The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is a hack-and-slash dungeon-crawler with aesthetic flair and a castle defence title with earnest charm - but its playful title is something of a misnomer. Just into open beta, this free-to-play game from Ubisoft Montreal feels less like one coherent whole than it does a series of bite-sized challenges suffering from Three Bears syndrome.
Its predominantly user-generated levels come in the form of floating castles in the sky - each with treasure to be plundered, monsters to be slain and traps to be evaded - but those whose designs are too dull or too repetitive are as common as those that are just right. Meanwhile, loot drops are frequent, but the weapons, armour and accessories are usually only a little better than those you already have. It would be more accurate to call it The Myriad Diversions for Incremental Upgrades, but perhaps that domain name was already taken.
So The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot it is, and it's a game that's split into two discrete but nonetheless intertwined parts. In the first, you guide one of three irreverent heroes (four, with micro-transactions) through countless castle raids, collecting XP, in-game currency and loot. Movement and combat are predominantly mouse-driven, while up to three abilities and one set of healing potions can be assigned to keyboard shortcuts. Your choice of hero largely dictates your gameplay style, taking in melee, ranged or crowd control, while your performance rating and spoils earned from each level are primarily determined by you speed and killing efficiency.
In the second part of Mighty Quest, you spend the gold and life force that you earn through these raids to outfit your own castle with various traps and monsters against which other players pit themselves. As your character grows in power, stature and riches, so you unlock new expansions for your castle, summon increasingly powerful minions with which to protect it and build a host of upgradeable services to brew potions, smelt gear and otherwise aid your own ongoing excursions.
In theory, this neat, self-perpetuating cycle could work well - informing players of what makes for the most interesting and effective castle design by forcing them to play through many others. Many of the levels you'll undertake have been created by other players and while you're bashing down the door to their treasure rooms you could be reflecting on what worked, what didn't and what you could adopt in your own castle. However, Mighty Quest's slightly skewed priorities mean that this rarely happens - because instead of being rewarded for building a castle that's fun to play, you're penalised for allowing would-be plunderers to breeze through too smoothly. The mechanics are right but the focus is wrong.
As such, you spend less time than you should pondering the most interesting room layout or considering how the abilities of powerful melee minions complement their defensive and ranged counterparts. Instead, you opt for the tactic employed by the majority of others: chucking as many monsters and traps as you can into a single room in the castle, in the hope that the resulting mess will prevent those that come knocking from reaching the castle-heart and securing a portion of thy riches.
"It would be more accurate to call it The Myriad Diversions for Incremental Upgrades, but perhaps that domain name was already taken."
To ensure that all castles are created playable, every trap and monster has a defence cost that counts towards a point-cap determined by your castle level. What's more, your intended layout must be validated by having you play through it yourself - but while that certainly ensures that none of the castles that you crash are impossible to beat, some of them feel rather mean-spirited. Furthermore, because even the smallest change requires another thankless run-through for validation purposes, you're inadvertently deterred from the constant tinkering and experimentation that the mechanics seem to want to encourage.
That's a shame, because there's the germ of a good idea here, but while a number of the developer-created castles offer a nicely pitched challenge from around level 10 onwards, many of the user-generated ones just end up feeling cheap. For as long as there are victory bonuses skewed towards speed runs rather than exploration and user ratings, this could remain a problem. It also has the knock-on effect of dragging down the pace at which you can earn anything of note, as the raids start to feel like a grind long before reaching the level cap (currently set at 30), which further hampers both progress and enjoyment of both strands of the game.
Mighty Quest's components have been tweaked and refined during its time in closed beta. Where previously there was a limit to the number of defence points that could be allocated to any one room in your castle, this limitation has since been removed. Ostensibly, this is to facilitate a more open design philosophy, but I suspect it's also because your hero soon starts to feel overpowered when facing anything other than very large groups of monsters or the very largest of single creatures that serve as boss battles.
Ironically, some of these frustrations are borne out of the development team's efforts to not gouge you with microtransactions. Aside from purchasing the fourth character class, the runaway - to go alongside the warrior, archer and mage - the Blings that serve as the game's premium currency can't actually be used for very much. There are a handful of expensive castle themes to purchase that would certainly promote level variety, but serve no practical gameplay purpose, and some boosters to aid faster levelling. It feels as though, in its bid to avoid appearing tight-fisted, Ubisoft's free-to-play offering has instead opted for a slew of user-generated content that ends up feeling like artificial padding - and with no meaningful way to filter the strong from the mediocre, you end up slogging through all of it.
There's more content coming from Ubisoft that could ease this feeling of progress-by-attrition and the introduction of distinct chapters should serve to inject some much-needed variety into the goals and level themes. A promised crafting system will also help to lend the loot more meaningful value, as you'll be able to use the many unwanted random items to create something more useful.
Currently, the design of The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is well-meaning but a little too unfocused and the mechanics are solid but not being put to the best use. However, there's nothing here that can't be fixed with some time, a filtering system for the sheer amount of user content and the introduction of a more defined structure and better conceived goals. Then, Mighty Quest's players might be encouraged to utilise its interesting toolset to create rich gameplay, instead of being rewarded for the miserly hoarding of its treasures.
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