Review: Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet is a smart and satirical look into the dysfunctional lives of game developers
This review was written using advanced screener versions of all nine episodes from the first season that were provided by Apple. There are no major spoilers, though light plot details from specific episodes are discussed.
Right out of the gate, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet takes on a near-impossible double-edged challenge: presenting itself as a show about the culture of game development (and gaming at large) without coming off as uninformed or pandering. It’s a tall order to be sure, but somehow the new Apple TV+ series from writers and executive producers Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day (both alums of the hilarious long-running sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) manages to more or less pull it off.
Mythic Quest doesn’t quite make a perfect landing, but the show’s nine-episode first season somehow manages to be equal parts witty, charming, inspiring, dramatic, self-aware, and (most importantly) absolutely hilarious, hitting each of those marks at just the right moment. A big part of the show’s winning formula is undoubtedly its well-rounded cast, which is led by McElhenney himself. However, an equally important component is how much the show embraces the gamers it was clearly made for and, when appropriate, pokes a little fun at the gaming industry’s less desirable trends and traits.
The promotional materials for Mythic Quest clearly portray McElhenney’s character, Mythic Quest creative director Ian Grimm, as the show’s lead, but he’s really just one component of a well-oiled ensemble cast. Grimm’s narcissistic attitude and harebrained tendencies wouldn’t be nearly as compelling if he wasn’t constantly butting heads with his studio’s lead engineer Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) or making his producer David (David Hornsby) squirm whenever he comes up with a new half-cocked plan for improving the game.
Other major personalities in the Mythic Quest studio include head writer C.W. Longbottom (F. Murray Abraham), a washed up former novelist with a slight misogyny problem, chief financial officer Brad (Danny Pudi), a greedy and calculating finance guy who seems like he’d be more comfortable trading with human souls than dollars, and Jo (Jessie Ennis), David’s new gung-ho assistant who gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘fiercely loyal.’ Smaller yet still significant characters include Rachel (Ashly Burch), a Mythic Quest QA tester who pines for her testing partner Dana (Imani Hakim), and Sue (Caitlin McGee), Mythic Quest’s uncomfortably chipper public relations manager.
Throughout Mythic Quest’s initial nine-episode run, viewers get to see these characters stumble into (and handle as best they can) a litany of different problems, some serious, others clearly exaggerated for comedic effect. In all cases the show’s snappy writing and the actor’s equally snappy delivery helps to keep the momentum going, something which can’t be easy considering they’re regularly throwing around gamer terms like “MMO,” “microtransactions,” “NPC,” and “loot crate,” along with using game footage from Ubisoft’s For Honor and Assassin’s Creed games as stand-ins for the show’s game.
Owning the Source Material
Speaking of gamer terms, it’s refreshing to see how much Mythic Quest leans into gamer colloquialisms and culture without pausing to explain every little thing in case a non-gamer is watching. With one or two very minor exceptions, the show just assumes that viewers know what the characters are talking about when they’re discussing, for example, the nature of an online game server, or how adding a new avatar to the game requires first building a fully-modeled animation rig.
This unapologetic deep dive into the world of gaming also extends to the various cultural practices and phenomenon the show addresses in specific episodes. In one episode, the team has to figure out how to deal with a Nazi hate group that has taken refuge in Mythic Quest’s digital world. Another episode shines a cheeky spotlight on how, in today’s landscape, big game companies care more about winning over popular livestreamers than more traditional promotional partners (traditional partners, after all, usually don’t bring thousands or sometimes even millions of followers with them).
Amid all the comedy, Mythic Quest manages to tackle sensitive issues such as inclusivity, LGBTQ representation, the disparities between men and women in the workforce, and even prescient topics like crunch and unionizing with a certain amount of grace. It’s when the show tries to layer additional dramatic facets onto individual characters that it starts to trip over its own feet.
The second half of the season tries to paint Ian Grimm as more of a tragic figure whose haphazard, scatterbrained creative process is the result of a troubled childhood and some questionable life choices. McElhenney does his best to sell the dramatic bits, and it’s nice to see him trying to challenge himself as an actor after having spent so much time going for pure raunchy comedy in Sunny, but he never quite fully gets there.
One other element worth noting is that the season’s fifth episode, ‘Dark Quiet Death,’ takes a rather interesting out-of-left-field departure that viewers will likely either love or hate. The halfway-point episode (which also happens to be the longest in the entire season) shifts the perspective over to two amateur game developers (played by Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti) who meet in the late ‘90s, fall in love, and go on to found their own game development studio.
The episode only tenuously connects to what’s going on with the Mythic Quest folks, and it has a radically different tone from the rest of the season (so much so that it feels a bit jarring), but it also somehow works as a sort of sobering interlude. Dark Quiet Death is ultimately about how the chase for profits and the desire to keep artistic integrity intact are forever doomed to clash, and how such clashes can cause repercussions that persist for many years.
Off on the Right Foot
Even though it gets a little…weird during its latter half, Mythic Quest’s first season still manages to wrap up several of its major arcs while also leaving just enough left unresolved to segue gracefully into the second season that Apple has already greenlit as of this writing. It might not be enough on its own to justify investing in Apple TV+, but gamers of all stripes will at least appreciate the genuine affection the show’s producers and writers clearly have for the culture of video games.
The entire first season of Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet will be available for streaming through Apple TV+ starting on February 7.