Dark Messiah of Might & Magic Review

When Ubisoft snatched up the Might & Magic franchise in August 2003, two games were announced soon thereafter attempting to reboot the fabled fantasy/RPG series: the fifth title in the Heroes of Might & Magic series with Nival Interactive (released in May ’06), and a completely new action/RPG game from a relatively new-comer named Arkane Studios titled Dark Messiah of Might & Magic. Using Valve’s Source Engine, , DM captures the very essence of an action/RPG: raw gritty combat, enhanced combat AI, and plenty of environmental manipulation. DM more easily compares to more traditional action/RPGs like Heretic/Hexen, Blade of Darkness and Rune than, say, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. If you think you’re in for the latter, then you’ll be in for a surprise.

The over-arching story is standard RPG fanfare; you’re an orphan named Sareth and you’re sent out to recover an artifact by your master Phenrig. Naturally, you learn of your father and freaky things happen. You’re given a guide, in the form of an overly zealous woman "spirit" who appears to suffer from sexlexia, because her attraction to you is so overbearing it borders on insane. You won’t see massive amounts of role-playing since it’s not the focus, either.  At most, you can shape your character to three distinct personalities: a warrior, a mage or a thief. After completing goals, you’re given skill points to distribute to these areas. So if you want to be able to backstab unsuspecting enemies, launch bolts of lightning, or be able to block with shields and use a charge attack, you can do so in DM. Other than that, there are not many role-playing moments.

Arkane really tweaked up the Source’s AI. It especially shows in combat situations. No longer will people stand around when you launch fire arrows at them, because now they will know to dodge. Clashing your swords with some orcs is always exciting; while you dodge, block and swing away, so will the orcs. Each place that’ll usually have combat will be littered with things you can use during combat, as well. Spiked walls, cliffs, boxes and crates, fire pits, wooden structures you can knock over, traps and oil vases are all present, and all can be used to your advantage.

If you think engaging in combat is fun, there’s nothing better than leading an unsuspecting goblin in front of a spike trap and then seeing them get impaled. Kicking foes off of ledges never gets old, either. Neither does lighting someone on fire after dosing them in oil, and flinging a fire arrow into their face. Sadly, while the regular combat situations are fun, the bosses are a little under whelming. While they are intimidating, it usually takes little to no effort to take them down. After one or two environment manipulations and a power attack to a specific body part, that’s it.

I found the game’s bodily awareness to be perfectly suitable for the game’s immersion. I’ve always been a fan of it, even dating back to 1998 with the dismal Jurassic Park: Trespasser. Bodily awareness ranges from the rather simple "look down and you’ll see your legs" to more complex but seemingly scripted events, like handing a letter to someone and seeing your arm extend to hand over the letter. But like I mentioned earlier, most of the bodily awareness "moments" are scripted; including moments like when a Cyclops blows through a door, and you’re knocked off your feet and get dragged back into a room by a helpful guard. The screen shakes around as he attempts to stir you awake and you struggle to stand up, showing glimpses of your body. They are entertaining, but none of them are dynamic. Other rather generic moments, like turning a wheel to open a door, are not affected by bodily awareness – i.e. your hands don’t extend out to turn wheel.

Like I’ve already mentioned, the combat is the real gem here. Arkane went all out to really put the immersion in. Holding down the different directional keys with the left mouse buttons readies your weapon in a variety of stances (known as power attacks), which then leads to different attacks. Right click is your "parry" mode (I think Arkane should have used the term block instead). Just left clicking swings your weapon around with quick strikes (known as a flurry of blows), which is good for unarmored opponents but not advisable for armored foes. The different weapons have separate characteristics as well. For example, the staff is slower but can knock down enemies while the daggers are fast and furious, but don,t have a lot of power behind its attacks.

I always smile when taking on five guys at once, having my whirling daggers slicing and dicing while dodging their attacks. Once you accumulate a bunch of landed blows, your adrenaline will cap out, which you can then unleash in the form of a finishing move. These are fairly graphic one-hit KOs. For example, with a sword you can behead your enemy (complete with a brief slow-mo effect) while with a dagger, you can throw it into someone’s face. There is a downside, though: once your adrenaline caps out, you have to use it then and there or else it gets wasted.

On the day of release, the game caught uproar for its unstable gameplay and seemingly random crashes. After downloading the game from Steam around midnight on Wednesday, I encountered a rather easy-to-solve error at start-up (I had to copy a .dll file into the game’s main folder, since it didn’t recognize it elsewhere), but after that I encountered literally zero bugs and only a few crashes (which mainly stemmed from changing game options in-game). The only notable thing I can pick out is the ever-infamous sound stuttering bug, but in all senses it’s not really a bug — it’s just a performance hamper. One of the systems I played on is — at best — mid-range, and even with my resolution at 1024×768 and most of the settings at either medium or high, the fps was perfectly fine for gameplay, and even allowed me to take some nifty screenshots for the computer’s background.

There is also an included multiplayer portion; it’s a take-on Unreal Tournament’s Assault mode and  Battlefield’s Conquest mode. The two modes are the Warfare mode — which is groups of teams trying to take each other’s castle — and the Crusade mode, where rounds are carried over and the players gain experience/powers as they advance. The characters are slightly unbalanced now, with the Priestess being one of the top pwners, but with patches currently underway I’m sure they’ll get tweaked.

There are some lingering gameplay quips I don’t really like. For example, equipping a ring or armor doesn’t remove it from your inventory when it moves to the equipped area. So in other words, the ring is not only in the equipped area, it’s also in your inventory which seems kind of redundant. Other little things include jumbling all in-game food (which is pretty useless in itself) to a generic "food ration" category, and not being able to swing while on ropes (the rope physics are somewhat bland, too). But besides those, DM is a good action/RPG. There are plenty of exciting moments, the combat is in your face, and Arkane threw in some good humor to boot; just listen to the conversation some goblins have about eating an orc’s "two livers." They paid a lot of attention to detail as well — not only is the Source engine pushed further than usual, but just look at how the flame dissipates the air when you ready a fire arrow. Dark Messiah is a prime choice for action lovers, but keep in mind the little letdowns and possible performance issues before you put down the cash to buy it.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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