The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot follows mediocre Rock band Saliva's game design document: "Click Click Boom". Every dungeon crawler does that, though. You click, things go boom, and Saliva make a tiny amount of royalty money to buy penny mixtures with. But then Epic Loot starts playing Starship's "We Built This City" over the loudspeaker, and the entire game inverts, handing you trowels and hammers.
That is to say The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is a dungeon crawling and a dungeon building game. I should be writing press releases. TMQFEL is Ubisoft's first purpose-built foray into free-to-play, from a small team tucked away in a corner of their Montreal studio. I spent an hour with it, and was given access to a pair of leveled characters, the tanky Knight and the rangey Archer, and a castle full of traps. You fight through player-created castles while others are trying to ransack your own.
I fiddled around with the inventory before I entered another player's palace. There are four attack slots plus a health potion buff. The skill tree for each attack slot has five levels of power, with each gaining a boost at various stages of character levelling. Time to boost those reserves. I grab the Knight and look for a castle to loot. The selection is made from a screen of floating castles, with everything I encounter is drawn from the accounts of the other journalists at the event. An informal scorecard was set at the end of the room.
There's nothing complicated about the combat: four buffs and a health boost vs waves of foes. I wade in, shoulder-charging a group of prisoners that fill the corridors. They swarm, they pound, they surround, so I swing my axe all around and watch everyone fall, then set about pummeling them as they get slowly up. Then I bump into a series of floor traps: the first set are chomping floor tiles, then there's fire hydrant that actually spits fire. Cunning. Then I was slowed down by a ranged snot attack. I fought through the gooey mess and hunted down the 'Snotters' to kill, stumbling into the end room with the usual sense of ARPG finger fatigue. That final room was me taking on a giant ape boss and his minions. Even with the bigger enemies, it's mostly a case of hitting them with everything you have.
You have to murder everything in the castle before the final door will open and divulges its loot. You also have to do it in a timely manner, or you'll lose your chance at the final score. You'll still make money and collect loot as you progress, but it's mightily buffed if you make it through on time. If you're too late, as I was, the chest is covered and locked. It's also locked if the castle has previously been ransacked. Right now there's a six-hour cooldown before the chest is accessible, but that number could change.
How it's all built is the more interesting part. I didn't have a lot of choice over the shape of my castle, to add more rooms would have cost a lot of time or some cash and I had neither, so I was left with a linear castle that I'd have to buff in other ways. Each castle has a cap that limits how many traps and enemies you can use. The size and power of each adds to the number. It means you can't simply top-load a castle with hundreds of Snot monsters and gum any attacking hero up. You have to spread things around, though the final room before the loot chest will have a higher allowance, to encourage you to go all out.
I looked around the castle inventory, ignoring the paid-for options of rooms and decorations. That left me with traps and creatures. Given my layout was totally linear, I chose elements that just gummed up any attacking adventurer. Before anyone even got to my minions, they'd have to dodge a sprung tile. The first segment they reached was a wide room that I decided would have extra snot monsters and turrets at the sides. Even if it was a straight line from the front door to the back, I wanted the player to have to fight in the whole arena, all the way to the outer edge of the room.
There were corridors I filled with spinning, grinding wheels, and another room that I leant heavily on as many swarm types as I could squeeze in. I'd struggled with them as a hero, so I hoped others would as well. The final room I went for two medium sized bosses rather than spending all the points on a singular giant. I plucked the 'Snott Killgrims' from the menu.
Castles level separately from your heroes, so you can't focus on one part of the game without neglecting the other. If your characters are level seven, and your castle is only a four, then it won't be taking in much money to help you buy better equipment. You need to keep the castle competitive. It also collects money from those that attempt to attack you, so you need to pop back to collect the gold. Before I began fiddling with the castle, I checked the scorecard that was hung at the end of the room and noticed I was towards the bottom. After a few goes at another player's creation, with the Archer, I had to stop and make notes of what I'd played. The Archer's a speedier and more nuanced class, which is my excuse for dying three times and returning to the Knight. I wasn't doing well, but when I looked up I noticed I'd climbed the table all the way to third position of 13 players.
My castle was a killer! I popped back in and collected the gold, then noticed I could watch all the playthroughs that people had attempted. They're all saved so you can marvel at your own awesomeness, or figure out how people survived. In my case it showed everyone being tossed into the air by the traps right at the beginning, knocking health off before they've even taken stock. The snot monsters were a good addition: they forced heroes to the edge of the screen and right into my turret's fire. It was doing such a good job that the bosses weren't seeing any action.
With my castle winning, I ended up with plenty of gold to upgrade my hero. I could easily afford better weaponry, now. The Legendary Handheld Claymore was only 2200 gold, which I'd made in 15 mins of my castle just grinding up plucky heroes. But I got cocky. The friends list allows you to set challenges for the castle: you grab the name of someone and set a time and loot value. Not knowing who all the people were on the list, I accidentally selected a developer who roundly whipped my castle's portcullis. Still, it's a fun feature that gives you bragging rights.
It's an unexpected treat from Ubisoft. Basic, but well made, and done with a very silly sense of humour. It could be a reason to have Uplay installed.