So hey guys, Grand Theft Auto V. According to “The Internet” it's pretty cool, but I give it a month before the backlash hits in-earnest and a vocal contingent starts going after that game, much as Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us got theirs. Probably won't stop it from earning a bazillion Game of the Year awards because games journalists are a bunch of predictable bastards (the other game that will dominate GOTY awards? Gone Home, because the 90s and games that are barely games are things that game websites eat like candy. Sorry Brothers.). For my part, I'll probably take a look at it at some point in the future despite not being into the way that Rockstar makes open world games and never really being into GTA in general. What does this have to do with anything in this blog? Not much, really. I just figured that being “relevant” is a great smokescreen for when I reveal that this blog is about a Russian-developed strategy game that came out four years ago and borrows liberally from other games that I happen to like a lot. Because of course it is. But first, other games that are also not relevant?
This blog is also about Might and Magic IX
But then it stopped working. I'm not sure if the problem is the game itself, my slowly imploding computer or me not wanting it enough, as it stands I cannot finish the dying breath of New World Computing's generally fantastic RPG franchise (Oh, except hell has frozen over and Might and Magic X not only exists, but seems promising based on the rough alpha build available on Steam Early Access). That didn't stop me from spending like 20something hours with it before it went kaput, and I have the saves on hand should it decide to cooperate. I'm going to invoke a variation of Wolpaw's Law and tell you my thoughts about it anyways, despite the part where I clearly haven't made it to the end of the game and beaten fake Loki, or whatever. I'm sure those who have finished this gem will object, but I will do as I must. For freedom. And for you, the reader.
Might and Magic IX came out in 2002 during the death-throes of 3DO. Released in a pre-alpha state, clearly needing another year or so of development, it's probably the most obvious casualty of the publisher's desperate attempts to stay afloat before going under entirely about a year later. Whereas I and many others will still maintain that Heroes of Might and Magic IV (also released that year) is both a totally enjoyable strategy game and one worthy of being a part of the series despite some fairly unfortunate issues, M&M IX earns no such sympathy. That's because, unsurprisingly, it's not very good. Oh, I still sort of enjoyed what I played of it, because if RE6 proved anything it's that I'm way too forgiving where my favorite game franchises are concerned, but there was no point where I said “This is a quality video game”. A lot of that simply boils down to the part where it's clearly unfinished. A lot of the ideas in the game, be they branching class paths, a streamlined skill system, the transition from the engine of the past three games to fully polygonal environments and the change in environment to the northern vikingish lands of Chedain all sound good on paper. In practice, branching classes means that your characters will be relatively homogenous for most of the game until they get their second promotion, exacerbated by the reduced number of skills. The transition to the already-aged Lithtech engine results in a profoundly ugly looking game with cramped outdoor environments and sprawling, empty cities. Finally, the new world doesn't really bother to tie itself in to previous games or Heroes IV aside from a handful of cursory nods. It is, in short, something of a mess. Perhaps less a mess than it probably could have been, considering the circumstances, but a mess all the same.
That being said, it's clearly a Might and Magic game. The dungeons are usually decently clever, with puzzles one would expect from a Might and Magic game (i.e. a lot of pushing levers) and the combat is still that pseudo real time thing that you can make turn-based with a press of the enter key. The main quest is structured like that of Might and Magic VI, which is to say that it's pretty nonlinear and you can go pretty much wherever from the start. Occasionally some of the series' goofy charm comes through in spite of the general blandness at hand with some of the weird one-off instances that happen here and there. The presence of a fan-made patch removes pretty much all of the game-breaking bugs. But it's not enough for me to tell you, the normal human to play it. It's enough for me, the self-loathing individual who likes Might and Magic a whole lot, but I'm probably not in the most positive life circumstances at the moment. If you want to play a Might and Magic game, play pretty much any of the other ones (the first two are ancient but the rest are surprisingly playable in this day and age). If you want a great RPG of that style that came out in the 21st century, play Wizardry 8. It came out 6 months earlier, is also available on GOG and is sort of fantastic in general. Hell, I even have a code for it hanging around for some reason, though I'm waiting for the opportune moment to give it out. Maybe you are that opportune moment! But until then...
King's Bounty: Armored Princess
Is the semi-sequel/standalone expansion to King's Bounty: The Legend, something of a modern take on the old DOS classic King's Bounty, which in turn was the genesis for Heroes of Might and Magic, keeping this blog in the theme of the same 5 games I write about all the time. To say that these modern King's Bounty titles take influence from Heroes is putting it rather lightly. While the turn-based strategy elements are eschewed in favor of the more free roaming, RPG-like aspects of the original King's Bounty, the tactical combat will be familiar to pretty much everyone who has touched Heroes of Might and Magic at some point, to the level where you can probably guess certain units abilities. Hex Grid? Check. Black Dragons are totes def immune to magic? Yep. It's blatant and shameless, but that's ok because it's also pretty great. Not as great as heroes, but of course, what is? (Answer: probably Age of Wonders or Eador)
The previous paragraph was about these games in general, because between The Legend, Armored Princess (and mini expansion Crossworlds) and the recent Warriors of the North, they're all functionally similar. Why I finished Armored Princess first mostly comes down to the fact that I had a save file around 20 hours in from last year and needed something to play after Might and Magic IX broke. The flow of these games involves running around an overworld in real-time, recruiting various troops based on your leadership stat (another carry-over from OG King's Bounty), solving quests and engaging in tactical combat between armies. The game is sectioned off into islands, and unless you're overleveled like I was by the end of the game, you'll probably not have the leadership necessary to complete them in one go. Since everything is in real time, you can totally lure monsters away, juke around them and grab whatever they were guarding, something that becomes easier once you gain the ability to fly around and above anyone you find threatening, though it should also be mentioned that you start being able to deal with overwhelming odds much more easily by the end of the game, when you have the skills and spells necessary to overcome the battle of numbers. An increased understanding of your tactical options simply by playing through the game doesn't hurt either (Contrary to what you may think, Snakes are your friends, thanks to their inherent reach attack and poison abilities).
Because of the sheer breadth of units available, you really have the opportunity to experiment, which helps make the tactical combat continually fresh, especially if you don't stick to the same units constantly. For my part, I just sort of ran around with armies of ultra-expensive dragons by the end of the campaign, and that worked out alright because of the absurd amount of gold that ends up thrown at you. I'd say that it's probably not a bad idea to play on hard if you already know how to play these games, or maybe play as a Mage since they seem pretty gimped early on. There are also Boss Battles on occasion, for once something that Heroes went on to steal rather than the other way around. They're usually not incredibly tough, though you'll probably want to stick with tankier units and shooters when handling such foes.
All this said, I could see how someone could get burned out before the end of the 40ish hours it takes to complete Armored Princess. That's a pretty long time, but thankfully the end game drags a lot less than the beginning, when you're still surgically taking out the armies you can handle. All in all, it was nice to play a game that wasn't soul-crushingly horrible for once, though I still have to finish Kameo (not actually soul-crushing) and then I need to figure out what to play next. I may not have access to video games in the coming future, so prioritizing the important (or bad) stuff has become less of a leisurely suggestion and more of a goal. Maybe I'll make a poll again! Maybe I'll play one of the other King's Bounty games! Maybe I'll pick something off that horrible, forsaken list! Maybe Tomb Raider? The future is bright my friends. Here, have a speedrun.