Reviewed: December 9, 2006
Released: October 24, 2006
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is the latest iteration of the long standing Might and magic series that has been running since 1986. Since then Might and Magic has developed a fiercely loyal fan base that has kept the series alive for the past 20 years. The Might and Magic series has been handed off to a handful of different publishers and this time the task has been handed off to industry veterans, Ubisoft.
All of the 12 or so Might and Magic games have always been either strategy or Role-Playing, but none of them have really explored any of the possible combinations of genres, which makes Dark Messiah such a new and ambitious addition to the long running series being more action oriented and played from a first person perspective.
Dark Messiah puts you in the shoes of a man named Sareth, an adventurer that was orphaned at birth and raised by the mage Phenrig who has taught you all the subtleties of magic and swordplay. As Sareth you’re sent out gallivanting across all manner of dungeons and crypts in order to obtain a scared item called the skull stone which supposedly will stop the coming of a man prophesized to free a bunch of demons from their eternal prison, this man is called….(pause for effect) the Dark Messiah.
Dark Messiah is indeed a first person role-playing game, this means its will almost immediately draw comparisons from such games as Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series or the more venerable Arx Fatalis. But this doesn’t necessarily make Dark Messiah a copycat nor does it mean that it doesn’t have anything new to contribute. Dark Messiah plays very differently from other games in this genre, with several elements that are more reminiscent of the action RPG flavor seen in games like Deus Ex or Nox, such as the “tool belt” which allows the player to quickly access certain items in their inventory using the mouse wheel. Also there is a use of a pop-up inventory and character window that doesn’t pause the game and allows the player to configure their character on the fly.
Character building has always been the core element of any RPG this is definitely present in Dark Messiah, but is not as impressive as in other RPG’s. There are no different classes, races, or jobs. Instead, Dark Messiah presents the player with a skill tree, where the player can use skill points that are periodically awarded throughout the game. Using this skill tree, the player can either generalize or specialize their character based on their preferences.
While the character-building element is present in Dark Messiah, it may prove to be too shallow for RPG veterans as well as sometimes not making the game as deep as it could be. For instance, the lower damage spells you learn early on in the game cant be leveled up, leaving the spell completely worthless against the foes you face in the later parts of the game. This kind of oversight makes spending the skill points necessary for spells seem like kind of a waste. However this does give the player a chance to focus on the meat of the game, visceral combat.
Medieval first person combat is certainly not a first in the gaming world, however, rarely has it been done this well. Instead of just giving the player your standard light and heavy attacks, Dark Messiah gives players new and interesting ways to slay their foes. Besides just the regular slashing of swords, players can unleash a bladed flurry with daggers, deliver adrenaline-fueled beheadings, stab enemies in the jugular from behind, or impale hapless foes on the ground. However the neatest of tricks in Dark Messiah come from the use of a new and improved version of Valve’s Source engine that allows players to kick their foes off ledges, or into various spiked objects.
The kicking does seem like a cool feature at first, until you eventually realize that your enemies tend to linger near these hazards, which apart from making the AI seem a bit questionable, allow most of the fights to be won by kicking alone, making fighting even hordes of enemies easier than it should be. And while all of these features do help to break the otherwise repetitive nature of melee combat, the fact that your character doesn’t gain experience based on how many foes he’s slain can make most fights completely avoidable. This combat engine, while it does have some minor issues, really helps to keep the game rolling along smoothly, as it tends to be paced much faster than your typical RPG.
Dark Messiah is very much an action game. That being said, it is also very fast paced. There is no gathering of gold, no going back to town, and no puzzle solving. All of this would seem to the benefit the game, keeping the player where the action is, but instead leaves the player with little to do other than kill enemies while traveling from point A to point B.
It tries to break this up by inserting a few boss battles which are a little more involved, but usually don’t require much more than pulling a lever or pushing over a statue. Dark Messiah, which otherwise moves along at a bullets pace, is brought to a grinding halt in some places with the placement of annoying stealth or escort missions, which become frustrating and can't be avoided or otherwise completed due the very linear nature of the game’s story.
The story is easily the weakest point, especially for a game that tries very hard to be an RPG, there is nary a twist or turn in the game’s plot making it about as deep as a puddle. From about 20 minutes or so into the game, you can tell pretty much where it's all leading up to. Dark Messiah tries to make the player feel as though he has had some kind of hand in determining what happens in the game by offering a few different endings based on your actions, but in the end these are all relatively unsatisfying.
Dark Messiah is an impressive looking game. It runs on the next generation of Valve’s source engine, allowing Dark Messiah to boast the same fantastic visuals as Half-Life 2 such as water reflections, and image distortion. The game also makes full use of the physics in the source engine. The excessive amounts of kicking aside, the player can pick up things and throw them at enemies, cut ropes to collapse bridges or trigger traps, the player can even set their own arrows ablaze to cause additional damage.
Your character’s animations are rendered with a good amount of detail, all of the animations are smooth and bring some of the brutality of your blows to life, giving you a good sense of impact after you connect a power strike with an orcish shield. Among these otherwise smooth animations is one rather frustrating glitch I encountered involving the rope bow and getting stuck in the environment. Hopefully this will be addressed in a patch as it can become really frustrating as it forces you to re-load your game to get un-stuck.
The enemies in Dark Messiah are given the same treatment, showing fatigue and injury. Sadly There are only a small handful of different enemies to fight in Dark Messiah, which has a tendency to make some of the combat slightly repetitive, but the models all look just as good, and there are a few enemies that look more impressive than most, like the Pao Kai, a massive degenerate dragon that spews lightning.
Despite an occasional glitch, with all of it’s amazing visuals, Dark Messiah doesn’t ask much of your system, which is just another testament to the truly awesome power of the source engine.
There is really nothing wrong in Dark Messiah’s sound department, all of the important sword clashing, chair breaking and dying screams are present and sound just fine. The music in Dark Messiah is decent enough, being creepy or dramatic in the appropriate places and changing based on the situations the player is presented with. The music also does a good job of establishing where the character is in the world, with sounds that are represented well by wherever the character happens to be.
The one area where Dark Messiah’s sound department is definitely lacking is in it’s voice acting. There is some okay voice work in the game, but it isn’t really anything to write home about. However it does tend to get fairly repetitious and sometimes annoying, based on the fact that there are only a handful of enemies in the game who share the same voice and often repeat the same lines.
The overall sound of Dark Messiah is nothing truly spectacular, but definitely shows attention to detail. But when compared to games like Elder scrolls, that involve millions of lines of dialogue and thousands of different sounds, Dark Messiah really doesn’t do a whole lot to set itself apart in the audio department. This is something I’ve always thought to be shame for fantasy games because while the player does expect some things to sound a certain way, the fantasy realm allows for a whole realm of audio creativity to be explored.
Dark Messiah doles out a half-decent single player campaign with a fair amount playtime. But the absence of any kind of side-questing or alternate paths really make this 15 hour campaign a one-way trip with very little replay value. It does however have a solid multiplayer element that differs greatly from the single player portion of the game.
In multiplayer, everyone is given the choice of one of five character classes, each with their own experience that is gained during a match and allotted to their own individual skill trees. These classes include, knights, the teams close-in heavy hitters, archers who serve as your teams snipers and priestesses who heal wounded team members as the team’s medic.
The standard deathmatch and capture the flag games are present, but Dark Messiah offers up slightly different with the “crusade” game mode which plays much like EA’s battlefield games, with a human and undead side given a set number of tickets and capture points they must control, however this is slightly more epic as with each battle that is won, the winning team moves one map closer their enemy’s stronghold. So ultimate victory depends not just on one victory but several. There is also a PvP coliseum game mode that plays like a round robin tournament, pitting you against other players whilst other players watch the match.
All of this is fairly cool and innovative offering enough that the multiplayer doesn’t feel tacked on. But the idea of using melee characters in a deathmatch environment is a concept that may seem awkward to some, which may cause players to shy away from this otherwise solid component of the game.
There is a fair amount of content in Dark Messiah, with a decent multiplayer element and 15 hour single player campaign, but considering that there are games like Elder Scrolls on the market with a projected 200+ hours of single player time alone, I find it difficult to justify Dark Messiah’s 50 dollar price tag.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic can either be an incredible fantasy romp, or a grueling, dissatisfying venture depending on what you’re expecting. Players seeking a deep and lengthy RPG would be better served elsewhere. Whereas gamers looking for a fast action FPS with some character building and an awesome melee combat system, will not be disappointed.
Dark Messiah comes across as a decent action game but not much of an RPG, making it a far cry from classics like Nox or Deus Ex. That being said, Dark Messiah, at its core, is really a one trick pony, with cool combat, nice graphics and not much else, which may disappoint some for paying 50 dollars for a game that at times feels more like a well done mod.