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RPG Codex Hands-on Preview: Might & Magic X: Legacy
Preview - posted by Zed on Mon 19 August 2013, 20:13:02Tags: Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X: Legacy; Ubisoft
Might and Magic, Now Might & Magic
When I was but a wee boy, I spent many a summer day with my friends playing hot-seat Heroes of Might and Magic II, conquering computer opponents together with amassed Tier 1 units. I was too young to have played the original five Might and Magic games, and because of this, the late 90s Might and Magic games seemed like weird offshoots to me, even though they were in fact a continuation of the franchise's original series. It wasn't until much later – I believe it was with Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor – that I actually played a Might and Magic game for the first time. After that, I dabbled a bit more with the series - mostly with the Xeen games, but I also played a bit of MMVI: The Mandate of Heaven. So, while I'm not a complete stranger to the series, I would hardly call myself a veteran.
It's been ten years since Might and Magic IX (known to some as “Writ of Fate”). It was the last New World Computing-developed Might and Magic game and sadly, it left many of the series' fans disappointed. The franchise spin-offs (mainly the Heroes-series and casual variants of it) have kept the Might and Magic franchise alive in name, but not in spirit. The Might and Magic fans have lived on nothing but hopes and crushed dreams for the last decade. While this could describe any gamer of old, I do feel sympathy for this enthusiastic bunch of people.
Now, the German developer Limbic Entertainment is looking to bringing the series back. Not with some mobile game, not with a browser game...no, with an actual computer role-playing game. Might & Magic X: Legacy. That's MMXL for short, which sounds like some kind of protein chow. What you may notice is that they switched out the 'and' for an ampersand (&) in the title, and I'm honestly surprised they did not drop the numerical too as so many other franchise reboots have done lately. But maybe it would be wrong to call it a reboot, because they seem eager to please the fans and make a proper sequel.
While You Were Gone...
Story-wise, Might & Magic X: Legacy is supposedly a continuation of whatever events unfolded in the world of Ashan in Might & Magic Heroes VI. I wouldn't know - but I'm taking their word for it. Thankfully, the game doesn't seem to put players at a great disadvantage if they know very little about the new Might & Magic universe, as the game begins with a pretty standard “we're adventurers seeking adventure – do you have adventure for us?” introduction, allowing for the players to ease into the story as they learn the ropes. If you're like me and skipped the last decade of Heroes games, there will be plenty of lore tidbits and bestiary entries to read in-game to learn more about Ashan. You will probably be arguing Ashan-lore with the other nerds in no time.
So, what does that mean in regards to the earlier games? They wouldn't call it Legacy and not have it carry any, well - legacy, would they? To start with: the sci-fi elements are out. There are no planetary guardians, ancient alien races or what have you. It's fantasy through-and-through. That's not to say there aren't any weirdness like nether-kobolds summoning the arch-unicorn of evil (that's not in as far as I know), but you won't be seeing your arch-nemesis fly off into cosmos flying a cyber-broom. There will be small some nudges, a hint here and there, and perhaps a few characters that you may recognize – at least in name – from the previous games. But there won't be any plot elements or characters carrying over from earlier games that have a significant impact on the game.
The Might and Magic games have always been colorful games. That also includes the offshoot games – especially the very earliest and the very latest installations. Might & Magic X is no exception to this, but it doesn't go over the top. So while you won't be seeing rainbows over every stream of water you come across, there will certainly be colorful skies, landscapes, and characters. The lighting is very effective and even reflects the time of day. You will notice as the sun rises and sets, and the owls start hooting in the forest.
There's a history of great orchestral music in Might and Magic. The music of Might & Magic X seems to be no different. The game's powerful theme has an intro reminiscent of Jeremy Soule's Morrowind music, but later evolves into a nice melodic John Williams-like tune. The in-game adventuring music lacks the melodic punch of the main theme and is more subtle, but it's decent enough.
Many of the sounds associated with skills and combat are still a work-in-progress, and as such I won't elaborate too much on them other than saying that I don't really have any complaints about what I heard. Most sounds carry weight and enhance the game as they should. For instance, it's very satisfying to shoot a volley of arrows from your entire party and hear them splash on the enemy. This is made even more satisfying when the arrows pierce and stick into their targets.
There's some nice atmosphere when exploring caves and dungeons, and I'd attribute much of this to the game's ambient sound effects. When in dungeons, you will hear the chattering of creatures, the creak of leather-clad humanoids and the clinks of metal. Sometimes these sounds will actually be a more effective indicator of nearby creatures than the “creatures are nearby”-gem found at the top-center of the interface.
The interfaces of the Might and Magic games have been pretty inconsistent over the years. I laughed for a good while the first time (and the second time, and the third time) I saw the photo-portraits of Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven. The characters looked like porn actors in LARP costumes. The 3D renders used in Might and Magic VII and Might and Magic VIII weren't a whole lot better. Might & Magic X, thankfully, uses the slightly more sophisticated alternative of painted 2D portraits. Characters still have their different states reflected in their portraits: hurt, asleep, poisoned, dead, and so on. There don't seem to be a whole lot of options when choosing your individual character's appearance however – only two choices per gender for each class. But with the full game sporting 16 different classes, that should add up to a nice total of 64 portraits, assuming portraits are not duplicated across classes.
Might & Magic X: Legacy is a game made on an average/lower-than-average budget, or at least not an AAA-budget, a fact which may be apparent in its graphical fidelity. It's clear, however, that the developers are artistic and motivated, as they've created a simple but attractive aesthetic which is more than enough to carry a game such as this.
Your Party and Your Stuff
Like MMVI: The Mandate of Heaven and MMVII: For Blood and Honor, the party in MMX: Legacy has room for four characters – down from the six of the earlier games. There is room for two so-called hirelings in your party. However, these hirelings are not combatants, and you cannot equip them with items...or really interact with them at all. Hirelings will grant you a single boon that may benefit your party, such as the Mule increasing your inventory size or The Scout giving you info on monsters and reducing their aggro range. These hirelings are found scattered around in towns and have different costs and contracts, so it may not be as easy as pointing and saying “I want that hireling.” The hireling slots can also be filled by temporary quest NPCs. These NPCs don't seem to do much besides initiating dialog and perhaps dropping a hint now and then, and they are also mandatory for certain quests. I think a little more banter could go a long way in making these quest NPCs a little more interesting, as they (like hirelings) do not participate in combat, but also do not even provide a boon.
Managing your party in Might & Magic X: Legacy is quite straight-forward. There are a few important items you will probably want to be stocked up on when you leave town for the first time: healing potions, mana potions, antidotes, any handy scrolls you may find and so on (there seem to be scrolls available for most spells). There are also camping supplies that you will need in order to be able to rest (unless you have the Victualer hireling in the party in which case you get to rest once per day without the need for supplies).
The town alchemist does not restock potions in the preview build, so if that sticks into retail, you may want to play in a conservative manner. There is no alchemy skill or crafting in Might & Magic X. You must rely on what few items you can initially buy in stores and what items you find while adventuring to keep you going. There will probably be moments when you would have loved to head back to town just to resupply, perhaps even in the middle of a dungeon. I found myself save-scumming a couple of fights just to save a potion or two, but that is probably just my OCD gaming behavior kicking in. But I'm kind of glad there is a need for the player to actually conserve potions and scrolls, rather than chug them down like in some hack-n-slash game. It makes resting and the required supplies a more valuable commodity.
There are three primary schools of combat skills for your characters to dabble in: melee combat, ranged combat, and magic. (The actual categories for skills are "Weapons", "Miscellaneous" and "Magic Schools", but I'm making up my own here.) Melee is covered by several types of weapon skills, which include swords, axes, spears and so on. Ranged skills cover only bows and crossbow. Magic skills include the levels of aptitude in the seven different domains of magic, some which also are available to non-mages. Besides item and magic-specific skills, there are also a few skills that improve the use of armor, shields and fighting styles. What skills are available for your characters is determined by their class. Most characters have the option to learn how to use a ranged weapon, which is nice - having a ranged alternative for all your characters is something I'd recommend.
In town is also where you will find most trainers, although you may find some out in the dungeons and elsewhere as well. When in town, they are generally found in temples and barracks and the like (but they could also be merchants – a few NPCs serve more roles than one). To receive training from a trainer – allowing you to further advance your character's power in a certain skill – you will need to pay a fee and have the appropriate skill points allocated (earned through leveling up, of course). In addition to skills, characters in the game also have attributes. Attributes in Might & Magic X are much like attributes found in other RPGs. Raise your Vitality for an increase in health (although in this case, the skill Endurance serves the same purpose), increase your Might to hit harder, raise your Spirit for a bigger mana pool, and so on. Character progression is fairly intuitive in how it works, although finding the specific trainers you're looking for can take a while if it's your first time playing the game. The game definitely leaves room for metagaming, but I guess that's true to the spirit of Might and Magic.
Tiles and Turns
The combat in Might & Magic X is turn-based and the entire world, including the outdoor areas, is tile-based. Although the world may seem a bit flat at times, the environments (especially indoors and dungeon areas) feel reasonably organic. You can hold the right mouse button at any time to free the camera from your normal tunnel vision and have a look around at the often nice-looking surroundings.
Once you get into combat and an opponent is positioned in an adjacent tile, you are locked into position and must start attacking and defending. If an enemy has spotted you (which puts you in turn-based mode) but has not reached you (for example, if the enemy is using ranged attacks), you are free to move around – one tile at a time, of course. You can attempt to flee, charge forward into melee, or simply use ranged attacks (assuming the enemy is positioned straight ahead of you). In certain areas, this system can be a bit tedious, as you will always want to have the first attack – meaning you will often find yourself waiting for the enemy to round a corner and approach your party. Besides that, the combat feels fluid and well-paced. If anything, it's the step-by-step movement outside of combat that may feel a bit cumbersome.
Many rooms and areas are filled with enemies, and although they may seem quite intimidating, they rarely attack in groups of more than two or three at a time. By moving closer to groups, you may aggro a few and then move back (as long as they don't get into melee range).
Certain tougher enemies (including boss enemies) will have skills to which you will want to adapt your tactics. If an enemy has a melee retaliation ability, it might be in your interest to attack it with ranged attacks for as long as possible, or knock it back with air spells. One boss encounter in the preview build I played had an attack which instantly wiped my party unless I made sure not to position myself on the edge of his room, making the encounter quite interesting as he kept pushing me around. It felt a little arcade-like, but not as detached from the rest of the game as, for instance, the bosses in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, or something like that.
There are also some dangerous status effects, like petrification and poison, that must be treated with potions or scrolls. I didn't encounter much of these in the preview build, besides the poisonous spiders at the very beginning (for which you are provided like a million antidotes, so that's no problem). Hopefully, there will be more of these in the finished game.
There are also traps found in the dungeons, but in the current build they are extremely weak and not dangerous at all. Hopefully the traps will be more potent in later versions of the game, requiring the player to find ways around them or to disarm them or whatever.
You will find many chests and hidden secrets while adventuring. Many of these secrets can be revealed by using certain spells (there are a few cross-domain duplicates – two spells with the same effect), while others are easily spotted by just having a quick look around. The loot you receive from both chests and defeated enemies is randomized, probably using loot tables to determine what items to drop in a certain range based on the area. Sometimes chests are trapped with enemies ambushing you from behind, but other than that there don't seem to be many pop-in-from-nowhere encounters.
On Monsters and Puzzles...
There's a lot of combat in Might & Magic X. It is definitely the primary pastime of your adventuring party. It's mostly fun as well. I'm saying mostly because sometimes it feels like there isn't really enough stuff to do in between encounters. It feels especially trite when you're in a bandit's lair for instance, and every encounter is some sort of bandit. When an encounter does provide a higher challenge, it usually comes in the form of an elite version of a mob you have already battled many times in that same dungeon. I would love to see a bit more variation in the encounters. Like, couldn't the bandits have hounds or something? Maybe they've captured some wild beast?
But more worrying, I found the preview to be lacking in the puzzle department. A charming thing about these sorts of games was that they often provided some really good logical challenges in between combat and exploration, and I'm afraid I didn't see much of that at all. I can only hope the other acts provide more varied challenges, puzzles and other surprises as incentives to continue playing. Riddles, movement puzzles, word puzzles - anything like that would be a very welcome addition.
Punch Harder, You Sissies
There are two difficulty levels to choose between when starting a new game: Adventurer and Warrior. The latter has tougher opponents and higher prices for equipment and services than the former. However, playing through the first bit of the game on Warrior, I didn't really notice much of a difference. Game difficulty seems to be an area still under heavy development, so perhaps it's a little too early to discuss whether the game is too easy or too challenging. I personally thought Adventurer in the preview build provided a good challenge – at least for someone new to the game.
The game in its current state requires a relatively balanced party. If you run a party with too much spellcasting going on in fights, there simply won't be enough mana potions to go around (that is, as long as the potion shop doesn't re-stock – that could change). But if you don't have any spellcasters at all, then you will be missing out on essential healing and some pretty important crowd-control spells. You might want a tanky character too, although I personally managed just fine with two barbarians as my primary melee fighters. It will be interesting to see what the additional classes in the retail version provide in terms of options for building your party.
A New Hope
Might & Magic X: Legacy is in “open development.” That basically means that the game is an open beta phase and that the developers are actually listening to fans for feedback. I suppose, in a way, this preview is part of that. It also looks like Might & Magic X: Legacy will be using Uplay, Ubisoft's notorious DRM. I don't like it, you probably don't like it, but that's how it is. Perhaps Ubisoft can be convinced to release a DRM-free version on GOG or something at a later date.
Even though the preview game had some bugs (as is usual) and only covers Act 1 with a limited party selection, I must say I had a lot of fun playing it. More fun than I had imagined, me being a Might and Magic-newbie and all. The presentation is modern, with a colorful and slightly stylized art direction, yet the gameplay feels very true to dungeon-crawling classics of olden tymes. With more classes to choose from in the full game, and depending on how the other acts play out, I can imagine the game having some really good replayability value.
There hasn't been a Might and Magic game in a long, long time. It's hard to draw comparisons with any modern game. If I had to, I'd say Might & Magic X: Legacy feels like a more fleshed-out Legend of Grimrock with a bigger emphasis on (tactical) combat and resource management, and not so much on puzzles and step-dancing. It's a little sad that Legend of Grimrock is the only recent game that is somewhat comparable. Hopefully, Might & Magic X will receive the polish it needs over the coming months, sell well, and help revive this long-lost genre.