In the eight years since Diablo II was released, many titles have tried to recreate its addictive qualities, but none have truly cracked the secrets of what kept players coming back.
Mythos, the new 'free' MMO from Flagship Studios, is the latest contender, joyous in its countless homages and similarities to Blizzard's action-RPG. The difference, of course, is that Flagship know the secrets of Diablo, because most of them created the whole goddamn series in their former jobs at Blizzard North.
So, the game has breeding; the question is, can a free game deliver the goods?
Mythos is made up of a mishmash of fantasy clichés, wrapped in the wry humour of a world of gremlins with cigars, homicidal toys and farmers who'll summon field-tilling zombies to get ahead of the competition.
Your character can be one of three races - humans, satyrs and gremlins - and from one of three professions: Gadgeteer, Bloodletter or Pyromancer.
The Gadgeteer is probably the strangest of the bunch, using guns (like World of Warcraft's Hunter), and devices that can slow down, explode, confuse and otherwise bother enemies while he stands at a distance and shoots them down.
A Gadgeteer can't take much damage at first, so you're required to do a fair bit of dancing in circles while frantically clicking and praying your bullets find their mark.
Where Mythos really departs from the formula, however, is its distance from the rigid class structure. While each profession has an generic path of close (Bloodletter) or distanced (Gadgeteer and Pyromancer) combat, a talent system sees you accumulating points that can be spent on any of three skills, allowing a certain amount of control over your character's direction.
As such, Pyromancers can become proficient melee fighters, while Bloodletters can summon up huge personal armies; and while Gadgeteers always need to keep enemies at a distance, they can develop skills to stop themselves dying the moment they get surrounded. Best of all, the classes feel fresh and different from the Diablo games, rather than a simple rehash.
However, the Diablo influence is still very much there. While quests have a general-purpose narrative, most of them lack substance beyond picking up items or destroying things.
The further you get into the game the more obvious - and frustrating - this becomes. As you progress, there's more grinding to be done between skill levels, and the lack of new things to do becomes almost painful.
Compounding the problem is the skill system. As we're still in beta this could change at any time, but at the moment the sense of advancement is notably lacking. As the grind takes hold, spending points on abilities begins to feels a bit meaningless, and in a game of this nature this is a critical issue. Despite all this, however, Mythos manages to stay addictive, especially if played in small bursts.
It helps, obviously, that the game is entirely free to play - or almost. The idea is that Mythos will make its money from selling in-game cash, with the economy split into ingots (paid for) and gold (collected).
Each of these is needed to get certain things in the game, so some items will be forever out of reach for non-paying customers .
However, Flagship promise there will be no compulsion to put money into the game, with progress to the maximum level being no more difficult if you don't invest real money. Content updates will be available for everybody, and anyone will be able to play as much as they want without paying.