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The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot: A Competitive Dungeon Crawler That Hates Archers

Ubisoft reinvents the Dungeon Keeper concept for the online age, but it's a meathead's world.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

Ben Edlund's underground comic The Tick introduced most of us to the concept of the idiot super hero: Big-chinned, musclebound oaf whose mental inadequacies fell through the bottom of the IQ standard and wrapped around to a sort of bizarre genius. Personally, I've always been most fond of Kronk from The Emperor's New Groove (whose voice actor Patrick Warburton, incidentally, went on to play the live-action version of the Tick), but there's a certain comforting reassurance to be found in these dimwit heroes. Sometimes it's nice to think that good intentions and dumb luck alone will win the day.

In more recent years, though, the idiot hero has gotten a little more clever... and at the same time, he's taken on a nastier tone as well. The childlike purity of the Tick has been supplanted by the smirking oafishness of guys like Deathspank. They're still brutally strong, but now they're kind of dicks about it.

This is entirely the sales pitch Ubisoft is using for its new multiplayer RPG, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot: Virtual spokesman Sir Painhammer is a cocky, unlikable twerp of a protagonist. In fairness, the game's other characters -- a surly archer and a mad wizard -- don't exactly come across as pillars of the community, either. I suppose I'm just a little salty about Painhammer's swagger because he really is so much better than the other characters. The best part of bullyish bravado is knocking it down and humbling the braggart, but in Mighty Quest's case the leading man's posturing is fully justified. Since I prefer ranged characters to melee-hacking brutes, his boasts are a little irritating.

In fact, my first impression of Mighty Quest was that it's almost impossibly hard. In a small media-only demo of the game not so long ago, I leapt immediately into a session with the archer only to find myself being horribly savaged by monsters I should, by all rights, have been able to overcome. As my peers cruised ahead of me in the scoring competition -- we were invading one another's castles and trying to defeat the boss within -- I finally realized they were all using Sir Painhammer, not the archer. With some reluctance, I switched characters and found I could suddenly keep up with the other players. By that point it was far too late for me to hope for anything beyond a pitiful last place, but the change of heroes did at least turn my steady losing streak into an equally consistent set of wins.

The problem with the archer, I discovered, is that his play style isn't really compatible with Mighty Quest's interface. As an entirely point-and-click-driven game, you point at a spot for your character to dash to, point at enemies to shoot at, point at objects to collect. It's very hands-off, which is all well and good and upholds the grand Diablo tradition of dealing with this style of game, but it works much better for the melee fighter, who can take a few hits and swat multiple enemies in a single blow with his sweeping sword arcs, than for the archer, who crumples like paper when hit and can only hit a single enemy at a time with his default attack... and for a lot less damage than Sir Painhammer's crushing sword maneuvers at that.

I realize fragility is part of the package when you play an archer, but in most games it's offset by the ability to keep your distance. Until I got my game-breaking stealth perks, my Skyrim experience mostly consisted of me backpedaling from rushing foes. But since there's no direct control in Mighty Quest, that's out of the question. You can't back up firing all the while, you have to turn and run from enemies, and usually more slowly than they're approaching. Survival for an archer in Mighty Quest is a matter of taking out the enemy before it can close the distance.

The game does at least try to account for the archer's deficiencies by giving him some decent special abilities to be unlocked (including plenty of crowd-management skills) and making them much cheaper than Sir Painhammer's special attacks. Whereas special sword skills burn through the special meter extremely quickly, archery skills can be used over and over... the downside being that once they're gone, poor Blackeye Bowgart is basically monster food.

It's a shame my preferred class is so useless, because on the whole Mighty Quest is pretty interesting. A weird combination of Diablo and Dungeon Keeper, it skips the cooperative multiplayer of the former in favor of challenging others to conquer the labyrinths you design in a mode similar to the latter. The more you play (or buy into; this is a free-to-play title that lets you purchase your multiplayer superiority, after all) the more impressive the dungeons you can create. New room layouts, space for more rooms, and ever deadlier monsters become available as you earn experience and loot by conquering others' creations. Mighty Quest's editor does a pretty good job of offering flexibility and constraint in order to allow you to build plenty of hazards without cramming too many powerful monsters into a single space. Online leaderboards rank your skills against those of your peers... though not surprisingly they're largely dominated by folks playing Sir Painhammer.

A small glimmer of hope for those who prefer the way of the bow: What I played of Mighty Quest was strictly a work-in-progress, and even the third character class -- a wizard -- wasn't available for use yet. With time and refinement, Ubisoft Montreal may be able to close the power gap between the classes. Until then, though, Sir Painhammer's smirky narrative is simply salt in the wound.

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