The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot Beta Preview: Epic Fail
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot’s shambolic closed beta, it’s that press previews can be very misleading. I tried out an alpha version of the game in mid-May at Ubisoft’s San Francisco office and came away with a genuinely good impression. For the uninitiated, TMQFEL is an online, free-to-play dungeon-crawling action-RPG with a unique twist: players design their own dungeons, and the game is built around them raiding each other.
Looking back, I realize that my satisfied feelings were partly due to the careful way that the developers and PR reps stage-managed the experience by providing pre-leveled characters with useful gear and plenty of in-game cash to spend on dungeon upgrades. Playing the beta as a civilian (so to speak) is a totally different experience. It taught me another important lesson: aggressive free-to-play mechanics can ruin just about anything. There might be something good lurking somewhere inside TMQFEL, but as it stands, the experience is wretched.
The developers have grafted on all manner of useless junk since alpha, including a new in-game currency, Life Force (bringing the funny-monies total to three), which is ostensibly used on castle upgrades, not character upgrades (that’s what gold is for). In practice, it feels totally arbitrary; Ubisoft Montreal’s free-to-play game design philosophy is built around cash-driven cockblocks that make TMQFEL feel like work.
Last night, I reached Level 10. Fun times, right? Except that leveling up required a 950 gold fee, which I couldn’t pay because my Hero Trainer kiosk wasn’t Level 5. I couldn’t upgrade my Hero Trainer because my Castle Heart wasn’t Level 3, and I couldn’t upgrade my Castle Heart because I didn’t have 6,000 gold. Not only did I not have 6,000 gold, I could never have had 6,000 gold, because I hadn’t spent thousands of Life Force to upgrade my Gold Storage capacity (twice). And when you do upgrade Gold Storage, it takes an hour of real time to finish — unless, of course, you want to pay extra. What a game!
The addition of tiny little kiosks like the Hero Trainer is a UI catastrophe. Say you’ve just finished a dungeon run and need to stock up on potions. This requires switching to “Defend” mode, clicking on the Potion Brewery kiosk, clicking through an unnecessary pop-up before you get to the menu that lets you actually buy potions, clicking on the potion you want, then clicking a confirmation dialogue to select which kind of currency you want to use to buy it.
Problems with the UI go on and on. When it comes to designing defenses for your castle, you can’t buy anything for your castle without immediately deploying it; deleting tiny monsters one-by-one just to place more monsters is a boring chore. You can’t rotate traps before you’ve bought them either, so you’ll have to hope that you can put your new toy down in an empty spot, then rotate it manually and move it where it needs to go. This is tedious, but it works — until a bug in the Defend Mode UI locks the camera and you can’t scroll around your castle anymore.