Demigod is a game with some good ideas. Most of those ideas are taken from Defense of the Ancients, the free Warcraft III mod whose gameplay blueprint Demigod lifts almost entirely. But this is the video game industry; if we condemned every game that was a lot like other good games, we'd never play anything new. This strategy action title adds a few minor, interesting ideas to the DOTA formula, but unfortunate technical issues with the online multiplayer keep it from being as enjoyable as it would be if it played smoothly.
Like DOTA, Demigod looks like a real-time strategy game, though apart from the overhead camera angle, it only shares a few similarities with that genre. It's a team-based game where players on each side choose one of eight heroes, each with unique strengths and special abilities, and then fight it out with each other on a symmetrical map while attempting to bust through the opposition's defenses and smash up its base. All the while, AI-controlled fodder units are spawning in your base and running preset paths across the map, where they battle with identical enemy fodder.
In short, the general flow of the game has you and your teammates leveling up by fighting the smaller troops, unlocking new abilities and buying upgrade items, and getting into quick, intense fights with the other team's player-controlled heroes. Even the strongest hero characters can die pretty quickly, so death is a constant threat and you have to be quick on your abilities and movements to stay alive and keep leveling up as fast as your opponents are.
Developer Gas Powered Games expands on the general DOTA framework in a few neat ways. All of the game's maps have flags strewn across them that confer bonuses when you capture them like extra experience, shorter ability cooldown times, or increased armor for your fodder troops. So there's some incentive in covering the map evenly to keep as many of these flags in your possession as possible. And in addition to individual items you can buy with the gold you earn, you can also purchase team upgrades that do things like hasten your leveling speed, reduce the timeout death penalty, and add stronger units to your fodder troop waves. I wish you could purchase these team upgrades with some kind of collective currency instead of your own personal gold, though. Very few players I met online were willing to spend their gold to help out the team, and when I blew all my money on those upgrades, I rarely had any left over to buff up my own hero.
There are only eight heroes here compared to the dozens in DOTA, but at least there's some decent variety among them. Four of them are assassins--direct damage-dealers with stronger, targeted attacks--and the other four are generals--heroes who can spawn a variety of additional weak minions into the fray. The different heroes collectively cover all the bases of ranged and melee attacks, damage-per-second machines, tanks, healers, support classes... If all this sounds a lot like World of Warcraft, it should. This sort of game is a little like an MMO in microcosm, since you level up every couple of minutes instead of every couple of days. But the pursuit of better powers and items has the same carrot-on-a-stick feel to it.
Most of the characters are pretty standard fantasy-shlock fare; there's a knight, a foul beast, a girl riding a big cat, a wizard, a scantily clad demon chick, and so on. Nothing too exciting from a design standpoint. But I have to give a shout out to whoever designed my homeboy the Rook, who is none other than a gigantic lumbering castle. His abilities are just as extreme as his stature--he can do things like add archers and turrets onto his shoulders, and suck up enemy buildings brick by brick to simultaneously destroy them and regain his own health. I wish all the characters were that ridiculous and awesome.
Demigod is literally all about competitive action. There's no single-player campaign to speak of; you can only play one-off skirmish matches or a ranked tournament series against the AI. Online, you can do skirmishes of up to five against five players and a more structured, elaborate tournament called the Pantheon. Squaring off against AI bots is fun enough while you're still learning the game, but you can only play against the computer for so long before you'll want to go online and find a real challenge.
That lack of a more involved story-driven offline component really hurts Demigod, since so far the online play has been wildly inconsistent. Publisher Stardock overcame the initial problems with the game's early retail release that were literally preventing anyone from playing the game, but even a week after the official release date, getting into a game that's free of laggy stuttering is a dicey proposition. Even getting into the pre-game lobby can take way too long, leaving you staring at a "Connecting" window for a couple of minutes, only to be disconnected from a "NAT facilitator" or other arcane error message.
Moreover, the smoothness of the online gameplay seems to depend on the quality of every player's connection. If one person has a high ping or starts lagging badly, it bogs down the match for everyone involved. I experienced this game-wide lag in a number of online matches, and trust me, the other players were not shy about voicing their mutual displeasure. At its least, it's a mild annoyance, but at its worst, it turns the game into an unplayable slide show. To be fair, I got into some lobbies in a matter of seconds, and had some games that ran smoothly and were quite playable, but those instances were in the minority. It's a shame you have to work so hard to find good matches.
Demigod can be a lot of fun online when it works right, when the gameplay is smooth and you're working with your teammates efficiently to buff up your defenses, take the right flags, and chase down and slaughter the enemy heroes with a one-two punch of special abilities. It's just a shame that experience is so hard to come by right now. When--or if--Stardock and Gas Powered get all these issues fully ironed out, Demigod will be easier to recommend, but for now you should be aware of exactly what you're getting into.