When I first caught sight of The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot at Ubisoft’s recent press event, I feared the worst. From a distance, there didn’t seem to be anything to set it apart and, being free to play, I expected it to be a lesser version of the things it so obviously emulated. ‘So obviously’, in fact, that my first impressions were almost entirely wrong. Here, then, are my second, third and fourth impressions as well.
Oh, bloody cartoonish-hell-without-any-blood, they’ve made a free to play Diablo clone. A first glimpse that revealed nothing more than an isometric dungeon with a comical knight strutting through it, opening chests from which the contents exploded merrily, gold landing in neat piles, a belt of Adjective +4 nestled between them. My cynicism sensor was already producing a faint whine because I was quite literally surrounded by free to play games, with their monetisation and refusal to transact with me on a level I understand.
Just as the whine was threatening to become a full-blown siren that would have caused the building to be evacuated, I caught the attention of the representative demonstrating the game and sat down to see what was different about this ARPG. The first thing I discovered was that it’s not really an ARPG, at least not entirely. I chucked the cynicism sensor in the bin and started taking notes instead.
The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot is, as you may well know by now, a multiplayer mixture of tower defence, ARPG and Dungeon Keeper. While the actual hacking, slashing and looting doesn’t look particularly interesting in isolation, within the framework of construction and competition it should be a perfectly serviceable means of exploring the creations of other players, and it’s the castle building that looks like the most interesting part of the game.
Castles, which are essentially dungeons, are built using a top-down drag and drop interface, and at their most basic they consist of a line of rooms with an inner sanctum at the farthest point from the entrance. That’s where the most epic loot is hidden, in a giant chest that sparkles, glows and might as well have a giant neon sign affixed to it that says, “this is where we keep the good shit”. It’d probably be more sensible to hide it under the floorboards or in an offshore safety deposit box, but think of it as a taunt. Come get some (of my epic loot), says the chest, if you are mighty enough. Ho ho, blurts the invading hero, I believe the size of my steel and the granite of my chin tell you all that you need to know about any qualitative or quantitative assessment of my might.
Don’t make it easy on the obelisk-chinned pilferer. Using coins earned by raiding other peoples’ castles, you can buy traps, monsters and new rooms to enliven the path to your own vault. Traps will kill heroes, but they would rather tickle ribs than crack them open like the forlorn forme scaffolding of a Thanksgiving turkey. Hamstery creatures run in giant spikey wheels, propelling them along tracks that force any encroachers to slow and time their passage to perfection. Either that or take a face full of rodent-fuelled fury.
Many of the traps fit into a theme, as do some monsters and decorations. Perhaps you’d like to listen to Disco Inferno while building a castle in which the walls drip with lava and a fire-belching dragon guards the treasure chamber? There’s a trap for that: revolving, rusted turrets that stream flames across a room. Arrange them in a grid and they’ll create patterns of death through which heroes must weave. Thematic consistency doesn’t make a castle any more fortitudinous but it might please the interior decorator inside you. It’s also likely to be one of the places that actual pennies and pounds can be spent, although details on where exactly monetisation will raise its bowler-hatted head weren’t entirely clear, with the specifics as yet undecided.
However, it’ll certainly be possible to level both dungeon and hero by using nothing other than graft and time. Both have a separate experience bar, with hero advancement as would be expected. Get stronger, use better equipment, visit tougher dungeons, fight stronger monsters, find better loot, get stronger, use that loot, and on and on it goes. Because the majority of the dungeons are player-built (there are some designed by the creators as well) there should be plenty of variety, although the tools don’t appear to offer as much complexity, particularly in terms of layout, as a Dungeon Keeper, Evil Genius or Impire.
The goal is to design a place in which heroes spend as much time as possible, thereby providing more opportunities to sap their strength. This can be done by blocking the main route with particularly unpleasant traps and monsters, although the alternative routes may then be longer but easier, seeing as every placement costs a certain amount of points, the total permitted decided by the player’s castle level. Even a high level player can’t just dump all of his points in one area, creating a massive army of beasties. Each junction and room is a ‘defence area’ of a certain strength and creatures can only be added with a total cost up to the value of that area.
The final room is the only one that can support the most massive creatures, leading to boss fights, while in earlier conflicts the focus is on placing a variety of monsters that work well together. So small critters that swarm the player, zombie-like, could receive support from a necromancer who resurrects them when they fall. The hope is that careful combinations will make the fight more interesting for the hero player, as well as more challenging.
The alpha, which launches next month, will only have two hero classes: knights and archers. There is actual loot to collect – weapons, rings, armour, the usual – but heroes are also gathering experience and money which feeds back into the castle building mode. Although it isn’t inspirational on its own, the actual castle raiding looks solid enough and there’s plenty of movement, both in dodging ranged and area of effect attacks, and to target specific monsters, such as healers and whatever the fantastical version of close range artillery support happens to be.
Everything in Mighty Quest is wrapped in a social skin, making it possible to add friends and visit (assault) their castles, as well as to rate castles after touring them (pillaging them). Those with the highest rated will be more visible. There are also wagers. Complete a dungeon in five minutes, say, and you can challenge the world to beat your time. Choose how much to gamble and set a timeframe in which your achievement must be toppled and the game will notify you of the outcome.
I walked away convinced that Mighty Quest was worth a look once it’s available and relieved that I hadn’t had to nod politely through a tour of Torchlight-lite. The combination of the two game types could be effective and the social aspects are well integrated, but that bin, the one I’d chucked my Cynicism Sensor in, had attracted a small crowd. A tiny klaxon sounded from beneath a packet of crisps. Yes, I could understand why it continued to make a fuss, after all wouldn’t it be possible for players to spend heaps of cash and dominate the leaderboards, both in terms of loot gained and castle ratings?
Well, yes, probably, but it’ll also be possible to play with just friends, or to only deal with people around your own level. Also, attacking castles that are currently subject of a wager allows a hero to temporarily level up to the same standard while inside, so those not entirely devoted to the game aren’t locked out of advanced content, at least not on the hero side of things. So I’ll mostly ignore the whines and klaxons for now, and start thinking of humorous names for my castle.