Saturday, 26 June 2010

Review: Dark Messiah Might & Magic

This game is like every fun Dungeons & Dragons campaign you played as a teenager - a tenuous plot which takes you from set piece to great set piece. It is a fantasy Half-Life 2: cleverly designed physics, beautiful visual design and animation, well-thought out abilities which combine with classic RPG tropes (zombies, dragons, goblins) to make you feel like a fantasy hero. It also succeeds as one of the few fantasy games to make every opponent a worthy challenge.

It will take you a little while to get the feel for the game: don't worry so much about making every stealth kill, because the joyous melee combat engine will win you over. Some mechanics are also not made initially clear - both oil and barrels require you have a separate source of fire to be useful, you can throw your dagger at a fleeing opponent or when you have adrenaline for an instant kill - but where it betters Half-Life 2 is that solving the physics problem won't win you the fight alone. And yes, there are points where it feels like you can kick your way through, but don't ignore the fact most attacks will knock your enemies backwards and take pleasure from the clash of blades, flight of arrows or burning agony of your enemies.

Highly underrated on release because of some poor reviews, along with teething problems with bugs which have since been ironed out. Ignore the apparently atrocious Xbox 360 release, crank the video settings up to the max which should be fine for most modern graphics cards and enjoy the ride.

You should get this now on sale on Steam. (Unless you are afraid of spiders).


wlievens said...

I loved the singleplayer but hated the multiplayer component. They totally botched that.

Andrew Doull said...

Wouter: Given the fact I played Dark Messiah for the first time yesterday, I very much doubt my ability to experience multiplayer... so this is a single player review.

danieltalsky said...

Thanks for the review. I love hidden bargain gems on Steam so, this rocks my world.

The Mad Tinkerer said...

I absolutely loved this game... until the Spider Temple. I forget where I read it, but I kind-of remember reading that the Spider Temple level was outsourced, and you can really tell.

Rest of the game: open to moderately-mazelike, but never confusing and lots of rooms and places that are deliberately arranged for you to have an awesome fight scene in.

Spider temple:

1) After the first chamber it's impossible to even tell which direction you are supposed to go.

2) Tiny confusing corridors which let the constantly-spawning zombies "surprise" you at every turn.

3) Incidentally, while all combat up to this point is arranged in deliberate encounters with plenty of props to use, the zombies are all pretty random and there are hardly any props to use so GOOD LUCK if you've gotten to used to playing the game the way you're supposed to at this point.

4) The zombies can only be finished off by certain attacks. Which means that you can TRY to leg it though, just to get to the next gem, or JUST FIGURE OUT WHERE TO GO NEXT, but they WILL swarm you before you can get back to the hub area if you don't finish off every single one. I will track down and slowly murder whoever was responsible for this decision some day.

The spider temple is only moderately tolerable if you cheat to get rid of all of the monsters and use noclip to zoom around and find the first three gems. The first gem is fairly easy to find, the second is a pain and the third is ridiculously obscure down in the bottom of a pit that I could only find by telling all the zombies to go away with cheats. The fourth is somehow EVEN WORSE: I found it after a few hours of noclipping around, and it's in a part of the level I don't even know how it relates to the rest of the temple (remember in Portal, the room with all of the turrets? Think of the part before that where you're down in some random tunnels. That's like where the fourth gem is in DMOMM: a totally obscure random dead-end tunnel, ridiculous to navigate even if you're cheating, and numerically impossible with the zombies.)

Actually, you can just noclip to the end-boss, but if you do things out of order it breaks the dialogue and I was worried that I might miss something important (plus it's kind of funny because the boss room opens up into the featureless void of the game engine unless you put all the gems in the right place). Do yourself a favor and get the first gem just to get a taste of the escalating horror, and then cheat to the boss fight.

It's not really spoilers to say that what happens next is the BIG! PLOT! TWIST! that is unfortunately telegraphed from the second cut-scene onwards* and you get your weapons confiscated by the Combine... I mean Orcs. It's not as good as the climax of HL2 and I never finished that part. So basically the Spider Temple was the end of the game for me.

DMOMM is a really tragic game that was excellent almost all the way through, despite the writing, but was ruined by horrifically awful design in the penultimate major dungeon.

*One of the few things I don't like about the good part of the game is that the writers have absolutely no understanding of the concept of "subtle".

Andrew Doull said...

Tinkerer: I'll agree that the Spider Temple is a significant change of pace, and the point at which I stopped my first playing session.

But I didn't find the design nearly as offputting as you. In fact, clearing some of the zombie rooms was exhilerating, simply because it offered such a significant challenge - and because surviving it pretty much required you take advantage of the room topology.

The fact that at least 2 of the rooms offered a route through that avoided any confrontation with undead meant it was worthwhile exploring your surroundings as surreptiuously as possible.

So I don't think the game is necessarily weaker for that section. But at the same time, its the only part I played which required I refer to gamefaqs multiple times.

What I would like is the ability to go back and play certain challenge areas e.g. the fight with the second cyclops, using different point build characters.