Wednesday, August 04, 2010
Mytheon showing the way
When EA shut down Westwood Pacific in 2003, a group of employees formed their own game development studio called Petroglyph Games. They have several games in various stages of development or release, among which is a Free2Play MMORPG called Mytheon. Mytheon was supposed to be released in July, but the release date got postponed to later this fall, so the game is still in open beta. Now half-finished Free2Play games are a dime a dozen and I usually don't blog about them, in spite of receiving many "press releases" by e-mail. But I did play a bit of Mytheon, and think it is one of the games which you should see. Not because it is the "best game evah!!!" or something, but as a proof on concept on how combat in MMORPGs could be much improved.
Apart from the Greek mythology setting and click-to-move controls which resemble an action-RPG more than a MMORPG, Mytheon has the typical elements you'd expect from a MMORPG: Character classes, levels, quests, instanced zones, collection of gear and experience points by doing quests and killing monsters, and so on. What makes Mytheon stand out from the rest of the crowd is the combat system, which borrows elements from trading card games. You play a "stonecaster", with each stone representing a spell or ability, of which there exist various categories: Structures, companions, and various spells that deal damage, heal, or buff / debuff. The interesting thing is that you decide yourself which of these "stones" to bring to an adventure. You start out with 15 of them, but you can loot or craft or buy more, and then put up to 40 of them in your "deck". Every class has different stones, but you can put 1 off-class stone in your deck, thus using a spell normally reserved for a different class.
Like in a trading card game, you don't have access to all the stones in your deck, but only to a random selection of 6 of them. Thus instead of having a hotkey bar with always the same buttons on them, you have a bar with those 6 random stones from your deck. Otherwise combat works much like in standard MMORPGs, with you targeting a mob, and using your hotkey buttons to launch your spells and abilities, within the restrictions posed by cooldowns and mana. Every time you use one of the 6 abilities, it disappears, and is replaced a bit later by a new stone from your deck. Thus you have a different selection of spells and abilities for each combat, which very nicely evades the 123123123 optimized spell rotation of games like World of Warcraft.
Not only is your current selection of stones you can cast random, but also unlike World of Warcraft there is no static optimum. Monsters have one of three types, tank, melee dps, or ranged, and the companions, temporary "pets" you can summon, have these same three types. But the combat works on a rock, paper, scissor principle, with each type being strong against one other type, and weak against the other. Thus while you do get bonuses for having several of the same sort of companions out, filling your deck with too many of the same stones makes you weak against one type of enemies. A similar rock, paper, scissor rotation exists for the elements that make up the direct damage spells.
Mytheon certainly still has some flaws, it often plays more like a single-player game than a MMORPG, and the amount of content available is still limited. But as a proof of concept it already is brilliant, showing that MMORPG combat works quite well with a bit more randomness and decision-making involved. Instead of having one "best" talent build from a theory-crafting site, two players of the same class will have different decks, depending on the challenge they face, and the stones they collected during their career. Combat in Mytheon is much more varied than combat in a classic static skill system.
I do think we will see more games with combat somewhat like this, with more elements either from trading card games, or with rock-paper-scissor elements, or both. The trading card principle obviously works well with a Free2Play business model. And with us spending much of our time in MMORPGs in combat, a more interesting, interactive, and variable combat system keeps people interested in a game for much longer. Chasing for new "cards" and building "decks" is a strong long-term motivation factor. And Mytheon shows one example of how this could work. Check it out!