It is rare indeed to see the sequel to anything — movies, television shows or games — actually turn out better than the original. Sequels usually fall into either the category of either a hastily made game that relies too heavily on its predecessor for plot, or a simple add-on pack that is not really a new game at all.
I was relieved and pleased to find that this was not the case with Myth II: Soulblighter. The folks at Bungie were smart enough to keep basically the same interface as the original Myth, and pack the game with enough new features to make you say, "wow, this is a really cool game."
As far as flavor, Bungie stays true to the original. And why wouldn’t they? Myth was widely hailed as the strategy game of the year for 1998, including by the editors and readers of Game Industry News. Myth gave us a war game that did exactly what a war game should, keep the combat on the battlefield. We did not have to mine minerals, send diplomats to rival nations, construct libraries, research technology or do any of the other things that aren’t worth a dime in combat when the stuff hits the fan.
To do something outlandish like suddenly making you set up mineral mines would have been a very bad move. Instead, the interface is exactly like the one used in the original Myth, following the final patch. The final patch of the original game let you zoom out further so you could see more of the battlefield at one time and also change the facing of your troops without moving them. Myth II uses this interface and it works well. The bugs were worked out in the original game, and the sequel benefits greatly by learning from the mistakes of the past.
The overall feel of the game has been remarkably maintained. Terrain features like trees still snag your archers’ arrows, and it’s almost always best to grab the high ground when you can.
The game is a lot more beautiful though, if you have the hardware to run it, though the game does not look bad with simple software rendering either. When your dwarfs chuck a flaming explosive bomb into a pack of enemy troops, limbs are going to fly in beautiful bloody arcs, bouncing several times and skittering across the landscape. Heads roll down hills and realistically splash when they plop into stagnant pools, complete with realistic reflections and rippling water.
Even many of the old super-enemies [Fallen Lords] are back, which accounts for the similarities of the undead zombie armies that rise up, literally, to oppose you.
You get some new units that make the game fun, though not at the expense of all the old favorites. The most powerful new unit is the warlock, who can shoot a lovely fireball into enemy ranks that creates a shock wave of death, not to mention any poor souls who get roasted alive by the thing. Dwarves have also improved their abilities with the addition of mortar units that, though somewhat unstable, can topple city walls.
But I think the real revolutionary part of the sequel comes in the design of the maps for the game. The single-player maps are really ingenious and a heck of a lot of fun to play.
Take the "capture the Baron" map, which you get to play early in the game as an example. In it you have to prevent a heavily defended baron from reaching one of two secret doors and escaping his castle. The problem is that while your total force could easily overwhelm him, you have to guard multiple exits. So if you set all your men guarding one escape point, he will run to the other one. The entire map conjures the feeling of a giant chess game, with you moving in with scouts and the baron countering, and basing his movements on yours. Eventually I was able to corner him in a back room and move in for the kill, but it took about an hour and he nearly escaped twice.
In another scenario, you have to make an amphibious landing and destroy two cannon crews before they can destroy your transport ship anchored offshore. As you wade onto the beach, the cannons start firing at your men, kicking up sand in front of you or splashing as cannonballs explode in the water behind. It’s like a medieval D-Day and a heck of a lot of fun.
There are also a lot of little touches that combine to elevate this game to an instant classic. I am talking about things like soaring eagles overhead that will crash and burn if they get to close to one of your explosions, or deer that can be brought down by your archers. These things don’t really change the scenario, but are fun and realistic to throw into the mix.
Myth II also puts a lot of power into players’ hands. You get a fully functional map editor to create your own devilish scenarios and a character editor that lets you change the colors and specifications of your units. Want to have one guy with a huge sword that kills in a blow, or a dwarf in a Red Sox uniform that can chuck grenades half a mile? It’s no problem with the map editor.
As with the first game, the online community that is building around the sequel is quite large. There is never a dull moment on the free Bungie.net server and plenty of people willing to cleave you to pieces if you grow tired of the single player missions.
Myth II: Soulblighter proves that a small independent company can still make a game as well as the big boys, as long as they are willing to sweat the details. Myth II takes home 5 GiN Gems, a perfect score, to add to the treasure trove of awards they are sure to receive for this wonderfully programmed game.