When filming his extremely violent version of Macbeth, Roman Polanski reportedly told his set designer that he wanted the ground to be so bloody it would look like it was forming scabs. Judging from the upcoming Myth, it seems like Polanski and the folks at Bungie may share some common aesthetic interests.
An epic tale of good and evil, Myth promises to bring all the fun of a medieval siege to your PC. Great armies will clash in super-violent melees on rolling greens and plains blanketed with snow, recalling the epic battles seen in films such as Braveheart and John Boorman's Excalibur. As Doug Zartman, Bungie's director of public relations, explains, "Basically we wanted to capture the feeling that you get watching large groups of people clashing on the open field. We wanted to recreate the blood-letting and grisly reality of large-scale battles."
Though Myth is, by definition, a real-time strategy game, anyone who has caught a glimpse of the game would be apprehensive about lumping it into that genre. This is no Warcraft clone: There is no resource management, no base building, no troop generation. In fact, Bungie had to come up with its own description. Zartman explains, "We were trying real hard to come up with a term that was different from 'real-time.' We're calling it a multimetric tactical game. 'Multimetric' - I made that word up - because it's not an isometric game in the conventional sense. There are many angles a player can have and many views the camera can take. And we're calling it 'tactical' because there are no elements of the game that focus on resources or management. It's strictly a tactical game."
Players begin each battle with a set number of units, which must be used to achieve the goal of the scenario - usually wiping out an opponent's troops or storming some well-guarded keep. The player takes on a managerial role, creating formations, tracking troop movements, and making sure orders are carried out. "There so much going on in any one battle, you have to rely on the AI to some extent," said Zartman when asked about the players role in the battle, "It's definitely hands on, but it's hands on in a larger sense than an action game where you are the person doing the killing. Hopefully it will appeal to a person who likes to deal with the large view, but who also likes the immediate reaction to their actions."
The units of Myth are highly varied, with specific strengths and weaknesses - the following examples are only a sampling, and many units are still in development. Fighting the good fight, you'll find your classic soldiers. There are Warriors, hearty swordsmen who can withstand repeated punishment and deal untold damage in hand-to-hand combat; Fir'bolg, archers who can attack at long range; Dwarves, who hurl jars of flaming oil; and Journeymen, whose healing hands can aid wounded troops and destroy the undead. On the side of evil is an interesting array of supernatural creeps. There are Ghols - hunchbacked, ax-wielding beasts who can pick up the debris strewn about the battlefield (and there will be plenty of it - we'll get to that soon) and hurl it at opponents; the Thrall - undead soldiers who can lurk undetected in the murky waters of the land to ambush passerby; and Wights - slow-moving time-bombs who not only dish out a great deal of damage at close range, but who also explode when they die, taking out anyone in the vicinity. The following scenario may best show why Myth holds so much promise: A Wight stumbles into a group of unsuspecting Warriors, who immediately begin to attack. The Wight explodes as it dies, decimating the majority of the Warriors. A nearby Ghol comes by and picks up a few heads, lobbing them at a group of Fir'bolg archers perched on a nearby hill. Then a Dwarf comes along, lights up some oil and throws it at the Ghol. It misses. The jar comes rolling back down the hill, hits the Dwarf, explodes, and sends the weapons of the recently deceased Warriors sailing straight at the Ghol. Scenarios like this are more than common; they're par for the course.
This is the most remarkable technical element of Myth: Every element onscreen is an integral part of the action. Every limb that is lost, every sword that is dropped, and every head that is lopped is continually accounted for. Terrain effects movement realistically, and hurled weapons can have devastating effects when used in the wrong place (ie flaming oil jar hits steep hill). All of this is shown in gory, graphic detail. The player can zoom in and out on the action and swivel to find the best angle with the game's boundless camera. And from any angle, the game looks beautiful. The game world sports richly textured landscapes, reminiscent of the terrains found in Bullfrog's Magic Carpet series.
Though Bungie is still refining the story (which is a tale of evil slowly conquering a land), it's bound to be good - the excellent plot was what made Bungie's Marathon series more than just a bunch of good Doom clones for the Mac. We'll have to wait until later this year to see whether Myth lives up to its promise. If it does, one thing's for sure: There's going to be some mighty messy scenery on a lot of people's monitors in the near future.