May 06, 2015

Might and Magic - Ranking

Story & World

The vast world of Barn gets points just for the sheer audacity of being so massive.  Fans of dungeon crawlers will delight in M&M's seemingly endless and varied terrains, packed with hidden caves, ruins, and castles.  The open nature of the quests really gives the feeling of the party driving their own destiny.  The main set of quests needed to finish the game is around five or so; the rest of the quests are completely optional.  A side quest could be started early on in the game only to be completed much later.  There is no hand-holding when quests are being dished out; in fact, certain quests can be downright vague.  For example, some of Lord Inspectron's quests require the party to find a particular named location even though the name is never mentioned anywhere else.

The story itself is similarly vague which has some merit in that, again, the party feels in charge of their destiny.  In the end, however, it's really too ambiguous to garner any amount of pleasure or satisfaction.  I mean, there's something with aliens going on but it's never explained or expanded on, which is too bad because I love me some sci-fi being tossed in with my high fantasy.  I did like the twist at the end of the Inner Sanctum being all in my dream-mind.  14/20

Character Development

Levelling up only adds more hit points, additional attacks, and access to higher forms of magic, none of which is influenced by the player.  Each character class will be built the same, as race selection has little impact on the character (minor stat changes and resistances).  The strength lies within the party's configuration itself and is not set in stone at the beginning, so the player is free to try out different combinations.  However, since all new characters start at level 1, it may be too difficult to introduce someone else later in the game.  All the classes are distinct enough from each other to keep party management interesting, although I found the thief/robber class to be lacking too much in combat skillz (come on, give 'em a backstab or something, combat is 90% of the game here).  My main problem with the thief is the same problem I have with them in a lot of similar games — they're only useful to deal with the obstacles put in the game specifically to make them useful.  The result is that a party pretty much has to have a thief or deal with the extreme annoyance of setting off every single trap.  This limits the party variance and I don't like being constricted in such a way.  I'd much rather have thieves be more like assassins, with more emphasis on combat abilities and sneaking.  Traps should either be used very sparingly or be puzzle-based, in my opinion.  *end rant*

All the decent equipment has to be found and is entirely based at the whim of the RNG engine.  It's more than generous with standard "plus" weapons and armour but a lot more stingy with "named" versions.  I FAQed an equipment list afterwards and was surprised to see that I never got to play with 90% of the stuff available.  I never even found a single bow or crossbow past the +1's I bought for my archer and thief early on.  Lame.  The sheer awesomeness of multiple THE FLAMBERGEs does mitigate some of the lameness, however.  9/20

Combat & Monsters

This is what the player will be doing most of the time and thankfully it's done well, barring that absolutely devastating bug that causes the round to reset if a character goes down.  Tactics and planning are required for most fights, if only to minimize damage.  Low-end magic (available to four of the six classes) is cheap enough to use constantly and can drastically change the outcome of any combat if the force is with thee (e.g. a lucky Sleep spell can cause quick monsters to at least lose their first attack, allowing the bulky fighters to follow up and finish them off before they can inflict any damage).  The variance in who constitutes the front line in battles keeps one on one's toes and the all-out melee brawl when the party is surprised raises the tension as the backrowers are forced to man or woman up.  It's truly unfortunately that the previously mentioned bug totally wrecked all the major encounters and made it so the party had to be fairly overwhelmingly powerful in order to win.  That alone is going to cost M&M big time.

The bestiary is quite deep and a single encounter can be comprised of many different creatures, even ones that normally wouldn't hang out together.  Most don't have any spell-duplicating abilities, but a good chunk have missile attacks and it becomes important to know which monsters have such an attack so that they can be targeted by spellcasters.  Random encounters are strongly based off of the character's levels, ensuring the majority of battles are somewhat challenging.  Areas that don't have "access" to stronger monsters instead jack up the numbers, much to the delight of the party's group-damaging spells, but much to the exasperation of the player.  12/20

Graphics & Sound

Good range of wall textures which is always a huge plus in a crawler and even the various caves are distinguished through the use of colour.  The only failing is that towns look too much like caves but at least are still colourful.  Monster sprites are above average and rely heavily on recycling the portraits, which is understandable given how thick the monster roster is.

With a game as long as this one, having good music is must, but M&M doesn't quite cut the mustard.  The tunes themselves are just okay; it's the lack of variety that kills it.  For most of the long, long journey, it'll be just a small handful of tunes assaulting your earhole.  Those without meditative powers may want to consider an alternate playlist.  One piece of note is the opening and ending theme which is a nicely done rendition of Pachelbel's Canon in D.  An epic composition for an equally epic game to be sure, and normally I would applaud such a choice.  However, since this is Might & Magic, I'm sure they just delved into the public domain in order to save time/effort scoring something original.  So, in this case, it's actually going to count against M&M.  Haw haw.  11/20

Gameplay

Before M&M, I hadn't played a game where I came even close to hitting such a major gold crunch as I did.  Normally economies are done broke after the midgame and I thought the same would happen here as the town shops don't have any high-end equipment for sale.  I was pleasantly surprised when the contrary happened, though I will admit to uttering a few expletives when Lord Dicksmack robbed me of all those thousands of golds.

If the game wasn't such a buggy mess, I'd say a replay would be doable.  Pushing the party configuration to any of its extremes would be interesting, and one would be likely to find lots of new magical equipment (there's gotta be a magic bow somewhere).  The second or third time around would also be much quicker due to not having to map everything again (you do keep your maps, don't you? (cause I don't)).  In reality though, if one was desiring a replay of Book 1, it'd be more prudent to do it on one of its other platforms.  An even bigger reason to jump ship would be because of...

Bugs, bugs, and mo bugs!  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that other releases of M&M aren't nearly as buggy.  The sheer number of them boggles the mind but at least most of them are minor and the game is still finishable.  It just makes the whole game feel sloppy and rushed, and prevents M&M from reaching classic status.  Ah, what can you expect from a dang port?  As a bonus, here's a cool page showing unused content, more bugs and other oddities that you might find interesting (looks like there was suppose to be a final boss).  8/20

Final Ranking:  54/100