First Thoughts: Might & Magic X Legacy

So, taking advantage of the Steam Holiday Sale (obligatory comment on how this time wasn't as good as that time goes here), I decided to open up a portal to the 90s:

Aww, yeah, baby.  Might & Magic.  I was first introduced to this series back in the early 90s, with Might & Magic 4: Clouds of Xeen.  To say it blew my young mind is an understatement.  It was like nothing I'd experienced before.  While I would say Bard's Tale 3 was, objectively, a better game, Might & Magic was far prettier and more immersive, even though 4 came out a scant four years after. It was just bigger, more immersive, and generally more impressive.  It also introduced me to one of gaming's greatest "joys": waiting for a repeatedly delayed sequel.  That being said, Might & Magic 5: Darkside of Xeen more than lived up to the hype, even without getting into the whole "World of Xeen" post-game quest.  This was quality stuff.

Despite how much I liked it, I kind of dropped out of computer gaming for awhile afterwards, and never had much to do with the follow-ups (6-9), nor the Heroes of Might & Magic series, nor the Warriors, Legends, and Ring-Tailed Lemurs of Might & Magic.  Looking back at them, I might enjoy 6-9 (well, probably not 9), but I was never terribly interested in the other series.  To me, Might & Magic will always be a first-person, grid-based hydra.

So, along comes X.

It's a complete throwback to the old style blobber, where you play a party (this time, a party of four).  It's completely grid-based and turn-based; you could walk away from the computer to eat dinner and not a thing would change, not even in the middle of combat.  I realize that for the current generation, this isn't a bonus, but those of us who remember gaming in the late 80s and early 90s, it's great.  In this sense, it's everything I ever wanted from a new Might & Magic game.

Furthermore, they streamlined character creation in many ways.  I remember first playing 4, and being swamped with choices (hell, I'm still swamped when I go back to play).  There were half a dozen races and close to a dozen classes, combined with randomly rolling a dozen or so attributes.  The phrase "wealth of options" comes to mind.  Even without endlessly rerolling stats, it was hard to figure out a good balance.  Because you were also making six characters.  You could easily spend hours just making a party.  In X, on the other hand, you're only making a party of four, and there's only 4 races, each race with 3 classes to choose from.  The classes are also similar to each other in that there's a Might class, a Magic class, and a Hybrid class.  The available attributes have also been reduced in number, and you're no longer rolling, it's point-buy.

On the other hand, they've taking a page from the 6+ installments when it comes to skills.  Skills are considerably more complicated.  In 1-5, skills weren't really "a thing".  More accurately, they were binary: you had them or you didn't.  You didn't level your One Handed Sword skill to be better at hitting things with a sword, you gained levels and raised your Accuracy attribute.  You certainly didn't need to find trainers to unlock higher levels of skills.  People who have played 6+ will probably be used to this, but it was a bit of a shock to me.  That said, the learning curve on the mechanics isn't too bad, and it didn't take me too long to get my sea legs.

Unfortunately, there are other things that leave a bit to be desired as well.  The open world combined with turn-based combat and grid-based travel can make for some weirdness.  Your archers (or spell casters) can just lob off willy-nilly, you have to be engaged in actual combat.  Entering and exiting combat is easy enough, but only when you're in a direct line.  Imagine two people in a wide open field for an old fashioned pistol duel.  They're ten paces apart, but one of them takes a step to the left.  No longer in a line, they can't shoot.  In a dungeon, this is less of an issue, but it feels silly in a field, or on a beach.  The targeting can also be a little wonky at times, but that's a matter of patience than anything.

No, the biggest mechanical problem is that the game was made in Unity.  I know Unity is the darling engine for a lot of smaller releases because their fees are reasonable, it's flexible, and it has native support for Mac and Linux, but it's a wasteful beast of an engine.  Games in Unity are almost always horribly bloated both in size and system requirements.  I really wish Unity would streamline their engine. While this is partially just me being all, "M&M 4 fit on a dozen floppies, that's less than 20 megabytes!" there's also a practical complaint here, mainly that the game chugs and my computer coughs and wheezes outside of dungeons.  I've turned the settings down on this fool thing because the overland sections are almost unplayable, because freaking Unity wouldn't know streamlining if it sat on it.  My assumption is that the game is loading huge sections of the overworld and trying to keep all that in memory instead of dividing it into smaller chunks (like, say, M&M 1-5 did).  Meanwhile, dungeons, even big ones, are smaller than the world, so the game runs smoothly.  Thank God it's a dungeon crawler, so much of my time should be spent in doors.  It just sadly blunts the impact of having a truly open world when your computer game damn near turns into a slideshow whenever you try to explore it.

My final two complaints are related.  This game was published by Ubisoft.  And while nobody's head has been eaten by my AMD video card, I do still have to deal with the abomination of uPlay.  Even though I bought it through Steam, I still need to run Ubisoft's ridiculous Steam-ripoff in the background.  Further, it means there's no way in hell this game isn't riddled with DRM.  And it means that if uPlay shits the bed, I'm unable to play my single-player game.  It also means no Steam achievements, because I'm getting uPlay achievements.  It's just a mess.  It also means that everytime Ubisoft spits out a uPlay update, I have to deal with that before I can play.  And, I repeat, it's a single player RPG.  I don't need to connect with other players.

The final complaint is one of story and setting.  X is set in Ashan.  What's Ashan?  Why, it's the setting of Heroes of Might and Magic V.  The first M&M game published by Ubisoft.  It's a generic high fantasy setting.  This may not seem like an issue, but it is.  See, the original Might & Magic games weren't just fantasy games.  They all (at least the early ones) contained not just science-fiction elements, but superscience aspects.  For instance, 4 and 5 dealt with the world of Xeen.  More properly, XEEN: Xylonite Experimental Environment Nacelle.  It was a completely fabricated seed world.  An experiment.  In the Might & Magic world(s), the stereotypical ancients weren't just a long-dead race of elves or proto-men or whatever, they were hyperadvanced aliens who could build entire worlds.  Darkside of Xeen is actually the conclusion of events set in motion in the very first game.  The weird superscience was one of the things, to my mind, that set Might & Magic apart from its contemporaries.  Sure, Ultima 1 had you buying a space shuttle, and Ultima 3 had you defeating a supercomputer, but it largely dropped those trappings thereafter.  And while Bard's Tale 3 had some tech in some dimensions, those weren't standard by any means (Urmech and his machines were an abomination, and Tarmita was a mashup of periods of war).  Might & Magic, on the other hand, fully integrated it, goofy as it was at times.  I'm kind of sad to see that jettisoned.  It's also a pity that Van Caneghem wasn't involved in this game, even though it's understandable.

That being said, I still really like this game, warts and all, and I don't want my long winded complaints drown out the fact that there's a lot that was done right here.  After all, it's not the game's fault that Ubisoft insists on its games being welded to uPlay, or that the Unity engine is a bloated freak of nature.  Even taking into account the somewhat generic High Fantasy Setting of Ashan, the game still shines.  It's still a loving homage to the great games of the late 80s and early 90s.  While Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was a riotous send-up of the neon-fueled action movies of the era, this is more like a loving tribute.  They may not have gotten all the specifics right, but they were spot on in the gestalt.  If you grew up with the early Might & Magic games, or have come to love them, this is a must-purchase.

Also, I've been laughing myself silly reading reviews and comments from people in their early 20s who have never played a game like this and seem completely lost.  It's an interesting psychological... thingie... that it's easy to go forward with technology, but monstrously difficult to go backwards.

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