Misfortune has befallen the land of Enroth. Good King Roland has disappeared, and his final letters to the palace tell tales of a gigantic army of devils in Enroth's northwestern badlands. Queen Catherine is away in the land of Erathia, attending to her father's funeral. These simultaneous occurrences have left child Prince Nicolai on the throne, but how exactly can a child attend to these matters? Moreover, the mysterious Temple of Baa is gaining popularity throughout the land, despite uncertainty over their true motives. The lords and ladies of the land are bickering over what to do, and there are further rumors that the High Council of Enroth contains a traitor, a high priest of Baa. The Oracle of Enroth must be consulted, but only unanimous consent of the Council will allow consultation, and that seems unlikely. When the citizens of the land whisper about the Ironfist Dynasty losing their Mandate of Heaven - their divine right to rule - could it be true?
Thus begins an epic journey into the mystical realm of Enroth, a land of good and evil, swords and sorcery - Might and Magic. Character creation is nicely done. You receive 4 slots for your party members, and there are 6 character classes. The primary classes are Knight, Cleric, and Sorcerer. Knights are the only class to receive no spells, but gain massive amounts of hit points, can use any weapon and armor, and are an effective packhorse. Clerics may use most armor, a decent selection of weapons, and gain access to the three Clerical magic categories (Body, Mind, and Spirit) and are one of two classes to gain access to the Mirrored magics (Light and Dark). Sorcerers are your basic magical bad-asses, with access to the 4 Elemental categories of spells and Mirrored, but are very limited, armor/weapon-wise. The three other classes are hybrids - Archer (Knight and Sorcerer), Paladin (Knight and Cleric), and Druid (Cleric and Sorcerer). The three hybrid classes have abilities of both, but are not as powerful in their abilities as the "pure" classes. Pick wisely, as your four heroes will be together for the entire game. You also may select from eleven character portraits (7 male, 4 female), and these largely define personalities for the heroes - each has their own facial animations, speech, and so on. Allocate a few skill points among each character's 7 stats, choose 2 extra skills, and off you go. The beauty of the system is that it allows new players to have diverse, well-rounded parties, while more experienced players can have an idea of what they want in a party - it brings back memories of picking 4 Fighters or 4 White Mages in the original Final Fantasy for fun. (As a side note, my party of Knight, Archer, Cleric and Sorcerer saw me through even the most hostile situations - your mileage may vary).
Initially, you may be a bit overwhelmed - approximately 2/3 of the screen is devoted to the party's view (1st person), and there a multitude of other features available - character portraits with HP/SP bars, a small map, a compass, and several rows of buttons. The tutorial in the manual helps a great deal, however, as it is quite specific in how to do useful tasks. Further, many of the tedious tasks found in some RPGs are automatically taken care of. The automap is quite useful unless in a very compact, complex dungeon - if you can cast the Wizard's Eye spell to use it. Auto-notes take care of a variety of information. Quests are logged, with specific tasks to do and who/where they originated (you'll have to find the dungeons yourself). Hints are recorded, as are a variety of other pieces of information - you won't have to write down which fountain in which town temporarily boosts your strength, and which restores HP - it'll store that for you. About the only piece of information the game doesn't automatically record for you is the location of expert and master skill teachers, but they're not excessively difficult to find. Another minor flaw is that there is no way to annotate the maps, so in a large town, you can wander around for quite a while before you find the right house - it's not a major problem, but can be annoying.
Character inventory, status, and skills are all located in the same place, and are easily accessed via a double-click on the appropriate character's portrait. Statistics are available, showing the base stats and any modifiers (either positive or negative), as well as resistances, level, experience, and current condition. The skill menu shows each of a character's skills, their levels and ranking (apprentice, expert, or master), and allows you to allocate skill points if wanted. The inventory is grid-based, with each item taking a certain number of spaces - naturally, a full suit of plate armor will take more space than a leather tunic. You can also equip a character by simply placing the equipment on the character's full-body portrait, and there is space for a great deal of equipment - armor, shield, weapon(s), bow, belts, helmets, shoes, gauntlets, amulets, and 6 rings. As would be expected, there are many different types of equipment, and various enchantments. Also quite intuitive is the interface - left-clicking will select or move the equipment, and a right-click will do multiple things - attempt to have the character repair broken items, identify unknown items, and display information on that piece. Right-clicking will also show information on many things throughout the game - show an enemy's HP, tell you what a statistic actually DOES, tell the impact that expert or master ranking has on a certain skill, etc. In almost all cases, the information is a click away, which is terrific.
Unlike many RPGs, the character's level is not the defining factor on how well they will perform. Higher level characters will certainly have more power, but that is because they have higher skills. Each character class has skills they can and cannot learn, and most are purchased during the game - go to a guild, pay a few hundred gold, and learn the basic skill. Unlike many games, the skill is also needed to actually do anything - if you don't have the leather armor skill, you just can't equip leather armor. If you don't have Water magic skill, you can't learn any spells from that category. While it may seem a bit limiting, it's a simple matter to find a place offering skills you'd like. When you increase a level, you gain a certain number of skill points, and those are allocated into your skills. To raise a skill, just click on it in the skill menu - a level 3 skill costs 3 points, etc. The higher the skill level, the more points needed, and the more effective it is. Furthermore, once level 4 of a skill is reached, a teacher can bestow Expert status on a skill, offering additional bonuses, and Master teachers have varying requirements, bestowing even more power. The effects depend on the skill, but there's a definite advantage to Mastering skills you'll use often. As the game progresses, you'll find your characters casting more powerful, longer-lasting spells, hitting more often and harder with weapons, repairing and identifying more unique items, and swindling merchants - or being swindled less, at least. It's very rewarding to gain those last few skill points to master a new skill, and be rewarded - a personal favorite is mastered Sword skill, which allows a sword in each hand (or a sword and another weapon) for a massive damage boost (and it looks extremely cool to have a razor-sharp broadsword in one hand and a purple coral trident in the other). The flexibility of the system is unmatched, as you can choose whether or not to become extremely powerful in one or two skills, or somewhat powerful in a variety - the skill points to raise a skill to a high (20+ level) could raise a lesser skill several levels, giving the gamer complete control.
Quests are given by varying people throughout the game, and involve different things. Most fall into the "fetch and tote" or "terminate with extreme prejudice" categories, but the variety in locales and encounters minimizes tedium. Rewards are given, usually in the form of large experience boosts, gold, or simply allowing the plot to move along. Some quests are required, but many are not, and the diligent gamer is rewarded with more gold, more items, and a more varied gaming experience. There are also a dozen promotion quests - two for each class - that bestow new titles and power upon your characters. You'll find a Sorcerer becoming a Wizard, and then an Archmage, with corresponding boosts in HP and SP. You aren't limited to promotion classes for your party's classes - you can also earn honorary titles.
Time is an important factor in Enroth. Like it or not, the world doesn't run at your convenience. Stores maintain constant hours, and if you arrive too late, you'll have to wait until morning. Certain spells can't be cast at certain times - Moon Ray won't work in the day, and Sun Ray won't work at night, for example. A few quests cannot be done except on certain days. Stables and ships run on set schedules, and go nowhere on some days. Training is required for your character to go up in level, and takes one week of time - a factor if you're on a tight schedule (although your whole party can train at once, as many levels as you want - and it'll only take a week). If it's night, it's dark - you'll need an illumination spell. The weather also plays a part - in the Frozen Highlands, there's a lot of snow. Some days are clear and bright, others are foggy, and others are just dark. The world is constantly changing.
Aside from the 4 PCs you control, you can hire up to 2 NPCs for your quest. There are a multitude of different NPC professions, ranging from cook and cobbler to Water master and Banker. Each has different requirements for joining (a small starting fee of gold and a percentage of all profits), and each offers different skills. Scouts will shorten travel time across the land, an Acolyte will cast Bless on you once a day, and an Instructor will raise experience gained by 15%. Finding the right ones can be a challenge in the crowded towns, but the right NPCs can compensate for shortcomings in your party and help make your quest that much easier.
In short, Might and Magic provides a very robust, full-featured gaming experience, without sacrificing accessibility.
Graphics are a bit of a step back, especially if you've taken up the experience of playing PC games on a 3D accelerator. They're not ugly, but graphics have been done much better elsewhere. The enemies and NPCs have some animation, but not much, and look almost plastic-like. There's also some palette-swapping, with each class of enemy having 3 types, each with different abilities and strengths/weaknesses. There is a lot of variety in monster types, but each map area only has a few types, and most dungeons are limited to only 2 or 3 different classes of enemies - it can get tedious in the larger dungeons as you fight the same group of enemies for the hundredth time. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say, but there are a great deal of monster types - just not all at once.
On the other hand, the art direction is excellent, as the number of different styles of dungeon are difficult to number. They range from the typical "stone fortress" and "dank caves" to some unique ones. One of the most memorable dungeons in the game is the "Tomb of VARN", which is essentially a gigantic (and I mean absolutely HUGE - it's bigger than some outdoor areas) Egyptian pyramid. You walk in through picture doors, past some hieroglyphics, into a spectacular cavern with a miniature pyramid - it's honestly not something that can be described, it's got to be seen to be believed.
The sound effects are varied and nice. Also well done is the character speech - each character portrait has a difference voice actor, different mannerisms, and the like, even if they say many of the same things. If you're in a difficult dungeon, a party member will ask "Where are we?" or state that "I've got a bad feeling about this place." If you walk in and out of a store without buying or selling anything, the vendor may call you a "cheapskate" or "tightwad", to which your characters will defensively state "How rude!" - it adds a feeling of life to the world. Set off a trap in a chest or cast a radius spell too close to the party, and the offending party will get a sheepish look and apologize with a quick "Sorry!" or Homer-esque "D'oh!" Music is redbook audio, and only plays when you enter an area or when you reload a game. While this leads to some long stretches where there's no music, it's done well in that you don't get sick of the music easily. The quality of the music's also varied, and generally good.
The story is not the best - much of the plot description at the beginning of the review comes from the manual, and the story is spread around once inside the game. That said, it must be remembered that this is a CRPG, not a console RPG - they're entirely different in style. As a further comparison, if SaGa Frontier can be criticized as a reason to avoid non-linearity (as it frequently is), Might and Magic VI can be used as a superb counterpoint. Until the end, the game is almost entirely non-linear. This can be distracting, and as I've said, it can be overwhelming at first, especially if the player has little CRPG experience. With so much to do, and the versatility of the character and skill systems, though, the non-linearity is not a problem. The story is there, and it's just as good as many console RPGs - you've got to go hunt for it, though. The mysteries are resolved, and you find out plenty of the world of Enroth and its inhabitants. There's even going to be a sequel (the end is rather blatant about that, and Might and Magic VII is actually scheduled for release in a few months).
Controlling the game is a bit daunting at first, but becomes second nature. The game can be played almost exclusively with the keyboard, actually - movement is via the arrow keys, there are many shortcuts. The mouse is also useful for a variety of functions - it's all up to the preference of the player, which is nice. The game lacks any means of remapping the keyboard keys, but I hardly noticed it.
Rather than debate over which is better - real time or turn based combat, the designers at New World Computing wisely decided to put both in. The default is real time. Whenever you want, however, just hit Enter to pause the game. You can't move in turn-based mode, but it gives you all the time you need to plan your strategy and cast spells. Indeed, turn-based can be easier at times, but both are needed to play the game effectively. Some critics have charged that the game plays more like Quake than an RPG, while it's true that real time combat doesn't require much thought and often becomes a test of just pressing the attack or spell keys as quickly as possible, it's not a valid comparison. Personally, I enjoy being able to move my party around in the thick of battle, dodging behind a wall to avoid a spell, charging a group of spellcasters, etc - I'm sorry, but it's stupid to expect a party to just sit there and attack while a mob of monsters is surrounding them and hacking away. There's also the infamous "Hall of Arrows technique", where a party runs backwards flinging arrows at pursuers - a bit cheap, perhaps, but effective.
One of the game's slight oddities is also explainable. Characters are allowed to place equipment in both hands - a mace and a shield, two swords, a two-handed poleax - whatever. They may also have a crossbow or longbow on their backs, and when the attack button is pressed, if no enemies are in melee range, an arrow (or two, if a Master) is launched. It can seem quite unrealistic for a person with both hands full to launch arrows, but if you keep an eye on the clock in the corner, the game's time scale is greatly accelerated, and a single combat turn for a character is 1-2 minutes of game time, so it's acceptable (although there is no explanation available for the party's infinite arrow supply outside of simply being handled with the least annoyance).
Since it's a PC game, some mention must be made of system requirements. As mentioned, it doesn't support 3D acceleration. The box requirements state that a Pentium 90 is basic (P166 recommended), and the rest of the requirements have been standard for the last 5 years - most gamers should have no problems running Might and Magic VI on their computers. There is some slowdown in one or two dungeons, but the game as a whole runs remarkably smooth, and detail levels can be adjusted for the fussy gamer.
With all of the things going for this game, is it flawless? Of course not. Potentially the worst thing going against this game is tedium. Some of the larger dungeons can take upwards of 3 or 4 hours to complete, and since most dungeons only have 3 or 4 different types of monster, you'll be fighting the same mobs over and over and over again. Furthermore, much of the time fighting will simply be holding down on the attack key. While it's disappointing that many dungeon crawls boil down to this, I suppose that being a hero isn't all fun and games. Crossing the landscapes and dungeons can also become slightly tedious, especially if you've cleared the area, because the party's running speed isn't especially high (although a Fly spell outdoors greatly improves travel speed).
Another potential problem is the size of some of the monster battles. One of the most memorable experiences in one of the prior games, Might and Magic II, was when your party of 6-8 stumbled into a goblin encampment of 256 goblins - and won. The feeling of such mass scale battles is frequent in M&M6, especially on the maps - there are literally hundreds of creatures per area, and they're generally grouped together in smaller groups. This all goes back to tedium, as clearing out some enemy groups can be more pain than it's worth, even if the enemies have good gold and equipment on them. (Once the Fly, Town Portal, and Lloyd's Beacon spells are mastered, however, this becomes much less of an issue as you blaze across Enroth at your will, though) On the other hand, finding a huge group of skeletons or lizard men can be amusing when your party's more powerful, as you can wipe out an entire group with a well-aimed Meteor Storm spell.
Indeed, this is perhaps Might and Magic VI's greatest strength - you actually feel and see your party growing. In the beginning, you're a bunch of weaklings, barely able to hit an enemy, let alone hurt them that much. In the end, however, you can romp across the landscape, obliterating anything in your path, and you can even continue playing after you've beaten the game, in case you missed anything. That sense of accomplishment is perhaps the best reason to keep playing.
When all is said and done, the sheer fun of exploration and character development is more than enough to keep playing Might and Magic VI. It can get tedious at times, and the gameplay and graphics have a few limitations. That alone is not enough to drag the game down, and in the end, the end result is more than the sum of its parts. Choose to enter the land of Enroth, and you'll find yourself playing for well over 100 hours.
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