Game Review: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
(8.0 of 10)
Platform: Windows XP (PC)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Arkane Studios


I've always been a fan of the Might and Magic series ever since I've played Heroes II. In fact, it became one of my first stepping stones that lead me into being a PC gamer. This year, after its long slumber, I'm glad that the Might and Magic franchise was finally reawakened with the release of Heroes V. Under the capable hands of Arkane Studios (Arx Fatalis) and powered by the Source (Half-Life 2) graphics/physics engine of Valve Software, Might and Magic has yet another game (albeit an action game instead of a turn-based strategy) to add in its rich saga, the Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

The story in the single player campaign will put players in the boots of Sareth, a wizard's apprentice who's been assigned by his master, Phenrig, to help retrieve an artifact called the Skull of Shadows. To help you with your missions, your master summons a spirit, with a curvaceous and voluptuous corporeal form, named Xana, whom will be integrated into yourself and act as a flirtatious GPS device. Soon after, you'll meet with Leanna, another wizard's apprentice, and his uncle, the wizard Menelag, to embark in an expedetion to uncover the missing artifact.

Xana will show you the ropes.

The story is pretty much linear, and starts out weak and cliched. But it does get interesting, especially during the middle, as the dark prophecy slowly unveils itself. There are alternate endings as well -and all are similarly disappointing- which are based on a few, yet extreme, choices and actions you'll be making during the entire course of the game.

While Dark Messiah has been classified as an action-RPG, I don't see many standard features present in the game (such as the ones present in Diablo and Dungeon Siege). There's no central hub, or town, where you can interact with various NPCs and get additional information about the gameworld or optional quests. There are no merchants in the game as well. So you can't sell your loot or buy equipment and potions. The only RPG element present in this game is the set of skills. The skills are classified into three trees: Combat, Magic, and Miscellaneous. All skills from all tress are available to players since Dark Messiah uses a class-less system. Skills can be bought using skills points -which are earned by completing objectives.

A power strike, a painful power strike.

With a variety of skills presented to the players, you'll have plenty of options regarding your approach to combat. Wheter it is a stealthy mage or a heavily armored archer, its your choice of poison. In my case, I chose the stealthy type. To my surprise, the game played a lot like the Thief game series, with all that backstabbing, sneaking around, sniping, and the rope bow -which functions as your grappling hook.

A sun-tanned Orc ready to be backstabbed.

Unfortunately, even with your impressive skills, you'll still have a chance of being overwhelmed by enemies. Fighting three opponents at the same time could be fun. But being swarmed by half a dozen goblins could prove deadly. Luckily, the game's environment is as deadly as you are. There are spikes, camp fires, and cliffs which can be utilized to your advantage and kill your enemies instantaenously. All you have to do is kick them to the edge of the cliff, drive them and impale them to a spiked wall, or use a little bit of your imagination to perform a gory death for your foes.

Graphics & Sounds
In the graphics department, the Source still does it job, and does it well even for a two year old graphics/physics engine. The models are highly detailed and, coupled with HDR lighting, makes the world look realistic. The slow motion fatality attacks are also great to watch. Seeing how your enemy's limbs or head severed from their person is brutally beautiful. Most of the time, however, you'll be fighting and traveling in dark, similarly looking, dungeons and will encounter the same type of enemies, making the game too generic.

Indeed, there's light at the end of a very dark tunnel...and goblins too.

The sounds in the game are all in place. The wooden crates crunches when you bash them open, and rickety wooden floors squeaks when you walk on the them. The foot falls also changes according to the type of walking surface. An enemy footstep also becomes more audible as it approaches you, invaluable when you're a stealthy type waiting for a kill. As for the voice actingm tere are some notable ones, especially the teasing Xana and the cold Arantir. Some NPC, however, sounds less enthused.

There are some technical problems that plagues the game, however. With my specification -1 GB RAM, ATI Radeon X1600 PRO (512 MB), and Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz- I was able to play the game at 1152 x 864 resolution, with 2x antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, Full HDR, mostly everything at medium settings, and achieved an average of 40 FPS. I've also encountered a lot of stuttering, especially after chapter and area transitions, but it was fixed after I lowered the model and texture detail from high to medium, and without noticeable loss in image quality. Loading times are also extremly long, with an average of 40 seconds during area transitions and 90 seconds during chapter transitions.

A Necrolord, will he get stabbed or pushed into the fire?

Dark Messiah has plenty of technical problems -namely the stuttering and the long loading times. The game moves in a linear fashion and the story is almost flavorless. Though I won't entirely dismiss the game since there are work around to solve the problems, and the story...it's beyond repair but the unique combat and action will definitely make up for it. So if you're looking for some RPG with a sublime story, better look elsewhere. If you're looking for an action game, with RPG and stealth elements, and lots of blood and gore, then Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is your game.