Review: Myth III: The Wolf Age
Developer: God Games/Mumbo Jumbo, Mac version by MacSoft/Infogames
Price: $20 (Mac version available from the Apple Store)
Requirements: 400 MHz G3, Mac OS 9.2.2 or Mac OS X 10.1.3, OpenGL-compatible video card with 8 MB of VRAM, 128 MB of RAM, QuickTime 5.
Recommended: Fast video card with at least 16 MB of VRAM, 600 MHz G3.
Trial: Feature-limited (two levels of solo play, Net play only with other demo users)
For Myth fans, the announcement that there would be a sequel to Soulblighter (Myth II) was no doubt exciting. Personally I feel that both Myth and Myth II were among the best games ever to grace the Mac platform. Myth wasn’t just a great game because of its revolutionary 3D engine: it combined superb graphics, exciting gameplay, humor, intellectual legwork, and problem solving. In short, Bungie seemed to have pinned exactly the right combination of ingredients, in just the right proportion. As much fun as both games were, even Myth II was growing old and increasingly out of whack with modern day graphics cards and processors. The graphics still looked pretty impressive (especially on a 3dfx card), but clearly there was room for improvement especially given the newest generation of Macs and their performance characteristics.
Enter Myth III, which interestingly enough is not a Bungie product. God Games purchased the engine from Bungie and has refined it and developed their own sequel (actually it’s a prequel). But fear not, the result is every bit as impressive as the original series, and if anything the gameplay is more challenging.
The Graphics Engine
The new graphics engine in Myth III is much improved. For one thing, images simply look more realistic: there is more detail on characters, and more definition in landscapes. For another, the engine is optimized for, and designed around, modern graphics cards. The benefit is remarkable rendering with smooth panning, zooming, and exquisite detail when characters are magnified even during complex combat scenes. However, all of this comes at a price: a reasonably peppy machine with a fairly current video board is required. I tried running Myth III on a 500 MHz G4 tower with the stock ATI Rage 128 card, as well as a Formac video board (which I have set up for my second monitor) and on either card the game was virtually unplayable even with rendering detail all the way down, and resolution at minimum. Then I threw it on my new 15" PowerBook G4 and, conversely, I was able to play at full resolution with rendering detail cranked all the way up. So clearly the graphics performance varies depending on the hardware available, but assuming a fairly recent machine, graphics will look sensational and gameplay will be responsive.
Every aspect of the game has been freshened up a little. Even the progress bar that displays as levels load is snazzier. The entire interface is fancier, although in some cases it is sort of obnoxious because it is less intuitive and functional than a standard application (particularly when saving games and configuring settings). But that is not terribly uncommon in the world of computer gaming.
Veterans of Myth TFL and Soulblighter will find that Myth III is virtually identical in terms of gameplay. And while many familiar faces reappear in Myth III, there are new characters as well. Some of my favorites include the Dwarven Warriors who sport axes and heavy armor, and are just as grumpy and ornery as their projectile heaving brethren. Dwarven Warriors pack a mighty punch and despite being somewhat lethargic they are very effective in hand to hand combat.
The Trow are back, and play an important role in the game. But in Myth III they are still enjoying the height of their civilization. They have throngs of Ogre slaves, and the Trow themselves wear enormous suits of armor that are virtually impenetrable. Dwarves can inflict substantial damage if you have enough of them, and are able to spread them out far enough so they do not get wiped out in one swift kick from an enemy Trow. But forget using your archers as you did in the past, for they will have no effect. And hand to hand combat with Trow is a very, very bad idea in Myth III. Unless you have the game on the easiest setting, you will lose all of your men very quickly. Even on the easiest setting, your casualties will be frightening though you can actually defeat a Trow or two if you are skillful. Later on, the Trow lose their armor (when you turn their Ogre slaves against them in one of my favorite levels!) and then become easier to deal with, as in the past.
Warlocks are present on many levels and using them properly becomes an important skill if the game is to be won at a difficult setting. Archers in Myth III are able to project flaming arrows (one per archer, per level), which when combined with satchel charges can be a useful offensive. There are many other new characters as well, and too many to discuss without going into extensive detail.
In addition to new classes of characters, there are also some important individual characters that serve to bind the narrative of Myth III together. Connacht (The Wolf) is foremost among these. Described as a barbarian, he wields an axe and does so with great prowess. Myth III follows his career, as he is accompanied by other heroes. In most respects the game revolves around Connacht although he is not present in every level.
Levels, Narrative & Gameplay
I have to say that Myth III’s narrative falls somewhat short of Myth TFL and Soulblighter. Neither of those games had fabulous plots, but they seemed a little bit more well conceived and flowing to me than Myth III’s. And in some respects I feel that there are levels in Myth III that are more or less contrived. That having been said, I do not feel that this really takes away from the game in any significant sense. The plot is not a key concern—I mean let’s be realistic, it’s not as if we enjoy annihilating the enemy to smithereens because the plot is so compelling.
Some of the voices are kind of weak in Myth III as well. They are not as amusing as the Bungie voices. And some of them are just bad impressions of Bungie voices. The dwarves, for example, are fairly inconsistent and half the time they either sound constipated or simply in dire need of a cough drop. Connacht just sounds silly much of the time. So I suppose they are just as amusing as the Bungie voices, but for a different reason—in this case we are laughing at the voices, not with them. This is hardly an important consideration, and frankly were it not for the original two Myth games there would probably be little basis on which to criticize the new voices. But the original Bungie voices were very clever and highly entertaining. The new voices in Myth III sound kind of like knock-offs to me.
While the game itself it just as much fun as the previous two, I do feel that the levels in Myth III are not as strong overall. Some of the levels in the first two games were simply fantastic in that they combined landscape, characters, weather, and specific objectives in clever ways. Myth III does not accomplish this as artfully. Some of the levels, as I mentioned, seem contrived and are not nearly as entertaining. However, on the whole they are much more challenging. Some of the levels are quite difficult even on the easiest level, and I still have yet to conquer certain levels on the most difficult setting. Yet I breezed through the first two Myth games on “Legendary” without much difficulty after beating the games on the easiest setting.
Myth III’s levels are harder for a variety of reasons. For one thing, some of the enemy characters are just plain fierce. They are harder to kill, inflict more damage, and are otherwise difficult to overcome. I am not merely referring to Trow. The Myrkridia are much more vicious than they were in the past two games, and they are all over Myth III. There are other units which are like Myrkridia in terms of ferocity, speed, and strength, and still other units which present different challenges. Most legacy units such as Soulless, Ghols, and their elk are really no more difficult than in the past and are dealt with in similar fashion. But there are some levels where the authors simply piled on the enemy units to the point where they grossly outnumber yours. True, this was the case in Myth and Myth II, but the ferocity of some of the units, combined with their sheer numbers equates to some very challenging levels in Myth III.
I am not so much complaining about this aspect of the game because, as I mentioned, Myth III is still proving challenging for me and a handful of levels are really driving me nuts on the hardest setting. I consider this to be positive, as I like a good challenge and prefer not to beat a game after one week of play. But it is worth mentioning. The fun in Myth III comes more from the challenge of winning than from the actual design of the levels themselves. In Myth TFL and Soulblighter, I really enjoyed setting up my characters on cliffs and ambushing enemy units and goofing around because I knew I would win the level regardless. In Myth III, the fun comes more from figuring out how to beat the level, not in toying with the enemy.
I did not get a chance to engage in any network play because I did not see very many Myth III games hosted on Playmyth.net, which is the Net-wide server directory for Myth and Myth II multi-player games. However, Myth III does support network play, and I imagine it would be just as much fun as Myth or Myth II but with better graphics and all the other benefits that come from the new engine. As I understand it, however, you cannot use Myth II maps or other plug-ins with Myth III. So until new maps are more widely available, network game play may be somewhat slow to catch on. Nevertheless, you can always play multi-player games over a LAN, or host your own game on Playmyth.net!
So Go Buy It
Buying Myth III was a no-brainer for me. I loved the first two Myth games, and had been craving a new set of levels, and an engine that would take advantage of, and showcase, my newer video board. I do have a 3dfx board in my G4 tower, and Myth II on that machine looks pretty good, even by today’s standards. But there is no comparison to Myth III. Myth III smokes Myth II in terms of graphics performance and speed, and it is a pleasure to play for that reason. The ability to zoom way in and enjoy exquisite detail, or zoom way out and move around briskly while maintaining shadows, reflections, and extensively rendered landscapes does really add to the gaming experience. Everything about Myth and Myth II that impressed in terms of graphics is that much more impressive in Myth III. While the levels may not be quite as well designed as Bungie’s, and the plot is a little hokey, overall Myth III is a worthy successor to Soulblighter. The graphics are stunning, the gameplay is highly entertaining, and on the most difficult setting some of the levels are incredibly challenging. If you enjoyed Myth or Myth II, you really owe it to yourself to go out and grab a copy of Myth III!