An ancient Rome Online MMORPG Game is rife with opportunity. The potential stories, the blood, lust, sex, and intrigue of Rome are MMO elements that many other IP's simply cannot match. Rome was an empire of valour, heroism, and conquest as they spread throughout Europe and into Asia. Rome was also an empire of daily brutality and struggle - both in the cities and the countryside. These elements make the lives of Romans and non-Romans alike a character development designers dream come true. An ancient Rome MMO is a golden ticket - if a developer can capture all of what Rome has to offer.
There are many many times where I want a game to be good so much that I feel a slight sense of guilt when I realize that it doesn't meet those expectations, and then I have to write about how disappointed I am. I've been burned many times - most notably by Aion and Final Fantasy XIV. So here we are again - and I've been struggling with the words and the type of language I want to use to not only relay the faults of Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising but how disappointed I am at how many perceivably simple issues, improvements, or gameplay elements appear to have been completely overlooked in order to get this game out to the public. It is of course not ALL bad. There are parts of this game that, as a novice historian, I really enjoy. Come along with me as I try to lay out some of the missed opportunities, some of the good points, and where I think Heatwave should go from here in Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising.
One cannot begin to talk about Gods & Heroes without first talking about the development history of the title. I feel this history adds some context to the quality of the game and helps provide an understanding of the probable intent of Heatwave in finishing it. Gods & Heroes was originally being developed by Perpetual Entertainment, development started on the title in 2005. This is the same Perpetual that owned the rights to make a Star Trek MMO. When Perpetual fell on hard times Gods & Heroes, at the time already in Closed Beta, was shelved in order for Perpetual to focus all their development efforts on getting Star Trek out the door. Unfortunately this development shift could not save the studio and both the Star Trek IP, as well as Gods & Heroes were put for sale. Naturally, Star Trek was scooped up right away by Cryptic and is now Star Trek Online. Gods & Heroes on the other hand sat in limbo until sometime in 2010 when Heatwave Interactive picked up the title with the intent on finishing it and getting it released. So here is the context: this game was in closed beta - almost done, in 2007. Keep that in mind as we move forward.
The story of Gods & Heroes surrounds the Telchinist cult. A group determined to summon the ancient sorcerer Gods, the Telchines, who battled Olympus in the "Battle of the Titans". All of Rome has gathered to combat this growing threat. If Rome falls to the Telchinists' - well - history would no longer be history. Since all Romans, peon and aristocrat alike, would be impacted by these events, all sorts have gathered to take up arms. In Gods & Heroes you will play one of five classes: Gladiator, Mystic, Soldier, Priest and the Archer, which was added post launch. The classes follow common lines. The Gladiator is the close range DPS, while the Soldier is the Tank. Not many surprises here at all, the classes - at least in intent - play as you would expect them to play. Unfortunately the game-play itself is a bit of a struggle, even after the few updates that Heatwave has pushed out. Many animations are slow or delayed and laggy. As you play you feel slightly disconnected from what is going on because it doesn't seem to have any smooth actions or flow to it. Things such as deaths, and combat texts will sometimes appear a noticeable amount of time before or after the act really occurs. This makes a lot of the combat really frustrating, and for a seasoned MMORPG Games player it is an exercise in patience.
While there are a considerable amount of instances where there is obvious deficiency or inconsistency, I find the graphics in the game to be the most glaring example. Characters, buildings, most roads and city scenes are a mess. The textures used and applied are horribly implemented and in some cases carelessly laid out. Even by 2007/08 standards the graphic design on many of these elements is pretty weak. I pay a lot of attention to these things. You might not think that the grains of wood on a dock, or the textures of the brink are important, but all of these features are often overlooked, and are what make games great. The small things are what make a game environment an immersive experience as opposed to simply a computer taking inputs in a virtual environment. Spell effects are also lacklustre. Effects are what make you feel like your character has power, they are what keep you saying "awesome" while you are playing a game and definitely contribute to encouraging you to log in every night. When you characters animations and spell effects illicit no inspiration or emotion while you are playing, they only subtract from the experience. The graphical saving grace in this title is the grass and trees. Somehow (and I have no idea when they were developed) the grass and trees in this game seem to look pretty good. I have spent a decent amount of time pondering how graphical elements could be so polarizing here, but they are and I give credit to whoever was involved in making the grass and the trees stand out. Yet it remains that when you move from a title like Rift or EVE or Final Fantasy XIV to this, you really notice the glaring graphical issues that this title has. When comparing this title to the level of graphical quality we have come to expect from newly released MMORPG's, it is extremely lacking.
I also did not enjoy the questing in Gods & Heroes at all. There was very little originality to the quests offered and very little motivation to continue to move forward. If that wasn't painful enough, there was very little to no group experiences in the game while I was playing it - and I was playing during EST prime time for 1-2 hours a stint over a few weeks. Frankly, I grouped up once on a kill quest simply because myself and another were competing for the same targets, otherwise I maybe saw 2-3 other people in my entire time playing the game. While playing I was aware that this was odd, and tried to rationalize it as some weird bad luck, then the population issues were confirmed and incentive programs were put in place to try to get people into the game. While this has seemed to have helped a bit, seeing another player is still a rarity.
The estate system is supposed to be Gods & Heroes edge to market - what makes the game stand out. While the idea of a Roman estate appeals to the historian in me, the execution is so poor that it really dampens the entire concept. In addition to the aforementioned poorly designed buildings, the method in which the building is done: by questing, is a terrible idea and should be as quickly as possible supplemented with a crafting system allowing you to build and customize your estate buildings. If this title lasts long enough, and a lot of work and focus is dumped almost squarely on the estate system, this could still be the games edge against competition - but for now it offers nothing that I am willing to invest time into in light of the other issues with the game.
When I met with Heatwave at E3, there was a very long laundry list of post launch additions. I will save the "these should have been out at launch" criticisms for another time and simply say that if there was a crafting system - or frankly any sort of "non drop" economy - the game experience as a whole might have been a little better. Adding the Archer after launch was fine, but if I had a dollar for every Archer class in a game I would be loaded.
So, it is time for some context. This game was almost done when Heatwave acquired it. While I have no idea how much work had to be done to get this game launch ready, I have to assume that it was mostly what they call "feature complete" in terms of what they intended to release it with. Clearly some elements were a little further along than others, such as the archer. A game that was almost done in 2008 has absolutely no business being re-hashed in such a competitive marketplace as the 2011 MMO scene. I am pretty sure HP could tell you a thing or two about releasing a sub-standard product into a highly competitive market. I am disappointed in this game mainly because I wanted a Rome MMO to be awesome - and unfortunately Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising simply does not deliver on the glory of Ancient Rome.
Mike WashburnGods & Heroes: Rome Rising - Review,