Thoughts of Might and Magic

I came to the Might and Magic universe with Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven, and it didn’t take long to become hooked on it.

MM6 offers a truly epic experience built on years of trial and error. It remains a masterpiece. There are, of course, faults, missteps, whatever you want to call them. But MM6 remains a classic RPG that rewards its players for their diligence.

When old school gamers’ eyes glaze over, and they utter something along the lines of, “They don’t make’em like that anymore.” MM6 is one of the games they’re referencing.

If you came to the CRPG world later with titles like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate, you will have problems understanding just what we mean. If you PLAY one of the titles we champion in RPG conversations, you’ll likely remain as confused as before.

Who wants to spend time mapping a zone? Who wants quests with no real clue about where to go? Who wants to touch a random object and have their party annihilated for no reason?

Believe it or not, in the good old days, these were the markings of the best of them. The idea is for your brain to be an active part of the adventure. The more information that is HANDED to you, the harder it is to feel like you’re along for the ride. The trick is to accomplish that without the player feeling lost.

Just to be sure that nostalgia wasn’t clouding my judgment, I pulled out my MM6 CD and reinstalled. (I also spent some time with MM7-9, and Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.)

This time around, the music is what jumped out at me. For as ugly as the graphics looked, the music had become THAT much more impressive. The highlights were probably tracks 1, 4, 9, 11 and 15. For those interested, I suggest revisiting the soundtrack for games 6-9. There’s some interesting work in there, great mood setting.

As I mentioned, the graphics for 6 are pretty miserable. They weren’t impressive at the time, and by the time 8 came out they were embarrassing. Yet, after the first hour or so, I began to see past the ugliness and enjoy the adventure.

Portable gaming has done a lot to lengthen the longevity of older games, especially for younger gamers that tote around a DS or the like. My daughter easily accepted the graphics for 6-8, as well as part 4 for that matter. (I haven’t shown her part 9. I’m too ashamed).

As I replayed MM6, I had to wonder how many things were thrown in to sell cluebooks. Back before the age of game wikis, frustrated gamers only had cluebooks to turn to. (Now they’re called strategy guides to soften the blow of realizing your own laziness and ignorance). For example every month you can get a quest to visit a shrine. Pray at the right shrine, and you get a stat bonus. You can find them all with due diligence, but figuring out which is which is a chore. (Not to mention the fact that some are in places you can’t reach until you’re much, much stronger).

Just figuring out which dungeon to do next can be rather difficult once you leave the starting zone. The basic idea is to perform tasks for six lords. Some of them want things that can’t be done until you have a good 30 levels under your belt or so.

But all of that is part of what makes MM6 so much fun. There’s no hand holding. There’s no glowing yellow trail taking you to your quest objective. There are no exclamation marks telling you somebody has a quest. You have to go everywhere and talk to everyone. And it usually pays off. (Especially if you don’t use the Internet for help. NPCs often provide much needed clues to quests).

As I said, there are some serious missteps as well. Just try fighting dragons and titans without having your gear ripped to shreds. Even with a master armor repairer it’s a gigantic pain to transfer gear back and forth again and again.

There’s also the flight bug. If you’re outside and cast, fly it’s easy to dodge ranged attacks in turn-based mode. Just attack and fly up while they shoot at you. This enables you to handle stronger enemies earlier that you should.

MM7 continues the fun with a bit more polish. This time around your party has to choose a light or dark path which means you can’t access all of the spells and quests in one play through. You get your own house for storing leftover quest items and relics you can’t use.

You also get Arcomage, a highly addictive mini-game. The only reason I still think MM6 is a better game is its slightly larger scope and the ability for any character to master just about any skill. It’s not as unbalanced as it sounds. For example, even though an archer can master spell schools, he has fewer spell points and must spend the skill points to do it. That means other combat skills suffer.

MM7 is much more a race to master water and air magic so you can abuse Lloyd’s Beacon, Flight and Invisibility than anything else. You can get powerful spells much sooner in MM6, but they’re ultra-expensive and aren’t as effective until you reach master level.

Both approaches work, but MM6’s way is more fun.

MM8 sticks much closer to MM7. The big change is the approach to race/class. You don’t really choose a race and class. Instead you choose a race or class. The choices are cleric, knight, necromancer, dark-elf, troll, minotaur… etc. You also only create one character and pick up the rest along the way.

Once I got used to it, I enjoyed the format. I remember playing it once using only one character instead of the five allowed in the party. The early levels were rough. I won’t lie. But by the end, my Necromancer was a god. For fun I swept through the land killing every living thing both outside and in dungeons. Weeeeee.

Perhaps you’re curious about what happened with MM9. Well I can only guess that too many projects were being developed at the same time. This also occurred while the face of the RPG was shifting.

The most glaring evidence of this was Crusaders of Might and Magic. There were parts of CoMM to enjoy, but the level design was uninspired. Too many sections were simply long stretches of terrain in a straight line. What was the point of making a truly 3D game, if the world wasn’t designed to use it?

MM8 came out in 2000, after CoMM. But MM8 still featured the MM6 style of graphics. (Sprites in a 3D environment). Next to games like Deus Ex and Baldur’s Gate 2, MM8 looked like a relic. I still played and enjoyed it, but MM9 had to up the ante a considerable amount.

I just don’t think 3DO had the resources to develop everything on their plate. Legends of Might and Magic was to be a cooperative online RPG but it was truncated and released as a counterstrikeish deathmatch game. I never played it.

When MM9 was released it had horrendous bugs and looked horrible. It WAS 3D, but it’s clear that it was rushed. Not only that, it was clear that the designers didn’t quite understand what to do with their new possibilities.

A truly epic game is smushed down onto tiny maps.

“No one’s ever found the lost blankity blank.”
“Here. It was 20 yards away in a cave around the corner.”

Thanks to fan patches, MM9 can be played and enjoyed. I finished it and didn’t feel like I lost hours of my life. But MM9 is easily the worst of the series (adjusting for inflation as it were).

UbiSoft took over soon after. The only thing that even comes close to resembling the core series is Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. It’s a fun game, but it’s not an RPG. It’s a FPS with RPG flair.

I’ve never seen any definitive comments about developing a MM10. I know there’s a fan project out there somewhere, but that’s about it.

It’s not just MM10, the fans crave. It’s the old school ideal. I love first-person party-based RPGs. My favorite RPG of all-time is AD&D Pool of Radiance which features 3D exploration with isometric battles. Oblivion is second, with MM6 a close third.

Is this subgenre dead? I hope not.

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