It might sound like a bad thing, but my favorite part of playing Ubisoft's The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is logging into the game. I just love it when I get past the loading screen that warns "closed beta" to see who has attacked my castle and how the attackers fared during the attempt. Usually they have just blown past my defenses and humiliated me, but thanks to a wonderful replay feature, I can see exactly where my castle is at its weakest and can adjust accordingly.
Every player in the game gets a castle like mine. They're all floating in the sky, chock-full of riches that are up for grabs as long as the attacking player can get past the castle's defenses. The gameplay is nothing really new. We have been playing castle defense or action-based puzzlers for a long time, but The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot delivers everything in such a polished, unique-looking package that it gets props for being unique.
There's much more to the game, but you'll have to get past my glue traps to read the details!
I have to admit that I was not having a good time with the game at first. It felt repetitive and bland. I hate to grind just to get to a new level just so I can grind some more, and it started to feel as though I was doing just that. I would attack a castle, possibly break through its defenses, and go back to mine to tweak a few traps. Once I discovered the joy of laying out defenses, however, I was in hog heaven.
The simple start to the game might be the secret behind my initial tepid response to the game. I chose from one of three characters: the Knight, the Archer, and the Mage. There is a female axe-bearer that is supposed to be available later, but I found it irritating that I am not seeing a female character in this beta. Even though the developers have said that more characters will be added later on, it still points to the larger issue of female characters being added as tokens and afterthoughts, a problem throughout the industry.
I'm relatively confident that I do not need to explain to you which character specializes in what, but it's important to note that each one can learn new skills and you can switch between them to try out new techniques. I went with the Archer mainly because I always prefer ranged characters, but I also thought his ranged abilities would be handy in a castle full of deadly traps. The control scheme is a bit disappointing, however. You control your hero by clicking on the ground, but this often results in moving forward when you do not want to. The camera snaps to one of four different positions, making viewing angles an occasional issue.
The beginning tutorial is fantastic. You're hosted by a snooty yet informative chap who will fill you in on many of the details that you need to get started. His voice-acting is top-notch, and it all runs so smoothly that I am a bit shocked that it's claiming to be in a closed beta. You'll be shown how to lay out defenses in your castle, keeping in mind that each room has a defense rating of 20 points that fills up as you add monsters and traps. The castle itself has a total defense rating that tallies them all, so one of the keys to a good defense comes from squeezing the most defense out of your limit.
As in an MMORTS, the different systems and components in the game depend on each other. To create monsters to stock your castle, you'll need to access the summoning portal. The portal needs to be upgraded to bring out new creatures and traps as well as to raise the defense rating of your castle. As you loot and pillage other player's castles, your castle will grow in strength, and you have to keep your portals leveled up to keep up with your growth. And on and on it goes.
There's a research lab that allows you to upgrade your monsters and to add specializations (special abilities, basically) to them as well. For example, my cyclops can be assigned an ability that lets him smash the enemy or an ability that makes him rush to the enemy, stunning that enemy in the process. How and where you place your monsters and traps is the key to a good defense, but the individual defense ratings of rooms makes it impossible to just stack a pack of creatures in order to overwhelm your visiting opponent. Watching replays of my defeats has been a great way to see how players simply dodge many of my defenses.
You can brew handy potions in the potion brewery, the worker's cabin allows you to work on several projects at once, the architect's office opens up more rooms for your castle, the hero trainer levels your hero, and the blacksmith sells crafted items that have different effects. You'll also find a gold and life-force mine, both producing free cash for those all-important upgrades.
The fascinating thing about playing The Might Quest for Epic Loot is how simply complex it is. The game is really a beautifully veiled strategy game that is perfect for those who enjoy endless tweaking. Want to concentrate on attacking other player's castles? Level your hero; give him some great potions and better gear and skills. Want to stand your ground and humiliate mighty heroes as they attempt to breach your defenses? Level your creatures, try out new trap arrangements, and add some rooms.
You can lose crowns as players defeat your castle. Crowns are essentially a measure of bad-assery, a mark to show others that your castle is worth their time. It's possible that the developers have more of a use for them later on, but for now you might need to get comfortable with having very little. If defensive play is your thing, you can regain crowns with each successful defense, but the best way to earn some useful cash is to attack other castles.
You won't be blown away by the sheer variety of monsters and traps at your disposal, but your mind will start to boggle when you consider how many variations you have access to. Moving a trap to the next room or adding just one more monster can make a world of difference in how your castle defends itself. Trying out different abilities on your hero or taking a different approach to a castle's defenses can mean the difference between success and failure. Taking a different route can shave off seconds from a time limit. If the clock runs out as you attack a castle, the final -- and best -- loot is locked away. You'll still get some gold and life force, but the motherlode stays safe.
The game has had some controversy, of course. Early on, the game was being criticized as "pay-to-win," but the developers did tweak the payment model to allow only for speeding up training or building, a common model in RTS-style games. There has also been some uproar about the possibility that the game might eventually allow for "free creation mode," an endless combination of traps and creatures that is allowed as long as the player can defeat his or her own defenses.
Despite these and other community uproars, the game is off to an amazingly healthy start. It's polished well beyond a closed beta state, yet Ubisoft has decided to allow it to stew some more. This is good news, especially during this time of games that force players to test a game that has gone "live." If you like silly gameplay with a bit of puzzling in a pseudo-MMO-like setting, try The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot. Of course, if you like min-maxing and non-stop strategy, you'll like the game as well.
Wonderful, stylized graphics
Very helpful, fully voiced tutorial
Easy to play yet hard to master
Great for casuals
Great for hardcore players
No female hero, yet
Click-to-move can often be annoying
Many players just copy and paste other castle ideas, leaving little variety
Skills are useful but limited
Trap usefulness is often hindered by limited placement allowance
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