Dark Messiah: Might and Magic
It Was So artistic you could have nailed it to a wall and sold it to the Tate Modern - a press event in a 600-year-old crypt in Farringdon, packed with networked PCs all running Dark Messiah Of Might & Magic multiplayer. Old meets new, modern meets classic, silicon meets stone, a cauldron used to keep everyone's beers cool, it was beautiful. Almost as beautiful as the arcs of blood which would soon be flying around the room, albeit in magical network encoded zeroes and ones. So sit back, and let us regale you with some multiplayer tales from the crypt.
Fight Of The Living Dead
You'll notice two distinct shades of blood spilling all over this medieval bridge. There are two factions in Dark Messiah multiplayer: zombies and humans. Over five maps, the two teams wage a tug-of-war battle, forcing the enemy back towards their home bases to eventually besiege them and win the game.
Archers are excellent attackers at long range, but are pretty useless up close. As you fight and achieve objectives, you level-up in the particular class you choose to play as, earning skill points along the way. This archer's been playing for a bit already and has used his skill points to earn fire arrows.
Warrior, What Is It Good Forrior?
Absolutely nothing will stop the warrior decapitating an unprotected enemy once he gets in close. At a distance however, he can't do much. Get two warriors and you get an irresistible force situation in which a fantastic sword duel dictates who comes out with one less head.
Ass Ass In, Ass Ass Out, And Breath
Assassins are the sneakiest of the character classes and have a surprisingly modern, stealthy look to them. They've got daggers, which they use to backstab other players who stand in the wrong place for too long. They can turn partially invisible too, although the priestess can spot and mark them out for her allies.
Oh My God Did You See That?
And this is what happens when it all kicks off. Warriors duelling with warriors, archers picking off mages, priestesses reviving allies, mages exploding assassins -it's madness and that control point flag doesn't know whether it's coming or going. Such a madcap menagerie of character classes makes for interesting teamplay.
The Point Of Control
Without putting too fine a point on it capturing control points and winning battles works exactly as it does in Battlefield. The more control points you own, the quicker you reduce the opposing team's score. Once it reaches zero, you win. Control points are also there to spawn from, thankfully.
The Priestess With The Leastest
Not actually leastest the priestess is a powerful lady who can cover the ground with thorns to impede enemy progress. She can also cure allies and resurrect them, although if she's killed, everybody she's resurrected also dies. A bit like killing the head vampire, only she's a priestess.
Mage In The Cage
The most popular of the classes, the mage is great at casting long-range offensive spells. Not that they shout 'F***!' or anything, they're just really powerful. Levelling him up gives you access to almost godlike abilities like firebombs and lightning bolts. He's useless in a fistfight though, obviously, being the nerd he is.
Not So Long ago, The Kingdom of Ashan seemed to lie suffering from an incurable blight. It wasn't a centuries-old curse from before the Seventh Dragon. Nor was it a ruddy great troll sitting on a volcano. To an outsider, Might & Magic seemed to be a self-contained niche, catering to its devotees and completely ignoring the rest of the world. The last few RPG games have been as thrilling as a wafer, and whereas the Heroes series has produced some good strategy games, you'd have to liave some demented humping disease to suggest they were sexy.
With the RPG side of the franchise in crisis, Dark Messiah seems like Ubisoft's justification for shelling out over a million dollars for the franchise in the first place. Give the devotees a stepping stone between Ashan and acceptability, and lasso a pile of new players in with some gutsy action and geysers of arterial spray.
There are even sassy women scrapping over you, although one of them is inside you and could well be evil, and the other one has cracking boobs but.. Well, she could be evil too. As for the guy who guides you through your tutorial, if that's not the voice of an evil bastard then I'm a gymnast.
And it works. Once you're out of the training dungeon, you get to see just how beautiful the game is. If you're not one to question orcs living in Dutch huts right next to massive spider's nests - and if you are, stop it - there's some breathtaking vistas to had. The Source engine hasn't been given much chance to astound people outside of Half-Life but Dark Messiah is testimony that two years on, Valve's baby is still capable of slapping your stupid face and making you watch. In comparison, the pre-rendered cut-scenes are like being struck down briefly with astigmatism.
As luck would have it, after your training mission, your mentor reckons you're ready for a proper guest and asks you to take the Shantiri Crystal to souk? wizard in a town somewhere. The reasons are as foigettably fantastic as any excuse for a 15-hour scrap. Suffice it to say he thinks you'll need help, so he summons a jealous sex-obsessed woman who jumps into your head and acts as a saucy narrator. (And more, later on, but no spoilers here, sir.) A short monorail -sorry, horse - ride later, and the action begins in true HL2 style, running around buildings while glimpsing the stuff you're going to have to fight later. And the fighting is where it's at. If you played the demo you'll have felt that excellent sense of connect' that's so rarely even attempted with first-person fantasy games, but was hinted at with Oblivion. The swordplay works brilliantly; you can clickhack away if you like, but beating the goblins with a powered-up slash is both economical of finger and gives you that sense of competence that stops you having floppy palpitations. It also powers up your adrenalin bar. which boosts your next charged attack or spell to 'mostly lethal'.
There's a good collection of spells and liows (including Thief's rope for the platforming elements) and you can plump for stealth if that's your sneaky bag. Stealth would seem a shame, though. With all the fun of fighting, it seems like a waste to avoid it. and the opportunities for effective sneaking aren't too regular anyway. It's often more effective to run screaming through a spider's lair than tiptoe. (Plus it amuses me to think of two bored spiders half-turning around from tending to their queen and saying; "Did you see that? A big man just went running through.' ) Developing all these powers without being forced to choose a class or a race keeps the focus happily on sticking your sword into an orc's face. There's a very small role-playing element, but Al kane have chosen to limit stats to the absolute minimum. The three small skill trees -combat, magic and other stuff - are purchased with skill points earned at set moments in the game. You get the vast majority of points simply by getting by, not by meticulously killing everything.
Clearly, I wanted to be brutally powered-up by the end of the game. But despite the modest size of my skill trees, they still looked positively autumnal by the last level. Hence the replay value, if I can bear to give up my skills and start again.
And A Pretty Face
The reason character development has been 'streamlined' is that DM is all about fighting. Oblivion and the Thief games (and Severance, if you remember that far back) have attempted to introduce engaging swordplay with varying degrees of success, but Al kane have dropped their trousers and gone for it. So, are there any problems? Well, a few. It'd be great if you could hotkey an aggressive spell so you don't have to sheathe your weapon. You can quick-cast Cure (the one essential spell in the game), but we play games to feel like gods, and it's annoyingly mortal to have to put down your sword to cast a spell.
Tliat sense of 'connect' I mentioned is wonderful when it happens. But it doesn't, not always. Some weapons - and I'm looking mainly at you, the staff - feel ridiculously cumbersome. Eight-foot poles are supposed to be unwieldy, I understand that. But half the time you can't even tell if you're attacking someone, or just doing a decorative twirl like a big-headed girl.
Also, using any melee weapon against the game's spiders results in that frustrating shring of steel against stone, even when the graphics imply a hit. Arkane might well argue that any sensible warrior would use ranged magic attacks against a creature with a fast, poisonous bite. I would reply that I like my lightning daggers, so shut up, you're not my mum.
Happily, the sense of elite excellence in all things returned when I adrenalin-fireballed some spiders, and the whole lot went up at once. Screw connect - I'm a Pyromancer now, thank you very much.
The equipment you can fill your inventory with is (and I've chosen this word after deleting a couple of others) healthy, both in size and scope. You'll pick up new stuff regularly enough to keep your interest, even if you don't spend too much time looking for the secret loot (which is usually potions anyway). You'll find elemental weapons, spell scrolls for people who've completely neglected their magic skills, and a boiled-down dress-up section of armour and rings. No +3 Boots of Walking - just rings and armour.
The inventory list is also healthy by virtue of not being too anal. In the absence of stats for strength, dexterity, fertility and deliciousness, the weapon and armour prerequisites, if any, are tied into your skill tree. It's another incentive to follow certain paths, even if they do tend to guide you towards combat.
Arkane's other big draw is the amount of conveniently placed environmental weaponry. There's so much going on in terms of things tied up, precarious shelves and spiky-looking stuff just waiting to take a tumble, that you could be forgiven for neglecting your spellcraft and swordsmanship altogether, and just kicking eveiyone off bridges. After all, it doesn't matter how you kill them, you'll still get the skill points.
For Oblivion fans and role-playing nuts it might seem wrong that throwing oil at people lets you spend points on, say, walking stealthily, but it frees you up to slog on as you see fit. For Dark Messiah - which is as far from Oblivion as you could hope to be - it's the right choice.
Seasoned players and pedants will complain about the transparency of the level design and the flagging up of the environmental features. Goblins storing barrels on really precarious shelves too high for them to reach must provide endless stand-up material for the orcs. And you do feel a touch patronised - when you're still getting reminded on Level 4 that you can kick people down stairs and on to spike beds, you want to scream "I KNOW!" into your headphones. It's understandable that developers want to show people how clever their game is, but it robs you of the satisfaction of working things out yourself.
The opportunities for this satisfaction are there, though. It was an eye-opener when the guy I was trying to kick onto a spike bed turned around and threw the spikes back at me. And one of the game's most satisfying moments - for me at least - involved being thrashed repeatedly by a group of orcs, before finding an oil jar, smashing it on the floor and fireballing it when they got close. Better results than I couid have hoped - three of the bastards aflame. Aflame, I tells you!
The multiplayer brings all of this to a perplexing set-to. The role-playing element is perversely and rather substantially upped. Here's where you'll find the classes, the levelling-up - even the skills trees are more developed. The developers, Kuju (the MP mode was developed separately) have developed the Crusade mode to supplement the standard deathmatches. If you win one map, the next map is one step closer to the other team's stronghold. Get to their stronghold and win, and the Internet gives you a big invisible medal, and so on. It's a good way of investing a little more interest in a souped-up pointcapture game, even if - given relatively equal sides - you're likely to spend most of your time on the central map.
The balance of classes (archer, warrior, mage, priestess, assassin) is good, but not quite as refined as the benchmark standard of Team Fortress. The archers feel too powerful, and when I joined a game as a Level 1 mage, I was roundly and immediately twatted by a Level 5 undead warrior who clearly had no qualms about bullying the new boy. My hopes for one-on-one duels using my single-player skills were dashed; the sword combat has been simplified to accommodate everything else going on. It's not world-changing at the moment, but there's enough of interest to keep me coming back for a nose around.
Dark Messiah is graphically excellent, and a brave attempt to bring convincing hack-and-slash action into the first-person. The character development adds some limited but welcome RPG elements, and there's a constant feeling of rewarding progression and plot advancement. If the game suffers, it's from over-explanation, the occasional lapse in the combat, and the repetitive nature of the environmental weaponry. But I was kept entertained all the way through, and I've never felt so directly responsible for chopping off a goblin's arm. And that has to be a good thing.
Last Year's Dark Messiah promised - as have many others - to revolutionise combat in the RPG format What it did was provide great cast-and-slash action.
Decapitations felt deserved, magic was enjoyable and sometimes cleverly used, and the game took the concept of environmental weaponry to its absurd conclusion. The first thing you'd do when you entered a room was look for a chandelier tied precariously to the ceiling or barrels on a curiously high shelf. But if you're thinking about taking a late journey into the Source-powered world of Might & Magic, there are a number of ways you can make your journey less gruelling...
Softly Not Catchy Monkey
Stealth is the choice of a few earnest role-players who like to imagine themselves as skipping stones across the puddles of night Sounds lovely, but Dark Messiah isn't the best game for rogues and burglars. The game is weighted towards action rather than RPG, and your efforts to create a crafty assassin will be rewarded with slow progress. You'll miss out on the best spells and slicey-dicey weapons, and face a final boss battle that's totally tilted towards projectile attacks. If you still stubbornly insist on creeping around, make sure you invest in your archery skill.
Forging weapons is an important part of DwZr Messiah, though you might be underwhelmed by the forges for the first few levels. The only thing you can make is a Long Sword, and you can find those lying around anyway. In Chapter 7, however, you'll find a bar of Flamegold, which you can use to make the excellent Earthfire Sword, which is great for killing those damn spiders. If you don't purify your soul in the Sanctuary of Ylath (see point six, opposite), this is the best sword you're going to get.
The visual clues for quick kills are often pretty obvious - theres more beds of spikes than a Soho S&M parlour. And kicking is often the quickest and most economical way to get them dead. Any sign of a precipice should have you kicking orcs over it like a can-can hooligan, and don't forget that fire is more deadly than the graphics would imply. If you want to give your legs a rest, a fireball into a patch of oil can be a great way of avoiding direct contact.
There aren't enough skill points in the game to specialise in more than one area. By the time you approach the end of the game, make sure you've got the highest level in one of the disciplines, and build up archery if you don't have other projectile weapons. Having a well-rounded character is not going to help you when you realise you haven't got the skills to wield the game's best weapons. If you want to play the game as an incredible mage, warrior and thief, you're going to have to play it three times, or download some console cheats.
Poison is one of the most irritating things about fighting the spiders and ghouls in Dark Messiah. Antidote potions aren't too common, and if you use one mid-battle youre likely to get re-poisoned immediately. Don't waste antidotes - just heal or potion yourself when you need it. Remember, spiders are susceptible to flames, and an adrenalin-boosted fireball speaks louder than a couple of crap daggers. The Altar of the Skull (Level 6) can be a real test of patience for poison, and it's better not to fight when you can avoid it. Remember, you dont get rewarded on a per-kill basis.
Xana see, Xanadu
Deciding whether or not to get rid of Xana - your kinky, bitchy, demon narrator and internal companion - is a tough one, especially if you're scared of imaginary characters screaming at you. But doing so allows you to use the Sword of the Dragonclaw, and the weapons found in the Sanctuary of Ylath (Chapter 9). They're beyond a doubt the best weapons of their class - almost to the point of imbalance - and you're only losing a demon mode' that you probably didn't use that much in the first place. Also, if you don't get rid of her, you'll have to kill Leanna, and she seems quite nice.
Dark Messiah may reward pure warriors with unprecedented levels of hacking and slicing, but when it comes to the final (final) boss battle with Pao-Kai, youre in for a bugger of a showdown unless you've got some projectiles. A stock of fireball scrolls, a semi-decent bow, anything that means you dont have to run around chasing the flapping sods tail with a sword that suddenly seems rubbish. It can be done, but warriors be warned - it's not much fun.
The multiplayer is a whole different barrel of eggs, and strangely allows for more genuine role-playing than the single-player game. Classes not only offer you Team Fortress-like skills, but experience, levelling and advanced techniques that can prove devastating. Tliis also means the game can be daunting to beginners, as better players quickly get stronger, allowing them to pwn tell nOObs' even more regular than they normally would. Know your class, use your abilities and remember that theres at least one class you could proliably take on effectively.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode