Myth: The Fallen Lords is the first in the Myth series of real-time strategy games created by Bungie Studios and set in a bleak fantasy realm. Often referred to as a real-time tactical game due to its focus on unit formations and positioning over resource gathering and base building, Myth challenges players to overcome incredible odds by using a finite number of troops effectively. Controlled from an isometric perspective, the game engine employs two-dimensional sprites on fully three-dimensional backgrounds, and detailed physics govern everything from the trajectory of projectiles to the way a severed head rolls downhill. Myth also features a robust multiplayer component that still retains a following more than a decade after its release.
To accompany its atmosphere of dread, Myth's presentation is fairly graphic for an RTS. Intense battles will stain the ground red with blood, and strong attacks literally rip bodies to pieces. This blood and gore is persistent, and large-scale confrontations will often scar the landscape and litter it with the remains of the dead. Furthering the morose atmosphere, there is no music during missions, with the only sounds outside of battle being ambient environmental noises.
According to Jason Jones, Lead Designer and Lead Programmer on The Fallen Lords, Bungie had, prior to the commencement of the project, begun development on a first-person shooter that was intended to be the next evolution of the Marathon series. Unfortunately, with the development of id Software's newest shooter Quake already well underway, and with Bungie's new title delving in a very similar direction, there was a sentiment early on amongst the team, Jones states, that "we weren't going to be able to pull it off in time." After about two months of development on the unnamed FPS, Jones claims that "nobody was really into it at all," as there was a sense that they would be "chasing our competitor's tail" rather than developing something on their own terms.
Further complicating matters was the fact that meetings intended to help push the project forward were instead being used to talk about a different concept entirely, which they were referring to at the time as "The Giant Bloody War Game." Eventually, it became apparent to Jones that the developers as a group were more enthused about the idea for "The Giant Bloody War Game" than the project that they were currently working on, and with that knowledge in mind Jones put together a rudimentary map editor (later known as Loathing) for what would eventually become Myth. Shortly after bringing the nascent map editor to the Bungie offices, the decision was made to abandon their original FPS project in favor of further pursuing and evolving their discussions of "The Giant Bloody War Game" into a fully-developed product.
Myth was created primarily with a number of specialized editing tools designed specifically for the engine. The first was the Tag Editor, which allowed for a number of game variables such as the color, behavior, and properties of units and the specifics of game physics to be altered. Importing art assets into the game was handled primarily by a program called the Extractor. Lastly, mapmaking took place through a utility dubbed Loathing, which could adjust height values of maps, among other things, and also place and position units within those maps. While Myth II saw that game's equivalent of the Tag Editor (Fear) and Loathing released alongside the game, Myth: TFL's editing tools were never made publicly available by Bungie. Many years later, the original Myth Tag Editor and Loathing were released by Myth fan developer Project Magma in an attempt to foster further growth in the community, and it was revealed that the original reason that Bungie had decided not to release these tools to the fans was that they were "incomplete and buggy."
The extensive simulated physics of the Myth engine were, says Jones, something of a natural extension of their work with the Marathon engine. "Well, we really liked the way the physics had evolved in Marathon", Jones said in an interview with Bart Farkas, "the way grenades arched through the air and how bodies left the ground when hit." For the development team, "the idea was to just build on that and place it into a game where you were dealing with tactics rather than video game reflexes." The end result was a system which Jones described as "a lot more complicated", as each individual unit possesses its own set of body parts that behave independently when said unit is killed.
Set in the midst of an ongoing war, Myth follows the struggles of the civilized nations of the West as they fight for their continued existence against the armies of the Fallen Lords, six powerful sorcerer-generals who command vast legions of undead and corrupted creatures. The Fallen Lords are bound to the will of Balor, who is himself merely an incarnation of a being known as the Leveler, a twisted entity who seeks only to spread conflict and ruination. The overall tone of the game is one of hopelessness, as the armies of the Dark have amassed countless victories, while each victory for the Light comes with tremendous sacrifice. As the game begins, Madrigal, the last free city of the West, is besieged by the Fallen, and the Legion scrambles to save one of the only havens they have left.
While there are instances of both in-game exposition and animated cutscenes in Myth, the narrative is conveyed mostly through voiced journal entries from one of the Legion's soldiers, which detail the events leading up to each mission and outline its general goals. It is also primarily here that the game's somber tone is communicated to the player, as the narrator often expresses horror and despair due to the atrocities he has witnessed or heard of, as well as doubt that the forces of men are even capable of overcoming the ruthless Fallen Lords. These journal entries and the missions themselves, which frequently require the player to face armies several times their size, leave the impression that the Legion is constantly one confrontation away from total annihilation.
Myth's single-player mode follows an elite group of soldiers known as the Legion over the course of a twenty-five mission campaign as they seek to defeat Balor and his generals, the Fallen Lords. Though it is controlled in a similar fashion to most other post-Warcraft RTS games, Myth distinguishes itself by focusing on the moment-to-moment tactical decisions of a small squad rather than the grand strategy of a base-building RTS. To be successful it is important to properly manage formations and maneuvers of larger groups while also effectively directing individual units when necessary. The starting units in most missions are the only ones at the player's disposal (though a few missions do offer reinforcements), and it falls to the player to utilize these units in the best way possible, as in most scenarios player-controlled forces are heavily outnumbered.
With the odds stacked against the player in most missions, it is frequently necessary to exploit whatever beneficial features of the environmental one can find, such as taking advantage of high ground or natural bottlenecks. With no means of replenishing one's forces, loss of a unit in battle means a permanent reduction in the size of one's army. To drive home the severity and permanence of unit death, a dour announcer will intone "Casualty." or "Casualties!" any time a unit or group of units is lost.
Another hallmark of Myth's gameplay is its sense of unpredictability. Novice archers will fail to hit their mark quite frequently, and dwarven explosive bottles sometimes fail to explode properly, or even at all. The detailed physics of the Myth engine can even result in battlefield shrapnel careening toward player troops to injure or even kill a unit. Friendly fire is also a constant consideration, as Myth contains a number of ways to accidentally injure or kill one's own units with ranged attacks. These elements combined with the game's graphic carnage give encounters a sense of barely-controlled chaos, and even well-planned maneuvers are likely to play out differently than one might expect.
Myth has five difficulty settings, which are, from easiest to hardest, Timid, Simple, Normal, Heroic, and Legendary. The level of difficulty determines several aspects of gameplay, such as the amount of opposition one will face, their strength relative to the player's, and the size of one's army. Higher difficulty levels require special care, as player units take much heavier damage than the enemy, while on lower settings the opposite is true.
In addition to its single-player experience, Myth: The Fallen Lords features a fully developed multiplayer component that includes ranked ladder matches as well as casual unranked play modes. Matches are usually precipitated by a planning phase where players are given a set number of points that are to be spent to obtain units. Each unit has a predetermined point value, meaning players can choose to spend their points on a large number of weak units, a small number of powerful ones, or a combination of the two. In cooperative or team-based games, a designated team captain is chosen to both purchase units and detach said units to their teammates.
Just as in the campaign, when the action starts a player's units represent the entirety of their forces, so proper unit selection and strategy is crucial. A variety of gameplay modes accompany the multiplayer, from the simple Body Count, where the winner is determined by who has done the most damage, to more involved modes like Steal the Bacon, a Last Man on the Hill variant in which the hill is replaced by a movable ball. If one is less competitively inclined, all missions from the campaign can also be played cooperatively on any difficulty.
Multiplayer Unit Costs
- Cave Spider: 1 Point
- Thrall: 1 Point
- Ghôl: 2 Points
- Myrmidon: 2 Points
- Warrior: 2 Points
- Archer: 3 Points
- Berserk: 3 Points
- Soulless: 3 Points
- Wight: 3 Points
- Dwarf: 6 Points
- Fetch: 6 Points
- Journeyman: 6 Points
- Forest Giant: 24 Points
- Trow: 24 Points
Supported at the time of its release by Bungie.net, a free player matching service similar to Blizzard's Battle.net, Myth and its sequel remained popular online games for many years. While Bungie supported the game's multiplayer community long after its release, they were forced to shut down their servers shortly after being acquired by Microsoft, as they sold their rights to the franchise to Take-Two Interactive during the transition. The multiplayer community did not die out however, as several dedicated fans set about recreating the Bungie.net server experience, with the results being PlayMyth.net (now defunct) and Mariusnet.com, which remains the primary portal for all Myth multiplayer at present.
The armies of the West are a diverse group hailing from all corners of the globe, united in their desire to stop Balor's destruction of the world's civilized free nations. During the game's campaign, player's forces are entirely composed of Light units. Experienced units are not only more proficient than green ones, but also have a chance to be carried over into the next mission where their skills can further aid the player, making it quite beneficial to ensure that the most battle-hardened units survive.
Warriors are veterans of the Legion who carry swords and shields in combat, and are adept with both. More experienced Warriors tend to block more often in addition to attacking at a more rapid pace. They are the most basic melee unit available during the campaign, and do not pack as much punch as later units. Despite this, they are quite dependable, capable of hacking through multiple waves of Thrall when used properly. Occasionally Warrior Captains will appear in the campaign, being more durable and deadly than the typical soldier.
- Unit Type: Light Long-Range Support
The archers of the fir'Bolg are renown for their accuracy and lethality with bow and arrow. Though normally at odds with humans, the coming of the Fallen Lords has forced the fir'Bolg to put aside their grievances with the nations of the West in order to secure their own survival. Archers become more accurate with each kill, making well-seasoned archers much more deadly than novices. A fir'Bolg can also punch an enemy who gets too close, though this will usually only save them if their foe was already near death.
- Unit Type: Heavy Short-Range Support
Diminutive creatures with a love for explosives, Dwarves can cause incredible carnage with their explosive bottles, which can be augmented even further with satchel charges placed before a confrontation. The nature of dwarven explosives is somewhat unpredictable, however, as bottles will sometimes fail to detonate or worse still rebound toward the thrower. It is in fact quite easy to cause collateral damage with a dwarf, which players should remain mindful of at all times. Dwarves are the natural enemies of the Ghôls, who have occupied their ancestral home of Myrgard for decades.
Journeymen are former guardsmen of the Cath Bruig Empire. Each wears nine gold tiles around their neck in penance for their failure to save the city of Muirthemne from the Fallen, and they wield a common shovel when forced into combat. Their true strength is not in battle but rather in healing injured troops with the mandrake roots that all Journeymen carry. These roots can also be used offensively in some situations, as undead in particular are quite averse to their effects. Though they are poor fighters, they are incredibly resilient, taking less damage from explosions and being completey immune to paralysis effects.
Hailing from northern lands, Berserks forgo traditional armor in order to carve up their enemies as quickly as possible with their enormous claymores. So numerous and quick are their sword strikes that Berserks often defeat their foes before they can properly retaliate. When they are not able to close the distance, these fearsome northmen are quite vulnerable, as they have no chance of avoiding damage as Warriors do. Special care should be taken when positioning Berserks, as their zeal for battle can sometimes cause them to jump into combat at inopportune times.
Sentient beings of wood and leaves that occupy Forest Heart, Forest Giants are a towering presence on the battlefield, capable of brushing foes aside with their massive limbs. For mysterious reasons, Forest Giants harbor an intense hatred for the Trow, and it is in part because of this that they aid the civilizations of the West in their struggle against the Fallen Lords. One of these wooden behemoths is worth several more basic units, though they are vulnerable when enveloped by fast attackers.
- Unit Type: Medium Melee / Heavy Medium-Range Support
Avatara are sorcerer-generals who wield powerful magic in their fight against Balor and the Fallen Lords. They are quite adept in single combat, but are even more terrifying when facing a group of enemies, as they possess a powerful ability known as the Dispersal Dream which allows them to utterly devastate clusters of closely gathered units. Collectively the Avatara are known as The Nine, and together they are the strategists and military leadership of the armies of the Light.
Though the armies of the Fallen are mostly composed of undead abominations, they also count among their number several races who for one reason or another have decided to aid Balor of their own free will. Most Light-side units have some direct analogue among Balor's armies, though some are entirely unique. They are the main opposition of the campaign, and therefor are unplayable, but during multiplayer both Light and Dark units are selectable when choosing unit composition.
Lifeless human corpses reanimated through sorcery, the Children of Bahl'al are the most numerous of the armies of the Fallen Lords, shambling toward their targets until they can hack them to pieces with their axes, which are the only weapons they are able to use effectively. Thrall move and attack at a painfully slow rate, meaning that they can be easily overwhelmed by faster units, but their status as undead allows them to remain hidden indefinitely underwater in order to attack when their enemies are least prepared.
- Unit Type: Light Long-Range Support
Often called Hollow Men due to the fact that their souls have been magically stolen, Soulless are spectral half-men that carry and throw special javelins laden with lethal, fever-inducing toxins. They exist only to exact pain and suffering upon the living, and their mere presence is enough to befoul the environment around them. Since they do not require legs for locomotion, Soulless possess unrestricted mobility, and can float over water and ascend inclines that other units cannot, harassing them from an unassailable position.
- Unit Type: Light Melee / Light Short-Range Support
The mortal enemies of the Dwarves, Ghôls are vicious loping ape-men whose speed makes them the primary scouting unit for the Fallen. They are also notorious opportunists, often waiting for the most vulnerable units to be exposed before hacking them apart with their cleavers. Ghôls are also fond of picking up and throwing battlefield detritus. This is usually a harmless if intimidating practice, though it can sometimes be lethal, such as when a Ghôl gets his hands on an unexploded Wight pus pack.
Once a race of proud warriors, Myrmidons pledged their service to Balor in exchange for immortality. After hundreds of years, they still live, yet their bodies have decayed severely. Myrmidons attack with a pair of Gridaksma Blades, which are two scythe blades connected by a human femur. Despite their decrepit condition, they attack and move quite quickly, and a small group of Myrmidon are able to cut a swath through almost anything.
- Unit Type: Heavy Short-Range Support
A virulent walking armament, Wights are reanimated corpses rife with disease and corruption. Given a single dagger upon creation, they employ it by plunging it into their abdomen when enemies are near, causing their bodies to violently erupt. Anything not killed outright by the blast will be paralyzed by the foul pus that is released, leaving them vulnerable for a short time. Like Thrall, Wights can lie in wait underwater since they have no need to breathe.
Spiders come in two varieties: the smaller Cave Spider, and the larger Spider Queen. Both are alarmingly fast, but the Queen's bite is also capable of inducing paralysis, making her far more lethal. The true strength of Spiders lies in their numbers, as an individual Spider is easily dispatched, whereas a group can quickly envelop an army. They can also climb steep inclines that most units cannot. Spiders are not loyal to anyone, and are just as likely to attack the Fallen as they are the Legion.
- Unit Type: Heavy Medium-Range Support
Otherworldly priestesses seduced into Balor's service, Fetch are hideous spellcasters clad in the skins of those they have killed. Though physically frail, they can project bolts of lightning from their fingertips, ensuring that most will never be within range to attack them directly. For this reason, indirect fire is preferable when dealing with them, though Fetch lightning is capable of deflecting projectiles, making this a tough prospect as well.
Massive humanoid creatures of incredible strength, Trow are responsible for the extinction of at least one race in the world of Myth. Though they once ruled a vast and powerful empire, the hubris of the Trow eventually led to the destruction of their cities, and they were all but banished from the face of the world. Trow are functionally equivalent to Forest Giants, though they are even more formidable due to increased lightning, explosion, and paralysis resistances.
- Unit Type: Medium Melee / Heavy Medium-Range Support
Undead sorcerers dedicated to the use of the dark arts, Shades are powerful practitioners of magic who have willingly allied with the Dark. They can cast Dispersal Dreams capable of reducing entire armies to nothing more than blood and debris, and are no slouch in melee combat either. If Shades have a weakness, it is their aversion to water, as they are only capable of crossing it at a bridge. They hover ominously above the earth, and the ground around them is always black as pitch.
Myth was met with near-universal praise upon its release, not only receiving consistently high marks in reviews, but also earning numerous other accolades such as "Best Real-Time Strategy Game of the Year" from PC Gamer. Some of the positive components more commonly mentioned in critiques include a strong plot-driven campaign, attractive visuals, and solid multiplayer. Many reviewers also commended the game for offering a compelling alternative to the more common Warcraft and Command & Conquer RTS models. Perhaps due to the game's popular multiplayer mode, it continued to receive positive mention long after its release; Gamespot editor Sam Parker remembered the game fondly as part of the site's "Greatest Games of All Time" feature, noting that the limited unit counts made for a uniquely fast-paced yet still tactical experience.
While well-received overall, the initial release of Myth did meet with a fair amount of criticism. Many noted that the default camera angle was so close to the action in some cases that it did not allow for proper situational awareness. The difficulty of the campaign was also a sore spot for some, with complaints that even the lower difficulties were extremely punishing, which was exacerbated by mission objectives which were sometimes less-than-obvious. Finally, numerous players found the interface for assigning unit formations and facing to be unintuitive, which was all the more noticeable due to the game's heavy emphasis on the importance of proper formations. Most of these concerns would be addressed by the game's first patch, which brought Myth to version 1.1. The patch included a reworked campaign which was more forgiving on lower settings, a tweaked gesture click interface for unit formations, and the ability to zoom farther out for a better tactical view.
One notorious issue never fully addressed through patches was the game's pathfinding, which led to suspect unit behavior in some cases. Tightly grouped units trying to pass through each other can often get stuck, Journeymen sometimes have difficulty finding the targets they are assigned to heal, and units can have a difficult time finding their places in a given formation. While these issues were greatly alleviated in Myth II: Soulblighter, expert unit navigation in Myth: The Fallen Lords requires a fair degree of knowledge of the limitations of the game's pathfinding.
Continued Fan Development
While Take-Two Interactive halted support for all games in the Myth franchise after development concluded on Myth III: The Wolf Age in late 2001, the source code for the Myth engine was subsequently released to a group known as the Myth Developers, who went on to release fan-made patches for all three games in the series. Further game development would later be handed off to Project Magma, a group that had previously made a name for itself releasing user-generated content for Myth. Due in no small part to the continued support of Myth's fan base, all games in the franchise are fairly easy to run on a wide variety of systems. The last Bungie-developed patch for Myth: TFL was version 1.3, while the current fan-developed version is 1.5, which supports OpenGL hardware acceleration and higher resolutions than were possible in the initial release.