Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ill Omens for Gods and Heroes

Gods and Heroes is a standard fantasy MMO set in a version of ancient Rome populated by such mythical creatures as Minotaurs, Harpies, and (playable) female Roman Legionnaires.  It also has the distinction of having been canceled, disappearing for a good long while, and resurfacing recently for a second chance at a launch, which would usually mean that the worst can only be behind it. 

Unfortunately, this game is not looking like it's ready to compete in the crowded pay to play subscription MMO market place, which bodes poorly for the game's second lease on life.

I named my Roman Dasypodidus.  He is green.  I blame Tipa.
Early Impressions
I was contacted by the game's marketing team, who offered me a beta invite.   Pete at Dragonchasers was apparently also on the email list

I decided to accept the beta invite, because I was vaguely a fan of ancient history back in middle school, and I was curious how the game turned out.  I have put a bit more effort than usual into this post and I will leave it to the reader to decide whether that amounts to me being cautious not to be the blogger who gets blasted for criticizing a game they haven't played "enough", or whether I'm giving Heatwave special treatment for giving me a beta key.  (I'm not too worried that anyone who reads the entire post is going to think the latter.) 


Rolling as the Romans Do
The first concerning sign is at the very first screen, where two of the game's six planned classes are greyed out.  A brief search through the forums indicates that these two classes were not going to be ready, so the developers dropped them to focus on the remaining four (which sound like the standard tank, healer, melee DPS, and caster DPS). While I respect the devs for making a tough call where needed, this is what the Romans would call an ill omen.

(I don't know when exactly in beta this change was made, but it seems strange for the very first thing a new player sees when they sign into the game to be that a third of the classes didn't make it for release.  Perhaps they're going to make a new character generation screen before launch that removes the unfinished classes, or perhaps they're just that honest.) 

Beyond your gender (no playable non-humans here) and your class, you will be asked to choose a deity from the Roman Pantheon.  Each class has two choices, but I was not able to tell whether the differences are primarily cosmetic.  If this is an irreversible choice that affects gameplay, there's not nearly enough information to make it (nor, in fairness, is the character generator a good place to present that level of detail). 

Other than that, you pick the colors of your outfit - which I presume are overlaid onto any gear you obtain, as well as your NPC minions' appearances - and customize your character's body and then you're ready to zone in. 

Kill 10 Romans
Invisible Roman:
Due to some display bug, equipping the belt I received as a reward from the first quest in the game caused my character's body to disappear, leaving only a floating sword, shield, and hairdo (but no face).
If you've played any MMO's recently, you'll have a decent idea of what to expect when you do zone in.  Gods and Heroes has questgivers with floating icons above their heads, hotbars, global cooldowns, and quests to kill various numbers of the local mobs.   There's a map, which shows your quest objectives.  Newbie mobs will drop bags for your empty bagslots (which the developers named in pseudo-latin by sticking a "us" onto the end of "sack" to give you the red, green, and leather "saccus", which is not in an Latin dictionary I remember).  And so on.

It was hard to tell how the game's combat is tuned, since the starter quests top out at level 3 and I reached level 6 with a minimum of unnecessary bloodshed.  I was mostly spamming a single attack button for most of the levels, until finally obtaining a carbon copy of the World of Warcraft Paladin mechanics from 2004 - a judgement-like spell that removes my 30-second self damage buff to do additional damage.  This is no longer the way WoW Paladins work for a reason, but I may have myself to blame for picking the tank ("soldier") class. 

There are some neat UI tweaks to be had.  For example, the level up window provides a clickable version of your new skills that you can drag onto the hotbar button of your choice rather than having to open a spell listing or having it dropped randomly in an empty slot.   Overall, though, the basics mechanics are familiar.


Roman Suicide Squad
My Poke-Romans: Let me show you them.  Also, don't click the red exclamation point on the right side of the soldier's box - it may show you their stats or it may crash the client. 
One place where things are different is the game's "squad" system for NPC helpers.  The UI informs me that there are 127 soldiers I can collect for my army, and it appears that they're going to come in all the major character archetypes.  It appears that your minions will automagically color coordinate with your chosen colors, and each has a brief story blurb.  (A female tank I recruited in the intro has a story which says that her father didn't want her to become a gladiator.  I wasn't aware that any Romans voluntarily became gladiators unless they were already slaves or prisioners, but more power to this early pioneer of women's rights.) 

The two soldiers you get at low levels are a tank and a healer, but you are limited to only one minion out at a time until you reach some higher level.  I'm not sure how many you can eventually use at once, whether these replace the need for partying with other players, whether each human player gets their full army of NPC's in groups, etc. 

I will say that the pathfinding AI on NPC soldiers is less than ideal.  If you jump off something, your dude will get stuck.  If you run too close to a wall in an attempt to avoid fighting mobs, your dude may get stuck.  They'll eventually teleport to you, and there are AI settings (with the caveat that the "aggressive" setting's tooltip says that it is not currently working), but I could see this being problematic if you're highly dependent on multiple minions and they all have pathing issues.

An Unfortunate End of the Line
I was about to get poor Dasypodidus off the newbie island and to his housing estate - supposedly a major and interesting feature of the game - when disaster struck. 

Quest mobs are located in the non-instanced world, and take several minutes to respawn.  When I saw another player running towards an area with a mob I needed, I invited them to a group in the hopes that we could share the kill credit.  He accepted the invite, but apparently didn't need this quest (or declined to complete it), as he ran by the mob's corpse and took the boat on to his estate.  I waited for the respawn, turned in the quest, and took the boat to my instanced estate. 

Then I noticed that I was still in the group with the random guy, who was probably as puzzled as I was at how to leave.  After digging around for a bit, I found the leave group button in the social panel and clicked it.  I received a message saying that I would be removed from the instance in a minute if I did not rejoin.  I did not think anything of this.  60 seconds later, I was ported out of my estate.  Apparently it didn't know where else to send me, since I had yet to zone into the real world, so back to the newbie island I went. 

The problem is that it does not appear to be possible to get back into the zone where the boat off the island was, because I had already completed that quest.  A forum poster informs me that has been seen previously in beta, and it means that my character is trapped. Hopefully a GM or someone would be able to deal with this type of issue in a live paid service, but it's still pretty concerning that something this show-stopping has gotten this far into the beta, which ends on Tuesday.

Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware
I am not a journalist and this is neither a review nor a preview.  I cannot claim to have scratched the surface of what the game may (or may not) have to offer, and it is certainly possible that the game will improve between now and its June 21st launch date. All I can report is one player's experiences during one set of play sessions. 

Based on 2-3 hours, six levels, several bug reports, and an issue which left my character permanently stranded on the newbie island, I cannot recommend paying the $50 box fee on launch day.  Given the state of the beta, the relatively low $10 monthly fee feels more like an admission that the game would not be competitive at a higher price than a genuine bargain.  If there legitimately is a unique, interesting game lurking behind the rocky introduction (an area that's usually the most polished in a game as MMO's hope to pad their review scores), you will hear about it because people will be playing it.  If not, those who pay up front will be out $50.

As the Romans say, caveat emptor - let the buyer beware.

5 comments:

Sente said...

I am also on the blogger mailing list their marketing is sending out emails to, although I applied for a beta key rather than getting one sent to me.

I used to play some in the beta back in the days when Perpetual had the game; back then the state of the game left a bit to be desired. My initial impression with my first session in the game was that it has improved a bit since then.

I have not played enough yet with the game to want to write something about it; I am curious as to what Heatwave intend to do with the game given their marketing spin as being a "next gen media company" on their web site.

Yeebo said...

The one man party thing sounds kind of interesting. It's too bad you couldn't get to your house. And yeah, the old Paladin mechanic where you are constantly casting buffs to use as attacks really was annoying. I'm a bit amazed they decided to revive that mechanic.

Khrys said...

Thank you for posting your opinion; I am a bit disappointed at the glitches.
Guessing that the beta key was offered to you based on your blog reputation I'm hoping they bother to come visit, read your summation and respond. If they do, please consider leaving it up even if it winds up being heavy on the advertisement perspective.
I'm an optimist and am more than willing to place some hopes on any grains of sugar they offer alongside the grains of salt that your review brings to light.

Anthony Castoro said...

Yes indeed we're paying attention!
I'm on the road so I'm just letting you know we've read this well thought out post and are thankful for the input.

Kevin Saffel said...

Hi,

Thank you for your insight here.

You've pointed out a bug I don't think we've yet seen (read: it could be that I'm blissfully ignorant). Th bug with being in a party and zoning to your estate and being kicked out. We're looking at that now.

Minion pathfinding has been improved with the last patch, please feel free to take a look and tell us what you think.
The invisible people parts should be fixed in next patch :)

As for the other bugs, they are being fixed as quickly as we can.

Thanks again!

~ Kevin Saffel
~ Lead Engineer, Gods and Heroes
~ CTO, Heatwave Interactive, Inc.