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MythForce's wonderful cartoon co-op nostalgia is held back by skeletal action


I have something of a penchant for cartoons. Growing up in the 80s, those wonderful, badly-animated, cheesy 'toons had a big impact on me, sparking an interest in all things sci-fi and fantasy that blossomed into a love for history, mythology, technology and, you guessed it, computer and/or video games. Heck, I'm wearing a Ulysses 31 T-shirt as I write this! If it wasn't for Masters of the Universe and Thundercats, I wouldn't be here. I'd probably be rich, successful and very boring indeed.

In other words, I was always going to want to take a look at Mythforce, the first-person, co-op, roguelite stab 'em up from Beamdog. Knowing that this was too big a job for one woman, I sent out a message to a hand-picked team of specialists, triggering a humorous montage of their beeping communicator watches interrupting their everyday lives and them having to, I dunno, hand off their cats to random strangers before rushing away to answer the call to action. Alone, I may just be Caelyn Ellis, freelance game journalist, but when joined with my group of elite gaming legends, we become MYTHFARCE!

Mythforce had already piqued my interest before I was asked to check it out. Even without the wonderful 80s cartoon aesthetic, first person melee combat will always get my interest and I'm always down for a bit of co-op with my chums. If you've played Left 4 Dead or Warhammer: Vermintide before, you'll have a good idea of what Mythforce is all about. Grab some friends (or random strangers, or just go solo) choose a character and try to get to the end of the level without falling prey to the monster and traps that are in your way. The main difference is that, instead of having hand-crafted levels, Mythforce uses a series of procedurally generated arenas with fixed set pieces along the way.

Cover image for YouTube videoMythForce Gameplay Trailer
Here's a MythForce gameplay trailer for an idea.

Having just launched as an early access title, the game currently only has the first "episode," the marvellously-monikered "Bastion of the Beast Lord" which means one level and four playable characters, each with their own special abilities. There's a slow, tanky knight, a stabby rogue, a glass cannon mage and a ranger, because they needed another ranged class, I guess. Nothing massively original, but that's obviously not what they're going for. That said, the character designs look great and the banter between them is fun, if still a little sparse at this stage.

Mythforce's big selling point is the 80's cartoon look and that's one thing Beamdog has absolutely nailed. It looks gorgeous in screenshots and videos, and even more so when you're actually playing and can take the time to look around the environments. Please, someone make a sandbox RPG that looks like this so that I can hang around and just vibe. It's not just a pretty face either, as the visual style is practical too. The backgrounds and the level geometry are all textured in a hand-painted style, while the players, monsters, traps and other interactable objects are all Cel-shaded. Not only does this replicate the look of a cartoon, especially lower budget ones where the difference between the animation cels and still backdrops is particularly pronounced, but it makes it easy to parse the on-screen action, even with the chaos of a full, four player party.

MythForce preview - in first-person, the player fires an arrow at one of two oncoming skeletons, with yellow comic-style sparks and damage numbers popping out.
MythForce preview - in a tomb-like area, two cartoon skeletons run at the player, who has a magic tome equipped ready to use spells.

It's a good thing too, as even playing solo, you'll regularly have three or more enemies barrelling towards you at once, while another couple stand at the back lobbing arrows and spells in your general direction. They don't do much more than that though, with the AI seemingly limited to stand and fire, or charge. As a result, you'll frequently find yourself having fought everything in a given arena without having strayed more than a few strides from the entrance. Skeletons keep getting themselves caught on the edge of platforms, stuck in a forward walking animation without any apparent inclination to jump off. That is until you find the stairs up to where they were, only to discover that they've found the guts to jump down while you had your back turned. Figuratively, that is. They're skeletons, they don't have any real guts.

There's plenty of time for Beamdog to turn things around, although it'll take a thorough reworking of the core systems, and not just some content drops. I really hope they do...

Yeah, I'm sad to report that, at this point in time, the lovely visual style is all that the game has going for it. Mythforce is just really slow. At first I took this as a positive, not being fond of twitchy games and expecting some slightly more deliberate swordplay, but that's just not the case. It somehow manages to be simultaneously overwhelming and glacially paced, with the characters trudging around the arenas like they're wading through treacle. Each character has three abilities, ranging from teleportation to shield throwing, and they take an age to recharge. So you hold off on using them until you really need to, but they're not impactful enough to have felt worth saving. The core combat is equally stodgy, with each action consuming great wads of stamina, leaving it all too easy to end up in an exhausted state, watching the bar slowly crawl back up so that you can act again. It wouldn't be so bad if enemies could be quickly dispatched, but even the most basic foes are arrow sponges, taking more than half your stamina bar's worth of attacks to defeat and that's before taking into account blocking and dodging.

MythForce preview - the player thwacks a beige, mushroom-like enemy with a sword in close quarters, shield equipped in their spare hand.

It's especially jarring because it runs counter to all the expectations the 80s cartoon aesthetics gave me going in. I wanted to be cleaving disposable minions of evil in twain, not having to carefully ration my strikes while fighting two Jason and the Argonauts rejects and a goblin. I'm here to be a Princess of Power, not a Pauper of Porridge. This is very early days, with Beamdog expecting the game to be in early access for at least a year, but they have a lot of work to do to make Mythforce worth a punt. I can't help but compare it to Vermintide and, aesthetic preferences aside, the Warhammer tie-in rat splatter and its sequel is light years ahead of Mythforce in every respect.

There's plenty of time for Beamdog to turn things around, although it'll take a thorough reworking of the core systems, and not just some content drops. I really hope they do, because I'd love to have reason to spend more time in its beautiful environs. Right now though, if it were an '80s cartoon, Mythforce would be Thundercats; great intro, not a lot else going for it.