Philosophical Ranting of an Engineer


April 25th, 2009


I picked up Demigod recently. It’s been one of only a few games I’ve been looking forward to over the last year or so and I was really excited when it came out and started getting decent reviews. In case you are unfamiliar with it, Demigod is a game very similar to Defence of the Ancients (DotA), a custom map for Warcraft III that I spent countless hours playing back in the day.

(Note: I mostly playe DotA 3.7 by Eul and not DotA: All Stars, so don’t come complaining to me that my statements about DotA don’t apply to All Stars.)

The gameplay mixes some RTS elements, some RPG elements, into an action based arena game. You control one hero amidst a battle between a friendly army and an enemy army. Your objective is to destroy the enemy’s citadel (Demigod has a couple different modes, but I’ve only played this one) and protect your citadel. Your hero levels up by killing the enemy NPCs that spawn (creeps) and killing enemy heroes. It sounds simple, but there are so many other things to consider: enemy towers to destroy, flags to capture, as well as items to buy for your hero and upgrades for your citadel, there’s a lot to keep track of. And yet, compared to most RTSs it’s less frantic as you only have your one hero to control.

I’m really enjoying the game so far. Using my mechanics vs. content model, Demigod is very clearly on the mechanics side of things. There’s very little in terms of back story and no single player campaign worth speaking of. The game is shamelessly designed to be playing with others. This is exactly the kind of game I enjoy playing and designing, so I’m having fun.

Enough dilly dallying, I want to talk about how this game differs from DotA, what seems to work and what doesn’t, and then some of my thoughts on the different heroes. The gameplay really is just like DotA, no striking differences although there are a few. Half the heroes are assassins and half are generals. Generals have the ability to summon more units to fight for them. There was a little bit of this in DotA, but not too much. I was a little concerned before I played demigod that the generals would be a huge change in gameplay and might break it. But after playing all of the heroes, they definitely fit and are just as, if not more fun than the assassins. It doesn’t feel like playing an RTS, just a different kind of RPG hero. Demigod introduces flags, control points around the map that give your team various bonuses: more mana, more hit points, stronger stats, or more concrete things like controlling a gold mine giving your team income or a portal that will spawn units for you. This was another aspect of the game I wasn’t sure I would like, and while it gives the gameplay a different feel from DotA, it works. On some of the larger maps it seems like you spend more time capturing flags than fighting, especially if the flags are off the beaten path. Last but not least in my list of differences is the citadel upgrades. I’ve played enough other DotA style Warcraft III maps that have citadel upgrades that this didn’t really shock me and it does give you something to think about other than just buying weapons for your hero. It works, adds variety and options, and keeps heroes from being completely overpowered against creeps and towers late game, an issue DotA did have.

One more expected change from DotA, is different maps. DotA, as a custom Warcraft III map, had only one layout and I know it very well; three paths, one right up the middle and two more on either side of it with very few ways to get from one path to another. With five heroes and three paths, you had to carefully pick which paths were going to have two players and which player would be alone. Demigod has an interesting variety of maps ranging anywhere from almost completely linear with Crucible to huge with many criss crossing paths on Mandala. None of them feel as tight as the original DotA map, but that just be because I haven’t played them enough. My favorite so far is probably Exile, a windy sort of map that takes place on the backs of two snakes being wrestled by what reminds me of a Greek god sculpted out of stone and floating in space. You can see constellations in the background and if you look down you can see a green planet. Which brings up an important point, the game looks amazing. The maps are especially beautifully with their detailed backgrounds, although the terrain itself is completely flat. The heroes are also exquisitely detailed. One of the heroes, the Rook, is a huge lumbering castle. One of his upgrades adds a trebuchet on a tower above his head. If you zoom in, you can see the gears turning on the trebuchet as it fires! The game runs on the Supreme Commander engines and lets you zoom far out so you can see the whole map, which is really useful in terms of surveying the map and seeing what goes on. It also gives you a good view of the fog of war, which actually looks like fog; very cool.

Now to the heroes! There are eight heroes in Demigod, four assassins and four generals. I’ve played all of them at least once and most of them several times. Unlike DotA, each hero has a tech tree requiring the player to choose how they want to build their hero. As the Torchbearer, do I want to focus on my fire attacks or my frost attacks? This really adds a large amount of depth to the game compared to DotA. In DotA you had 10 skill points, 3 abililties you could put 3 points into, and 1 final super spell. By the end of the game every hero had all their skills maxed out. By offering a large tech tree, you can play a hero very differently from one match to the next. From my experience, and reading online, there are few must have skills or completely worthless ones. I’m sure this will change as people play it more, but for now there is a lot of experimenting. Even though most of the heroes seem decently well balanced, there’s also the issue of how fun they are. Obviously, this changes from person to person, so my thoughts on the heroes are my opinion and even though I may not like one hero, it doesn’t mean no one will. Also, there’s some back story on all the heroes, go read about them somewhere else if you are interested; I’m just going to talk about how they play.


Torch Bearer

This guy is the closest thing to a typical mage. He relies on his spells to do damage and is pretty fragile. He’s one of two heroes who have two forms. His are fire and ice. In his fire form he has three spells (instead of a 4th, he has a “switch to ice” spell): Fire Nova, Fireball, and Circle of Fire. Despite being a mage type character, two of his three fire spells require him to be in the thick of things. Fireball is a ranged “spike” spell and very useful to taking out towers or enemy heroes, while Circle of Fire throws down a circle of flames that do massive damage over time, and Fire Nova is an instant cast that will throw all small units around him into the air killing them instantly as well as doing damage. In his frost form, the Torch Bearer has Frost Nova that does an AOE stun around him, Rain of Ice which throws down a bunch of ice crystals at the targeted location, and Deep Freeze which is the frost spike and interrupts the target. The Torch Bearer is pretty fun. He is amazing against creeps, and can dish out a lot of damage against enemy heroes, but he is super weak and will die if attacked much. None of the items buff your spell damage, so late game he is forced to buy health and armor items it seems, reducing his offensive capability. I don’t know if this is a problem yet or not. I just know I end up with a lot of money wondering what to do with it. Most of my experience is with fire, but I plan on trying out a frost heavy build soon and then a half and half build.

Fun: 4 Strength: 4

Unclean Beast

Your typical… demon dog thing. He reminds me of Naix the Lifestealer from DotA. Small, fast, uses his auto attack to do most of his damage. The Unclean Beast also has a variety of poison and diseases that allow him to harass the enemy from range and is one of the most effective hero killers in the game. If he can close the gap on one of the weaker heroes, it’s an almost certain kill. He does feel a little squishy though, especially at the beginning of the game. He’s one of those characters that late-game, if you got the money to get good items, he is an unstoppable juggernaut, but if you didn’t then he’s worthless.

Fun: 3 Strength: 5


Regulus uses his crossbow to attack from afar and as the squishiest character in the game, he does very poorly up close. If you focus on his hero killing abilities, of which he has several including Snipe an ability that reaches halfway across the smaller maps doing more damage the farther you shoot it, he doesn’t do very well against creeps and generals with a minion army. While I can appreciate his strength, he seems rather boring to me, which kind of surprised me. I love playing as dancing hit and run characters in games like this. It just seems like there aren’t too many interesting abilities for him. Get a good weapon, buff up his passive abilities and just auto-shoot.

Fun: 2 Strength: 4


The big walking castle you see on the box. The epitome of a walking tank, the Rook is very slow, quite powerful, and extremely impressive. He’s got some pretty cool passive abililtles. He can grow towers on his shoulders that shoot arrows and light beams and on his head a working catapult! He can also pull towers out of the ground that shoot enemies, and if need be he can suck the life out of those as well as enemy towers to heal himself. Seems like the Rook can be a decent hero killer with his stun and hard hitting Hammer Slam, but you need the enemy to commit to being close, as the Rook isn’t running anyone down. Instead, focusing on taking out enemy towers is a better strategy. I’m not sure if I like the Rook yet or not, he has potential, but with so many relatively passive abilities he almost falls into the same category as Regulus.

Fun: 3 Strength: 4



This guy is badass. He’s a huge, clanking suit of armor that summons ghosts from every unit that dies around his totems. Very moment dependant, he can be very hard to stop in a push, and with his invincibility shield that he can cast on friends, is very powerful with a teammate. I have played him with more of an assassin build, no minions at all, and he is still pretty powerful. He’s got some decent attack spells and a lot of spells that heal and buff him. Definitely one of my favorites so far.

Fun: 5 Strength: 5

Queen of Thorns

The Queen of Thorns is kind of odd. As the only other hero, apart from the Torch Bearer, with two forms, she’s a little strange to play. In one of her forms she wraps herself inside of a flower gaining improved armor, health and mana regen and can summon minions as well as shield herself. When the flower opens up, she gains access to damaging abilities that make her effective against creeps. With little to no hero killing capability, she seems instead relegated to support and indirect attacks. She can be very hard to kill if played properly and is an excellent support hero, but her lack of offense may turn off some, and she doesn’t feel very intuitive to play. Definitely a character I’m looking forward to figuring out.

Fun: 3 Strength: 3


The healer. There was one on each side for DotA and there’s one in Demigod. Supposedly, she can be pretty powerful and can have one of the strongest minion armies with all of her healing auras, but she just seems boring to me. With really only one offensive spell, Pounce, doesn’t seem like you do much with her other than heal and silence the enemy. She’s no doubt very powerful, but I just can’t get myself to play her.

Fun: 1 Strength: 3

Lord Erebus

Ah, the vampire lord; cheesy and ridiculously powerful and fun. This guy has everything: an army, a damage spell that heals himself, an AOE stun, LOTS of self healing and healing auras, an ability that lets him teleport short distances doing damage and either surprising an enemy or escaping one as well as a superb creep killing spell that leaves in invulnerable while using it. All of his abilities are useful and I’m really looking forward to playing him with as many different builds as possible. His true strength is that he is almost impossible to kill, but he is an excellent hero killer as well. I can’t say he’s terrific at pushing towers, and instead needs an ally or creeps to help with that. Fun: 5 Strength: 5


So there ended up being a lot of 5’s and no one below a 3 in terms of strength with only one character getting a 1 and 2 for fun, respectively. This is pretty good. When I was at GDC, I heard David Sirlin give a talk on balancing multiplayer and one thing he said is that you want all of your characters to feel powerful, and most of the characters in Demigod do. My own personal distaste for Regulus and Sedna probably reflect poorly on their perceived strength; from what I hear they are both very powerful characters. I’m not hearing any huge uproar over one character being ridiculously overpowered at this point.

Demigod is a lot of fun so far. I’ve spent two nights in the lab until 3am playing with some friends and I expect to play a lot more. I’ve been looking for some really good LAN games over the last few years and my friends and I always resort to custom Warcraft III maps and TF2, but I think we have a new challenger for keynote game.

I’d like to post some more on specific heroes and what I’ve found to work and not work, we’ll see how busy I am with the end of the quarter coming up.

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