interesting twist. Not only can players spend their cash on upgrading their hero, but they can also pay money to upgrade their team. Buildings will have more health, defenses will do more damage, your troop waves will include extra healers – there’s even upgrades that increase the gradual cash flow for your team, or boost the experience earned by allied Demigods. It’s a really cool idea that, in a heated multiplayer match, forces players to make a choice. Sure, you could buy that new breastplate and boost your survivability … but the other team just added healers to their troop waves, and you don’t have any yet.

Another nifty spin on the concept is the flag system. There are flags scattered across the maps that give bonuses to the team that controls them, like 15% more mana or experience, or making your skill cooldowns shorter. Some even give your team access to powerful shops, or control portals that summon an extra wave of reinforcements. Controlling these key points is crucial to victory, and gives Demigod a slightly more strategic bent than just “kill everyone on the other team!” These two twists on the good ol’ formula really make the game’s multiplayer feel like more of a team effort, with everybody contributing to an overall goal, instead of just going it alone and trying not to drag the team down with you if you suck.

The Demigods themselves are nicely varied as well. There are two types of heroes: Assassins specialize in single combat, whereas Generals can raise a small army of minions to fight alongside them. For the most part, the playable characters have very different styles of play, which is refreshing – and that doesn’t even count different builds of the same character. You have a limited number of skill points to spend, and it’s impossible to get all the potential upgrades for a given character in any one match, so it’s very easy to find a Demigod and a build that suits your style of play.

The biggest problem with the selection of heroes is that there’s simply too few of them. This really does feel like a nitpick, given that there’s such flexibility and room for customization within any given Demigod – a frost Torch Bearer and fire Torch Bearer play differently, a Rook that specializes in setting up defense towers and passive damage is going to feel very different from a Rook that specializes in whacking things with a giant hammer – but from an aesthetic point of view, it feels kind of cheap. With only eight Demigods, in a 5v5 match there’s bound to be some duplicate choices. Of course, the developers have said they’re adding more, but time will be the only answer for that.

Even though the single-player game is decent enough – the AI is pretty competent on harder difficulties – where the game really shines is in multiplayer. Demigod matches with (and against) other people are honestly some of the most fun I’ve had with a new game on my PC in a very long time. It’s frantic, it’s strategic, it’s a team effort, and it’s just so very satisfying to stomp the other team into the ground.

Unfortunately, getting to the good part can be difficult. The peer-to-peer multiplayer design of Demigod means that everybody has to be connected to everybody in order for the match to start. So in a 5v5, rather than nine people having to be connected to one host or a server, everyone has to be connected to nine other people – and if just one of those connection fails, the game can’t start. It probably took me checking out seven or eight lobbies for every one match that actually started. Once the carnage was on, it was tons of fun – but getting to it quickly grows tiresome.

Ultimately – and it feels strange to say this – I think Demigod almost does DotA better than DotA does. It doesn’t have quite the depth of the older game yet, but it’s still young, and it still has room to grow. The gameplay is solid, the map design is really cool, the heroes are all different and yet all fun to play, and really, my biggest gripe (other than the lack of characters and difficulty getting online) is that sometimes the camera controls were a bit unintuitive, or that some of the item tooltips are unclear. Now all Stardock and Gas Powered Games need is for some Swedish guy to make a techno song about the game, and then they can call it an unabashed success.

Bottom Line: Frantic, fun, and surprisingly varied team-based gameplay. The character designs are good, the character gameplay designs are better – Demigod offers a few new spins on a tried-and-tested concept and provides some of the most intense multiplayer fun gamers will have on their PC this year. The multiplayer connections can be a bit frustrating, and the developers need to work on adding new playable Demigods ASAP, but those are just minor blemishes on an otherwise solid title.

Recommendation: If you like DotA, or if you just like action games, and you’ve got a good internet connection, give Demigod a whirl.

John Funk likes playing as Regulus because he thinks he’s overpowered.

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