Review by Shin_i_Gami

"A great game riddled with bugs (and I don't mean the giant spiders)"

First of all, Dark Messiah Of Might and Magic (Abrv. DM) is a first person... slasher? The game is entirely in first person view but uses swords/bows/daggers etc. rather than guns in FPS games. Despite not being the first in this genre, you could do far worse than DM. Don't expect a perfect review though.

DM sees you as Sareth, a 20 year old apprentice to Fenrig, some bald wizardy guy. From dialogue it can be gathered that Sareth is an orphan and that he has spent the majority of his life with Fenrig. After years of not doing anything exciting, Fenrig takes Sareth to fetch a crystal from a temple (not the most original first mission). The first level sees this take place and acts as a tutorial in the game to familiarise the player with the controls. This level is fairly well constructed and leaves nothing out. One problem is that experienced players will find this annoying every time they wish to start a new game. After this, Sareth travels to Stonehelm to see another wizard who will take him on an even more outrageous adventure. However, Sareth arrives just as a siege begins. This won't be the only inconvenience in Sareth's adventure...

The rest of the story itself (without giving too much away) is a series of unlucky events after another. Practically everything beyond taking a key ends badly for Sareth. Either a floor gives way, a door closes shut or the evil wizard Arantir (who's soul desire is to stop everything you do). Midway through the game, there is an interesting plot twist where Sareth himself has to choose between good and evil. The scary thing is that both options are surprisingly close for him. Other than this plot twist, the plot is fairly predictable and in the end, we all know it will end with Sareth killing the bad guys. The game is also very short, a good player can complete it within 8 or so hours. This is compensated to a degree by alternate skill sets but the game could really do with being a few hours longer.

Unlike some games where the plot doesn't change regardless of anything you do, DM allows 4 different endings depending on who you save/kill and the moral choice you make at the end. Despite this, each run-through of the game sees you go through the same levels with the same enemies doing... the same things. There are secret areas but none which affect the game terribly much. They do offer items before they'd be found in an easier to notice place. This means the game becomes fairly predictable after the first run through and that certain sections can be avoided. An example is that one can jump over a crumbling area of floor and miss out an underground spider's nest. I'm not going to give an arbitrary score for the story, it's not something I do.

Gameplay however sees a lot of variation between games. Instead of merely finding new toys to play with a la Heretic/Hexen, Sareth can find new toys... but he won't always know how to play with them. For every major event completed, Sareth is awarded skill points to spend. There is a skill tree in DM which means in order to get the cooler abilities like Health Regeneration and Inferno, the player needs to purchase weaker ones like Extra Stamina and Fire Trap. This results in not being able to buy every single improvement meaning that how Sareth plays is up to how points were spent. Certain weapons require Strength whilst others require Stealth. There are no classes as such but buying strength and endurance will result in a warrior and so forth.

Armour and shields are not particular varied. There's wizard clothes, assassin garb, armour and better versions of them. Shields look different but do the same job (apart from a few special ones later on). Shields do break, so be sure to pick up a few if you block a lot. Weapons are a little better, depending on the skills Sareth has but in general, at the end of the game you'll be using the most powerful one rather than ones with cool effects.

Melee combat is well done, there is a quick attack which can be activated by tapping the attack key, a strong one which is slower. There is also the parry which can be used to block other swords but will fail against magic or arrows. The fights are pretty dynamic where a wrong move can result in becoming vulnerable or worse, dead. Spells are available and can be cast at the expense of mana and provide a mage “class” for those who want it. Enemies carry weapons and can be disarmed and will drop them on death. However, other than the Orcs most of these are pretty lame and players would have had them earlier on in the game. Enemy AI is generally good, they will dodge, block and even run away if they are losing. However, at times it is flawed. Once, I swung at an enemy with my sword, they dodged... into a spiked wall. AI also have a field of vision and sneaking up on them may be good at times. However, one disappoint fact is that the final boss can be backstabbed and one of his two stages skipped. There are a wide variety of enemies such as knights, necromancers, dragons and the occasional cyclops. One problem is that enemies tend to be bunched together. So in one place you'll only fight Orcs. Most haves swords but there is the occasional bowsman so don't expect to be surprised.

Sareth is not alone! Throughout roughly a third of the game, Sareth will either have some damsel-in-distress mage girl or a knight/wizard following him. However, Leanna (mage-girl) is often more trouble than she is worth as her dying (in most levels) will result in a game over. Especially at the beginning of level 5 or so, this happens a lot. Thankfully, she can be told to stay in one place so I normally hide her away from danger. Unlike the enemies, friendly AI seems to be quite poor and most allies will die before the end of the level. Sareth's allies are often unforgiving, an accidental sword swipe will result in all friendly NPC's to turn on you. If you're not one for friends, there are traps which can be used to kill enemies such as swinging boxes, weak supports/statues or flames. The problem is that enemies tend to fall for these far too often and kicking an enemy off a cliff seems to be as good as impaling them through the skull.

This is the perfect time to discuss difficulty. There are 3 options, Normal, Hard, Hardcore. It would be more correct to label them, Easy, Not too Hard, Kinda Mean. The first difficulty should mean that even bad gamers should have little trouble. The middle difficulty isn't terribly hard but carelessness will result in death. Hardcore... even the most basic enemies can deal killing blows which isn't great. Especially when enemies tend to crowd around you and attack you whilst their friends have broken your shield. It's not impossible, I've done it 2 or 3 times but is certainly a step up from Hard.

I've gone on and forgotten about Sound and Graphics again, haven't I? Sound is generally very good, everything sounds like it should and voice acting is phenomenal. Pretty much every NPC has something to say whether it be “Show some skill before I kill you” (which seems to be a trendy phase, good/evil/goblin and even undead warriors say it) or “Let me heal you”. Every enemy has a voice suited to their characters. Goblins are whiny, so is Leanna etc. and sword clashing, fireball forming sounds great. Graphics are pretty decent as the game is on the Source engine. Characters and environments are suitable for the time and their locations. Goblins are small and ugly, the Orc king is literally covered in scars. Spells/weapons look good etc. The only major criticism is the web texture for spider nests is pretty ugly and blocky.

The major flaw in this game is the number of bugs/glitches and unused content. There are many situations where the player has to climb a rope, it is possible to send yourself outside of the map by accident with no chance of return. Physics is flawed at times, AI will spontaneously die if they fall on certain object such as rocks. This wouldn't be a problem if it was consistent but you can never be sure if an enemy will die from a fall or if a trap will go off. Some of the animations (especially for spin attack and impale) are jerky and some of the enemy scripts are poor. Some NPCs will just walk into you if you get in the way. It is also possible to accidentally create a super-enemy if you deliver a fatal blow whilst they are running a script. An example is my flaming orc. I set an orc alight whilst he ran away from a dragon so he charred and burst into flames but still kept limping after me. No attack would kill him. Considering all enemies needed to be dead to advance this can be troublesome. The game also suffers from long loading times and various technical issues which prevent some people from even loading the game.

Multiplayer seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought. It is basically Team Fortress with typical fantasy classes. That's right, you are forced to be a certain class. They also have stat trees but these are not as good as the singleplayer one and are advanced through by killing people. Balance is also poor, Mages tend to be far more powerful than other classes. Bugs are also present, some of which force players on the server to leave in order to allow the game to continue. It also has a half-made feel to it. Nothing special. Ubisoft had patched it twice but not much was changed.

Dynamic gameplay
Great Sound/Graphics
Stat tree allows variation in games
Multiple endings

Difficulties are inaccurate
Friendly AI is mean
Multiplayer is weak

Overall, if you like the genre you'll be happy. However, the game is a little short so if you want to complete it and then be happy, it's not going to be as fun. Nitpickers will either love finding secrets or be disgusted by the bugs. Final word, don't touch the multiplayer. Mod fanatics, there's no singleplayer SDK (and probably never will be) so the most you can do is alter GCT files.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/09/09

Game Release: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (EU, 10/27/06)

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