If you listened to the podcast then I apologise for going over old ground, but I want to tell you the story of my first experience with Might & Magic X: Legacy. I generated my characters (a dwarf named Elise, an orc named Bob, an elf named Georgie, and a human named Hayley) and set foot into the game world’s starting point – the coastal town of Sorpigal-on-Sea. I wandered around with the aid of a friendly character who pointed out all the shops and points of interest. I decided to get on with the actual game and went to pick up my first Super Important Story Quest from the local garrison. The orc inside informed me that, ha ha ha, don’t worry, I’m not going to have to fight rats in a cellar or anything. Ha ha ha.
Quest Accepted: Spiders in the Well
Save. Quit. The funny thing is – as if the notion of giant spiders coming out of the well at night and murdering people isn’t bad enough – it actual becomes even more terrifying nightmare fuel if you take the time to properly explore the spider nest and find the secret passage. I shudder in recollection.
I narrate this story for two reasons: first, this game will make arachnophobes sob big blobby tears almost as much as 2012’s get-murdered-by-horrific-spiders simulator Legend of Grimrock (although, in truth, most of the species here are… tolerable). Secondly, this is very much a traditional, grid-based, party-based, turn-based RPG – but with a few twists to surprise old hands at the genre.
It’s certainly old-school in its brutality. Might & Magic X doesn’t really do much to hold your hand past the first couple of areas, instead opening up its world and its quests to you in whatever order you want to deal with them. What this means is that, if you go exploring, the early game’s wolves and giant spiders will very quickly give way to massive black knights and roving orc warbands. If you can deal with them, then hey, you can doubtless find stuff to do in whatever area you’ve blundered into – and considering you’ll get a fair few quests early on that require trawling the entire map, there’s always reason to do so.
It’s also old-school in its penchant for the odd puzzle. While it’s mostly a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl – and we’ll get to that shortly – it does have the occasional moment requiring your brain to be working. It might be treasure chests locked by riddles (some easy and trite, some original and hard, and all of them require you to actually type in the answer rather than just pick it off a list), or gates locked by pressure pads or levers that must be activated in a certain order, or Goddamn Teleport Mazes. Barring one or two excruciatingly difficult puzzles (thankfully located in non-essential areas) few of them were particularly big stumpers, but all of them required at least a little thought.
But the focus, really, is on exploration and combat. Your team of four characters is initially chosen from four races, each of whom have three (roughly equivalent) classes available. Humans, for instance, can opt to be caster-y Freemages. Elves, dwarves, and orcs can’t be Freemages, but they can be Druids, Rune Priests, or Shamans respectively, which serve a similar role but with some unique abilities and with different levels of mastery.
Character creation is a huge part of the game, and one I mostly underestimated when I first went in. It’s not enough that the classes start off with skill points in different areas, or that some skill paths are only available to certain classes – only specific classes can actually reach Grandmaster rank with any given skill, which tends to indicate how they’ll end up later on.
For instance, early on I had my Freemage level up Fire Magic on the basis that it did quite a lot of damage and was remarkably useful in the early game. However, Freemages can’t level Fire Magic past “Master” level, which means that they can’t get the most powerful spells of that particular sphere, nor can they get the full extent of the bonus damage awarded by dumping points into it. This became even more problematic when I found numerous super-powerful swords, and then realised that the only person in my party who could actually use them was my bow-wielding Ranger (who was promptly trained in the arts of Swords and Dual-Wielding, and then became a hilariously overpowered one-woman threshing machine). Even then, though, the items themselves proved less important than the skills – by the end game she was a Dagger Grandmaster, and even using woefully underpowered daggers, she was inflicting more damage than with the absurdly deadly swords.
All of which is basically a long, roundabout way of saying that A) character creation is really, really important when it comes to team composition, and B) considering that you can allocate stat points and skill points, you can min/max the shit out of Might & Magic X. I suspect that last sentence has just convinced 20 people to buy this game.
If that seems daunting, though, I wouldn’t worry too much. The “default” party is more than capable of going through the game, and as long as you’ve got someone to vaguely fulfil most roles (tank, damage, and magic, at least) you can almost certainly get through it. You just might have to go about quests in a slightly different order than I did. And yes, casters are bloody crucial, not least because their magic is sometimes the only source of light in dungeons, and because having someone who can cast spells to detect traps/find secrets/increase resistance to magic is unbelievably helpful.
I called this a hack-and-slash dungeon crawl earlier, which isn’t strictly true because there’s a gargantuan overworld filled with many dungeons and many quests, and because hack-and-slash sort of implies there isn’t much thought required in combat. There is.
Here’s how it works: you can move around freely unless there’s an enemy within one tile of you, at which point you’re stuck in place. Your four characters all take their turns in whatever order you like (and moving counts as all four characters taking an action), and then every enemy alerted to your presence takes a turn.
So ideally you want to be in a square where enemies can only approach from one direction, but depending on how soon they’re alerted to you, that might be problematic. You might want to duck back into the corridor before two more groups reach you, but there’s an enemy standing next to you, so you can’t move. You could use the time to buff up with defensive spells and abilities, or you could try to kill him as quickly as possible, or you could use magic or abilities to try to knock him back a square so that you can move again. And even when you’re fighting at an advantage – is it more important for your tank to Challenge an enemy, so that they focus on him? And which enemy? Some of them might have attacks that hit multiple people anyway. Or should he use an ability to reduce their armour? I mean, your damage-dealer can do that too, but he’s been missing a lot lately so it might be better to use his ability to get a guaranteed hit.
As for your wizard – well, you could use a single-target ice spell to hurt the big fire monster there… but it might be more efficient to use his fire blast that hits everything in a twelve-mile radius, even though it’ll do sod all damage to the fire beasties. That might kill the squishy goblin that’s ineffectually flailing at your shields, though, and killing him would free up a space for one of the more powerful monsters to move in…
That’s one turn. So yeah, thought is required, to the extent that you will curse having a maximum of 10 hotkeys for skills and abilities when you’re casting six buffs before the start of tricky fights.
Looking back on the SIXTY-TWO HOURS the game took me to finish (and no, I didn’t complete every quest), I have a suspicion that part of the reason I enjoyed it so much isn’t that it’s a really good old-school RPG – it’s just that it’s an old-school RPG, and I haven’t seen one like this for quite some time. Might & Magic X isn’t bad at all, but neither is it particularly exceptional in any way. The puzzles and maps aren’t really as inventive or clever as Legend of Grimrock, Dungeon Master, or even what little I can remember of Might & Magic III; much of the experience is wandering small caves, punching enemies, and then maybe finding some levers to pull or stairs to go down. The enemies, areas, and battles all require some thought and some strategy, and there’s fun to be had in exploring and finding secret rooms and completing quests, but there’s nothing hugely inventive within.
On the other hand, I’m sufficiently happy to see something like this again that I barely care. I enjoyed the hell out of most of the game, despite myself.
If there is one big, big problem, though, it’s this: the game is full of bugs. I’m not just talking about the eight-legged monstrosities, either. Other than the occasional crashes (which, admittedly, were about every three hours of play, so they weren’t exactly regular) there were the times when I’d enter a new map to discover I couldn’t turn or move until I quit and reloaded. There’s the one quest I haven’t been able to finish for reasons I cannot understand. There’s the ability to re-acquire some quest tokens once you’ve used them, resulting in me having found, used, and then found again an ancient lost artifact. There was the occasion when I skipped a boss fight by managing to talk the potential foe into giving up… at which point the game claimed he killed himself, but he actually just stood there blocking my path, and I couldn’t move through or around him, or talk to him, or hit him. There were the constant hooks that I’d be able to unlock a certain something in the post-game, only the NPC who kept hinting at this stopped talking about it as soon as I finished the game. The end sequence, which shows the results of some of the decisions you made, decided to show me both results of one of the choices I made. Etc.
Barring the quest problem and the broken boss most of these are irritating rather than game-breaking, and they’re all infrequent enough that they don’t really hamper the enjoyment too much. It’s also possible that some of these have been fixed in the release version. I suppose they might also be a deliberate throwback to the occasional game-breakers found in the sprawling RPGs of the late 80s and early 90s, in which case: well played.
It’s the sort of game I can easily damn with faint praise, really, but the upshot is this: I really quite like Might & Magic X. It’s a throwback to the big old RPGs of yore – the games which weren’t afraid to smash your face in if you wandered into a high-level area ill-prepared, and required you to take notes of NPC locations and quest hints (which is something that is genuinely important here). But it’s a throwback which offers a bit more help, an intuitive interface, and some graphics that generally look rather lovely. If Might & Magic X sounds at all appealing, or if you went “Oh, I remember doing that twenty years ago” at any point in this review, then I imagine you’ll really quite like it too.