Review by FeralBerserker
Brutal dismemberment? How could I refuse?
This was a risk for me, since I played a Might and Magic game over a decade ago and didn't enjoy myself. All the same, I gave it a shot. Then something happened. I severed a man's arm and head in one fell swing and listened to the clanking of his helmet while it rolled around with his head still in it... And I fell in love.
Gameplay - 10/10
Dark Messiah puts you through the standard chit-chat crap that most games do upon starting up a new file. I was instantly discouraged when that ended and I was told to open a door and kill a zombie. Then some more busy work and I was feeling like it was another waste of time to add to the pile of modern games. And finally, humans. Humans to kill. Kill in the most violent and glorious fashion. Violent, creative, intricate death.
Combat is the meat and potatoes of this game, and any other game that I'm interested in playing. I really can't sing Dark Messiah enough praise when it comes to enjoyable killing. You can use a sword (optional shield), dual knives, a gun (bo/staff [which I never used, so I can't tell you about it]), or a bow and arrows.
There are a few moves you can execute, which are more or less the same with a sword, sword & shield, and knives. Clicking quickly will cause you to swing fast and weakly. If you hold in a direction while holding in the attack button you will do a power attack*. Either strafe button results in a side slash, backpedal or forward results in a thrust. If you release your charge attack while airborne you will come down with a very powerful downward strike*. And finally if you are sprinting when you power attack you will lunge forward and swing twice* (first one strikes with the shield if you have one equipped). If an enemy is fleeing you can throw a knife into their back to kill them instantly. Eventually you can perform a 360 degree spinning attack* to hit all the enemies that surround you. In addition, you can impale enemies who are lying on the ground.
*Anything marked by an asterisk has to be unlocked first.
You can kick the enemy to either break their guard, knock them on the ground, send them flying off a cliff/building, or send them into a fire pit/spiked wall. In addition, you will sometimes come upon a rope you can cut in order to release a swinging mechanism (usually breaks through doors, but can kill anything in it's path).
The bow and arrow is really straightforward. Knock an arrow and then release. If you put the tip of your arrow into a source of fire while it is knocked you will be able to shoot a flaming arrow.
As you kill and become damaged your frenzy gauge will build up. Once your frenzy is full you execute a frenzy attack (a powerful downward slash followed by a powerful upward slash with a hand and a half sword) that will often kill one or a couple enemies. Not only kill them, but send pieces of their bodies flying. I once chopped off a man's leg with the first swing, and the same man's arm with the second swing. When I looked around for his arm I couldn't find it for a while, then about five seconds later it landed right next to me. Heh. To add to the ruthless fashion of frenzy attacks, the character will let out a ferocious and bloodthirsty roar while he swings. On occassion, you will run the enemy through as an alternative. Once they fall to their knees you get to push them off your sword with your leg.
Now, if you've played this game or watched someone who is skilled play it, then you know what I've said does little justice to the actual gameplay. So imagine four orcs are ascending a stairwell to attack you while you're fighting two at the top. You can kick one orc off the edge (if you're near a cliff) and the other into a spiked wall (if one is available). Proceed to sprint down the stairs and jump; landing on your enemies will knock them over. Impale one while he's on the ground and the other three will have risen. A 360 attack might take off the legs of two of them, and you can execute a jumping power attack to split the last one's helmet in two and kill him. All the while you can hear the sound of clashing steel and the screams of your victims. And all of this occurs in about a minute to a minute in a half if you pull it off perfectly. :D
You'll fight a small variety of enemies including humans, orcs, zombies, goblins, a couple dragons, a few ogres, spiders (very few of them), and some weird demon like (kind of looked like gollum/smeagel in the lord of the rings movies) things. I enjoyed killing everything except spiders, but you can run past every spider in the game without actually having to fight any of them. Killing ogres was exceptionally fun as you have to stab them in the eye to take them out.
Hacking off enemy's limbs never gets tiring, nor does hearing the clanking of their armored body parts hitting the ground. One of my favorites was chopping a goblin's wooden shield in half and immediately slicing the top quarter of his body off, then watching all his allies run and scream. Only to chase them down and kick them face first into a fire, or chop them into pieces as well. Hahaha.
As you complete objectives you will gain skill points to distribute. While most objectives are required, there are very few that are optional and the bonus skill points are very welcome in my opinion. You'll invest skill points to do a wide variety of things including but not limited to: investing in spells, allowing lockpicking, increasing your sprint meter, increase health, grant health regeneration, increase criticals, gain new melee moves, and many many more things.
Spells sounded interesting, but I just couldn't pull myself away from the weapons that severed limbs. There were about seven healing/support spells, and an equal amount of damage dealing spells (like chain lightning, fireball, tornado maybe, immolation). Spells all cost mana (which you can spend skill points to increase), and mana regens as time passes. You can also use mana potions to replenish your mana.
In addition to choosing a weapon and investing skill points into your character, you also get to choose your armor and a ring to customize yourself. There isn't a wide variety of armor at all, but it changes the way you look (though you can't really see anything but your arms and from the waist down) and can have some decent bonuses (like mana +10). Rings can add health, critical chance, damage or other things. Also, you can acquire magically enchanted weapons. Magical weapons will deal magical damage, such as fire or lightning.
At a certain point in the game you get a unique ability that I will not spoil for you. Just know that it is very cool in concept, but I found it had few practical uses. However, you might like it.
The game is almost entirely linear, with a few extra rooms you can loot or do extra objectives in. The maps, while not the most detailed, are detailed enough to provide fun and exciting melee fights. You won't have to do a whole lot of busy work. There's just one section I can think of where you have to use this rope bow to climb up a tall shaft (it's a really short section, though terribly joyless unless you know what you're doing). The combat might seem lackluster at first, but once you get some moves you'll definitely be hooked if you like first person hack-n-slashes.
Story - 5/5
The story of Dark Messiah was surprisingly good. Characters had a bit of depth, and whether you liked them or hated them was based on how you felt towards their personality, not whether they were humping you or not for the duration of the game. It was a surprising amount of depth for a first person title, especially since I expected a game with such great gameplay to have a terribly thoughtless plot.
I won't spoil the story for those of you who choose to play it, I will only say that it's not the same old rehashed fantasy story of 'save the world.' Plot twists can be spotted from twenty miles away, but I found them satisfying to watch when they finally played out. There are also at least two different endings possible.
Graphics/Sound - Nil
The graphics are fantastic (for my low standards, but I also played it with the lowest graphics settings possible). Dark dungeons, bright island landscapes, and detailed enemies to chop into pieces.
I've never played a game where sound played such an intense role (except maybe Call of Duty: Modern Warfare). The fearsome sounds of melee combat, mixed with bloodthirsty roars and screams of pain/fear all combine to create a visceral experience. I told my brother to try the game and he refused. Then he was sitting in the same room while I was playing and after the first two minutes he was sitting next to me asking me for the disk, just based on the sound alone. Perfectly emulated chaos and destruction that makes you feel like you're really chopping people into little bitty pieces... The voice acting was pretty good too.
Play Time/Replayability - 5/5
The play time isn't the absolute greatest, but it can take a good eight to ten hours on the first play through. As I always say, it will take a considerably less amount of time on successive play throughs.
I found the replay value to be excellent, as any battle can play out in countless ways, despite the fact that it's a linear game. My only complaint when it comes to replay value is that you can't skip the cutscenes. To savagely kill all those people again though... It's totally worth it. I never get sick of chopping people into pieces.
Final Recommendation - 10/10
If you're a fan of first person hack-n-slashes or hack-n-slashes period then this is a must own. Other people it might appeal to could be those people who really enjoy an extremely violent game, or people greatly interested in fantasy games. I'd recommend it to anyone though, since I liked it so much. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is my dream game, and I can't expect another game like this to ever be made again. That would just be too good to be true.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (US, 10/24/06)
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