By ArbitraryWater 16 Comments
Yay Video Games. I have a rough draft of an essay that I should be doing right now, but while I have that half-page of writing in another window I should try to warm my writing brains up by doing this super hot exciting blog. It was going to be a competition between this and Bravely Default for which would be finished and get written about first, but Bravely Default hit a snag once I ran into Chapter 5 and realized that the rest of the game was going to be a glorified, repetitive boss-rush which I will admit dampened my enthusiasm for it quite a bit. Still, you can expect something about it maybe at some point soon. I also bought Thief, because I'm an idiot and I figured that I had to know for myself and also it was only $33. The first hour wasn't terrible so... here's hoping? I reinstalled the original three as a contingency plan should my expedition end in sorrow, and if I get sort of depressed by the labyrinthine level design of those old Thief games... I'll just play Dishonored again. Done. Crisis averted.
A Video Game that you may have expected me to have already written about
Even today I am still mildly surprised that Might and Magic X: Legacy is a video game that exists and that I have played it. It's a throwback to a series that traces its roots to the beginnings of Computer Role-Playing Games, comfortably sitting alongside Wizardry and Ultima in the pantheon of long-running RPGs that started in the 80s and died around the turn of the century. Wizardry lives on in the weird Japanese-developed dungeon crawlers that show up from time to time, Ultima in a bunch of EA's F2P nonsense and Richard Garriot's continual use of the name “Lord British” as a way to swindle people out of their money so he can go to space, and Might and Magic in the occasional Heroes game that Ubisoft puts out every few years in-between surprisingly decent puzzle games... so really they got the best deal of the three all things considered. And yet, here we are. Does this revival do the series name proud? Yes, absolutely. But that isn't as high a bar as one would think, given that the Might and Magic name has also been bestowed upon such high quality works as Might and Magic IX and Crusaders of Might and Magic, the former being a half-finished mess and the latter being just plain bad.
Okay, that's a bit mean, and this game is much better than its predecessor that killed the series off in the first place. Might and Magic X is a rough little game, one clearly not made for very much money. It borrows art assets from previous Ubisoft M&M games like nobody's business (Heroes VI mostly, but there are models I recognized from Heroes V and Dark Messiah as well), has its share of weird technical jankiness and bugs (less so after the most recent patch, but still) and it still has the rather unfortunate handicap of being tied to Ubisoft's incredibly generic fantasy world of Ashan. But it also has Heart damn it, and it might just be the best realistic outcome for a modern game of this type, given that there might as well be zero attempt at a mass market audience in favor of aiming for the fans. I'm not sure how it will succeed in that regard, give the rather... touchy nature of the Might and Magic fanbase, but I've beaten 5 of the 9 previous RPGs and I think it's pretty dope. It's clear from the multitude of weirdly specific references to old Might and Magic games that MMX was made by a bunch of people who know what they're dealing with. You make a party of 4 dudes/ladies of various generic fantasy races and classes, explore a big world on a grid with a bunch of dungeons containing the occasional puzzle and then have to look up a list of all the skill trainers in the game so you don't have to wander around the 4 different cities based on half-remembered locations. Really, the one big series staple that didn't make the transition is the part where you had to pay money at training centers to level up... which I won't cry about. It's a small-scale experiment on the level of something like Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon and I think its $25 price tag ($30 if you want a free copy of Might and Magic VI, the soundtrack and an additional dungeon) reflects that.
Still, it should be worth noting that the bulk of the influence comes from Might and Magic III-V trio rather than the better known VI-VIII, which is to say that it's turn-based and on a grid instead of real time free roaming. That might be a sticking point for some, but having finished World of Xeen last year and having gotten pretty deep into Etrian Odyssey this year I have no problem with this sort of movement style in a RPG, but I also fully accept that I am a crazy person. It also helps that the mechanics are solid and easy to understand. The turn-based combat works well, demanding more from the player than most of the older games did (inasmuch as mashing A and occasionally S was concerned) and I found it to be decently challenging on the normal “Adventurer” difficulty for most of the game. It starts off with some pretty nasty old-school RPG brutality, but kind of takes a dive about halfway through act 3, when your party starts reaching Grandmaster level skills and has obtained a bunch of relics (powerful unique items found in puzzle rooms or guarded by mini-bosses that essentially “level up” to become even more powerful. Generally I did not found a piece of random loot that eclipsed any of my relics, both in raw stats and in additional benefits) essentially turning the endgame into a massacre... a statement that makes even more sense once you realize that Act IV is basically just one long 3-hour dungeon crawl, which I will admit I found tiresome. Might and Magic is best when it's about exploration, and I could probably have done with a little less climax. It actually reminded me of some of Might and Magic VI's end-game dungeons. You know which ones I'm talking about. I'm looking at you Tomb of VARN.
There's some decently clever puzzle solving thrown in as well. Not quite turning a dungeon floor into a crossword puzzle like World of Xeen, but there are more than a few riddle chests and pressure-plate puzzles that stumped me for a bit before figuring out the solution, which I would say is the mark of a good puzzle. There's a story in the game but in grand series tradition its a bit of a non-entity. Fine with me. Anyone who would be upset by a lack of story probably isn't going to play this game anyways. The world of Ashan is pretty dull and generic, but the game doesn't take itself super seriously, either with the “cynical” voice option for your characters (sort of grating after a while), the goofy out-of-place pop-culture references (another series staple) and as previously mentioned a bucketload of specific references to the old games.
But yes, I have complaints. Besides the aforementioned low-budgetness, which gives the game a cobbled-together look, it's not all that well-optimized on the technical front and I have to run it on lower settings than I think I should have to given that it's not much of a looker. I also ran into my fair share of minor bugs along the way, nothing gamebreaking, but enough weird janky stuff that reminded me of when I played the early access version in August. Gameplay wise, I'm not entirely sure if it's very well balanced. Dark Magic doesn't seem all that exciting for being exclusive to only one class (Air magic on the other hand...) and while there are some abilities that allow your fighter-types to attempt to tank damage for your other characters, you should not mistake that for a sustainable strategy. At some point I just threw my hands up and started pumping vitality for my mage to avoid one-hit-ko situations. The game doesn't give you enough high level loot until the end (and even then most of it is still inferior to the 20 or so relics you probably accrued before then) and there are only three tiers of rareness anyways.
Still, these are rather forgivable thanks to the simple fact that they made a game called Might and Magic the Tenth and it was good. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 hours doing most of the side quests and I'm already half-tempted to start the game over with an entirely different party. I'll admit: I'm not sure what someone who has never been exposed to the franchise would think. You definitely have to like these kinds of games already before giving MMX a go, because it doesn't hold your hand or condescend in any manner. Instead, it grabs you by the hand and says “Hey there, I hear you like old hack-n-slashy RPGs”, to which I reply “Yes Please”. Might and Magic X is a comfort food video game, one that doesn't entirely survive scrutiny when compared to its larger, more ambitious precursors. But it's an earnest effort and on its own merits a damn solid RPG. I highly recommend it.
For some reason I played a lot of Defender's Quest recently. It's a Tower Defense-ass Tower Defense game, but... you level up and that apparently makes it okay? It's a decent time waster and I'll end up accidentally finishing it at some point.
Meanwhile, Long Live the Queen is a neat little trifle of a game, essentially a visual novel with stats and a Dark Souls-esque mean streak. I've heard it described as a “Anime Sansa Stark simulator” and that seems pretty apt. It started falling apart for me once I realized that it was very much an issue of trial and error, and it seems like there are a handful of optimal paths among the many, many wrong ones.
I bought beta access to Wasteland 2 for $10 (a special deal for kickstarter backers). Why? That's a great question, given that I've expressed a rather strict “No Early Access” policy in the past, but I figure with Brian Fargo straight up saying that the game is more than 3 months away I can afford to give it a spin and make guesses as to how many of the bugs I encounter and complain about are going to be fixed.
In celebration of this blog... I don't have any copies of Might and Magic 6-Pack or whatever to give away. Instead, I have these random other GOG codes, and since we were talking about Thief for a bit I think that what I have sort of fits that particular glove. The games I am giving away are as follows: Thief II: The Metal Age,
Master of Magic, System Shock 2, and Dungeon Keeper, all fine games by my reckoning, and even if they've all aged a bit I'd say they all deserve to be called “classic”. So, to be eligible to win said video games... hell, I dunno. Write a haiku, like so:
Might and Magic ten,
Wizardry 8 is better,
but it is still good
And I'm done. If notifications are still broken... whatever.