A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco and spend a few minutes with Ubisoft discussing their dungeon-crawling, free-to-play debut The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot. I thought it was something to keep an eye on—mixing an irreverent sense of humor with a distinctive, colorful mise en scene–but there was some work to be done on the core action. In the eons that have passed since I wrote that first quick look, Mighty Quest has gone to closed beta and it’s time to visit Opulencia once more.
Mighty Quest sells itself on its sense of humor. Go ahead and watch this trailerand try not to track a smile. I dare you. In fact, I triple dog dare you. Happily, that sense of humor isn’t just marketing–Mighty Quest’s irrepressible silliness will draw a chuckle out of all but the most heartless gamers. Dungeon traps include a razor-edged hamster wheel and bombs that explode in showers of tar and feathers. Nearly every enemy’s name is a reference to an internet meme or a movie—my favorites are the necromancer Mr. Bones (we’ll talk more about him later) and a gigantic evil hound named “Mittens.”
Once I’d created an all new Uplay account–just in time for Ubisoft to announce my personal information had been exposed when they’d been hacked–I found myself confronted with the choice of three classes: the Knight, Archer, and Mage. Unfortunately, anybody who chooses the Archer or the Mage is also buying a one-way ticket to Frustration-town. Both classes can only target one enemy at a time, lack any significant armor, and have very limited crowd-control capabilities. In contrast the Knight can damage multiple enemies with each attack, has enough health and armor to tank damage like a pro, and has a charge ability to escape swarms of bad guys. The forums are buzzing with complaints about the underpowered ranged classes, so I’m sure Ubisoft Montreal will buff them before release.
Once you’ve chosen the Knight–I’m not kidding about this, folks–you’ll get some facetime with the tutorial to familiarize yourself with the two halves of the game. The first half is plays out like any loot-driven dungeon crawl–select one of the castles floating on yon horizon and you’ll be teleported to its gate. Once the gate drops you’ll have a short amount of time to run through the dungeon until you reach the treasure room. Beat the buzzer and you’ll be rewarded with cash. Fail and you’ll still get to keep whatever loot or gold you found. What’s interesting is that most of the castles are player-created (we’ll talk about this later, too), meaning that the gold you’re ganking actually belongs to other players. And we all know that nothing feels better than stealing digital currency from your fellow players.
This half the Mighty Quest is okay, but there are two issues I’d really like to see Ubisoft fix before the “release” of open beta. First, the action could really use a shot of adrenaline. Attack speeds and character animations seem to take forever, and the slothful pace puts the “grind” into “grinding.” Speeding up the action would go a long way to boosting the fun factor. Second, creature balance is completely out of whack right now. Boss creatures are far, far more powerful than they should be. The worst culprit is Mr. Bones. I don’t usually complain about balance issues, so i want you to appreciate that when I tell you that “Mr. Bones is OP,” what I actually mean “Mr. Bones is so unbelievably OP that he fundamentally breaks any dungeon he is in.” Not only does he summon powerful skeletons to attack you. Not only does he have a vast reserve of health. No, in addition to all that Mr. Bones is a huge coward. He summons his undead legions and flees to the farthest corners of the map, taking any who want to survive the dungeon on a wild ride that will never end–at least not before the dungeon timer expires.
If the first half of Mighty Quest focuses on stealing gold from others, the second half revolves around protecting your own treasure vaults. You do this by transforming your vulnerable castle into a fortress full of traps and monsters. You’ll only be able to place so many traps in a given area and there’s a limit on how many monsters you can place in the castle, but aside from those limitations the dungeon building tools are surprisingly versatile. Of course, the downside of giving players so much control is that they will exploit every weakness and imbalance, leading to player made dungeons that are much more difficult than their developer-created equivalents.
When creating your dungeon, you’ll also have access to certain shops where you can spend your hard earned gold. The blacksmith will equip you with better arms and armor, the research lab will make your castle’s defenders even more formidable, and so on. As the game is currently played, there are a lot of hidden costs, which can be frustrating. For example: to upgrade your blacksmith (1500 Gold) you’ll first have to upgrade the Architect’s table (2000 Gold). But to do that you need to upgrade your Castle Heart (6000 Gold). So a project you thought would cost you 1500 Gold will actually cost something in the area of 10,000 Gold! And of course, each step along the way involves a wait of 30 minutes or more. You can use the special paid currency, “Bling,” to complete building construction at each stage. Naturally.
There are still a variety of issues with the interface at this early stage. You’ll encounter a noticeable hang on menu screens, and some fairly routine keyboard shortcuts (‘i’ for inventory) don’t work. These issues are annoying, but there’s still plenty of time for Ubisoft to release interface updates, so we won’t rake them over the coals quite yet.
Anybody out there who is interested can head over to the Mighty Quest for Epic Loot website and register for a beta key. It’s a closed beta, but keys are being thrown around willy-nilly, so I don’t think you’ll have to wait too long to get one.