What would happen if Ubisoft produced a workplace\video game comedy, with the creative forces of people from Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Community?
It’s Sillicon Valley with equal the amount of nerd-dom but with a bit more gore, horns and virtual loin cloths. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a little shaky in the pilot, but it later develops (see what I did there) to become a solid, if not slightly predictable comedy about the people who make games for a living.
MQ focuses on the developers of its namesake global hit, Mythic Quest, an analogous World Of Warcraft MMO as they try to navigate the streaming world and the fickle fans that pay their bills, as they develop the first major expansion to the game – Raven’s Banquet. The company is headed up by Ian Grimm (pronounced aye-an), a preening narcissist who is the creative lead to the game and the brand of the company. He is the Todd Howard, the Michel Ancel (I will get back to this) or the Hideo Kojima of his industry; and he’s also played by Rob McElhenney in a role that is a couple notches down from Mac in IASIP. He’s someone whose creative vision cannot be altered by those around him; all output, no input. He’s the kind of guy who probably has a lifesize commissioned painting of himself in his bedroom; but there are some insecurities that often peak out and there is something there inside him that suggests that he’s somewhat like a mortal.
Butting heads with him is his lead designer, Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao, a big highlight), a perpetually panicked and overworked software lead who is the tip of the spear in provoking Ian at every turn. While Ian is the head of the company, she is the neck that moves it. Next to her are a strong group of supporting actors including Daniel Pudi (a Community alum playing a money grabbing exec), F. Murray Abraham (an out of touch alcoholic, once-award-winning writer) and David Hornsby (basically his character of Cricket from IASIP but with less scars, more moustache and arguably less power over anyone).
The show is just specific enough to talk about video games (touching on topics like streaming sponsorship, microtransactions and female representation in video game companies), but also is just general enough for someone with little knowledge to get interested in the show. MQ rarely gets into the weeds but sticks to a lot of video gaming tropes that most people are familiar with: fantasy epics with mages, magic and murder; foul mouthed streamers and toilet humour.
Hidden the under layers of jargon, archetypes and a firm reliance on workplace comedy tropes, is some heart that elevates it above some run of the mill shows. Probably one of the most surprising and best parts of the show comes at the half way mark. Rob McElhenney always seemed to take some of the bigger swings in IASIP, and the same could be said in Mythic Quest. It is an episode which has hardly any of the original cast, it mostly stands as a bottle episode but it touchingly describes the sacrifices made to keep a dream alive in video game development. It is utterly relatable to anyone who has ever pursued a creative dream and it’s an example of efficient story telling. From then onwards, every episode seems to grab on and hang onto the momentum until the finale. The themes from episode five are universal and it deepens the depth of the following episodes.
It really helps that behind the cast is a lot of experienced heads that have some hand in long running comedies or in the video gaming industry. Ashly Burch does double duty as a play tester at the video game studio but is also a staff writer for the show – and she had the creds to back that up too, voicing the main characters in Life Is Strange and Horizon: Zero Dawn and as a writer for Adventure Time. Craig Mazin also plays a small role in the show, and while he hasn’t yet contributed to the scripts (that I am aware of), he certainly has the ability to, with the experience of being the showrunner for HBO’s Chernobyl. Apart from Danny Devitto and Glen Howerton, each of the main cast of IASIP have chipped in their creative talents for most of the running episodes.
The show had some assets and artwork created by Ubisoft, who also advised the production team and helped provide some grounding knowledge of how a real developer works. The show acts in part as a subtle advertisement for the French-Canadian developer, using cutscenes from For Honour and Assassins Creed as transitions between scenes (this reviewer saw no tower climbing, which he was grateful for). The parent company of Mythic Quest is not given a true name, simply referred to as “Montreal” but one can assume this is a stand in for the real-life developer.
As the show rounds the corner and finishes in the finale, I am curious to see how it deepens its lore and where the story can continue from here. Like many of the Apple TV+ shows I’ve seen so far, it’s probably the weakest in the early stages as it tries to break away from the workplace formula, but it really picks up legs in the second half and manages to find time to provide some character moments for most of the cast. Some of these developments don’t feel quite earned in some sections, but I feel that the IASIP crew have that past experience to make characters worth while to stick around for. Even when stripping things back in the final Quarantine episode, Mythic Quest is able to create memorable character moments within its physical constraints.
Mythic Quest is not perfect, but a strong finish to the season and a guaranteed second season shows that Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is one of the most promising exclusives on Apple’s roster.
FINAL SCORE –