This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Might & Magic X: Legacy.
Greetings, fellow travellers through the January wasteland, why not rest a spell by the campfire and tell me the tale of what brought you here? As long as it's not the one about buying a next-gen console before any decent fucking games came out for it, I've heard that one quite a few times today.
January should be a time that we open up to stepping outside our comfort zone for a bit, I think. So with that in mind, I've been playing Might & Magic X: Legacy, a fantasy RPG with elves, dwarves and wizards in it. Yeah, not so much a step outside the comfort zone as a glance out the window of the comfort zone at another comfort zone. But it's worth noting I've never played a Might & Magic game before, so I was interested to see what differentiated it from other fantasy RPGs with elves, dwarves and wizards, cue awkward silence.
Do you like the campfire? It's my eighth one today, they're so bloody moreish. I don't have a problem, fuck you! You gotta make campfires once or twice while journeying across a large room.
So apparently it took ten games to get to Might & Magic X, assuming that is a Roman numeral and not a Malcolm X sort of arrangement. "This series must be bloody brilliant by now," I thought, "with all the practice and refinement it must have had." Turns out that the first MIght & Magic game must have been played with pasta shapes glued to the wall of a cave. Might & Magic X is so old-school that the entire current British government was privately educated there. It recreates the gameplay of the retro Dungeon Master style of group-based first-person dungeon-crawl RPGs where four adventurers with no concept of personal space march together in absolute perfect step like they all used to be in the SS in fixed distances from grid space to grid space, only Might & Magic X does all that in a fully 3D world decked out in swanky graphics.
Well, I say swanky graphics; it's more like what you get if you took, say, XCOM but zoomed all the way into the first person view of one of the soldiers so you can get an upclose at the burry textures and horrible draw distance. It's like playing D&D when your Dungeon Master's bored. "To the north, you see a forest. You would have seen it earlier but its graphics have only just popped in."
It's an exercise in nostalgia for the retro PC RPG crowd, and I don't want to piss in their pies 'cos I keep saying modern shooters need to stop blowing off their forebears. (Christ, that came out wrong) But on the other hand, the people who made the retro grid-based dungeon hacks were limited by technology and would have used full organic movement if they could have done, whereas I don't think the people who made retro shooters ever said to themselves "If only we had the technology to create linear barely involving strings of set pieces and racism."
Turn-based combat? Fair enough, that's a different more thoughtful kind of gameplay, but a first-person RPG being entirely grid-based even outside combat, when a full range of movement is perfectly tenable, seems weird. It reminds me of video games that simulate card games like rendering the actual cards getting dealt and flipped all over the place. The cards were only there because they were the best we had to visualize the epic dragon fights the original game was trying to represent. Video games now have better ways to visualize epic dragon fights! You could argue that it's just like making a film in black and white to deliberately invoke the past, but I find grid movement detrimental so it's more like watching a black and white film while the theatre gets bombed by the Luftwaffe.
Character customization is slim with only two personality types per race, heroic or cynical, and while I thought it would be funny to have three cynical guys and one token heroic that I imagine the others all took the piss out of behind their back, having a cynical personality means very little besides spontaneously making situational quips. the situation being every fucking second! One can only receive a quest and hear someone go, "Errh, don't we have better things to do?" so many times before wanting to shove their Warding Traveller's Boots of Clearheadedness down their fucking throats!
The story begins with our heroes arriving at a far away land to scatter the ashes of their mentor, an objective that shifts swiftly down the priority list as the sidetracking begins. "Sorry, we've closed the road to the next city 'cos there's a bandit hideout nearby and we're concerned enough to want to shut the whole fucking country down, but not quite concerned enough to clear them out ourselves." Blimey, this is like a country run by the TSA! Get past that and the game goes, "Right, your quest now is to restore all the elemental altars, therefore saving the whole kingdom from the terrible fate of not having restored elemental altars!"
Mighty Mouse 10 is also old-school in that you get a wooden ruler thwacked across your knuckles for not paying attention. I wondered for a while why leveling up didn't seem to make combat any easier because I am used to RPGs that paused the game for a little laserlight show every time you leveled up before taking your level upgrade requests like an overeager stewardess. But no, in this case you have to hunt through the menus firstly for the small button that lets you increment your slightly bewildering stats. Destiny? What the fuck does destiny do? Increase my ability to overhype next-gen shooters, ha ha ha? Just call it dexterity, you pretentious twats! I know your mum said that you're special, but when she's alone, she drinks to numb the guilt of the lies she has to tell!
And then increase your skills, but my two-handed skill won't go any higher. "That's because you need to find someone to train you in two-handed." Where's he then? "Who am I, the information booth at Ignorant Cuntland? Go look for them! It's not a proper dungeon crawler if it's not one-third dungeon to two-thirds crawling, around a town, flogging vender trash and muttering 'I know the shields guy was around here somewhere.'"
You know me, I like a game that lets me fend for myself a bit, but not putting a sign down every ten yards pointing to the next objective in case the independent thought makes your brain explode is one thing. Giving no guidance whatsoever except the sensation of your top halves being separated from your bottom halves by a single swing of a minotaur's axe after you blunder into an area too high-level for you and send off a fireball that disperses harmlessly across his meaty buttocks like a watery cum-shot that was sufficiently offensive to him that he's prepared to chase you to the corners of the fucking Earth because you can't run away from fights even if your situation is hopeless and you only realize that after making the first strike of getting within melee range like the gormless sad sack that you are, is quite another!
So I can't say that Magic Mike X has sold me on the franchise. Be nostalgic, by all means, but progress has brought us wonderful things too, like the polio vaccine. Gameplay becomes like a chore, and what passes for story felt like your mum trying to convince you that chores can be fun. "No really, just pretend the mop is a sword and the kitchen floor killed your parents!" DON'T PUT IDEAS IN MY HEAD, WOMAN!
- He might be right: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Do you know I stopped briefly in a travelling merchant's wagon and inside I found the fucking magic trainer
- Seasons passes to Ignorant Cuntland now available from Tony Abbott