There are so many virtual online worlds out there that choosing which one to inhabit can be daunting. Most massively multiplayer games try to stand out in some manner, perhaps with intriguing lands to explore, exciting player-versus-player matches, or just the promise of ever-more-powerful swords and sickles to wield. Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising's lures are threefold. First is the setting. Roman mythology is an excellent backdrop for a role-playing game and has gone curiously underexplored in the genre. Second is the estate, your personal domain that gradually improves as you fulfill quest objectives. Third is the minion feature. Depending on your level, you can travel with up to four AI-controlled teammates who assist you in battle, so it's like you have your very own personal adventuring party even when you are soloing. These are good ideas that give flavor to an otherwise mundane, dated, and boring online RPG in which the basics are about as basic as can be.
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Lure number one: the world. Gods & Heroes takes place on the Italian peninsula of antiquity, mixing historical elements (the Senate and the baths) with mythological ones (fauns, cyclopes, and the favor of the gods). This good-sized world covers a lot of ground, certainly as much as you would expect from a just-released massively multiplayer online game. And because your initial quests span two large regions, you get a good amount of environmental variety from the start. You come across centaurs early on, giving you a taste of the fantastical straight away, and while initial areas are bog-standard forest paths and beaches, later areas, such as the foggy Venatrix Glades, provide a bit more ambience. Such atmospheric locales are welcome, considering how dated Gods & Heroes looks. On the bright side, a modern PC should be able to run the game at its highest settings, and at a high resolution, and still maintain over 100 frames per second. (Except in areas where the game slows to an inexplicable crawl, such as in your personal estate.) The downside is that the game runs so well because it isn't rendering much worth admiring. Textures are plain, geometry is simple, and the lighting is flat. And lots of details simply don't look right, such as how rain might splash on an invisible surface above you rather than on the ground. Luckily, the soundtrack fills in where the visuals struggle. The calls of horns, exotic bassoon melodies, and string glissandos enrich your travels, as if you might stumble upon Bacchus himself, wallowing in drunken revelry.
Lure number two: your estate. The estate is your own instanced home base, where you can find an armor outfitter for your minions, personal storage, and a few other helpful features. When you first begin, your property is relatively bare, but as you complete estate-related quests, the area begins to take shape. Buildings and architectural features like statues appear as you progress, and there's pleasure in seeing this bare valley morph into a visual expression of your great might; it's as if your estate mirrors your own progress from zero to hero. But while the development team plans to give estates more meaning, for now they are just expansive personal spaces. You can't invite other players or members of your tribe (that is, guild) to join you there and admire your spires. You also can't decide where you want buildings or ornaments to go. (How great would an actual city-building mechanic have been?) It's appealing to watch your estate grow, but at this time, this feature has an enormous amount of untapped potential.
Lure number three: minions. These AI-controlled entities come in three flavors: spellcasters, defenders, and skirmishers. Before level 11 (out of a maximum of 30), you have only one such buddy at your side, though you gain an additional slot at specific levels, eventually taking up to four of them along on your travels. Minions are Gods & Heroes' finest asset, making you feel as if you have a full adventuring party with you even if you aren't grouped with others. This is just as well, as it turns out. The game's population is so small, you could explore for hours without encountering another player, and even the global chat channel goes for long stretches without anyone actually chatting. Gods & Heroes' players are the friendly sort, but it takes some extra effort to explore the game's instanced dungeons, given the community's size.
Minions make two-player parties like this one feel even bigger.
That effort is almost worth it, however, if only because small group battles seem a lot more hectic when each party member also brings two or three minions along. You add new minions to your available roster by hiring them or earning their loyalty as quest rewards, and eventually you can choose from more than a hundred of them. Some minions heal; others zap enemies with spells; while others poke away at attacking harpies with spears. So no matter which of the game's four classes you choose for your own character (gladiator, mystic, soldier, or priest), chances are you will gain plenty of minions that complement your chosen role. Collecting minions is addictive, in part because they are both more substantial and more tangible than typical MMOG rewards: usually, some experience, a bit of coin, and maybe a helmet that you eventually sell to a vendor a few hours later.
However, your minions don't just give you help; they also give you headaches. Minion AI is an ongoing problem that might have you abandoning certain hirelings simply because they don't perform as they should. Some minions might attack your target when you do, just as they are supposed to, but will refuse to attack subsequent targets in the same battle unless you specifically command them to do so. Other minions refuse to perform their feats (that is, special abilities), making them somewhat useless, because standard minion attacks don't do a lot of damage on their own. Furthermore, while the minion interface includes stances (passive, defensive, aggressive), the aggressive stance doesn't work, though developer Heatwave Interactive handily included the words "not working" in the stance description.