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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Mythforce is a cartoony, surprisingly tough co-op roguelite from RPG veterans

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Mythforce, a new roguelite loosely styled after ’80s fantasy cartoons, almost feels like the setup for a joke. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a knight, a rogue, a mage, and a ranger walk into a dungeon. Then they all die because they ran out of stamina.

There are two types of videogame at odds within Mythforce: one a breezy, actiony dungeon crawler where you slay dozens of enemies while chatting with your co-op crew, the other a deliberate, slow-paced combat game that demands precise sword swings and dodges to stay alive for more than a few minutes. I’m up for either approach, but the first feels more in line with Mythforce’s cartoony tone and its multiplayer roguelite structure. It’s perhaps overly harsh for a stray step in front of a fire-spewing statue to burn away half my health when healing potions are apparently this fantasy world’s rarest commodity.

I was surprised how much weight Mythforce puts behind its first-person sword swings when I held down the mouse button for a charged up strike. It feels a bit like Vermintide in those moments, which I mean as a compliment. But here getting hit by enemies just a couple times meant big trouble: my rogue was squishy as hell, and I sometimes took damage even while dodging backwards out of what seemed like sword range. First-person combat can sometimes make it hard to tell exactly where your hitbox is, and I’d just shrug that off in a game like Vermintide, where heals are fairly prevalent and the average enemy is a small fry you can swat away with a giant hammer. Here just three enemies slowly walking towards you are a major threat, and playing a ranged character seems vastly safer than engaging at melee range.

Mythforce has some charm to it, with a pleasant mix of cel shaded characters and slightly fuzzy 3D backgrounds. The art style captures the aesthetic of Thundercats or Masters of the Universe and is a good fit for what otherwise feels like a generic dungeon crawler world. The four hero classes available at launch are classic D&D. The first enemies you encounter are, of course, skeletons. The procedurally generated rooms you fight though are each filled with a handful of enemies and chests and pots to pop open for incrementally better color-coded loot.

It’s comfortable and familiar from the jump, though if you survive for a while you do start running into enemies that diverge a bit more from D&D 101, like mushroom men who shrink themselves at will to run circles around your frustrated sword swipes. Those weirdos are one reason I wish Mythforce leaned more towards the breezy hack ‘n’ slash—I want to know what kind of creativity is lurking later in the dungeon.

At least in this early access state—launching exclusively on the Epic Games Store—the roguelite structure  seems to be tuned towards dying early and often and restarting over and over to unlock character perks that make you just a little bit stronger. This works brilliantly in a game like Hades where the action feels fantastic from the beginning, and every run offers a different set of powers to juggle on the fly. By contrast, with a static set of character skills and a much slower pace, death in Mythforce is more of a grind. Start over and fight the same skeletons again, but with +5 starting stamina this time thanks to a level up. 

I played Mythforce solo and in two- and three-player groups, and it feels best with a larger squad. There’s some degree of scaling here, but the damage enemies and traps dish out feels extra punishing when you can’t have one teammate draw enemies away while another spends a solid 10 seconds standing still to revive a downed ally. 

I can see myself with a fully leveled character in Mythforce looking back at how far I’d come and appreciating all the power I’d accumulated. Developer Beamdog, founded by former BioWare devs and best known for the Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Editions, clearly wants this to be a game you can play for quite some time before maxing out your various XP bars and perk unlocks. But prioritizing that meta layer seems to have left the rooms a bit too barren to be interesting and combat a bit too punitive to make me eager to jump back in for another run after losing the gear I’d just scrounged.

A year in early access may transform Mythforce into an exciting roguelite, but at first blush it feels like the game you’d turn to if you happen to have a rabid co-op crew that’s already exhausted Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, Gunfire Reborn, and Risk of Rain 2. I especially hope to see Mythforce get much more playful with its ’80s cartoon inspirations. More chaotic Skeletor energy, please.

Mythforce’s first episode is launching into early access on April 20.

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