The fifth entry of the Might and Magic series would continue to use the interface standard and adventuring options established by MM3: Isles of Terra
, only now with enhanced graphics and sound. As in the previous titles, players would continue to seek out out quests, fight terrible creatures, and explore another vast world laid at their feet.
In this game, the players are set against the evil Alamar who has successfully conquered the Darkside and rules the land with an iron fist. The players are tasked to stop him, but are free to explore the open world an approach the quest at any time they choose.
The combat heavy nature of the series would continue with this entry although there were many puzzles and secrets to be discovered within the game. Characters that have been created and have played through (or are continuing to play through) Clouds of Xeen
could be imported and used in Darkside. If both games are combined into the World of Xeen, characters created in the game could freely travel between both the Clouds and Darkside, although the third quest would not be activated until the main arcs in both worlds had been completed.
An "escape" option was also made available within the game called "Mr. Wizard", introduced in Isles of Terra
. If the player found themselves lost, they could call upon his services and be teleported to their hometown. The cost, however, would be in valuable gems.
As was often the case at this time with the PC related releases of the title (such as on MS-DOS or the Amiga), a number of items were included with the game to enhance its immersion:
- The manual for the game with a detailed introductory story describing the events leading up to when the players are brought into the game
- A Quick Reference card that described the basic controls, interface, and listed spells
- An illustrated map of the world
At the end of the game, the player's score was also tallied and a mail-in address provided for the player to mail it to the Ancients at New World Computing in order to be added to the Hall of Legends.
World of Xeen
Both the Clouds of Xeen and Darkside of Xeen, in addition to offering lengthy quests and a large, open world to explore, also introduced a revolutionary new concept that combined both worlds into one. If the player had both Clouds and Darkside loaded on their PC, they could create the World of Xeen and fulfill the Ancients' plans. This is where the sci-fi aspect of the series comes into play once again through an elaborate ending that fulfills the ultimate destiny of both halves of Xeen.
When the World of Xeen is created, the player can embark on a third quest and travel between both halves of Xeen through the pyramids that had been locked until now. Quests will take them to both sides of the world and once completed, will unify both the land and their people in one world.
The story of Might and Magic is a mix of fantasy and sci-fi elements, something that players have only discovered once they have fought their way to the end of the previous titles only to discover fantastically advanced super science behind the veil of their respective worlds. Each story can stand alone from the others as this aspect of the world was almost always be saved for the last act.
In Darkside of Xeen, the Dragon Pharaoh continues to maintain a log on the events surrounding the impending Prophecy...a mysterious event that has all but occupied his attentions. He notes that two meteors had impacted Darkside within seconds of each other and has sent a servant, Wolrow, to investigate the site. He suspects that they are the sign of a good omen.
However, Wolrow fails to report back to him. The emissaries that he has sent to Queen Kalindra with a message concerning the Prophecy have not yet returned until several days later with a reply of cooperation. At this point, the Dragon Pharoah decides to send another party in search of Wolrow as volunteers begin to arrive to help fulfill the Prophecy.
The party that was sent to find Wolrow eventually returns with startling news: a rebel army is camped at the site of the impact. Even worse, the Queen has failed to reply with anymore news other than her initial willingness to complete the Prophecy. No one else has heard from her. Volunteers have stopped arriving at the Royal Pyramid and the Dragon Pharaoh begins to suspect that there is something greatly amiss.
His fears are proven when the army that was reported earlier arrives at the Pyramid, demanding his surrender. They attack while the Dragon Pharaoh's forces attempt to hold them back. Ellinger, Queen Kalindra' s advisor, manages to make contact and inform him that he has moved Castle Kalindra "out of phase" in order to protect it. As the Dragon Pharaoh looks out over the army that has besieged his pyramid, he sees that some of their number are former allies.
Knowing that he has no other option, the Dragon Pharaoh seals the last level of the pyramid, ensuring his safety but imprisoning him at the same time. He also knows of the name of his enemy, Alamar, whose emissaries continue to demand his surrender. Using the last of his power, he contacts the Queen only to discover that she has already become a slave to Alamar.
The Dragon Pharaoh decides to send out an orb of power to those that can help him, but the dragonling carrying it is destroyed by a bolt of power from Alamar, causing the orb to crash to the ground. The party find the orb and discover that only Ellinger may know of what it might mean. They meet Ellinger who tells them that they must recover powerful relics called "energy disks" to bring Castle Kalindra back into phase with the rest of the world as he has already used his. This is to attain the key that the Queen has to enter the sealed Royal Pyramid.
The party succeeds at their task, liberating the city of Sandcaster along the way. However, upon entering the Castle, they discover that Kalindra has been captured by the vampire, Count Blackfang. They journey to his castle and defeat the count only to find that Kalindra has already been turned into a vampire herself. They quest for her crown and discover it, using its powers to restore her to humanity. With her help, they reach the Royal Pyramid where the Dragon Pharoah awaits them.
The Dragon Pharoah tells them that Alamar holds the Cube of Power, a relic of the Ancients that allows him to control the world of Xeen. Using it, he intends to use Xeen and take it back to Terra where Alamar, who is actually the evil Sheltem, intends to continue his war against his creators, the Ancients. The Pharaoh tells them that Sheltem had arrived in one of the shooting stars that he had witnessed earlier. He sends the party to the second one to investigate and they find Corak the Mysterious held within.
They also discover that Xeen is actually XEEN, a nacelle that is acting as a self-contained colonization world built by the Ancients in the distant past as part of a project called "Starseed". Perusing Corak's logs, they learn of his pursuit of Sheltem over the course of the series from Secret of the Inner Sanctum
to his present plans on Darkside. It seems that Sheltem, also known as S.H.E.L.T.E.M., was to be Corak's objective. Sheltem, it turns out, is a machine equipped with an artificial intelligence that has apparently malfunctioned making turning him into a deadly menace for which Corak was created to stop.
The logs go on to describe Corak's chase across the VARNs and CRON nacelles including his arrival on Terra. Now that he is on XEEN, Corak asks the party to help find a way into Castle Alamar to confront Sheltem. However, they must also find a way to hide Corak from Sheltem's notice. As soon as Corak leaves his ship, Corak says that Sheltem will immediately detect him and drain his strength. The party journey to the city of Olympus where they attain a Soul Box and in using it to transfer Corak's essence into it, they smuggle him into Castle Alamar as they fight their way to Sheltem.
When they arrive, they throw the Soul Box into the throne room where Corak rematerializes, surprising Sheltem who removes his mask revealing a half-ravaged face. The two duel with powerful magic, throwing bolts and spheres of energy at each other. Sheltem clearly appears to have the upper hand until Corak blasts him from behind by reflecting a bolt off of the wall, grappling the evildoer as he is hurled at him.
Sheltem tells him to surrender to which Corak agrees by activating the self-destruct sequence for both of them, destroying the throne room and ending Sheltem's threat forever.
The Legend of the Unification
Pertinent to the World of Xeen is a legend that ultimately reveals the Ancients' plans for Xeen and its like.
Centuries ago, the Ancients created Xeen and a thousand worlds like it, scattering them like seeds throughout the stars along with their people. Although the cultures on each world were as diverse as the people themselves, each seed had only one goal: to reach its chosen star and then achieve its destiny through a process known only as Unification.
Each world had its own Guardian to watch over it and ensure that its destiny could be fulfilled, guiding their assigned world through its journey through the stars. When the time was right and the moons aligned, the Guardian of Xeen would send messengers to both Lands to announce the Unification. The Guardian would open the pyramids allowing people to travel in between both halves of Xeen.
Long separated, the people of Xeen would greet each other like long lost family and begin trading stories, goods, and perhaps even find new homes on the other side of the world. They would also make themselves ready for the coming Unification and the Guardian would then select special champions to go forth and awaken the Four Slumbering Servants of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.
The rulers of both sides of Xeen would then send ambassadors to each others' courts. The Darkstone Tower would open and the seal to its Cloud would also swing wide. There, in a ceremony within the observatory, the rulers will lay the Scepter and the Cube upon the Altar of Joining. Great magic will take hold of these Lands and join them together as one, united world.
The gameplay was centered around a six person party with the world seen from a first person perspective utilizing rudimentary 3D graphics for the outdoor locations and indoor dungeons. Monsters along with certain other encounters were displayed as 2D pictures. As was the norm at the time for several RPG titles, movement was centered around a grid based scheme which meant 90 degree turns and square-based movement forward or back.
The game was also considered quite detailed as well as difficult. Players were required to maintain a stock of food in order to be able to rest outside of an in to regain hit and spell points. Bashing open locked doors would often set off traps if they were not disarmed. Leveling was not automatic.
Once a character had earned the requisite experience, it must be spent at a training ground in order to improve their statistics and abilities. Gems were often required to cast higher level spells and characters could also die from old age (natural or not), although the proper spells could alleviate its effects. New spells would have to be learned at a Guild and did not automatically appear in their spellbooks as in other RPGs (most notably, many JRPGs).
Characters could also be afflicted with a number of debilitating conditions which often proved incredibly fatal to starting parties. Sex and alignment would also restrict certain characters from entering specific areas or in equipping certain items.
Players were also able to save anywhere they wished as long as the area they were in did not have any restrictions on doing so.
Towns and dungeons were much more elborate although the series continued to use a grid-based
movement system with 90 degree turns. Automapping was also available along with automatic loot recovery and the use of visible encounters allowing for pre-emptive ranged attacks.
The game allows the player to select among five different races in building their characters. As with most other RPGs, certain races have slightly better statistics in certain areas than others.
The five races are:
- Human - Strong resistance to fear and some resistance to sleep spells. Average statistics make this race a good choice without any glaring weaknesses.
- Elf - They have a strong resistance to fear and are generally excellent at spellcasting
- Dwarf - Some resistance to poison, stronger and hardier than the other races. They make excellent fighters but poor spellcasters.
- Gnome - Nimble and quick, they can make great paladins and decent spellcasters.
- Half-Orc - They have a moderate resistance to sleep spells, are decently strong, and can make great fighters.
The statistics for each character are limited only by the number of levels that they may earn, among other factors such as magical effects, allowing for tremendously high numbers that break the typical "18" cap. However, if any statistic drops to 0, it will result in immediate death for that character.
The basic statistics used in the game seem derived from the Dungeons and Dragons model of statistics, although carry different names so as to differentiate themselves. They are:
- Intellect - General knowledge. Important to sorcerers as it can affect spell points. Important to archers later on at higher levels as they begin learning sorcerer spells.
- Might - Raw strength. Important to any fighting class such as Knights and Paladins. Affects the damage a character can inflict in melee combat.
- Personality - A character's general degree of appeal to others. Particularly important to clerics as it affects their pool of spell points. Important to paladins when, at higher levels, they begin learning cleric spells.
- Endurance - Stamina. Affects how many hit points a character initially has to start with and will gain every time they level. Particularly important to fighters.
- Speed - Agility and general quickness affecting initiative. A faster character improves (increases) their Armor Class rating making them harder to hit.
- Accuracy - A character's ability to land hits during combat. This is particularly important to archers.
- Luck - Measures the general chances of a character succeeding when all else seems to have failed. Random and unpredictable.
Player characters could learn as many of these as they could find in the game and they could enable the party to solve various puzzles or get to hard-to-reach places with ease. Many classes would start out with one and one or two were class restricted.
- Pathfinder - Dense forests will no longer inhibit a party with at least two characters versed in this skill.
- Swimmer - Every character must learn this skill in order to be able to swim through water as long as it was close to shore. Swimming too far out was not recommended.
- Thievery - A vital skill for Robbers and Ninjas. The higher the skill has been trained, the better the odds are in getting through that lock.
- Cartographer - Only one needs to know this skill, but it activates the automapping. Important in being able to save what graph paper you might have.
- Direction Sense - Enables the gem in your interface to display which way you are facing and also puts an arrow on your automap to show that information as well.
- Spot Secret Doors - The gargoyle on the interface will start waving its claw when a thin wall is detected nearby.
- Arms Master - This increases your chance of hitting in combat and is related to the character's level.
- Danger Sense - The bat at the top of the interface will start moving if a monster can see you.
- Crusader - All party members wishing to enter certain restricted areas within the game must have this skill. Otherwise, it offers nothing else.
Several classes are available for players to choose from in building their party of adventurers. Many of these also start with a Secondary Skill.
- Knight - These are considered the warriors of the game in being able to use any item or armor aside from those exclusively designed for another class or have an opposite alignment. They are able to attack more than once every round at higher levels. Starts with the Arms Master secondary skill.
- Paladin - While not quite as good as a Knight in combat, they are able to wield and equip as many items as they can with the same restrictions. At higher levels, they are also able to cast Clerical spells. Starts with the Crusader secondary skill.
- Archer - These are the missile experts of the party and are able to use any weapon. Unlike the Paladin, they are also able to use missile weapons even in hand-to-hand combat. At higher levels, they are also able to cast Sorceror spells. They are restricted in the kind of armor that they can wear, however, such as chain mail or any lighter armor being the only types available for them and they cannot use a shield. Has no secondary skill.
- Cleric - The traditional healer class, they can only wear light armor but they can also carry a shield. Weapons are restricted to a club, mace, flail, a staff, or a hammer. They cannot use ranged weapons such as bows. At higher levels, their healing abilities come in extremely valuable much further into the game. They are also the travel experts with spells that can teleport a party out from a dungeon, to a town for a quick rest, or enable them to walk on water to reach special areas. Has no secondary skill.
- Sorceror - They can only wear padded armor and their choice of weapons are extremely limited and it almost goes without saying that they can't carry a shield. However, their spells more than make up this lack of physical protection and offensive ability with some of the most devastating attacks in the game. Starts with Cartography as their secondary skill.
- Barbarian - This character can use most weapons and starts with the greatest number of hit points out of any other class. A true tank character. Starts with no secondary skill.
- Robber - The traditional thief of the game, what they lack in offensive and defensive ability are made up with their talent for disarming traps and locks. They can fight as well as a cleric, but are far better at keeping the party safe from poison gas or fireballs erupting from chests. Starts with Thievery as a secondary skill.
- Ninja - This character acts much like a fighting Robber, but they cannot carry a shield. They can use most one handed weapons but only swords specific to their class. Two handed weapons are limited to staves and the naginata. However, they do have the "assassinate" ability which is automatically attempted with their first attack. If successful, additional damage will result. Starts with Thievery as a secondary skill.
- Ranger - Can use most weapons and armor along with being able to cast clerical or sorcerous spells to a certain extent. Starts with Pathfinding as a secondary skill.
- Druid - As with the Sorceror, they are poor fighters. They can only use light armor and weapons but are able to cast Sorceror and Cleric spells, although not to the same extent as those dedicated to such disciplines. They also start with twice as many spell points as Rangers do. Starts with Direction Sense as a secondary skill.
In addition to their class and race, characters have a number of other statistics that players will need to keep track of during the game.
- Level - This is a measure of how experienced a character is. Characters start out at level 1 and can only gain levels once enough experience is earned and the necessary training is purchased.
- Spell Points - A measure of how many points are available to any one character for use with spells. Certain spells have higher point requirements than others.
- Hit Points - The number of hit points a character has remaining. At zero hit points, a character does not necessarily die. Instead, they fall unconscious. However, if they suffer anymore damage after reaching zero, death is the only result.
- Armor Class - The higher this number, the more resistant a character is to damage. Armor, spells, shields, and speed are among the factors that can help determine it.
- Age - Characters start at 18 years of age and grow older as the game continues on. As they become older, their skills begin to deteriorate and vital statistics will begin to drop. After around an age of 80, the character can actually die from resting overnight. Age can be delayed or reversed using spells or in discovering special locations.
- Experience Points - These are earned from defeating monsters and quests. These determine whether a character is ready to advance to the next level through training. The point requirements for reaching the next level usually double.
- Gems - This measures the number of gems that a character is carrying. Gems are valuable as they are consumed in order to cast many higher level spells.
- Gold - The coin of the realm earned in a variety of ways whether it is from monsters or in discovering long lost treasures.
- Food - Characters start with ten food units (up to a maximum of 40). One food unit represents a day's rations and is consumed when camping to replenish hit points and spell points during rest.
- Condition - A character's current status, whether they are asleep, poisoned, dead, etc..
Each character also has their own backpack which can carry a maximum of six items.
There are no absolutes in Might & Magic nor does this affect the story progression of the game. Instead, it largely determines certain restrictions such as whether a piece of equipment can be used or whether a particular character can enter specific areas.
Several towns are scattered throughout the land offering valuable services and even a few side-quests. Due to the open ended nature of the game, the player was not implicitly told where to go, leaving it to their own inquisitive nature to discover where they should head off to next and who to speak to in order to find the next quest. In addition to the towns, many dungeons and secret locations are also scattered throughout the world.
Towns share many of the same services.
- Shops - Where supplies, such as new armor and food, can be purchased.
- Temples - Where sick or injured characters can be healed.
- Training Grounds - Important for advancing character levels once enough experience has been earned.
- Taverns - Buy food, hear tips, create characters, and manage parties here
- Blacksmith - Buy and sell weapons and other items, identify the unidentifiable, and fix what is broken because weapons and armor can break.
- Guild - Where new spells can be learned once one is at a sufficiently high enough level
Enemies were visible allowing the player to attack them at a distance with ranged attacks (such as with bows) or take steps to avoid the confrontation entirely. Once the enemy made 'contact' with the party by closing the distance to melee, turn-based combat was initiated and the player would have to use one of the button commands on the interface (or the appropriate hotkey) to actually 'Run' from combat or continue fighting.
By running from combat, the party would then end up somewhere on the map near to where they had fled. By using hotkeys or the mouse, the player can easily manage the flow of combat with their favo