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Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
Review by muddasheep, November 06th 2006, 21:16:50
First Heroes of Might and Magic 5 and then Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. It seems Ubisoft is really trying to milk the license they have aquired from 3DO and New World Computing a while ago. But Dark Messiah actually merges two licenses, the one from Might and Magic, plus one of the leading 3D engines in the gaming industry: Valve's Halflife 2 engine, also called Source. With both of these powerful licenses one would assume Ubisoft can hardly fail to make a good game, can they?

After installing the game you are able to watch the intro sequence which gets you in the mood for the game. A knight-ish man walks up a bunch of stairs, throws a blue skull down a well of some sort, cuts his own hand and lets a few drops of blood follow the skull down the abyss. The pond breaks away and a giant demon creature appears, shrinks itself to the size of the knight and reaches out for the knight's head - which probably means there's some kind of pact with evil going on. Right after that you're hit with the main menu, and this is where you get your first shock. Not because of the realtime-animated creature that is staring at you, but because of the options menu which looks just like a normal Steam menu with its basic gray background. The only difference are the decorated corners. It's not bad, because after all it's the source engine, but after the intro sequence it kind of breaks the illusion, it's a bit odd. Anyhow.

The next lightning bolt will hit you when you try to change graphics settings, because it crashes your computer. I tried it on two different machines and on both I was unable to change graphics settings. But, fortunately you can set these once you're ingame - even though it takes quite a while to load. And while we're at it, every time this game loads up anything it steals plenty of your precious time. Then again if you play it on a new machine in, say, five years from now, you probably wouldn't have to worry about it anymore.

So, we've clicked "New Game", changed all those graphics settings to reasonable and sane values and went right into the action.

The first chapter is a sort of tutorial. You learn how to use your inventory, how to purchase new skills with skill points (which are earned for accomplishing several objectives in the game), how to walk around and most importantly - how to fight.

And this is where the game really kicks in. The combat system of Dark Messiah is much like Oblivion's - only a tad bit more complex. For starters, you can use your left mouse button to attack and your right mouse button to block - either with the main weapon or the shield if you have one equipped. Then you can use power strikes. You press and hold your left mouse button and release to inflict a lot more damage. You can do different power strikes depending on the direction you're moving the moment you activate it. If an enemy is lying on the ground you can use a power strike to finish off your foe with a stab into the heart (or in case of the undead, where the heart was). While doing the latter your screen actually really moves accordingly, giving it a much more immersive feeling. Occasionally it happens that you and your enemy both strike at the same time and this is when you zoom in and hold your weapon face to face with your opponent and you have to press the left mouse button very fast to push the enemy back - or else you will get kicked away with a nice motion blur. It can also happen that when you get too close to an orc it will grab you, hold you close to its ugly visage and then throw you away, leaping after you with its weapon held high.

That's not all. The more you hit your opponents, the more adrenaline you will get. Once your adrenaline bar fills up 100% your power strikes will be instant kills, followed by short slow motion, showing you exactly what part of the enemy's body you've just sliced off.

Still not satisfied? How about the ability to kick things? You can kick your enemies down the stairs, down a cliff, or against spikes on the walls or into fire (both of which result in instant death). If you don't like to use your sword all the time you can also grab a stone and throw it against the enemy's head from the shadows, or you use your bow and cut down a rope which suprisingly was tied to a platform of barrels which now roll over a bunch of goblins - all thanks to the Source engine's expert physics abilities.

You don't want to use sword and shield at all and rather stick to your daggers and sneak to your enemies from behind? No problem! You can choose several stealth skills which let you do just that. You can hide in the shadows and as long as the circle in the center of the screen remains mostly gray-ish then you're hardly recognizable.

Thief is not your type either? Then try out the way of the sorcerer, set fire traps or shoot mighty fireballs and use magical weapons. Or you can be a jack of all trades, learning how to unlock doors and treasure chests, aquire the magic of healing and wield the heaviest weapons in the game.

When you wield a weapon the game makes you feel like you're actually really an expert in this. For example if you fight with a combat staff, it doesn't just whack your enemies on their heads, instead you hit your enemy to the front, flick the staff around with your hands and hit again from a different angle, just like in those Jackie Chan movies. But the level of immersion doesn't end here: If you select a fireball spell you will actually see your hands starting to form a glowing ball of lava between your fingers and it really makes you "feel" powerful.

Speaking of immersion, here's another example: Early in the game you're riding a horse through a small village to the giant gate of a castle. You're handing some important papers to one of the guards and the moment he is about to let you through you look up and see one of the castle towers explode. Several stone blocks fly your way and the horse freaks out and throws you off its back. You're lying on the ground when suddenly one of the guard grabs you and drags you away inside the castle walls and closes the door. Another guard helps you up and you're able to move around again. This is entertainment at its finest.

Throughout the game you will fight against goblins, orcs (which look like the ones from Lord of the Ring - which is not a bad thing), humans, undead, spiders, spiders and even more spiders, and then some. The scenery ranges from beatiful medieval castles to ancient ruins, orc infested cliffs, spider nests and spooky crypts. Most of the level design is straight forward, so mostly it is impossible not to know where to go, although there are several secret areas to find and one or two of the handful puzzles will make you scratch your head a bit. The game is never too easy and remains a comfortable and entertaining challenge until the end.

Well, the gameplay at least doesn't disappoint. But there are a few things that will keep you calling out curses that even the old egyptians didn't know. First of all, the game crashes occasionally. And when it does, it takes quite a while to come back in. There are also a few other bugs that break the game experience a bit. For example, we managed to get a shield with -2 durability (only shields have durability, and not all of them) and we couldn't even drop it, which meant one less inventory slot. Or one of the indestructible shields actually broke all of a sudden. However, these issues should be resolved once the first patch arrives, but it makes you wonder why (PC) game developers are relying more and more on bugreports from their customers.

Anyhow, once you get to see the forge where you can actually craft a weapon for yourself, those issues are forgotten again. And the crafting process is unlike anything you've seen, I'm sure of that.

After about 12-15 hours of gameplay the game's over. The four different endings and the different skills should make one or two more runthroughs worth your while though. And if that's not enough you can also try out the multiplayer part, which I unfortunately wasn't able to test to full extend, but from what I've seen it's a completely different game, featuring two sides and different skill trees. But it's lagging like hell.

All in all, there are issues, crashes and bugs. But it didn't stop me from going back and playing some more.

For those of you who thought Oblivion is a bit too simple combat-wise and a bit too open-ended gameplay-wise, I can recommend Dark Messiah without hesitation. Also, if you loved the Halflife series, you should've already bought Dark Messiah yesterday. Just be sure to save up some spare bits of patience for the game's issues, you will need them.
Neat level design.

Wooden Shield - Resistance: -2 / 120. OMG!

Bite me.

Of course there's no shop, so those magic weapons only have one purpose if you can't use them - FIRE!

Pick the lock in the dark!

Links:
>Dark Messiah
>Ubisoft Patches
Rating:
How readers rate this Review: 9.8/10 (5 votes)
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