Posted on Monday, 10 November 2014 by Jack Darwin
I really wanted to like Myth.
I loved the idea of the game. A “DM-free” dungeon crawler that uses procedural rules to determine how enemy mobs spawn and behave without needing a dedicated player to control the baddies. It seemed great on paper. A fully co-op game where everyone can be a hero and work together to “beat the game”. The art was cool, the classes unique, the models were detailed and creative. The Kickstarter made almost a million dollars despite its modest $40,000 goal. Everything seemed to be in place for a big hit. So why didn’t it work?
The problem is, they designed it like a video game.
The concept of Myth was epic. A dungeon crawler in the vein of HeroQuest, with character advancement and a progressing campaign. Each player chooses a Hero and gains access to a “Hero Deck” of cards representing that class’s abilities. During the Hero Cycle, players can perform actions in any order they wish. To perform an action, you play a card from your hand onto one of four action slots on your character sheet. These allow you to cast spells, make attacks, or perform special maneuvers. Once the Heroes have collectively built up 6 Action Points, the Hero Cycle ends and the Darkness Cycle begins. Here, the denizens of the dark get to move and attack. Once completed, your hand and all cards played that turn get put in your discard pile and each player draws back up to their maximum hand size and the Hero Cycle begins anew. One key factor is the fact that you can choose to hold onto a single card per turn instead of discarding it. That lets you save situational abilities for just the right moment, or hang onto a card hoping to draw a counterpart for a powerful combo. It’s a pretty unique form of action management for a dungeon crawler, as you won’t always have access to all your character’s abilities at all times, but promotes acting with what you have since you’ll draw replacements next cycle anyway.
As the story goes on, your Hero will find equipment drops, allowing him or her to grow in power, gain access to new abilities, and slowly customize their skills by making adjustments your Hero Deck. Your Hero persists between adventures, progressing through a campaign that finally culminates with an epic battle against the Big Bad.
Wow! They could release an infinite number of expansions and allow playgroups to keep growing their characters and stories and fighting newer and tougher bosses in exotic and diverse locations. A game that never ends!
Unfortunately, “a game that never ends” turned out to be exactly the case. Although the procedural enemy AI was a clever way to remove the necessity of a DM player, the way it interacts with the game’s encounter style creates huge problems. If you check out the back of the box, you’ll notice the game comes with 41 miniatures: the Hero characters, the Big Bad Fatty, and a couple mini-bosses, but the vast majority of the miniatures represent… trash mobs! Those pesky little underlings that are relatively easy to beat on their own, but in large numbers can create overwhelming and hectic encounters. So, naturally, they show up often and en masse.
But here is where the game trips over itself. The way the enemy AI handles these mobs is you have to individually calculate threat from all players, measure the distances of all players from that individual mob, consider the type of attack that mob uses, the number of squares it can move, and take into account which other characters and mobs are in the way, all to figure out where a single mob wants to go, how it gets there, and who it attacks. Now imagine doing that 12 times in a row when a dozen mobs are swarming the game board at various distances and locations. The result is that every Darkness Cycle can take 10-15 minutes to resolve, slowing the overall encounter down to a snail’s pace and driving your bored players to frantically search for something, anything, they can do to fill the downtime, such as fixing a snack, playing a game of Magic, or gestating a human baby to maturity.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The designers, Brian Shotton and Kenny Sims, have gone on record as saying the mechanics and the encounter design of the Myth were inspired by MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. And you can really see the influence. The Hero Deck works a lot like a hotbar with powerful spells being balanced by disappearing on “cooldown” after they’re used, to be shuffled back into the deck and drawn again. Fighting your way through rooms full of trash mobs, getting shit for drops, and smacking down the occasional mini-boss to finally earn the right to fight the Big Bad himself (the only enemy who actually has interesting fight mechanics) feels just like a modern MMO.
Yup, a modern MMO running at .05 frames per second. It’s like you’re playing on Commodore 64 you found in a museum’s trash dumpster but you’ve maxed out all the in-game settings to Ultra because you’re massively epileptic and need a game to look like a plodding series of snapshots instead of anything resembling motion. That’s what combat is like in Myth. A simple encounter that would take 30 seconds to clear in an MMO can take 45 minutes in Myth.
The advantage of video games is all that procedural mob behavior stuff happens under the hood, instantly, in real-time as you focus on playing your own character. Whereas in Myth, you have to painstakingly and manually control your entire swarm of enemies in between each shot you take. And that just kills any sense of inertia or enthusiasm for the encounter.
And don’t get me wrong, the first moment of combat in Myth is exciting, when everyone is charged up and ready to go. You to run into a room full of large hives, each churning out giant bipedal venom-spitting insects. The Solider rushes up and cleaves 2 or 3 in half as he tries to plow his way through to shut down the breeding factories. The Apprentice hurls explosive balls of fire to clear the way, while the Brigand races through a line of insectoids, sending their limbs and heads flying as he zooms by. The Archer empties her quiver in one go and fires off a flurry of shots into the pulsating hive, nearly collapsing it. Wow! What a explosive start!
But now what Myth asks you to do is to stop having fun, grab the nearest insect guy and decide where he wants to go, how he gets there, what he’s going to shoot at, roll his dice for him, and then move on to his buddy and do it all over again 12 times before you get to have fun again. And then at the end of the Darkness Cycle, the hives spit out even more mobs. EVEN MORE MOBS!
The fact that nearly every encounter we played involved at least one or more hives that continually spit out monsters until destroyed makes me think the designers really misunderstood the pace of their game and MMOs in general. Think back to your days of playing WoW (yes, I know you’ve played it. I know you were a Blood Elf rogue and I know your name was Faircock. Do not be alarmed). In those days of yore, what do you remember most fondly? Those exciting times when you pummeled trash mobs for hours on end? Hell no! You remember the boss fights! The epic battles between good and evil, with bosses that had different phases and types of attacks that required teamwork and planning and trial and error and practice to finally defeat. You remember fighting Arthas the Motherfucken’ Lich King, not the 200 skeletons leading up to him, whose dried ligaments are hanging off your battle-ax, leftover from when you casually sprinted through them with your weapon held out to the side at head-chopping level.
Now, I’m not going to say the game is beyond salvaging. Maybe it can be. The game was already “Patched” (these guys really do think it’s a video game, don’t they?) once, as the original rule booklet lacked a lot of the detail necessary to actually, you know, play the game correctly. But with several expansions likely in the works, I’d suggest to the designers to significantly reduce the number of encounters focused on trash mobs. When we played the final boss, we had a blast dealing with the multiple phases and interesting mechanics of the fight. That’s where this game really shines and what it desperately needs a lot more of. Mechanics and strategy, not mindlessly cutting through endless waves of respawning trash mobs for an hour.
The Hero decks are cool idea but could use some work as well. They work fine as a cooldown mechanism to prevent you from just repeatedly casting your best spell every turn, but it felt frustrating having to deal with so much randomness. Especially as the Archer, where many of my cards felt useless or redundant (e.g. Ammo). I felt like I spent turn after turn just chucking my whole hand trying to draw into my few good attacks while my teammates actually did the fighting.
The lack of discrete turns is one of my favorite things about this game. Having all the Heroes play simultaneously resulted in a lot of good banter and planning with very little downtime. Without the formality of turns, ready players could act while more thoughtful players could consider their move without making everyone wait on them. Lots of “Leeroooooooy Jenkins”-ing ensued, making for some crazy and memorable moments.
Despite some major pacing and encounter flaws, the game definitely has some good things going for it and deserves a chance to improve.
So do it, Myth! Delivery on your promise and make it happen. Or don’t. Whatever. Shadows of Brimstone comes out soon too.
from Mercs, LLC