If you're entering the world of massively-multiplayer games, there's one particular world which you're going to have to be careful about not entering too much. That of the World of Warcraft. In these years after Blizzard's brave attempt to collect all the money in the world into an enormous pouch, we're going to see a lot of games copying it, one way or another. The obvious problem is that... well, if people wanted to play World of Warcraft, they're busy playing World of Warcraft already. And unless you're the proud possessor of a certain goose purloined from a cloud-inhabiting giant, you don't have the money (or the money to buy the expertise) to match Blizzard. The only thing to do is... well... do something else.
Myth War is something else. Not like Eve Online, Second Life or A Tale In The Desert, in that they're a complete step outside what everyone else is doing, but very much an attempt to find its own place in the shelves. Spending a few hours running around its currently running Beta, both as a fresh new character and a level-50 pre-prepared character, we managed to gather a few first impressions of how it works.
Firstly, there's the whole aesthetic look. For those who've been missing the days of bitmaps, rather than using polygons Mythwar prefers to use an isometric sprite-based characters which gives an atmosphere not unlike Baldur's Gate or Diablo II (will Blizzard not stay out of a preview for at least a paragraph? This is getting silly). The character designs have a certain degree of eastern-flavour, weighted towards the more realistic end of the spectrum - though we have hyperactive icons released in the chat window to provide a little more life.
Much like the recent RF Online, that the characters actually look pretty damn cool from the first second is one of the more attractive elements, but in terms of play the initial impression is that while there's a couple of hundred skills available, it's the sort where you're going to make multiple alts to see the most of them. There are four basic races. Each of these will have their own skills. Perhaps somewhat expected - what immediately raises your eyebrows is that the male and female members of each species actually have different skill-sets. Thankfully these are equivalent rather than some bizarre Women Can Clean Dishes Men Can Reach High Shelves game design, but it's still unusual to see character differentiated in such a manner.
The four races are also somewhat unusual. Well... mostly. Opening with humans is expected. It wouldn't be a fantasy game if you couldn't play a human, except these humans are more the bruisers of the world, about resilience and direct confrontation. The second race is Centaurs, which seem to be primarily about ranged attacks and a splash of magic. But magic is really the strength of the third race the Mages. Yes, mages are a race, who sold their souls for uncanny powers. These tend to be the large-scale devastation specialists, whose attacks tend to look the most impressive. Finally, there's the borg. These are beautiful silver-formed robots whose main interests revolve around debuffing the opposition. Each of the four classes has four skills which are improved to suitably more impressive advanced versions, after enough combat.
Combat's another area where it differentiates itself from most MMOs. Rather than integrating the combat with the world, it uses an Eastern-style RPG sub-game where after combat starts you're moved to a single screen where the two sides face off against each other. An action bar fills up and when it maxes out, your characters get to do an action - either one of their magic-point-using skills, a simple attack, a defence, a recharge thing or just trying to get the hell out of there. Interestingly, for the areas we went at least, the number of monsters who attack the group are directly related to the group's size. If you're teamed with multiple people you'll have appropriate mobs to beat down. However if you're off by yourself the numbers are reduced appropriately. This is obviously only made possible by the encounters happening off the main map - though when you do engage, your characters remain on the world, allowing passing heroes to select a spectator mode to watch the full on fantasy brawl.
Along with the combat, another convention of the eastern-RPG makes its way over - that of ambushing random attacks by monsters. In an MMO, there are a few advantages to this approach above a classical single-player game, mainly that no matter how busy an area gets, it never gets actively depopulated so you're constantly able to find action if you wish to. However, it's probably safe to say if that it annoyed you in Final Fantasy, it'll annoy you here.
In terms of other interesting additions, there's far more use of pets than you'll normally see in a game. Every character gets their hands on a pet in the first twenty or so minutes of play, who then follows them, gains experience alongside them in fights and generally becomes a useful companion. In fact, they'll gain experience faster than the player, normally outlevelling them - however they lose loyalty depending on how often they die, making taking one into combat in a dangerous area a tactical decision.
There's plenty more in process. Large-scale guild-war events seem promising with the players-forming nations and interacting, but that's beyond the scope of this article. We're far more amused by one of the first NPCs asking you questions about what button does what and giving you an item when you eventually get them right. It's an unusual approach to the training level, and if the team can keep that philosophy throughout the game, it could be interesting.
Myth War is currently in beta testing, with a release date to be confirmed.