As a fan, no, actually an addict, of the Might and Magic and Heroes of Might and Magic series for more years than I care to count, the release of Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor (MM7) so soon after the last installments of both series was definitely appreciated. The connectivity between the two series is just plain awesome and it's nice to pick up in a fantasy gaming world where you really know the back story and can care about the characters and kingdom you are compelled to fight for and save.
If you liked Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven (MM6), chances are you'll almost certainly love MM7. Just don't expect great leaps forward in the technicalities of gameplay (maybe a good thing -- why fix it if it isn't broken?) or graphics. Yes, MM7 does support 3Dfx acceleration but I found myself not being overly impressed by that aspect -- playing in good old-fashioned software mode conveyed a strong sense of belonging, at least to me. It was, however, a nice gesture on the part of the designers to create a more "modern" look but I'd be willing to bet I'm not the only CRPG fan to ignore it for the tried and true, especially in this series.
Most of what made MM6 so successful hasn't been tampered with or significantly changed by New World Computing. Again, kudos for knowing what works and what doesn't is in order for the designers. That's not to say there aren't some really welcome changes and enhancements but those gamers familiar with MM6 will definitely feel at home right from the get-go in MM7. You still have a great in-depth story that will immerse you as completely as its predecessor (if not more) and some kick-ass in-game decision making that actually changes the storyline and how you approach it and culminates in distinctly different endings.
Indeed, who can forget the diverse endings achievable in MM6? This is an area in which New World Computing excels and we can only hope they never lose their touch. As somewhat of a plodder when it comes to working my way through a fantasy role-playing game, especially those as entertaining and downright enjoyable as both Might and Magic series, I confess that MM6 took me longer to complete than any other FRPG I've ever tackled -- more than 200 hours! Partly because I didn't want it to end and partly because I'm one of those guys who needs to see every aspect of the world I'm adventuring in regardless of its worth to the plot and I simply like to tie up all the loose ends of the many sub-plots and sub-quests that abound. It's sort of like a take off on Costner's Field of Dreams -- if they build it, I will go.
I work on the principal that if they included it in the game, then it's usually worth checking out -- if for no other reason than to feel like I got my money's worth. Sure, oftentimes that approach leads me down the path of red herrings or non-plot related endeavors, but isn't that what life is about? Not every path we take is the right one -- just ask the lawyers and clergy of the land. That problem, however, doesn't even enter into the equation when dealing with the Might and Magic franchise. Rarely do you get so much (gameplay) for, relatively speaking, so little (money).
For the record, plot notwithstanding, there are some aspects of improvement that need to be mentioned. First and foremost is the generation of your party of intrepid adventurers -- you're no longer limited to only one race from which to choose. Re-introducing several races as well as some new classes for possible party-mates expands the scope immediately upon entering this fantasy world, an enhancement fervently applauded by this gamer.
Not any less important is the absolute, non-reversible, game defining moment when you must choose which path you want to pursue -- good or evil -- that presents itself after you've had considerable time to assess the lay of the land, so to speak. It is also essential to realize that when you reach this fork in the road, the game can be won regardless of which philosophy you choose to follow. The beauty of it is, though, that that single defining moment imparts a huge impact on how you achieve your end result, what vicissitudes you encounter on the way and to what purpose.
Gameplay remains very consistent with that of MM6 with a few tweaks here and there. In addition to the multi-race choices offered when delineating your party, most fans will be happy to know that the adventure still plays out in real-time with turn-based mode just a key-press away. This seamless meshing of the two modes has never been handled better than in this series' last couple of titles. In fact, the designers have enhanced this aspect by adding a new dimension to the turn-based system of battle, namely, the option to reposition or move your party members without constantly having to jump back and forth between the two modes. However, old habits die hard and you might find it just as easy to proceed as you did in MM6, but it's nice to know the option is available.
I'd be absolutely remiss if I didn't mention the inclusion of an astonishingly clever in-game game known as ArcoMage, a card-based game that comes close to rivaling the addictive qualities of Magic: The Gathering. Although certainly not as complex, ArcoMage still has its moments, including the way the player must adapt his or her strategy to the home-rules prevalent in each town's tavern or inn visited. Many will find the occasional bout of ArcoMage a fitting and luxurious diversion from the constant battles with ugly and pushy creatures of the land. Even more interesting is the way the game within a game is actually integrated into some quests.
For those who felt MM6 was too heavily weighted on the side of combat, don't expect that aspect to change much in MM7. The way is long and, at times, difficult -- not too many easy pushovers abound in Erathia where the story picks up from the one last seen in Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia. At the time of MM7, Erathia has indeed been restored but there is now a dispute between the inhabitants of Erathia (mostly humans) and the elfin folk of the land "up-north."
This plot device is a subtle, yet fascinating, beginning to the tale and can easily be seen as a built-in tutorial for anyone who happens to be experiencing life in a Might and Magic world for the first time. The action centers on a scavenger hunt, proposed and sponsored by Lord Markham, a rich and famous citizen of the small kingdom of Harmondale, a location that lies precariously between the two potential warring factors. By meeting the challenge of the hunt and, hopefully winning, the stage is set for your party to move on to bigger and better things, namely, becoming immersed as a focal point within the "big picture" conflict with definite contributions to the solution.
For those wary of losing contact with important NPCs from MM6, worry not as Archibald Ironfist raises his head soon enough and becomes part of the ever unfolding plot. Although not set in the land of Enroth as was its predecessor, Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor continues the storyline played out in Heroes III where Queen Catherine Gryphonheart's minions fought so diligently and faithfully to rid the land of the evil which had overrun it.
It's been my observation that no matter how good a product is, detractors will still find something, no matter how small, to gripe about or list as shortcomings. Indeed, when viewed in the "big picture" mode, Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor has it's faults -- but none of them or no combination of them can override the sheer sum of its parts. To my way of thinking, this series and it's companion series, Heroes of Might and Magic, have cornered the market on CRPGs and stand tall at the pinnacle of the genre.
Graphics: Even with the 3D acceleration, the graphics still remain somewhat dated. However, in a series that is so completely immersive that players forget to eat and sleep, the pedestrian graphics can be forgiven for the most part. New World Computing did address the problem in certain areas such as smoothing out the rough edges on the party portraits and adding dynamic lighting effects, just to name a couple. Overall, not an unpleasant fantasy world to view.
Sound: The inclusion of new and improved sounds would have been a nice addition to MM7. But, if the decision the designers faced involved devoting more time to story development and questing than in creating new sounds, the former wins hands down. There is no degradation in sounds and quality from MM6 (and those were much more than just adequate), just nothing significantly new. Music is a different matter. Fans who enjoyed the at times swelling, at times peaceful, at times contemplative musical background in MM6 are going to like the music in MM7 even more.
Enjoyment: Despite any minor gripes (there are no major ones) I might have about MM7, none of them come close to getting in the way of welcoming an old friend MM6 in a new setting MM7. The game's plots, sub-plots, side-quests and all around adventuring spirit is easily the high point of the gaming experience. The introduction of ArcoMage can only be termed as inspiring and, in a perfect world, some designer somewhere will take the game and turn it into an entity capable of becoming a stand-alone game (wishful thinking).
Replay Value: Exceedingly high for a game like this. The fact that gameplay is significantly altered depending on which path you choose to take or what characters (races and classes) make up your party is reason enough to replay the game at least once.
People who downloaded Might and Magic 7: For Blood and Honor have also downloaded:
Might and Magic 6: The Mandate of Heaven, Might and Magic 8: Day of the Destroyer, Might and Magic 9, Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra, Might and Magic 2: Gates to Another World, Might and Magic: Clouds of Xeen, Might and Magic: World of Xeen, Might and Magic: Darkside of Xeen
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