In between my new obsession with WoW's honor system, I've been spending some time in and out of the World of Uld (the place of action for Flagship Studios' Mythos). Until very recently, Uld was pretty simple and bare. The leveling was slow. The settings were boring. The mobs were "blah". And as fun as the gameplay was, the flare wasn't really there once you'd played for a few hours.
Then came this Monday's Zone 2 patch to the beta. The game's not covered by an NDA, because the developers want us testers to spread the good word, and so I shall. With this patch, Mythos has gone from "a very fun but bland Diablo clone" to "Diablo what?". I'm dead serious. I tend to exaggerate from time to time about my hopes for new games, and my internal hype engine can often go into overdrive. But bearing that in mind, after 2 days of dwelling on it, I think I can safely say that Mythos is on the path towards being the Diablo 2 replacer that many people have long hoped for.
Everything you know and love about D2 is in Mythos, and then some. The only thing I feel that's missing is a Horadric Cube and Deckard Cain, but if I wanted those I could just play Diablo... they're certainly not necessary for enjoyment, just pieces of Nostalgia I could see myself smiling at as they popped up in any other game... but I digress. Mythos, for all intents and purposes, adheres very closely to the Diablo/Roguelike model. But there are some key differences in my mind that take the formula for addiction from great to greater.
The 1st thing I noticed, going from one client to the new one were the skill trees. The developers had been teasing us while we waited for the new build with samples of the new skills and how the new trees would work, but man was I still surprised at how much more fun they'd become when I logged in Monday night.
Previously, the Trees were a mess both graphically, and functionally. Too many skills that weren't helpful, too many skills that were too deep into the tree, and too few points to spend in order to see the deeper parts of the trees because we were sort of soft level-capped around 15 or so. But not any more.
Now, each level (which comes much faster thanks to more experience from monsters and a plethora of quests that we'll get into further down) you get 2 skill points along with the customary 5 stat points. There are 3 separate skill trees for each class (Pyromancer, Gadgeteer, Bloodletter) which effectively transform each class into 3 more classes. Dozens of unique and viable builds seem possible, but for my part the first character I rolled up on this new build was a Bloodletter (melee class) and I went straight for the Red Hand path of skills.
The Red Hand is the minion-summoning tree for the Bloodletter. Other paths deal with DOTs and more direct melee skills, but the Red Hand tree is what I remember being the most fun, if underappreciated build before the patch so I wanted to see what it was like now... it did not disappoint.
One of the Red Hand's 1st skills available is the ability to summon Broodlings from the corpses of the dead, not unlike Skellies in D2. By level 5 I had 6 of my very own broodlings following me around and killing things before I even had a chance to act. Each skill level of the summon added attack rate to them, so they were just tearing through baddies. Totally felt like the early levels of a Necro, and man was it cool.
I added in an ability to mark an enemy in order to direct my darlings to attack them, and also something I wish I hadn't wasted a point on. I can't recall the name, but it send out little flaming darts in all directions, which proceeded to explode after 2 seconds or so. Great for when I'm surrounded by mobs maybe, but with the Broodlings it never happens, so I don't need the skill. I can imagine it being very supplemental for another build though.
The only downside I can see to the Red Hand build is that the intial health of broodlings is very light. They can be upgraded deeper into the tree, but at 1st they might seem to die pretty often, especially on bosses that hit so hard. And being that they ARE your offense, that can make for a painful experience. But, with your skill points, you should also be putting points into a side-bar, which as you put more into it it opens up more tiers of skills. When you get to the point where you can invest some skill points into upgrading health of your broodlings, I can't imagine the dying would be such a problem anymore.
I don't have anything to say on the other classes at the moment, as I've only tried the revisioned Redhand Bloodletter, but if the little guy is any indication I'm excited to try the others. I hear the Pyromancer's pets are just as awesome. Really, I feel like they've nailed some amazingly cool skills so far with Mythos, and that's one of the things that makes the game fun. You feel absurdly powerful by level 5, and it gets more and more intense as you go on, taking out enemy hordes by the dozen, blood flying everywhere. Very visceral, very swift, and very rewarding. The 3 Very's of a Proper Action-RPG.
So yeah, enough about skills. There's still more to talk about. The second thing that makes the game so improved over the last build is the new art assets. Previously we had nothing but bears, wolves, bandits, and bugs to fight... as soon as I started in on the game this time within 2 hours I'd faced a host of never seen baddies. Everything from giant tarantulas to zombie mages, to pale-skinned necromancers, and of course... wolves. :) Combine the much more interesting (if not commonly used) mobs with far better scenery and you've got a very visually pleasing experience, runnable on modest PCs no doubt. There are abandoned mining shafts, deep dank caves, old churches, lush forests, rainy grasslands, and so on and so forth. And each "dungeon" you go into is randomly generated, and so painstakingly detailed with set-pieces (bookshelves, animal carcasses, rock formations, rivers, pools, etc and so forth), that it doesn't feel nearly as contrived and repetitious as NCsoft's Dungeon Runners.
Your character's footsteps make pitter-patters, your broodlings growl and snarl, enemies moan in pain, fury, and death. The lightning flashes and thunder is heard. It's these little details that flesh out the game's setting, and add just that bit of life that's needed to make a setting believable. The art-style is cartoonish, in the vein of FATE if you know that game, but much darker, more brooding... and far bloodier. I haven't seen the "Zone 2" yet, but I understand it's a more desert-like setting, not unlike Diablo 2's Act 2 setting, and I'm sure one can assume that such a reference is intentional.
Oh and when talking about an Action-RPG, who can forget the loot. All the staples are there, green items, blue items, purple items, magical gems to insert into sockets, swords, guns, axes, maces, wands, staves, capes, helms, rings, necklaces, yada yada yada... the unending search for the next big weapon is present in Uld, and indeed welcome. Part of what makes Roguelikes so fun is the treasure hunting. Would we really have played so much Diablo 1 or 2 if there was half as much loot to be found? By about 2 hours into Mythos, I'd been decked out in fancy items, one of which is a comically sized 1-handed axe the size of my little cigar-smoking Gremlin. It shines with frost-damage and electricity and smites enemies in 1 hit more often than not... and all at level 7.
And lastly for now, let's talk quests. I'm not sure how much the overarching story will matter in Mythos, but it's there. You start the game by helping a local clergyman clear his church of baddies, and then you're sent to the 1st main hub, Stonehill. SH is the base of your adventures for the 1st 10-15 levels of your life at least, and during that time you'll find no shortage of quests and places to visit. Golden exclamations abound, and the Map-Maker is always willing to give you a new cave or cellar to hunt in provided you've got the coin. I'm still working my way to Zone 2, but so far I've not had a problem finding something to do in Uld. If anything the maximum quests limit of 5 is far too small for my tastes. I've got places to go and monsters to slay, people!
In all, Mythos has risen on my radar from a mildly fun but somewhat boring free-game, to something I'd willingly buy the box for at regular price... and it's not even remotely finished. The 3rd zone is forthcoming, crafting is being added, and more classes are apparently on the way. I am hooked. Gonna be tough to choose between AV and Uld tonight, that's certain.