Review by ASchultz

"We'll forgive them for the (yet again) spaceships."

Might and Magic IV(MM4) always felt like a sub-game. You just used a mirror to teleport everywhere you wanted to go, beat up some monsters, and returned. You could even teleport quickly around the critical dungeons for a quick knockout. The story wasn't much, either. You even had some dungeons you couldn't visit right away. The only big change was the ritzy animation with painful voice-overs. But apparently it was a placeholder. Might and Magic V(MM5) looked at the Darkside, the other half of MM4's Cloudside world, with the same Engine. But MM5 does it right, not counting the unskippable cut scenes leading to a baffling conclusion. You can improve absurdly and, more importantly, return to those prohibitive MM4 dungeons to link the two worlds back again.

MM5 doesn't feature any great changes in controls. It's the same 3-d perspective as before, where you can see monsters in the distance(up to 3) as well as tents, dungeons, stairs, etc. You still have ten character classes, with only six being really useful. There's a picture keypad on the side, where you can use your mouse to click on rest, shoot, or the amazingly helpful "sneak left" and "sneak right" which allow you to shuffle to the side without turning. But I found the keyboard equivalents easier to use. MM5 still has automap and also features a scratchpad carried over from MM4, where you can see which quests you've solved. It even logs the clues you've discovered. Keys that do something are highlighted(Item, etc.) and that means you don't have to refer to control notes, either.

After five installments the quest formula is well set: you have an upper world(6x4 of 16x16 sectors) with five towns, each with dungeons(well, sewers.) There's a cold area, a dungeon area, a lava area, and an easy and hard forest area. You start off in the introductory town and are given a few logic puzzles that can pump your party up quickly--an amusing aside is that if you have MM4 installed too, going to MM5's first town Castleview, solving its quests, and returning can make MM4 even easier. And the overall quest is more serious, too, even if they can't lay off the spaceship and computer nonsense. You must rescue Kalindra, Alamar's daughter, and return her to her castle. But to do so, you need to restore her castle with Energy Discs. You find a few of them, and a quest through the Castleview sewers gives you a key to Ellinger's Tower above, where you can meet the guy who uses the Energy Discs. Above that, you have Skyroads that match and link the world below--if you're clever you can find your way to Olympus, the town in the clouds where you can fall to the grounds from the sewers, but you can't get in until you help the Dragon Pharaoh.

Then the main part of the game--energy discs--is arranged thematically. You have four Great Towers. Each requires a key to get in and holds two energy discs. For one, you need to approach from the top and fall to the ground to enter. You also have Ogre and Giant camps that hold discs--in each case you have some desultory dialog and it's rather more fun to start a fight and pile up magic items in addition to the discs.

Your main obstacle getting everywhere, though, is that you can't open up any mirror portals that send you wherever you want until you're already pretty good. It's woven into the Kalindra story and probably for the best that you don't have that power that early. So frequently you have to tiptoe around monsters outside. There's a save cheat where you can save and reload and, if you can't see the monsters, they can't see you. It is almost as funny as that Douglas Adams text adventure, and while it's different from a character-building puzzle, it is still involving. You can even do things right and cast the jump-spell to run around enemies and, in the tougher dungeons, weaker parties can try to lump enemies together to have them give chase in a corner, then cast a flee spell to stick them there. For some strong monsters you also can jump away, cast spells, and keep jumping in a circle. Never let them clinch until they're almost too weak.

I don't know if the authors intended it this way but the simple jump spell certainly adds to the interesting puzzles already there. Teleport is no longer an early option, especially in the towers(cramped spaces to begin with) and this is a case where cracking down on quasi-cheating(allowing spells to get past enemies) makes the game more enjoyable. You use each of these variants as you fight to get to Sandcaster, the second town, and then as you hack your way through all the enemies. There's something about a seven-digit experience bonus that feels good no matter what.

And then you've got all kinds of things to do. There's a cluster of mines of precious stones; pick up enough of them and you can gain a powerful weapon. You have pools and wells that give a temporary boost, though MM4's gauntlet is still more convenient, if you don't mind slumming. But you can find pools that give +1000 spell points, for instance, and if you solved some MM4 quests, some old friends greet you on the Darkside with thanks and help. And there are quests that give prohibitive experience. The game throws experience your way quicker than the gold to train with that experience, so getting to the maximum 255 levels is its own puzzle. It's not just about exploring every square but also about saving the money used to buy spells, etc.

And even though MM5 is demonstrably finite(no weird nuisance encounters) it has enough permanent and temporary improvements to keep you busy. You'll want to get to the end, then replay. The best part is that you have to win a fight or solve a puzzle for the meaningful ones, but minor ones are scattered. For instance, an early dungeon gives everyone +19 in all attributes after you solve its puzzles, but you need creative spellcasting to reach barrels that give +3 in all attributes and +10 to age, reduce them back. So then you need to find the Fountain of Youth to get rid of the artificial age. Attributes start at 20 and if you have a "runner" he can get to 200 or even 250 while everyone else gets a minimum of 50 or 100. Planning this becomes an additional challenge on replay--how to get through the game quickly? And then there are the random powerful items. Instead of a plus-system, MM5 has rare-metal or gem items, and all improvements are verbal. The nonmagic hierarchy is straightforward, but you have to experiment to see if a Flaming or Fuming weapon does more damage. This would be another nuisance in a lousy game, but with MM5 it adds to the mystique, especially since everything else is so easy to boost, and the odd super-powerful item complements the concrete gains very well.

And while you don't have to be terribly powerful to defeat Alamar(the dungeons along the way feature mindbending puzzles such as reading the map you made, filling in the vowels of a sentence, or working through teleports and slides, generally with side rooms of nasty monsters for fun,) the dungeons past that are a different matter. There's the certifiably insane Dungeon of Death, where you need to complete a crossword to advance to level 2. Then you need to save because every other chest can eradicate a character, and on level four you have about forty carbon copies of Xeen being generated by a computer. Destroy everything and get twenty million experience. Your hit points seep into the thousands as you visit the Dragon Cloud back on the flipside, where you need quick footwork to get to a well that gives +50 levels. After which the monsters are total wimps. You flip back from Alamar's castle to Cloudside dungeons, going further into a crypt, until finally you're on this cloud area with a spiral path leading to the center. And it seems simple compared to what you've done, but you WILL fall off.

MM5 is a true flipside; the sky is purple and orange, and the monsters are all psychedelic shades. Goblins that were grey in MM4 are purple in MM5. All the colors are wrong the right way, so it's more "gee, it's a psychedelic twisting of MM4" instead of "they got lazy and reused the same engine, connecting the worlds be darned." MM5 also has a few songs for each general area(outside, towns, dungeons) and while the cut scenes are a bit GI Joe(and interminable) the one where you forget an item is pretty funny. And short too!

Might and Magic buffs will recognize storyline inconsistencies through all this. Lamanda was Alamar's son, and no, Alamar can't be Sheltem if Sheltem locked him up in Might and Magic I! And though MM4 feels like a prototype for MM5, replaying MM5 through and then defeating MM4 is great fun, as is visiting places you had to wait for a whole game to check out. I suspect two games had never been linked like this before, but they have after. The whole Might and Magic series sometimes does feel more like an equation than a fantasy world, but some of these equations net unique puzzles and new conveniences with each installment. The final one before the "new" engine certainly finished things well.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/31/06

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