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Cliffwalker's Examination of Myth 2: Soulblighter
Examining Myth 2: Soulblighter
Myth 2 is a real time tactical strategy game released in 1998 by Bungie entertainment, best known for its Halo series. When it was released Myth 2 received great praise from reviewers and developed a strong modding community that has stayed fairly active since release. However, despite the love people have for it and the many features that differentiated it from most other strategy games of the time, there really is very little that game developers have copied from it in the years since, particularly its focus on battlefield chaos. In this examination, I will attempt to explain why Myth 2: Soulblighter, and in fact the Myth series as a whole, is still worthy of a look by both strategy lovers and game developers.
There are two primary features that make Myth so very unusual: It's focus on the chaos of battle, and the setting itself. Myth takes place in a Celtic-inspired dark fantasy world, where the forces of darkness return every thousand years with the last heroes to defeat them corrupted and turned into their new leaders. Despite the standard good verses evil theme, and that most of the story is told though journal entries written by an unknown soldier, the Myth series' writers are able to develop a very unique and rather scary world, one where you truly feel that the odds are against you.
Which they usually are. The Myth series' single-player campaigns are designed around the player having usually less than thirty units and no reinforcements, with the enemy possessing far more, and the enemy soldiers are roughly equal in power to your own. While the five difficulty levels do a reasonably good job of allowing anyone to play, it should come as no surprise that even on normal difficulty the game can challenge most players.
This is especially true if the player wishes to keep all of their soldiers alive. Each type of unit, no matter the side or type, grows slightly stronger with each kill. A warrior might swing faster and block more often, an archer could be more accurate, or a Dwarven grenadier might be less likely to throw duds, and this bonus is carried between levels. This causes the player to husband each and every soldier, to try to protect that nearly-dead warrior who they have no way of healing, because if he somehow makes it to the next level he will be able make the future battles a tiny bit easier. The fact that most of the units are named, and in fact can have their names customized, adds to the sense of pleasure when you see a favored unit listed in the heroes list on the victory screen, and the horror you feel when you see them fall.
Adding to the difficulty is Myth's emphasis on friendly fire, chaos, and physics. All non-melee units, whether they are your Dwarven grenadiers, your archers, or even the enemy's lightning-hurling fetches and explosive wights, have the ability to hit their allies with friendly fire. And while there are some exceptions, each of these dangerous types of soldiers will generally be far more deadly than the "safe" units. This can cause battles to be terrifying, because one or two grenades thrown into the ranks with your warriors can annihilate your entire melee force in an instant. Adding to the chaos is that the enemy will generally attempt to flank you to get at your weaker troops, many of whom are poor at melee combat if they can do it at all. This means that if you are not careful your wonderful formation will be wrecked, your archers and other ranged units will run from whatever is attempting to kill them, and you will be forced to attempt to salvage the remainder of your troops and hope that enough is left for you to achieve victory.
And there's even more than that endangering the battles in Myth. The game has fairly powerful physics and weather systems, which unlike most games are not used primarily for visual flare. They count into nearly every part of Myth's combat, with high winds lowering the accuracy of your archers, height increasing the range of most ranged attacks, and sometimes even grenades rolling back down a hill and killing the thrower!
All of these aspects come together to evolve your strategy in several ways. A common plan is to find high ground and fight from it, but perhaps it would be best instead to retreat into a forest where the trees will weaken the enemy's ability to use ranged attacks. Maybe instead you should lead the enemy into a narrow path where your grenades and fire arrows could do more damage before they reach your melee. Perhaps you could have your Dwarves pile their grenades and satchel charges in a river crossing, completely hidden by the water, but ready to be blown up when the enemy attempts to cross. These strategies are nice on their own, but even more tricks open up if you somehow gain access to the more evil units. Why not have your army of undead simply wait underwater until the enemy finds a crossing, then attack from both sides? Or perhaps you could have your Soulless float in the middle of the river and wait there, throwing javelins at any enemy who attempts to get near it. Or have a pack of Ghol's steal the satchel charges that the enemy had planned to use against you and throw them near the opponents forces, ready to be detonated with a single lightning bolt from a Fetch or explosion from a Wight. There are so many unique situations that can occur in Myth that even now, sixteen years after release I'm still learning new strategies.
And when you add in the various mods and other forms of aid supplied over the years by Myth 2's surprisingly impressive community the game's potential becomes even more amazing. Bungie released Myth 2 with a pair of very powerful modding tools called Fear, a data editor, and Loathing, which was essentially a map-maker. Thanks to these tools and the hard work of the community there are several total conversions/campaigns and a great number of single maps for both single and multiplayer still available on the web. But the most impressive out of all of the community's work is probably that done by Project Magma, who have built and kept up to date a fan made patch that makes the game playable on current Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, ported the original Myth:The Fallen Lords over to Myth 2 with a download on their site, and released multiple maps and campaigns.
Speaking of the community, Myth 2's multiplayer is still alive and well. Thanks first to Marius.net and now Gate of Storms, Myth 2 has had working multiplayer servers almost since release. And the multiplayer is excellent. There are several match types such as King of the Hill, Free For All, Team Deathmatch, and more, as well as a cooperative mode that allows you to split your troops between you and your friends and play through the levels together. The servers are not packed by any means, but it is still possible to get a match, and Gate of Storms holds tournaments roughly once or twice a month.
After all of this one has to wonder why exactly the Myth series' style never caught on. It was popular, better looking than most of its competitors at the time, the first two in the series had a well known developer, and the gameplay had so much that set it apart from pretty much anything released that it should have been a classic. But instead we have a great game that has been almost completely forgotten.
It's sad, but the Myth games are becoming fairly hard to find. But there are still are still a few copies of the Total Codex for those looking to test themselves against the armies of the dark.