I was born a little too late for many of pop culture's finest Saturday morning cartoons. I grew up in the era of Kids' WB, 4Kids anime dubs, and the DC animated shows. I missed out on some of the staples, like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, ThunderCats, or the original Transformers. Still, there are elements from this time that I just innately understand: the art style, the corny dialogue, and the flashy magic or technological systems they made up. I may not have grown up with a lot of it, but it's had an impact on animation and genre over the past couple of decades.
That's where MythForce comes into play. The game, developed by Beamdog and published by Aspyr Media, takes the aspects you remember from properties like Masters of the Universe and turns them into a dungeon-crawling, roguelite RPG with humor, bright visuals, and a fair leveling and progression system. The more you play, the stronger your characters get, and more importantly, the more impressive the loot becomes.
Beamdog is known mainly for developing remasters of games like Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment, so the team seems to understand fantasy tropes. In MythForce, you can choose between four heroes: the mage, the knight, the hunter, and the rogue. They all fall into standard classes you'll recognize if you've ever played a game of Dungeons & Dragons (probably even if you haven't), but they also have their own unique personalities and features to give them more depth. For my first round, I played Maggie, the mage of the group who just graduated from the mage academy and has a can-do attitude.
Each character starts off with three basic abilities and a passive. The mage, for example, has a blink teleporting power, a familiar that acts as a sentry and can deal damage to nearby enemies, and a force field. Victoria, the knight paladin, has a shield throw, a charge, and a rallying cry that makes enemies attack. You can play in up to 4-player co-op, going through partially procedurally generated rooms in dungeons. You get to the end of the dungeon, and you have to face a boss, but you mainly have to defeat groups of enemies that increasingly become more challenging. The dungeon I traversed started off with basic skeletons, but quickly grew into skeletons with ranged weapons and then, even more surprisingly, large mushrooms that can attack you both close-up and ranged with poisonous projectiles.
As you progress, you also level up and can equip perks that can increase your damage or magic ability. It's standard fare, although there are options to equip random perks that can either make or break your run. It's annoying, but also funny when you get a perk that's for a completely different class. The more you do dungeon runs, the more permanent upgrades you can get for your characters, making subsequent runs easier over time.
MythForce, in its current state, does a lot with a little. I wasn't expecting a fully fledged game with this hitting Early Access soon, but with even just the one dungeon I faced, I saw a lot of small complexities. The enemies have simple designs, but the exact threats vary wildly. However, there's still a degree of steady pacing, so you never feel overwhelmed by the progression. It feels like your adjustments are adding up to the final battle, and you learn little techniques over time that help you out, like when to dodge and which abilities to use where.
What got me super interested in the game, which was shown off at GDC, was its loot system. I'm a big fan of looting experiences, and MythForce already has a great foundation. Each dungeon room has at least a few chests you can open for random loot, from money to stronger weapons and health items. There are also fountains that can heal you or revive fallen comrades, among other things. So while the dungeons are fairly basic looking on the surface, exploration is encouraged before moving onto the next room.
Finally, the aforementioned Saturday morning cartoon influences are on full display, even this early on. It's in the art style, of course, which summons images of arcade games like Dragon's Lair and He-Man, and makes the game look like it came straight out of the 1980s. However, it's decidedly modern, with humorous banter between characters and a focus on relationships and storytelling, as well as the looting and roguelite elements that have become a staple of dungeon crawlers. It's like Gauntlet, but in a new form.
There's a lot that still needs to be done here (it's in Early Access, so note there will be bugs and opportunities for improvement that you can easily report to the developers). However, with its steady flow of combat, satisfying but simple loot system, and characters ripe with potential, MythForce is shaping up to be a new kind of co-op experience for those who caught Masters of the Universe on TV or played games in arcades and for those who didn't.
MythForce is currently available to wishlist on the Epic Games Store. It'll be available in Early Access starting on April 20, 2022, with the first episode: Bastion of the Beastlord.