Nine heroes serving nine different gods in ancient Greece all set off on the same quest. A powerful weapon has been stolen from a seemingly secure location and each god knows that having their hero recover the weapon would result in serious bragging rights. Our character becomes one of these chosen ones but agrees to take on the quest for a much more personal reason. The stage is set and our journey begins in Numen: Contest of Heroes.
The end of your quest is epic but the story begins rather slowly. With non-existent customization at the start, I found it hard to become invested in my character. As a child, your uncle hands you a dagger and tells you to grow up. (He won’t be winning any Uncle of the Year awards.) You don’t have to stick with a dagger, though. There are three playable character classes: warrior, archer, or mage. Feel free to try them all from the very beginning; the one that is used most will automatically become your class when you leave the island. To be honest, leaving a beginners island never felt so good. Why?
Numen kicks into gear to present a fun experience even if it is rough around the edges. You’ll soon get thrust into the story described at the outset of this review to travel all across the ancient Mediterranean region. Other than your class, the biggest game changing choice that you make is the God you will champion. Each class has three Gods vying for their devotion and all make specific powers and abilities available only to their followers. Some of these are rather inventive: a healing spell that only works while standing in water, an ability that increases damage to enemies holding or wearing iron, and a skill that studies your enemies to make their moves predictable and easier to defeat.
However, not all items can be learned (purchased) from the priest. Eventually, a petition will need to be made directly to your God. If you’ve earned enough favor, your god will grant your request. A lot of actions can earn and lose favor, but I had no trouble keeping my god pleased. One thing that will really help (or hurt) is how you interact with the other heroes. Did you forget that the name of the game literally contains “Contest of Heroes”? These other heroes will show up at various locations during your travels. Choosing to temporarily work with a hero might make the task at hand easier but will upset your god. The choice is yours. I enjoyed being able to work against these heroes and seeing them fall one by one.
Graphically, I was pleased with the game world. From the ice-covered Mount Parnassas to the swampy Imbros, all environments were convincingly different. Taking a moment to pay attention to small details like birds flying overhead or fettered skeletons in the caves kept me in anticipation of the next leg of my journey. Cinemax generously provided maps for each areas that are available at the press of a button. Some might prefer a mini-map, but I didn’t mind. The only time you need a map (but it’s not available!) is in one of the most memorable in-game locations I’ve ever visited: the labyrinth.
I have never had the misfortune of being lost in such a maze until playing this game. It was massive. All halls looked the same and there was no indication of which way to turn. Such trial and error demands perseverance and I actually had to sketch my own map on paper to ensure I could find my way back out of it. So, when I say labyrinth, what are you expecting to find at the center? (Kudos to you if you said “David Bowie.”) Of course, it must be a minotaur. Not only is he one of the toughest battles you’ll face, but he’s also large and convincingly brutal. Actually, all of the enemies you’ll face look like they were crafted with care. Rotting ghouls are sufficiently disgusting. Othrus, a three-headed dog, is intimidating. Like the environments, the enemies have a distinct look and carry a certain uniqueness that makes them stand out from similar games. Other than the aforementioned minotaur, I especially enjoyed the shapeless Stone Minions. These look like a pile or stones, but they’ll form up into a fist to attack you or even just pile up to fall on you. Unfortunately, week enemies will always attack regardless of how high of a level you attain. It wouldn’t be a problem but you’ll traipse through some locations numerous times. Getting stunned by an enemy 25 levels lower than you is an unnecessary annoyance to an already bothersome visit to that same cave.
The most glaring issue with Numen: Contest of Heroes is the pacing. I would argue that one of the best parts of an RPG is leveling up. Who doesn’t love playing as a character, watching them grow stronger and being able to finally use that uber weapon you’ve been holding on to for four levels? That joy is lessened when you blow through an entire level after defeating a handful of enemies. It was most obvious in the final dungeon where I gained 12 levels in less than 10 minutes. Despite the wonderful array of abilities in the game, I ended up missing out on using many of them simply because I would gain too many levels before making it back to civilization.
I also wasn’t presented with enough reason to beseech my God for special items. Having to earn favor for rewards is a fabulous idea, but the game was too short to fully utilize the system. It’s complex enough that it would fit right into a major MMO and impress a lot of people. I also felt Arena fights were underdeveloped. These side challenges were rare but inventive and refreshing. You would either duel one hero or partake in a single elimination tournament; victory in either situaresulted in a large boost of favor from your god.
A few other items worth noting are the save system and technical issues. On release, Numen did not have quick save option or a checkpoint save method. Your character was forced to go to specific save locations (camp fires) and rest. I found this frustrating due to the semi-frequent crashes and occasional bug. For example, at one point you are given a sequence of trials to undertake. After finishing the first, the game glitched and jumped forward to give me one of the latter errands. It wasn’t until I had ran around for 1-2 hours that I guessed there was an issue. I loaded a much earlier save, completed the first quest, and it proceeded as normal.
Finally, the game’s ending is so abrupt that it’s a disappointment. The final cut scene doesn’t have any emotion impact; it doesn’t show the resolution of the entire reason
your character became a hero in the first place. It just kicks you back to the main screen and doesn’t allow you to play past the credits. Especially given the poor pacing, I would have loved to revisit some areas after the final boss. That was not an option, though.
I have to admire Cinemax for their vision and grand aspirations. Many ideas and core mechanics of Numen stand out as true gems. However, the game is too short (10 hours or less) to take full advantage of them. Numen left me feeling like there were too many ideas but not enough time to flesh out all of them. I think the budget price point is fair, but I’d love to see what Cinemax could do with a full-priced game.