Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven Review
By Laurel Delude |
One of the greatest movements currently taking place in the PC games market is the return of the classic RPG. For years, only a handful of titles from the genre that used to drive computer game sales have managed to make it to market, and of those only a small percentage were actually true RPGs. Games like Diablo, Daggerfall, and Deathtrap Dungeon all claimed to offer RPG gameplay when they were in fact hybrids combining the play of an action or strategy game with a fantasy setting, hoping to embrace a starving RPG community with the result. At first glance New World Computing's latest release, Might & Magic VI, appears to be the cut from the same cloth. The developers of this venerable series abandoned their old-school turn based engine in favor of a new first-person, real-time engine that looks at first glance a lot more like a Doom than it does a Wizardry. Even so, after a few hours of play, it should become evident to any RPG fan that Might & Magic VI is the title that they've been waiting for.
Although players are offered pre-existing characters so they can jump right into the game, real role-playing fans will want to jump right in with the game's character creator. All of the options players have come to expect are here, from a dice based rolling system to determine basic character attributes to a more complex point system used for determining player skills. The skill system, which is a real departure from the basic on-or-off abilities used earlier in the series, and features player chosen abilities that range from the mundane (sword, shield, and armor skills) to the magical (fire, earth, and spirit magics to name a few) to the very specific (identify item, meditation, and diplomacy). Each of these skills carries its own rating number as well as a skill rating (base, expert and master) that lets players know how proficient this particular character is at a certain task. Magic I treated like any other skill, and it can almost be a quest in and of itself to find a teacher skilled enough to help a character master some of the more obscure spell colleges (like Light and Dark).
Once players begin to get into the game, they'll find it very similar to earlier games in the Might & Magic series, but with a free moving movement engine. Once players enter combat, they can either fight it out in real-time, with characters using a missile weapon or a pre-assigned spell at a distance and their equipped weapons in hand-to-hand, or they can hit a key to stop the action and fight the battle out in a turn-based combat. While this may sound like a clunky hybridization (we all remember X-COM: Apocolypse's efforts at blending real-time and turn-based gaming yikes!), it works extremely well in practice, enabling players to think about their battles with challenging opponents while wiping out cannon fodder without having to slow down their game. All of the action is detailed with some pretty slick graphics, although the game's visuals aren't up to that of a Final Fantasy VII.
Although the game has a major point (something about insurmountable evil taking over the land... blah, blah, blah) but most players will spend their first few days wandering around taking on the game's multitude on sub-quests. Almost all of these are entertaining in and of themselves, and their non-linear layout allows players to tackle more difficult quests at their own pace. Once players have built up their skills and experience to certain level they'll be ready to take on more difficult areas which will give them an opportunity to gain even more skills and experience and so on. The end result is particularly satisfying as it ensures that every players' experiences will be different.
Any fan of role-playing games should already own this game. Although it's not without flaws (there are still a few bugs floating around it the game, and it's really easy to get your characters stuck), the game satisfies on a level that no RPG has in years. Highly recommended for almost everyone.
-- Trent C. Ward