Clash of the Titans! Mytheon Preview at GDC 2010

Ten Ton Hammer had a chance to preview Mytheon at GDC, the upcoming action RPG meets real-time strategy meets a Bulfinch-load of ancient mythology MMOG fro

Ten Ton Hammer had a chance to preview Mytheon at GDC, the upcoming action RPG meets real-time strategy meets a Bulfinch-load of ancient mythology MMOG from the folks at Petroglyph, many of whom cut their teeth with sometime game development powerhouses like Westwood Studios (Command and Conquer: Tiberian Dawn series, Battle Tech) and Strategic Simulations or SSI (Panzer General, Silent Hunter, Stronghold). Needless to say, Mytheon builds in a comfortable level of real-time strategy (most through decision-making surrounding the use of stones as described below), but the game is definitely an action RPG at heart. And while grouped play was not a part of our hands-on preview, co-op play as well as 1v1 and 4v4 player vs. player (PvP) scenarios are in the works as well.

At the start, players will have their choice of three classes in Mytheon: the Eidolon (described as a utility healer), the Warcaster (a tankish melee DPS class), and a Warcaster (ranged DPS in the classic spellcasting nuker sense). Each class will have a unique set of stones to pick and choose from. The friendlier gods have sealed a number of helpful powers in these stones, and their proper use is the core of Mytheon gameplay. A stone can represent a static structure (such as a healing shrine or Mytheon’s take on an auto turret – a self-firing ballista), a pet-like minion (such as the ever-entertaining, bumblingly powerful Cyclops), or a temporary combat buff or power (like Warcry, which temporarily boosts the offensive powers of your group).

We began our game experience in Argos, an ancient city teetering on the brink of disaster. Thanks to the recent exploits of Jason and his Argonauts, Argos is protected from the wrath of the gods by virtue of the golden fleece. It’s a good thing too, because the gods are feeling wrathful – they see their godlike status threatened by man’s pride and a handful of the gods, demi-gods, and supernatural villains have thrown down the gauntlet, challenging man to an all-out war.  While the friendlier gods, Athena and Zeus among them, have elected to give mankind its chance and have even provided the collectible stones mentioned above to level the playing field somewhat, characters like Medusa, Hephastus, Hades, and Poseidon stand in opposition to mankind’s ascendancy.

You’ll first encounter backstory tidbits like these with clickable pedestals in non-combat areas scattered around Argos. Later the story is also relayed through progressive and one-off quests that guide you through instanced combat areas. The presentation unfortunately lacks cutscenes – Design Director Chris Rubyor explained that, for launch the team would much prefer to put the time and money required for cinematics into more foundational aspects of the game, like graphics. And the graphics of Argos alone are enough to dissuade anyone that this is a run-of-the-mill free-2-play game.

The art and animation are first rate, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Temple of Athena instance, where hoplite infantry are frozen in stone in a variety of combative poses. As you probably guessed, Medusa has replaced Athena as the resident supernatural power in this temple, and though we didn’t experience the boss fight, we’re told she reanimates these soldiers to great effect during the epic boss fight. Aside from the boss encounter, these stone figures are a great example of how Mytheon weaves excellent graphics with appropriately ominous art and scene direction.

One boss we did cross paths with was Echidna mother of all monsters, in the level 1-5 tutorial instance, Shattered Isle. Since this level is meant to be the tutorial, the difficulty was toned way down, but I was able to learn more about what Chris described as Mytheon’s rock-paper-scissors approach to combat. Actually there’s multiple levels of rock-paper-scissors going on, with many minions, structures, and enemies using the four elements which do their own cancelling and crit-ing, but the primary way bonuses to combat are resolved is by the attacker-defender-ranged system. Each unit fits into one of these categories, and each category beats out another category but is susceptible to another. For example, attackers are good against ranged but susceptible to defenders. Defenders are susceptible to ranged, but good against attackers, and so on. The upshot is that if you’re thinking, you’ll use stones that correspond to your enemies weakness (it’s clearly represented on the UI), and if you’re really thinking, you’ll want to stack your stone deck to exploit the weaknesses of your enemies in subsequent playthroughs. And while it’s possible to stack your deck by choosing at least 15 stones from your collection, what stones you have immediately at hand are limited to four slots of stones chosen at random as stones are used.

Two features that traditional MMO gamers might be loathe to learn about are the lack of WASD movement (the game is click-to-move, with no plans to allow keyboard movement), and the mouse buttons are the inverse of what you’d find in other action RPGs, like Torchlight. Petroglyph has its reasons for these deviations from the norm, but the game does initially take some getting used to.

Petroglyph also made concessions to the game’s micro-transaction driven nature. For example, health does not automatically regenerate as players wend their way through combat instances. You must take health potions or find your way to a health shrine, which itself has a limited capacity to heal and must regenerate healing power over time.  Chris was quick to point out that items such as health potions can be purchased with currency earned in-game too, so Petroglyph isn’t forcing you to buy potions using real money - they’ll just make it convenient to do so.

In the final anaylsis, when you get past some of the interface quirks and take time to luxuriate in Mytheon’s setting, story, graphics, and overall presentation, I think it’s fair to say we have not just a new breed of online RPG on our hands, but also a new breed of free-to-play MMOG.  It would be a titanic mistake (get it?) not to add Mytheon to your list of free-to-play MMOGs worth checking out when Petroglyph and True Games take it live later this year.

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