I just remembered this one. Sometime back in 2002, where yours truly was rolling with a PII, I picked up a demo of myth: the fallen lords. I’ve always had a thing for extremely difficult strategy games – and after reading the review of the demo, I started my machine, installed myth, and ran it. I set the difficulty to easy, just in case.
Within minutes I was staring in disbelief at the battle unfolding in front of my eyes. The demo gave me a motley mix of soldiers – a few Archers, some Warriors, and a bunch of Beserks. And one Dwarf. I was supposed to be defending a village against an army of undead.
The battle unfolded as follows:
1) I sent my Beserkers out into the field, to take out the enemy undead archers (brigands). They took out the archers, and I ended up with 5 Beserkers with a decent level of experience. Then a gang of mummies (called Myrmidions) came along and took them out. Beserker heads littered the battlefield.
2) I sent my Warriors out to take care of the Myrmidions. Since the Warriors had shields, they got there fine, flinching only occasionally as the Myrmidions dual blades broke their defences. It was a stand-off, though. The Myrmidions had two blades each – my Warriors had a sword and a shield each. So I sent in my Dwarf. My Dwarf fired a Molotov Cocktail at the mummies. Missed. Hit my Warriors in the back. Fire again. Hit the Myrmidions this time.
A rather convoluted scene, as I recall. The whole battle lasted about 5 minutes. My Archers were inexperienced and kept missing their targets. It wasn’t long before the enemy broke through my lines and skewered my Arches as well. I lost. I resolved never to play this game again. A few years later, I found a retail copy. I learnt that Myth had been widely criticized for its extreme difficulty, and that there was a patch for this. I got the patch, installed and started playing again.
Myth: the Fallen Lords was developed and self-published by Bungie between 1997 and 1999. For those who don’t know, these are the people who made the iconic Halo games. They developed a sequel Myth II, and a number of expansions as well. However, they lost the Myth franchise to Take Two Interactive after Bungie was purchased by Microsoft. And Take Two screwed Myth up. Sad. Well, back to Myth: the Fallen Lords, where it all began.
Strategy and tactics games are not known for their storylines, with only a few exceptions (like Starcraft and Warcraft). Rise of Nations, which was a superb game, had no story at all. Age of Mythology – another timeslayer – was a smash hit but with a weird jigsaw-style story that couldn’t have fooled a five-year-old.
Enter Myth, which has a storyline (and more importantly: background) good enough to give the Lord of the Rings a run for its money. In the world of Myth, the forces of Light and Dark rule the world successively in a thousand-year cycle which has repeated since before recorded history. Every cycle ends in the arrival of The Leveler, an evil sentience whose approach (and fall) is heralded by an ominous comet that appears in the sky every thousand years. The Leveler takes control of the body of the hero who defeated him in the previous cycle—thus the hero who saves the civilization is doomed to destroy it. Tragic, innit?
Well, there’s a lot of history behind this one, with a very good mix of magic and heroes and tragedy and all. When the Fallen Lords begins, humanity is in a losing war against the Fallen Lords, six powerful sorcerer-generals under the command of the Leveler, who, true to traditions, currently lives in the body of the fellow who killed it previously – ex-king Connacht, who vanished some time ago. The Fallen Lords are mostly former powerful of Connacht. As the story goes, the Nine, who lead the armies of the west, have found a severed head that claims to be an ancient enemy of the Leveler. They’re convinced it will turn the tide of the war.
Like I said, the story is vaguely similar to the Lord of the Rings, but with there’s an agreeable amount of depth to it. That, and it’s gruesome. Have the Elves ever used a severed head against Sauron? Hmm.
As expected, you lead the armies of good against evil, which means you have to pit your quaking Archers against all manner of dark and gruesome ghouls and zombies. Hearing your soldiers’ dying screams is not really a cup of tea. Which is not for the faint of heart.
When Myth came out, it was praised for its story, but even more acclaimed for its gameplay, which was a radically new thing. Unlike almost every other RTS, Myth is ALL about combat. Literally. The traditional ‘meat grinder’ formula – collect resources-build army-go hammer ‘em- rhythm is nowhere to be found in Myth. There is no resource gathering whatsoever in the game. At so point will you command stupid peasants or manage production at lumber mils, mines or numerous town centres.
Instead, you get your army; the enemy has theirs; and whether you’re raiding, defending, or going in an all-out battle, it’s all down to you. In fact, Myth is so different that it has been classified as a Real-Time-Tactics game rather than an RTS. Your win – or loss – depends entirely on what tactics you use. It’s up to you – how and where you attack, or how you choose to make your stand. What makes the game so special is the advanced physics the game employs. Environments, units and their diverse behaviours combine to create situations that are incredibly realistic – in gameplay terms if not in graphics. Dead bodies fall off hillsides and roll downhill; spilled blood stains the ground, while heads occasionally get kicked around by battling unit. Units flinch when they’re hit and cry out when they win or die.
And arrows act like real arrows – they hit or miss depending on the actions of the players. I’ve seen units move out of an arrows path, and I’ve seen the arrow in question slam into a friendly unit fighting opposite, killing it. Friendly fire is all too possible – this is not Age of Empires, folks; ordering your Archers to fire upon a pitched battle will result in slaughter for both you and your enemy.
And units don’t heal, like in those softie RTSs. Your formations and tactics are everything – and it plays out very realistically, considering how old the game is. Rain or standing water will put out some fire- and explosives – annoying when you’ve got a bunch of Dwarves lined up, all ready to burn the enemy to hell. Me, I run on guerilla tactics – hit enemies in the flank, lead them to ambushes, and get my archers onto higher ground, where they do more damage. A Dwarf on the right hilltop can rain merry hell on the enemy below. A player with a very small group can decimate a much larger army if he/she plays right.
When Myth first came out, the scene was let by Command&Conquer and the ever-popular Warcraft, which were your average meat grinders. Myth: the Fallen Lords was a fresh outlook in comparison – and far more action-oriented. The story, and the dark, gory and totally superb gameplay brought Myth a number of awards. PC Gamer named it the best Real Time Strategy Game of the Year, as did Computer Games. Macworld Magazine termed it the Game of the Year. Gamespot included the Myth series in the “Greatest Games of All Time” hall of fame. In fact, the only thing that flawed Myth’s perfection was its abnormal difficulty.
It should be remembered, though, that this was a long time ago. Still, it’s a rare kick managing troops on a full 3D landscape, which not even modern games like Rise of Nations offer. Graphically, Myth is a big no-no, but the 3D really makes up for some of it. Swinging the camera around 180 degrees is particularly sweet.
It was this perfection that gave Myth such an extensive fanbase. These guys are die-hard Mythheads – they’ve been developing and supporting a commercial game for over twelve years now, and going as strong as ever. Now that is real dedication. Since 2002, after the fall of Bungie, even game servers been donated. Another point was the wonderfully open game engines of the Myth series – Myth II and III came with level editors, while the original Myth was quickly hacked and reverse-engineered to allow users to create levels and scenarios. During the years 1999-2001 (the peaks of the franchise’s success) – there were thousands of user-made scenarios and mods floating around the WWW.
It’s the community that really powers Myth. Bungie made Myth I and II, and collapsed; Take Two Interactive took over, and played meery hell with it, downsizing the Myth III team in critical stages, rushing an unfinished Myth III to the market and even making the dev team provide unpaid patches. Shortly afterwards, Take Two dropped all support for the Myth franchise.
What a sad end for such a good game.
Yet the community held on. A group of called the Myth developers provided updates to the game, working without pay or compensation. They fixed bugs, released tools, added enhancements and even ported the original Myth: the Fallen Lords campaign to the Myth II engine. Other teams have release mods that totally change Myth II, from the original story to feudal Japan, the U.S. Civil War, the Wild West, and even sci-fi scenarios where giant robots slug it out cross radioactive battlefields.
Something really has to be said about these people, who show a truly unbelievable level of dedication and self-sacrifice to keep Myth running. When Bungie.net went dark in 2002, fans even reverse-engineered the bungie.net servers and started their own servers, like MariusNet, PlayMyth, GameRanger and PlayTap. Many of these severs went down due to funding issues, but a few, like MariusNet (the oldest) and GameRanger have been gamely hanging on. The servers are funded by volunteers and donations from fans. A huge clap out to these brave souls.
Currently, the most happening event in the Mythosphere is the annual Myth World Cup, an online double-elimination tournament that’s been on since 1998. Gotta keep an eye on this.
My final word on Myth: TFL – play it, if you’re not averse to seriously outdated graphics. The graphics show up worse in 3D than they would in 2D. If you’re a die-hard RTS fan, though, you’ll see this game for the masterpiece it really is. Beating Myth: TFL, though, is another cup of coffee. No wonder it got the Game of the Year award,
- Watch The History Of Bungie And Get A Glimpse At The Future In The Hour-Long ViDoc (multiplayerblog.mtv.com)