Review: Myth III - The Wolf Age
Previewed By: Kirk Hiner
Preview Date: February 6, 2001
I enjoyed this game. Let's get that clear from the onset. I liked Myth I: The Fallen Lords, I loved Myth II: Soulblighter, and I enjoyed Myth III: The Wolf Age. This is not due to some unsolicited allegiance for Bungie or an affinity for games set in the realm of fantasy. It's not even because I'm big on real time strategy games, which I'm not. My tendencies lean more towards adventure and action games, I suppose.
But Myth? I likes me a little Myth.
When I heard that Bungie wouldn't be manning this project, I don't think I was all that worried. I mean, better Mumbo Jumbo than Microsoft, right? And, as long as the new developers stuck with the formula, all would be well, right? If they stuck with the formula.
Well, for the most part, all is well. The graphics are a couple notches up from previous efforts, the story is on par, and the action loses no ground. Yet, there's something missing from Myth III. At first I couldn't quite figure out what it was, I just knew I wasn't enjoying it quite as much as I did its predecessors. It's not that I was disappointed in the game, but rather that it didn't captivate me like before.
It's not really a fault in storytelling. Moreso than the other RTS games I've played, Myth III does a good job of tying together its twenty-five single player missions with a story that doesn't just seem to be tacked on. The characters may be a bit contrived, but they work. Sometimes you control them, sometimes they're relegated to the narrative. I found it interesting that some of the battles in the story aren't actually controlled by the player. One of the battles early on, a key moment in the development of the hero Connacht, is told with stills between missions. To me, this indicates the developers were just as worried about the plot as they were about the game play.
And what is the plot? Well, as described at MacSoft's website:
If that sounds a little too close to Battlefield Earth to allow you to feel comfortable, you're not alone. But even more disturbing, if the Wolf Age really is set 1,000 years before the coming of the Fallen Lords, then here is a civilization that pretty much just sits on its haunches all day. It's amazing how little they progressed in 1,000 years. I mean, no advancements in weapons? If anything, the wizards have forgotten how to cast spells by the time Myth I rolls around.
Myth fans will be happy to note that, like its predecessors, Myth III does a good job of changing up the game play with a good degree of frequency. In one mission, you'll have to sneak only four warriors into claustrophobic caverns to attack your enemy. A bit later, you'll control an army of thirty as they defend their castle walls. Mastering the strategies of each, complicated by the wide array of soldiers at your command, can prove daunting. For me, winning these levels was usually a matter of trial and error. "Okay, the archers did no good there, so reload and place them on this hill, then charge with the Heron Guard a little earlier this time." Some levels took more reloads than I care to admit, yet some I'd manage to get through on the first try. Quite often I'd find myself thinking Myth strategy when I wasn't anywhere near the computer. I came up the solution for one level that was proving particularly difficult for me while I was developing a website for an oil skimming company. "If I pull my army back to that crossing between the two ponds, the Myrkridia won't be able to flank me!" It worked on the first shot.
Of course, it would help if your soldiers had even the slightest degree of artificial intelligence. Seems this time around that everyone is as dumb as the dwarves. Quite often, soldiers you've put on guard will stand motionless even as the guys next to them are being hacked up. They also still have tremendous difficulty in getting into formation. If they're blocked, they'll try another route. Fine. If that one's also blocked, however, they tend to bounce back and forth between the two, unable to try anything else. Preparing your soldiers for battle is not entirely unlike watching the Keystone Kops. It's not a big deal in smaller battles, but it can prove annoying when you're retreating or trying to line up your soldiers for the big attack. Plus, the only way to move them is with the mouse. You can't use keys to turn them around, so positioning them in tight quarters is well nigh impossible. You actually have to pull them away from their posts, spin them, then put them back.
Oh, and get this...there are female warriors. True enough, the ladies get to see some blood and gore this time around instead of just being chased around villages by ghôls. Sure, they're all (so far) dressed like Xena, but so are some of the men, actually. Someone buy those berserks some shirts.
Game play is controlled pretty much the same as in Myth II. In fact, you may want to hold on to your Myth II quick reference card as Myth III doesn't have one. A new--and highly appreciated--feature is the addition of unit preset buttons at the top of the screen. Although the keyboard is usually the best way to select assigned units, it's sometimes more convenient to just click on the number at the top of the screen, such as when panning the camera across the assigned battlefield. Annoyingly, I sometimes had to click these buttons a couple times for it to take. The same went for the formation buttons at the bottom of the screen. Needless to say, this becomes extremely irritating in the heat of battle. I was also annoyed that you can't call up your objectives during a mission. The hints are still there, but the mission objectives are not. There's nothing worse than destroying an army of ghôls, exploring an entire map and finding the hidden lair, only to have the level not end because you have no idea what it is you were supposed to be doing in the first place.
Of course, then there's the multiplayer feature, which is pretty much what catapulted Myth II to legendary status. The multiplayer component of Myth III will never quite reach that level, I'm afraid. Bungie.net is gone, replaced by GameSpy. GameSpy is actually a bit easier to set up, but the sense of community is gone. The numbers have dropped drastically (although this should come back up once more people buy the game and get good enough to go online), ranked play still wasn't implemented when I last went online, and AppleTalk is no longer supported. One of my favorite new features, however, is the ability to work together online to complete the single player missions. As fun as it is to hack up thrall, it's more fun when you can share it with a friend.
Now, the graphics in Myth III are stellar, but only if you're paying attention. At first glance, they appear to be pretty much the same as in Myth II. After a bit, however, you start to notice things. Trees sway gently in the breeze, water and mist ripple above the land, bats flutter through caves, blood slowly saturates grass and flows downhill...and the shadows cast against the dungeon walls are gothic in their creepiness. The detail on the characters themselves are bumped up as well, but only if you get in close. The spells cast by some of the characters are the coolest I've ever seen, as are the death animations. These freaky lyche women blow kisses that turn into glowing, green skulls. When the skulls get near their target, they bring up half a dozen arms from the ground that seem to trap and pull their target in. Sweet. Oh, and dig their maniacal laughter.
Gamers also have the option to zoom in much closer than they could before. Should you desire, you can practically step in right next to your warriors and chat it up as you play. This looks cool, but is ultimately useless. In practically every scenario in this game, you'll want to see as much of the playfield as you can.
Yet despite this attention to detail, some elements seem to have been missed. Water doesn't ripple behind soldiers as they walk through it, for instance, only certain types of trees appear capable of swaying in the breeze, and fire sometimes seems to bounce across the landscape like flaming basketballs. Even the narrative text often looks poorly drawn against its backdrop. And speaking of the narrative, I don't like the new narrator. He sounds more like Alec Baldwin than a force of the light. In Myth II, I got the sense that the narrator was living the battle, and that helped to draw me in. In Myth III, I get the sense that the guy who does voice-overs in all those movie trailers is sitting in an air-conditioned studio reading the script of a game he'll never even play.
The script, as I mentioned, is okay, but the telling of it is disjointed. Bits are told with minimalist still drawings that are actually pretty cool looking. Other parts are told with some of the splotchiest video I've seen in a computer game since 1995; an mpeg compression nightmare. The simpler but much more effective animations of the previous Myths are sorely missed here. The developers could have even just stuck with the stills and all would have been fine.
And then there are the stability problems. MacSoft explains in the Read Me that gamers using Nvidia graphics cards and MacOS X may experience the occasional crash. Trust me, there's no "may" about it. You will experience the occasional crash. I didn't crash a lot, but it happened enough that I was never comfortable without saving my game after every single battle. They say that Apple and Nvidia are working on a fix for this problem, but as we all know, that doesn't mean it's going to come any time soon.
Despite all of this, the core of Myth, the RTS combat, remains. That alone is worth a 4 out of 5, but Myth III won't get that...at least not until Fear and Loathing are included. See, I'm not much of a multiplayer kind of guy, so I'm always happy when games ship with tools that allow gamers to create their own levels and mods. I have yet to attempt this myself, but I certainly take advantage of the work of others. Not here, I'm afraid. Despite the promises, there is no map editor for the Mac version of Myth III.
So, yes, I enjoyed The Wolf Age. It's not as good as Myth II, and maybe not even as good as Myth I. But satisfactory Myth is still better than a good number of other games out there. My hope is that the faults with the program are the result of Mumbo Jumbo's negligence and not arrogance. Negligence can be easily corrected, but arrogance would mean they feel they no more about what Myth players want than the Myth players themselves, and that could kill the franchise.
Oh, and one final piece of advice. Under no circumstances should you consider picking up The Official Myth III Strategy Guide. I bought this while working through the beta, and found it to be about as useful as poison ivy. The strategies it offers would be obvious to a three-year-old, and its level tips are...well, you'll often find things like, "You'll be attacked by a horde of Myrkridia. Kill them and move on."
Uh...thanks. I was thinking of inviting them 'round for a game of Celebrity Taboo, but I'll change my plans. You want real help? Log on to GameSpy and talk to some people who actually care about the game. In fact, I think I'll go do that right now.
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