There's something not quite right about free-to-play action MMORPG Mythos. It's not a strange game, it's just... wrong. If games were people, Mythos would be that one unassuming pedestrian who you only realise is mad when you're close enough to spot his untied shoelaces and furious face, his eyes like two half-eaten Cadbury's Creme Eggs. Since you've missed your chance to cross the road to safety, you can only hold your breath, look straight ahead and try and slink past this unknown quantity like a submarine.
In short, Mythos is polished in some areas (the tactility of the combat) and unpolished in others (basically everything else). The art design is great, but the style is an unsettling cross between World of Warcraft and Torchlight. The framework is entirely in place for a great action game, yet it's a free-to-play game and there's a strange shortage of content. All boss arenas look the same, half of the quests are FedEx-style delivery jobs between two NPCs and the game doesn't so much try and carry you through a story as spray words at you and hope some of them stick.
Ordinarily in this situation I'd spend the rest of the review flinging my arms around like one of those windsock people, hypothesising why this might be. What's great about Mythos is that we know exactly why it is. In fact, it makes perfect sense.
Mythos started its life back in 2006 as nothing more than a technology test created by Flagship Studios, the company made up of ex-Blizzard employees that was founded in 2003, began work on Hellgate: London, fumbled it exhaustedly onto shop shelves the world over five years later and then closed forever in the face of poor sales. Poor Flagship.
During this time, this technology test was seen as having potential, and a handful of Flagship employees were dedicated to working on it full-time. They were already into the closed beta phase of their Diablo-alike when Flagship closed its doors.
This is where the story gets interesting. Those 14 people that Flagship had working on Mythos formed their own studio, called Runic Games. They went on to make a "spiritual successor" to Mythos, a little game called Torchlight.
A year later, in 2009, a South Korean company called HanbitSoft purchased all assets and intellectual property rights to Mythos, set on not only finishing the game themselves but turning it into a massively multiplayer online game. Which is where we are today.
The second you know that Mythos was built as a precursor to Torchlight, you start seeing similarities everywhere. Torchlight's three classes, the brutal Destroyer, gun-wielding Vanquisher and magical Alchemist have been replaced by the brutal Bloodletter, the gun-wielding Gadgeteer and the magical Pyromancer. Chests and monsters still erupt with loot when opened up, there's still that masterful split-second delay on any of your attacks, and there are still plenty of adorable minions which go scampering around after you.
And yet, HanbitSoft's handiwork is, at times, similarly blatant. There's the in-game shop, where you can pay real money to buy inventory storage upgrades, skill respecs or even to summon a mobile auction house; the crafting, which if it were any more opaque and tacked-on would be a barnacle; and the dialogue. Here's one quest giver's spiel in its entirety:
"Seeing Leordo's blueprints made me realize what I was doing wrong. My design was perfect, but the fuel I was using was wrong. This device needs Strange Excrement.
"Will you do me one more favor? I heard that the Strange Excrement can be found in Moaby Hangout. The Mans there apparently live on the Strange Excrement. Would you be able to get some of the Strange Excrement from them?"
Can you guess what happens next? If you guessed 'You go running over to Moaby Hangout and punch Mans until enough Strange Excrement falls out,' you'd be right. If you guessed 'You quit the game,' well, that depends how demanding an online gamer you are.
If you're easily pleased, then the moreish, unmistakably Torchlight core might just hold your attention, in the way an old lady might let a cat sleep on her lap. You can crush great-looking monsters and watch their pantomime death animations, collect improbably-named loot ("Legendary Great Scimitar of the Bog!" etc.), level up and progress down three skill trees unique to each class, and despite the game feeling slower and more demanding than Flagship might have intended, it never goes as far as hassling you or expecting you to grind.
The biggest problem here is the drunken lack of balance. My melee-focused Bloodletter was struggling to deal enough damage with melee attacks, something I'd sunk some 18 skill points into, but the moment I dropped a couple of points into summoning Bloodlings, I found the little freaks were capable of ripping their way through a dungeon with such hellish speed that I simply needed to lag behind and hoover up loot. It was a fun discovery, but it made me feel that much more removed from my character and the game's mechanics.
So, Mythos is almost competent as an action game. But if you come here expecting an MMO, and you like your MMOs to have a sense of purpose – whether it comes from innovative design, a world worth falling in love with or a certain awe-inspiring breadth – then this game is a bit of a wasteland.
I've heard Eve Online's learning curve compared to an icy cliff before. Mythos is more like a frozen lake. It's almost supernaturally slippery, with nothing that might grip you and nothing that stands out. Its player-base just slides back and forth between town and dungeon portal, between dungeon portal and boss, between PC and toilet, collecting Strange Excrement and producing ordinary excrement, the towns always similar and the bosses always standing in the same place in the same square room, waiting patiently for a protracted fight and then death.
Wow, I'm depressing myself now. Imagine someone who commutes to an office, then comes home at the end of a long day, each of these days longer than the last, to travel back and forth between dungeons in Mythos, a game which shouldn't even exist, having been first killed off by cruel financial reality and then resurrected in the hope of a fast buck.
Mind you, the best thing about Mythos is that it is free, and you don't have to give them that fast buck. Then again, you'd probably get more hours of play out of a free trial for almost any other MMO – and if you're willing to go as far as to spend money for your entertainment, then Torchlight II is only a couple of months away. Getting involved with this would probably be a mythtake.
4 / 10