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Dark Messiah: Might & Magic

So, when I heard Dark Messiah was out there, I decided to put on my shining plate armor, place my magical sword in its curved heavy leather scabbard and go out to face my next dangerous quest to conquer my copy and bring it back safely into my DVD for installation.

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INTRODUCTION

Dark Messiah is set in the great universe of Might and Magic. This universe hosted so many great games in the past, games that are now considered classics… I can’t count all the sleepless nights I had, playing the nostalgic Might & Magic series, let alone, the amazing Heroes of Might & Magic series… Although not all the games were successful (Legends, Crusaders, Warriors etc.), I am always excited to examine yet a new game set in this fantastic universe.

So, when I heard Dark Messiah was out there, I decided to put on my shining plate armor, place my magical sword in its curved heavy leather scabbard and go out to face my next dangerous quest to conquer my copy and bring it back safely into my DVD for installation.

The Storyline

The storyline of a game, that considers itself as a role-playing one, must be deep and fascinating. In this aspect, I was a little disappointed since the background story of Dark Messiah is a little shallow and predictable, although getting slightly better as you advance towards the end.

A long long time ago, about thousand years to be exact, the wars of fire took place on the grounds of Ashan. Bloody battles were fought between Humans, elves and their allies on one side and demons, living dead and dark creatures on the other. The fire wars caused massive destruction and took many casualties.

Eventually, the allied forces were the ones who prevailed thanks to Sar-Elam, a powerful wizard known also as the Seventh Dragon. He chose to sacrifice his own life in order to banish the demons from this world into a place of eternal fire and trap them in a magical cage.


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A prophecy foresees that thousand years after the fire wars ended, a young man, half man / half demon will be born – the dark messiah. He won’t know it at first, but his destiny is to find the only remaining of Sar-Elam, an ancient artifact called The Skull of Shadows. This artifact has the power to permanently seal the barrier created in the distant past by Sar-Elam or, on the other hand, destroy the barrier unleashing the dark armies upon the world.

Once the dark messiah will obtain the magical artifact in his hands, the world’s destiny will be sealed for better or worse. Will the barrier be shattered into pieces, freeing all those vile creatures to devour all that stands in their way? Will it be sealed forever, keeping the creatures behind bars of fire, freeing the world of their threat? Those questions are actually up to the Dark Messiah to answer, and guess what… YOU are the Dark Messiah!!! This means that Dark Messiah is an open-ended game. You can complete the game rescuing the world from the dark and evil forces or unleash them to carry out their evil deeds upon Ashan.

When the game starts, you’ll find yourself in control of Sareth, a young apprentice to Phenrig, a powerful wizard. You were raised into the art of magic and war and now the time has come for you to use your training in the real world… After a short tutorial that helps you understand the basics of the game, you are sent to Stonehelm to your master’s friend, Menelag. Your mission is to help Menelag retrieve the magical artifact of Sar-Elam, The Skull of Shadows. Think it’s going to be easy? Think again…

A huge army of orcs, ghouls, ghosts, demons and other horrifying living dead, led by a bunch of necromancers is marching towards the town, searching for that exact same artifact you are tasked to retrieve. Now things get nasty…


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SPECIFICATIONS

Source Information

Published By:   Ubisoft
Developed By:   Arkane Studios
Genre:   Role Playing
Release Date:   October 24, 2006
Official Websites:   US  UK

System Specs

Minimum:

  • Operating System:  Windows XP
  • Processor:   2.2GHz CPU
  • RAM:   512MB
  • Hard Drive Space:   6+GB
  • Video Card:   128mb video card

As Tested:

  • AMD 3000+ @ 1.8Ghz
  • 2GB RAM
  • 7800GT 256mb
  • 80GB HD
  • Windows XP
  
  
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GAMEPLAY

Story is pretty important in RPG, but we are all here to see some blood, aren’t we? Dark Messiah is a Hack & Slash game in core and if you’re looking to spill some disgusting enemies blood, you came to the right place.

The Combat System

The game lets you choose your favourite battle instruments and offers you to fight evil forces using over 30 different weapons and 12 different spells. Among them you will find swords, daggers, staves and bows. Would be nice if you could improve spells’ strength, as some spells are too weak to even be used on the lowest level enemies and they stay useless throughout the whole game, which is a shame (Fire Arrow)…

Dark Messiah is here for the gamers who love fantasy based games but don’t want it to get too complicated and time consuming, as most RPG titles tend to be. It supplies a fast paced action experience and does a great job in this aspect. The game is consisted of a series of pretty linear levels each throws into the ring a bunch of enemies for you to deal with while giving you a lot of different ways to do it.

It is pretty hard to find a decent Hack & Slash title that keeps surprising you and throws new challenges for you to cope with (besides hordes of creatures to slay over and over again). Arkane Studios tries to avoid the traditional H&S gameplay, in which you click your mouse as fast as you can, offering the player a more advanced and somewhat rewarding combat system while making the hacking more interesting.


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When facing your foes with a melee weapon, you can click the attack button rapidly making your character swing the sword pretty fast but cause minor damage. On the other hand, hold the mouse and then press a certain movement direction key to produce a more powerful attack (each direction will produce a visually different attack), staggering your enemy as well. While hitting your foes, an adrenaline meter fills up and when it reaches it’s max state, you unleash a devastating attack, killing your enemy instantly with some beautiful and intense death animations.

The player can also block enemy’s attacks, parry, disarm, stagger, back stab and so forth. As I stated above, the game is in a first person’s perspective and features what’s called a body awareness system. This system contributes a lot and makes you feel like you’re actually fighting rather than just clicking some buttons… Every swing, spell cast or arrow shot makes your whole body move accordingly creating an authentic feeling to match the action you carry out. Enemies can grab and throw you around and it feels real when looking at the great animations.

Character Evolution System

Dark Messiah offers you a skill based evolution system. As opposed to many RPG games, you do not initially select your class at the beginning of the game. You develop your character and invest in the skills you find more appealing as you advance throughout the game. When you complete your objectives, you gain experience in the form of Skill Points.

Note that killing enemies won’t give you anything (except the pleasure of watching them die), and that makes it pretty worthwhile to sneak behind enemy groups instead of facing them and killing them for the experience, as you would probably do in other games. That helps balancing the classes in the game, making none of them stronger than the other in terms of experience points.


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You may invest those Skill Points in any of the main skills that Dark Messiah offers you which are: Magic, Combat and Stealth. You may choose to devote yourself solely for combat, becoming a powerful warrior. Maybe invest in magic and become the perfect wizard your master always wanted you to be? How about a silent assessin sneaking behind enemies and killing them silently?

I guess many of you will choose some sort of combination between the three and that is exactly the point, give the player the freedom to choose his evolution path as he makes progress in the game. If you choose to mix up a few abilities from different classes, you better think it through and spread your points wisely.

Since you can’t master all three classes with one character, mixing abilities without thinking ahead may create a mediocre or even weak character, which can make the game pretty hard to complete and enjoy. Choosing where to invest your skill points will not only contribute to your strength but also change the gameplay and the way you approach a battle.

Stealth is a very nice addition to an RPG, one that we didn’t get to use in too many games from this genre. Most usually focus on Magic and Combat, and in that aspect, Dark Messiah, combining stealth, action and RPG genres, comes up with a pretty refreshing gameplay. Still, it feels like the stealth aspect is not deep enough, hard to use in many cases and not rewarding enough when used frequently. That is too bad since this could add some serious replayability value to the game.


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GAMEPLAY cont.

Use the environment to your advantage

Dark Messiah gives the player a pretty cool alternative to the traditional killing methods of might and magic. Besides your sword, bow, dagger or magic, you may use the dynamic environment that the great physical engine provides you in order to instantly kill your enemies with less effort.

Besides the abilities you develop, you have the fun ability to kick your enemies or knock them into all kinds of environmental death traps. These include spiked walls or grates, high cliffs and ledges, deep waters and fires. Enemies can be kicked into one of these to make an instant kill easily. If that is not enough, you may hit platforms loaded with barrels or kick a huge statue to make them collapse over your foes heads, reducing their numbers.

Many objects and items can be found in each level of the game and you can pick them up and use them to inflict damage to your enemies. Also, use a nearby campfire (many can be found across the levels) to light up your arrows and inflict additional damage, cast lightning on water that an enemy comes in contact with to electrocute him, freeze wet surfaces to make enemies slip and many more interesting combinations that the physical engine enables you to do.

The dynamic environment is a great, innovative and welcome feature but I think it is a little unbalanced in comparison to the actual skills the player develops. The levels are filled with environments that encourage the player to kick his enemies to their deaths instead of using his special developed abilities to do so. It creates an easy way to kill enemies without even using your weapons or magic. Cool, but way over used. But then, you don’t HAVE to use the environment after all…


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MULTIPLAYER

After you managed to seal the magical barrier (or maybe you decided to destroy it), the single player campaign ends and you will probably wonder to yourself “Hey, but that took me only 15 hours, more or less. I want more for my money!!!” Well, luckily for you, it is not over just yet.

Dark Messiah offers you a fun multiplayer that is very different from the single player in many aspects. The multiplayer is class based, as opposed to the single player campaign. That doesn’t mean you can’t develop your character while online. You still gain Skill Points, but you can invest them only in the abilities that match the class you initially selected. Skill Points are gained by killing your opponents and not by completing objectives, which is, in some ways, more satisfying. Important to know: all environmental advantages you experienced in the single-player campaign are removed, forcing you to use your skills and combine forces with your teammates in order to win the battle.


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When playing online, you don’t play on your own but as a part of a group and the group better have a variety of classes to be effective. You can select one of the available classes:

  • Warrior:   This character is obviously very powerful and uses melee weapons to defeat enemies.
  • Mage:   Physically weak but can unleash some powerful offensive attacks to eliminate his foes.
  • Assassin:   As the mage, pretty weak physically but has a great advantage thanks to his stealth abilities. Can make stealth kills and set traps.
  • Priestess:   The main ability for this class is healing. Also, the priestess can curse enemies and detect hidden opponents. You’d want one in your team, especially if the opponents have an assassin…
  • Archer:   The archer is deadly, as long as he keeps his distance from his enemies. Keep a “close” eye on this one when playing online…

An online game can host up to 32(!) players and presents a few modes of multiplayer: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Crusade over 5 maps. Crusade can be described as an online campaign. It lets you select one of two factions: Humans or Undead. Your goal is to push enemy back and take control of their stronghold. This is done on a series of maps, in each map you’ll have to fight the enemy and capture flag points, making the enemy group lose score until they reach 0. That means you advance one step closer to the stronghold. The first group that manages to push its enemy and conquers the stronghold is the winner. The Skill Points you earn and advancement you make are maintained as you move from one match to the other, getting closer to your enemy’s stronghold.


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The crusade mode is absolutely awesome and lets you make use of defense as well as offence. Combining the varied classes produces some very interesting tactics resulting in a pretty cool gameplay. Assassins can cloak and back stab opponents that are not aware of their presence and can also set up traps. Priests can grow brambles slowing down enemies’ movement and injuring those who run through them in speed. Archers can shoot deadly arrows from distance while mages can cast devastating spells. The main idea is working together in order to defeat the enemy forces.

GRAPHICS & SOUND

Dark Messiah certainly looks awesome and is, most of the time, a pleasure to behold. Utilizing the Source, Half Life 2’s engine, Arkane Studios created some wonderful and vivid environments. Characters’ models and animations are highly detailed as well as the weapons your character swings. Spells are cool to look at and objects react to the player’s actions in an impressive and realistic way.

Too bad most level designs are pretty much the same and don’t vary too much. The town of Stonehelm is constructed beautifully. Structures are interesting to look at and the town is rendered with much detail and thought. Creatures are designed very nice, although would be better if more enemy types were available. Another thing I think is worth mentioning is that you don’t have to get the best hardware to enjoy the beautiful graphics I described. The game looks great even on medium settings.

The soundtrack of the game matches the genre and contributes a lot to the gameplay. Combined with the exceptionally good atmospheric sound effects, the game manages to deliver the appropriate mood according to the environment your character crosses by. Too bad the voice acting is not always as good as the other audio ingredients…


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NOTHING IS PERFECT

Dark Messiah has a great potential and if used correctly, it would have been a huge success worldwide. Unfortunately, it contains a few irritating problems that prevent it from scoring as high as it should have.

  • Crashes to desktop too often, making offline gaming irritating while online games tend to get really frustrating.
  • It has some graphical errors, which are sometimes too obvious to ignore.
  • Loading times are too lengthy as well, even for high-end computers.
  • Environment is way over used, making the main skills of the character useless in many cases.
  • I found myself too often standing in the air or walking when I didn’t press any key.
  • In some cases I also got stuck in a spot with no reason and couldn’t move until I jumped out or in worse cases, had to load a saved game.
  • Arkane Studios try to avoid being repetitive by giving you some great Boss fights every now and then and throws a few (too) simple puzzles for you to solve. With that said, Dark Messiah, although being a pretty short game, still repeats itself towards the middle-end of the game and it falls into the same trap that so many others fell before, losing some precious points in the gameplay category.

CONCLUSION

Might and Magic: Dark Messiah brings some very interesting and innovative ideas to all gamers out there. A first person shooter mixed up with RPG elements is not something we encounter every day and innovation is something we, as gamers, encourage…

Bring into this equation the fact that it is based on an enhanced version of the Source engine and you’ll have some idea of what to expect to see once you run it. It also features an extremely fun and tactical multiplayer mode featuring 5 totally different classes to choose from.

The game could have scored much higher but a few bugs and glitches prevent it from doing so and that is just a shame. If you are not looking for a (too) deep RPG game, I promise you won’t be disappointed…


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Might and Magic: Dark Messiah Scores

  • Graphics:   9
  • Sound:  8
  • GamePlay:  8
  • Pleasure:  8
  • Interface:  8

Final Score: 8 out of 10 and the Bjorn3D Seal of Approval.

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