Monday, October 29, 2012

You Should Probably Play This: Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor

You Should Probably Play This is my positive review column. In it, I'll review a game that I think needs more attention. It may be an obscure oldie, something that was released recently with little fanfare, or something that was badly received on release but has since been made better. This time: Visit scenic Enroth.  We have laser guns.  And puns.

Might and Magic, along with Ultima and Wizardry, is one of the most venerable classic RPG series.  There were a total of nine games in the main series, plus a bunch of spin-offs of varying quality (from the brilliant Heroes of Might and Magic strategy games, to the iffy action game Crusaders of Might and Magic).

Gameplay-wise, the Might and Magic games are "blobbers".  What that means is that they're first person RPGs in which you control an entire party, as if they're fused into one blob.  The Might and Magic games were initially 2D turn-based grid-based affairs, but starting with Might and Magic VI, the games went full 3D and real-time (sort of, more on that later).

Fun fact: Initially my Dwarf Cleric and Elf Sorcerer (the right two portraits at the bottom) had different portraits, but they had really annoying voices attached to them, so I used a party editor to change their portraits and voices.
The easiest comparison is probably to the Elder Scrolls games.  Because it's an open world first-person RPG, and the Elder Scrolls games are nowadays by far the most popular open world first-person RPGs.  Although, besides being more or less in the same genre, there's not that much similarity to the Elder Scrolls games.

Combat is pretty simple, especially early in the game.  Click on a dude to attack him.  You can also cast spells, and you can attack at range or in melee.  That's pretty much it.  Well, almost.  You have the option to fight in real-time or turn-based mode.  In real-time you can run around all you like fighting, but it can be hard to manage (especially with spellcasters)because you don't get to constantly attack.  All of your moves have recovery times (universal cooldowns, essentially), and your characters take turns attacking.  In turn-based mode, things are easier to manage, but you can't move for some reason.  So what it comes down to is real-time is best for ranged combat so you can keep moving, whereas turn-based is best for melee combat where you need to manage your characters more carefully.  Although some extra depth is added once you have a bunch of spells in your casters' repertoire, the combat is pretty simplistic throughout the game.  I wouldn't take this as a commendation though.  It's not bad, it's actually pretty fun.  It's just not very deep.  And unlike some games, it actually pulls of real-time and turn-based combat modes.

I'm not sure what's up with that hand coming out of the left side of the screen.  Either it's a Goblin doing a gang sign, or the wall's about to punch me (us?).
But Might & Magic isn't a dungeon crawler.  We're not here for the combat (in fact, most combat can be avoided if you choose.  Enemies don't give much XP).  This is an open world RPG, we're here for the questing and the exploration!  Well good news for you, hypothetical RPG fan, because Might & Magic 7 delivers both in spades.  Shall we bring up the Elder Scrolls comparison again?  I think we shall!

You know how in the recent Elder Scrolls games (less so Morrowind), they're very focused on making you feel powerful throughout most of the game due to level scaling?  Yeah, not so much with Might & Magic.  At lv. 1, you'll be overwhelmed by groups of rats and dragonflies.  If you somehow make it to Thunderfist Mountain or The Land of The Giants at lv. 1, you will be murdered instantly (unless you just keep running).  Might & Magic 7 subscribes to the classic RPG design of building up the player, which means you've got to start small.  In fact, the gradual strengthening of your party is one of the greatest parts of the game.  Initially you'll struggle against rats, but as you go you'll find yourself monitoring your health a little less.  Then you get the Jump spell and you find your mobility suddenly increasing.  And then, eventually, you're flying around throwing meteors to take out entire groups of enemies at once.

I would hate to live in that house over there on the left.  Whenever I went out the door, I would inevitably smack into the pillar in front of it.
The questing itself is the pretty standard "go there, do this" fair.  For the most part, there's only one way of solving most quests, this isn't Arcanum or Fallout.  However, despite the quests mostly being fairly typical, they are still fun.  Dungeons are well-designed, if a bit short, and it never feels like the stuff you're doing is just grinding.  There's nothing inherently wrong with fetch/kill quests, it's more just that it needs flavor to make it seem like there's a purpose to it besides gameplay padding, and Might & Magic 7 handles this just fine.  And there are some more varied quests, such as one where you need to find three statues in three temples across the game world.

Like in all the Might & Magic games, exploration is just fun.  Although open world, the game isn't one unified map (this is 1999, after all).  Rather, it's a bunch of fairly large maps connected through travel time.  But the Might & Magic games are great at making it seem like there's always something cool around the corner.  Wandering the desert you might find a genie lamp, guarded by harpies.  Or, exploring the mountains, you might find an old meteor impact site: A crater with a bunch of meteor shards (which are an alchemy item).  There's even one quest that's entirely exploration-focused: You have to find 14 obelisks across the land.  Each one has part of a riddle, solving the riddle leads you to a big cache of loot.

Charmingly doofy paper dolls.  Another thing lost to the mists of time.
So, that's gameplay.  What's the other key mechanical part of RPGs!  The stat/skill system!  Might & Magic 7's system is quite nice, striking a nice balance between having distinct classes but also allowing a lot customization.  Now, as usual, I won't bore you with all the niggly little details, so I'm just going to go over it quickly.  At the beginning of the game you create your party.  You first choose race (Human, Goblin, Dwarf, or Elf) and class (Knight, Paladin, Monk, Thief, Cleric, Sorcerer, Ranger, Archer, or Druid.  Yeah, there's a lot.  And you only get to pick 4).  From there you do the typical point-buy tango, customizing your stats for each guy (Might, Endurance, Accuracy, Personality, Intellect, Luck).  Lastly you pick your four starting skills.  Each class has two preset skills (Fire Magic and Staff for Sorcerer, for example), and you can pick two more from a small class-specific pool.

Once in-game you can learn more skills, although this is also restricted by class.  For example, only Sorcerers can learn elemental magic skills, and only Thieves can learn Disarm Trap. Whenever you level up you gain skill points which you can use to rank up your various skills increasing their effectiveness.  In addition, similarly to Arcanum, there are also training levels for skills: Normal, Expert, Master, and Grandmaster.  Each training level accrues a specific bonus (for example: Normal Sword means you can use Swords, Expert Swords increases your chance to hit with Swords, Master Swords lets you hold a sword in your left hand, and Grandmaster Swords increases your defense with swords).  Like with learning skills in general, skill training is class-restricted.  For example, the Archer is the only one who can bring Axe up to Grandmaster.  The Knight can still learn it, but he can only bring it up to Master.  That's pretty much it in a nutshell.  Heavily skill-focused, although you can continue to raise your stats through various venues in-game.  Overall it's a very nicely done system.

I don't know why I took this picture.  Hello road.
The story of the game is somewhat minimal and freeform.  That's not to say there's no main quest, there is.  But, unlike certain games (...Skyrim >.>) it seems to realize that you want to explore without feeling like the world is ending imminently, so the story's often very laid back.  Barring a few exceptions, there's not much "You must go do this and slay the such and such or we're all doomed!", it's more, "Hey, could you go collect the [spoiler] from the [spoiler] when you get a chance?  Cool".  So it's a pretty story-light game, but the story itself is pretty good.  Not a masterpiece, but entertaining, and it does a great job of making the player feel progressively more important as the game goes on.  The game starts with you winning a castle in a scavenger hunt, a rather goofy opening, and increases in bigness from there.  Also, halfway through the game the story splits into Dark and Light paths.  Each have their own quests and spells, so it's a nice way of adding some more replay value.

I also have to take a moment to mention that the Might & Magic series has always had a lightness of tone which I really appreciate.  They're not comedy games, but they don't take themselves too seriously either, which is humongously refreshing in this age in which all fantasy must be dark and consist entirely of grimacing racists who can speak only in curses (and I don't mean the magical kind).

If you see an NPC name that's not humorously self-descriptive (the Fire Magic trainers are Kindle Treasurestone, Ashen Temper, and Blayze), then it's probably a reference to something.

Graphically you can't deny that the game's dated.  The 2D on 3D style naturally looks old, and the idea of having a view frame surrounded by a bunch of inventory stuff is another automatically-dating idea, compared to a game in which the view of the game world takes up the entire screen.  That being said, I can't say it looks bad.  The sprites are very nicely drawn and pretty detailed and, while the 3D is fairly primitive, the environments manage to be quite varied and fun to explore.  And I have a fondness for the view-screen style interface, actually.  Obviously it wouldn't work well for an FPS, but for a first-person RPG, it's nice having a lot of your information on-screen without having to dig through menus.  And it just looks nice and stylish, really.  So, while Might & Magic 7 does unavoidably look old, which may be a turn-off to some, it doesn't look bad.  But then, I have a pretty low graphical threshold.  Your mileage may vary.

So what exactly make Might and Magic 7 awesome?  It's... hard to pin down.  It's a game that's very much the sum of its parts.  That's not to say the individual parts are bad.  The exploration is great, the character building is very good, and the combat is fun, if lacking depth.  But all of these elements combine to create something even better, that feels... very cohesive.  In any case, it's an excellent game and easily blows the Elder Scrolls games out of the water for my favorite first-person open world RPG.

Might & Magic VII: For Blood and Honor is available for 5.99 on  If you get the game, I highly recommend installing the Greyface Patch.  It fixes bugs and adds some modern amenities such as mouselook and quicksaving.

Welp, that's it for now.  But wait!  What's this?!


You Should Probably Play This: Arcomage

You Should Probably Play This is my positive review column. In it, I'll review a game that I think needs more attention. It may be an obscure oldie, something that was released recently with little fanfare, or something that was badly received on release but has since been made better. This time: A review within a review for a game within a game.

See, there's another thing that Might and Magic 7 (and 8) is known for: Arcomage.  Arcomage is a card game you can play in taverns after acquiring a deck in an early sidequest, and it's probably one of the most famous mini games ever.  It's also a whole lot of fun as a break from adventuring.

It's sort of like Magic: The Gathering with less silliness and more giant towers.
There are three ways to win in Arcomage: Get your tower to a certain height (changes depending on where you play), get one of your resources up to a certain amount (changes depending on where you play), or destroy your enemy's tower.  The nice thing about Arcomage is that it's very simple, but it's a blast to play.  I hate reading instructions for games within a game, but Arcomage is really easy to get the hang of.  You have three resources: Bricks (primarily used to build your wall), Gems (Primarily used to build your tower), and Beasts (primarily used to attack your enemy).  Each turn your resources are increases by a certain amount (affected by where you play and modified in-game by certain cards).  Each turn you play a single card (though some cards let you play again), and try to win in whichever way you can.  And that's pretty much it, really. It's quite simple, but there's a lot of different strategies you can take, and it's very fun.

That being said, I'm not entirely sure it'd work as a standalone (and a standalone was released).  Part of the reason Arcomage is great is because it's easy to just pop into a tavern between quests and play a round or two.  As a standalone, it could lack the depth of something like Magic: The Gathering.  Still, it is a fun game, and it's considered one of the best mini games for a reason.

Arcomage is playable in Might & Magic 7 and 8 (see above for a link to 7 on GOG.  8's also there, as is the rest of the series).  Alternatively, there are a number of free standalones if you want to try the game out by itself.  I don't believe there's any download of the official standalone available.

And that's it.  For real this time.

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