Originally announced in 2005, God and Heroes: Rome Rising is fantasy MMO which was put on hold back in 2008 by its previous developer, Perpetual Entertainment, the team best known for Star Trek Online. Last year, the project was picked up by Heatwave Interactive, a company founded in 2007 which has mainly specialised in mobile and social gaming in the past, Rome Rising signalling a new direction for the company as they try and extend their reach towards the millions of core gamers across the world.
Gods and Heroes had been in and out of beta testing for a good few years before the change in development studio, raising concerns as to whether the game will actually be released. Upon acquiring the rights for the MMO last February, Heatwave Interactive CEO, Anthony Castoro, gave followers peace of mind by announcing an ETA of 18 months, which means we could hopefully see the final product launch Q3/Q4 2011.[drop]As the title suggests, Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising is set during the ancient empire’s uprising, combining elements of both Roman mythology and military. Upon entering the game, players can create either a soldier, gladiator, priest or mystic (the scout and nomad classes have been teased for a future release) before embarking on an adventure into a lustrous open world. Each class follows one of the main archetypes spotted in most MMOs, though in Rome Rising, players also have to align themselves to one of the Roman deities. For every class, there are two to choose from, for example the priest can either select Juno or Pluto, both. Your choice will influence which God Powers will be made available as you progress through the game, though their presence felt somewhat watered-down and insignificant during the first ten levels.
If you have ever laid hands on World of Warcraft, Everquest, Runes of Magic, Lord of the Rings Online, or any other similar MMO, you will already have a clear idea of how Gods and Heroes plays. Combining regular attacks with a ever-growing gallery of class-specific abilities, you will mow down hordes of enemies, reinforcing your character’s attributes and skills. It’s an adamant point n’ click formula which very few MMOs have strayed from, and it works just as well in Rome Rising. For a modern-day MMO to draw in a sustainable crowd, it needs a gimmick, whether it be an unique setting, narrative direction or gameplay mechanic; entries to the genre can no longer afford to be self-satisfied by replicating products which have already been on the market for almost a decade.
One feature that really stands out for Rome Rising is its introduction to Squad Management mechanics. During your travels through the ancient Roman Empire, you will be able to recruit dozens of NPC adventurers, referred to as Minions. Visiting certain checkpoints will allow you to compose a team of up to four Minions who will then follow and aid you in battle. An additional interface is presented on-screen, giving players the means to order their squad-mates with a concentrated range of defensive, passive and aggressive commands.
It may sound unexciting for newcomers to the genre, but for seasoned veterans, it streamlines the combat cycle and allows for balanced character development. Whenever I sign up to an MMO, I always tend to select the healer classes, simply because I like to develop self-sufficient characters. However, as matter of convention, healers are often the worst class in combat, sometimes making solo-play a tiresome struggle. In Rome Rising, I was able to recruit a soldier as my first Minion, and by combining her melee prowess and my own incantations, the combat process was quickened dramatically. It’s also worth pointing out that even though Minions level up alongside the player character, they never steal experience points from kills or objectives, and require little maintenance. One feature which was only briefly touched upon in the first ten levels of Rome Rising was Minion enhancement, something which will likely play a major role in the full version.
Heatwave Interactive are planning a subscription-based payment model for the game, though specific details, including monthly price, have yet to be verified. From what I have played of Gods and Heroes, it’s a solid enough MMORPG, though there are dozens of cost-free alternatives which are packed with plenty more features including voice chat, quest trackers and more. Since the days of Runescape’s “Member” subscription, there haven’t been any moderately priced MMOs, they are either free of charge or swing right into the £8+ monthly tier. Despite its well-presented environments and gameplay tweaks, it will be the asking price which will ultimately determine Gods and Heroes’ ultimate success.