Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising (MmmmmmMinions!) @GDC'07

Brasse -- 2007-03-14 21:07:34

Here I am, as promised. Now settle down, you pain in the butts who kept poking me in MSN all day – here’s the Minion article.

Yesterday, I wrote about Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising, or at least a brief overview of the graphics, gods and gameplay. Just enough to establish that this is indeed a contender in the competitive MMO market.

Yet what really makes the game, more than the laudable attention to historical and mythological detail, is the Minion system. There have been comparisons drawn with the City of Heroes/Villians mastermind class, where you command one or more thugs, ninjas etc., and that was an archetype that I really enjoyed playing.

However, I played Mastermind enough to be very aware of the issues in pathing, AI and control that they had. I was keen to see how Gods and Heroes handled the same sort of concept, especially as everyone is, in effect, a Mastermind in this game.

Now, I don’t really like the term “minion”, and will tend to use “follower” or something else when I play the game, but minion is the term used by the Devs of Gods and Heroes (and fans), so I guess I’ll adhere to the standard for this article.

To be fair, “minion” in the archaic sense can designate a “favored person,” in addition to a servant or even enslaved person, but the usual connotation these days is of a mindless, servile individual. Let me tell you, Gods and Heroes’ minions are loyal and fearless, but they somehow convey a sense of intelligence (artificial as it is) and make you care about them.

Maybe that’s just me, as I’ve never been good with “throwaway pets”, but if you manage to be lucky enough to get into Beta, let me know what you think… at least, after the NDA is lifted, hehe.

Perpetual has worked hard to imbue minions of all stripes with personality. Their histories and manner reflect their origins. Sure, you can hire a Roman to stand by your side, but there are, get this, a hundred and thirty two (“so far” said Lead Designer Stieg Hedlund) to choose from.

Hire a pirate or brigand to bring their dark skills to bear, or cast about for a member of one of the worthy cultures that have come into contact (and often conflict with) the Roman Empire.

Being the history geek that I am, I was pleased to see such otherwise obscure peoples such as Faliscan, Volscian and Samnite listed among the more familiar Gauls and Etruscans. The first three are perhaps lesser known because they are all lesser tribes so near to Rome that they were soon absorbed, and the distinctions had become well… less distinct. Etruscans were also on the peninsula, and in fact the grand city of Rome was build on southern Etruscan lands. Yet the sound of their name is still better known as a large and well organized confederation of cities that had a strong influence over Roman civilization in its early days, before being assimilated. The Gauls… Also known as Celts or Keltoi, well, we all know who they are. Right??

Now, returning to the 99.8% of our readership who almost fell asleep during the last paragraph – you have to be at least impressed by the details they are incorporating in the game. Of course you are.

Just like the player characters, minions belong to one of three archetypes; infantry (melee), skirmishers (ranged/hybrid) and spellcasters (healer/nuker). Sounds simple, till you read further on in this article.

I played a gladiator in the early levels, and therefore, at my first opportunity, chose a complimentary class, the spellcasting healer. You gain your first servant at level 2 through means of a very simple quest. He is an undemanding sort, and a good introduction to how this minion mechanic works.
Basically, the minions run on an efficient and well-constructed AI model which allows them to respond to various situations independently. You can issue commands, but it is nice to know that they do fairly well on their own.

I went ahead and blindly attacked some boars that we were asked to hunt, without exercising any particular caution. I placed ol’ Rufus on defensive mode and he obediently stayed out of range of the tusks and cast heals my way, without even once complaining about my poor fighting tactics. Already he’s one up on my usual Elfink partner!

At level 12, I played a Mystic (mmmm, what a tasty class, by the way!), a dark-hearted and well groomed, oily fellow, clad all in black and purple. OWAH! My minions, now two in number, wore my livery! That was a very neat feeling and increased the “buy-in” for me. My minions were infantry, naturally. They feared nothing, not even my crazed runs through the woods, trying to hang them up on trees, rocks, embankments and oh yes, nasty enemies. These antics resulted in my not accomplishing the end quest in time, but I was able to determine that Perpetual did a tremendous job in avoiding the traditional and lamentable pitfall of buggy pet pathing and following ability. Kudos, lads. It makes me roll my eyes when I see games where the pets vanish, get stuck, run off to do their own things or otherwise epitomize the old saying, “Doing something stupid, master!” Please see illustration, below right, for a real-life screenshot of my present minions. Note the foam chips all over their fur. Yep. BAD minions.

Although I only had two chaps to guard my frail spellcasting self, I made them try different formations and stances, offensive and defensive, and messed around with the commands a great deal. I am sure my minions thought that I was the most useless handler they’d had all day… I am sure I heard them muttering at me… but I was satisfied that they would live up to their potential. Still in early Beta, they handle pretty darn well, if i do say so myself.

If I am lucky enough in the Beta lottery, I will have the chance to test them out more fully in the generally more challenging environs of indoor zones, where the obstacles and tight quarters put pathing to the ultimate test.

In the course of trying to conduct some heavy minion-mania and listening to the Devs at the same time, I ended up getting in a little over my head, and found myself looking down at a dead servant. I felt badly, and looked around frantically for a “res” or “resummon” button… I then learned something that really appealed to me. In order to revive your fallen comrade, you must expend a quantity of the divine favor you’ve built up. In effect, it is through an unspoken plea to your glorious parent that your servant is restored to you, at some measurable and not auto-regenerated cost. These are not, I repeat, not throwaway pets. I like this game more all the time.

I envy those in Beta who are even now running four minions, making them a squad all unto themselves. With a few friends, you become a small army, and then logistical aspects of display and processing power will really come into play. Given that the game runs on a middle-of the road system now, it bodes better than if it had been one of those video-RAM-processor sucking monstrosities that we’ve seen from other companies.

Your minions will each come with their own feats (special attacks and spells). They will level up along with you, and thereby strengthen their feats, as well as learning new ones. You can have a maximum of four around you at one time beyond a certain level, but you can mix or match them as you please. Here is where things get more complex, as previously promised.

You will want to collect a great many minions. Think Pokemon, honestly – it will help you get your mind around the variety of minions you will be able to obtain. For one area you may wish to go very heavy melee, while an assembly of skilled skirmishers may be needed to counter another encounter. You may decide to pack along at least one healer at all times, or load up with offensive talent.

Now, take this decision-making process and complicate it further when you decide to get together with your friends, and they each have their own minions in tow. Once you figure out your strategies for the evening, either by reasoned debate, fisticuffs or paper-rock-scissors, it's time to switch your troops out!

So, you didn’t honestly think you could carry all these minions in your hip pouch, did you? Good, that would be just silly. Instead, you will travel back to your own personal encampment.

The Player Camp is an integral part of your world. It is an instanced personal zone where you, and all of your loyal followers (sorry, minions) dwell.
It is also where you will find your Optio, the quartermaster who takes care of your personal wealth (vault) and correspondence with other players.
The Custosarmorum is the outfitter who allows you to upgrade the equipment on your minions. The last name I recall sounded like Larwieles – ten bonus points this week to confirm the spelling and etymology. I suspect it is along the lines of “voice of god”, given the prefix “Lar” (so close to larynx) and his role as the priest/mediator or messenger between yourself and your exalted parent. Get back to me on that in this thread when you figure it out for me.

Finally, there are plans to add a sort of merchant NPC, to take care of the loads of heavy low-end goods that you want to sell to free up space.

The camp itself was nicely put together, rough and ready, but outdoors in the fresh air, and really nicely constructed. Again, I regretted not being able to take my own screenies!

In any case, this is where you will have a barracks for your minion collection, and where you can mix and match them before heading back out to your destination.

Ah, but where do these minions come from? Good thing you asked. Each has a contract, simple or complex.
- Some minions may be hired for a straight exchange of coin… crass, perhaps, but effective.
- Others will be drawn to serve you only if you complete a quest, with the relative value of the minion being in accordance with the difficulty of the requirements.
- The most powerful will be bestowed by your deity, and carry the most onerous price in duty. These minions may have fantastical forms.

Minions allow you to be your own one-man group, with a cooperative, reasonably intelligent bunch of folks who are always ready to go when you are. It certainly opens the possibilities for a solo-style of play. And while Gods and Heroes is also focused on opportunities for groups and raid content, the latter seems mostly geared toward future realm vs. realm PVP, and I have no direct information on that front from this demonstration. I did find an official screenie to make me want to try a large-scale battle myself:

For those of you whose thoughts turn inevitably to how your character will make his fortune in the markets, Perpetual is now working on various possibilities for auction and market implementation.

The future for Gods and Heroes includes a broad range of prospective paths for expansion, by exploring the mythos of other cultures of the same age: Egyptian, Scandinavian and Oriental antiquity (among others). These offer a great deal of material to experiment with, and if the franchise is successful, they can keep things fresh for a long time to come, in terms of content.

If you want to keep an eye on the development of this game and just can't wait for me to cover it, keep watching the Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising site.

Veni, vidi, I was impressed.