When Gods and Heroes fell it was widely believed that it spelled the end of the innovative MMORPG game initially developed by Perpetual. But now that Heatwave Interactive picked up the pieces, dusted them off, and renovated it to bring it to modern 2010 standards, it is back in closed beta. If you were a fan of the original, you will certainly be excited about the resurrected version. Since acquiring Gods and Heroes, Heatwave has been very quiet about their plans with it but we were able to pry out some juicy details at GDC Online 2010.
Even though Heatwave acquired the IP back in February 2010, they only really dove into the development a couple months ago. As a result, many of the details about what will change and what will remain the same are not finalized.
One huge difference between the old GnH and the new is that Heatwave completely updated the graphics engine, so the details and textures just pop (check out the screenshots below for examples). They also reworked a number of the emotes and animations. The death animations are very well done, for example.
Another change is that originally, Perpetual allowed each player to have up to 24 minions. As one can expect, this caused numerous scalability issues, especially when even a small number of players were on the screen. If there were 10 player characters on the screen, each with 24 minions, it resulted in 25 different characters to be drawn on the screen causing very slow performance. To improve this performance, Heatwave changed the maximum number of minions available at a time to just four, but they are still finalizing what they can allow while maintaining performance. Regardless of performance, I also questioned how 1 player could even control 24 minions.
The basic premise of Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising is that each character is a Roman-style hero (think Hercules) and they swore to serve one of the ancient Roman gods. A player also chose a class and chose their minions who operated similarly to pets in other MMO games. This unique combination made the gameplay very unique and interesting, since the player had to strategically choose their minions' classes. A well-designed party of 1 player and their minions could do well as a solo party or make a larger group very powerful to beat the larger mobs.
The mobs in Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising are also quite interesting and well-drawn. At GDCO 2010, we were shown a variety of them, including Automatons, Giants, Colossus, and a Big Named Guy. And boy he was big. The player characters and minions were like Lilliputians trying to take him down.
Automatons are mechanical creatures who operate under the blessing of Vulcan, the crafter god of volcanoes. We fought in level 12-13 volcanic zone full of these Automatons. There were so many that it was recommended that a party of at least four enter with all their minions to be successful. And then there was the named mob at the end to deal with and I could only imagine the party that would be needed to deal with him.
Players can be highly individualized by the combination of class, deity and minions, along with the skills developed. Skills advance by usage, rather than by allocating skill points as many other MMORPG games do.
Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising is currently in closed beta. When asked what the timeline is for open beta and release, all Heatwave would tell me is "sometime in 2011," even after repeated friendly prodding.
The look of the game appears to be quite polished, but they are still working on some scalability and concurrency issues. This was a chronic problem with G&H back when Perpetual had it and Heatwave is making some good headway with it. They are aiming for around 1,500 - 2,000 concurrent players on a server.
Gods and Heroes will be using the old-school subscription model and at the time I spoke with Heatwave, they were not exploring a free-to-play option. Personally, I prefer the F2P model, but with all the polished graphics, unique gameplay and awesome storylines and quests, I think this will be a game that might be able to buck the trend of subscription MMORPG games turning free-to-play.
Check back frequently to see how Gods and Heroes develops as it approaches launch.