Now is a really nice time to be reviewing Megalith (Archael, 2005), because development was recently picked up again.
Megalith’s landscape is intricate and lovingly detailed, partly because the game was designed to be played with a third-person camera, making it the first third-person moba! Unfortunately, Warcraft as a game engine offers very limited support for alternative camera modes, so often players would switch back to the standard overhead camera after the game started, but third-person was the default option for new players.
In support of a realistic third-person view, the buildings and environmental features are all significantly enlarged, creating a sense of space and giving the map a distinct look. Megalith’s beautiful environment definitely made it stand out as one of the most memorable AoS maps of its day.
There are four lanes winding through the landscape; each of them with some unique features. On the north-west lane, each team begins with control over a forest shrine. Every 2-3 minutes, a tiny wisp leaves the shrine and plants itself, gradually growing into a giant ent which lumbers towards the enemy village to try and capture it. Because the wisps are so easy to intercept, it’s possible to make good progress towards capturing the enemy shrine with a giant ent for very little investment. Once captured, the second shrine and its ent children continue marching into another lane for their new owners.
The other three lanes follow a road over several rivers, run through the streets of an abandoned town, and wallow through precarious marshes and caves. There are occasional environmental hazards along the lanes, such as falling boulders when travelling through a rocky canyon, and an aggressive serpent which spits lightning at anything nearby. Each lane has its own side-shop, selling a unique selection of consumable items. It bears no mention that the lanes are asymmetric to fit the landscape.
Off-lane, the environment often interacts, such as a gate which opens when a unit comes close, or a magical bridge which forms when someone needs to pass. There are a few hidden story-based quests, usually involving a difficult boss fight in an isolated area with special items as a reward. A couple of jungle camps are scattered around for flavour too.
The two factions, the Aesyr and Morkefolk, each have a unique AI-controlled hero assigned to each lane. When these heroes run low on life, they have individual escape mechanisms. When the serpent Meytalus on the swamp lane needs to recover, he dives into a nearby patch of deep water and resurfaces in his base. The Daeadric Knight turns into a crow and flies away. These little touches lend the battlefield a lot of character.
The player-controlled heroes were above-average for its day. One such hero, the Wyrm-Maiden, has no attack but is bound to a bone dragon which attacks for her. Megalith also saw the genre’s first scarecrow hero. The hero abilities are customised from Warcraft’s, but more in terms of theme than using new mechanics. The items are slightly different for each faction; with life and nature items available to the Aeysr, while poison and corrupted items can be bought by the Morkefolk.
Overall, gameplay is slow and drawn-out, even compared to other games of that early era. However, Megalith was very successful in providing a sense of environment which I don’t think any other MOBA (commerical or otherwise) to date has matched.