Monday, February 15, 2010

PC Look - Might & Magic 6: The Mandate of Heaven

It took long enough but now with this new PC I can go back to all of those classic cRPGs I missed out on. For those who don't memorize obscure acronyms the "c" in cRPG simply stands for computer. Nowadays we've grown to accept the term wRPG or "Western"(as opposed to the JRPG) but enough about all that nonsense. Might & Magic 6 is a 3D-cRPG which I haven't come close to finishing but with over 40 hours worth of experience I think I'm allowed to say something about it.

I've dabbled a bit in the prior games and all of them seem to revolve around the same basic attributes. A party of adventures representing a variety of classes is put together and must explore many towns, fields, and dungeons to solve quests and make things right. Might & Magic 6 carries on this basic tradition but adds in a few twists of its own. This game uses a combination of real-time and turn-based combat and offers full freedom of movement instead of moving from square to square.

Deciding the class of your four party members is the hardest part of character creation. Newcomers will most likely start with the default class of Paladin, Archer, Cleric, and Sorcerer. There are also Knights and Druids to account for and returning players might want more than one Sorcerer or even zero Melee-based classes. This part of the game is the most important because classes that might be viable early on will eventually grow to become less useful. When this becomes apparent could take several hours and there are few things worse than having to restart an RPG that takes potentially over a hundred hours to complete.

Next we have the skills. Each party member is capable of learning a multitude of skills and these must be learned and upgraded through the use of teachers and the hoarding of skill-points. While the skills can account for things like disarming traps or discovering secret areas almost all of them are required to do even the most basic thing like swing a sword or wear armor. Attributes are also handy to as they govern the effectiveness of everything the player does but it takes a ton of points to have any sort of effect. Thankfully it's very easy to gain attribute points so the player can focus on managing their skills.

The world of M&M6 is pretty massive. There are 15 areas to explore and each of them can contain multiple towns and dungeons. The game is also quite non-linear though don't be surprised if you wander too far and get butchered by a Minotaur King or something. The world is also governed by time and at night most stores are closed and visibility is heavily reduced. Days, weeks, and even years can pass as well and since in this game at least parties have to eat and they also have to be well-rested. The system isn't any trouble at all as food is cheap and it's never too hard to find a safe place to rest.

Like any other RPG expect to run into the forces of evil very often. I consider myself fairly well-versed in the genre and even I was shocked at the number of enemies that get thrown at the player. Even in the starting area expect to run into groups of over a dozen monsters. While the number of foes are scaled well to their strength they can still overwhelm players who are just starting out. Taking them out is as simple as clicking on them and letting the dice rolls do the rest.

This brings us to the interesting combat system in place. During exploration the player will always be in real-time mode so enemies will freely attack when they notice the player. The player can respond in kind or they can hit the enter key to enter turn-based mode. Here it's essentially the same except enemies have to wait their turn before attacking again and the player has all the time they need to decide on what moves to make. Early on however the player won't have the strength to take on much so it's best to equip everyone with bows and plink away at enemies from afar. This resembles an FPS of sorts though circle-strafing is out of the question(you can strafe but it's so slow you can't dodge anything).

Due to the non-linearity of the game it's very likely the player will find themselves in areas they're just not strong enough to complete. Naturally one could leave and come back later. There is however a way around this. Enemies that deal entirely in projectiles can be manipulated so that their attacks hit the corners of walls while the player attacks freely. See it doesn't matter if there's anything in the way if the player attacks an enemy(and vice-versa in terms of melee). Thus if even so much as a toe-nail is visible the player can click it to damage the enemy.

Some might not have the patience for this sort of thing but there's one other factor to consider. M&M6 supports the ability to save anywhere and more importantly anytime. Saving in town is a certainty, saving in a dungeon is perfectly fine, and saving during a battle is possible as well. For nearly every situation that comes up the player can save/reload as many times as they like to achieve their desired result. It's cheating sure but it can save a few headaches as well. I have no shame in admitting that I abuse the heck out of it even on minor things like getting the best possible result from collecting the loot off an enemy corpse. The player can choose to ignore it entirely and in fact even forgo saving unless they're quitting. Even if the party gets wiped out they are restored in town(minus all of the gold they're holding) and outside of dungeons dead enemies won't respawn for 6 months to a couple years(in in-game time). Furthermore while the enemies respawn all of the treasure and related goodies will respawn as well, giving the player incentive to clean up again. I think there's a time limit of sorts applied to each party member's age though. Party members can age over time and I assume they'll die of old age eventually. In the 40 hours I've played I think my party has aged maybe a year and a half so yeah not much to worry about.

Some gamers use the term "carrot-on-a-stick" to describe what makes games like these work. The carrot in this game can be any number of things. Maybe there's a particular skill the player is trying to master. Well to master this skill they're going to need experience which can be gotten from quests. These quests are usually completed through exploring dungeons. Once this skill is mastered that means the player can move on to wherever it is they were having trouble with without said mastered skill. I see nothing wrong with this approach as the strength of this game is actually in the journey and not the destination. All the quest rewards do is better prepare the player for the next area and most of the real fun comes from wasting the evil forces barring the path to the next treasure chest or important artifact. The rewards are an excuse to go into a dungeon and mess things up.

It also helps that the difference between low and high-level characters is pretty staggering. In the beginning the party won't be doing much of anything aside from picking on Goblins. As the game progresses however they'll be able to fly, summon meteors to rain down on waves of the nastiest beasts, and nuke the heck out of Liches, Beholders, and even those dreaded Minotaur Kings and Dragons. Not enough RPGs c, w, or j capture this properly and it's the most important part of character-building. How would you feel if early on you fought nothing but slimes and crabs then towards the end you were facing slimes of the Apocalypse and Ultimate Darknaught crabs? Couple that annoyance with the same weapons, spells, or tactics and it feels like you spent so many hours just to do absolutely nothing.

On the downside finding people of importance can be a hassle. I'm not asking for an Oblivion-esque big red arrow to point out every quest to me but when the towns can have 30 or so buildings it'd be nice to at least have the one that has a quest to turn in be clearly marked. What's more annoying is the tendency for monsters to cause status effects or possibly insta-death status. There is a simple way around this as it revolves around the most useful spell in the game and using it can send the player to a temple of restoration and then right back to the dungeon they were at but imagine having to do that every single time a serious status effect hit would drive somebody to some point of insanity. This is especially grating when dealing with Beholders as that's pretty much all of their attacks. Still though it can be minor or major depending on how the player wants to deal with it so all told it's probably just nitpicking.

I figure I'll need another 50 or so hours before I can come close to finishing this monster of an RPG but there's no doubt that so far I've enjoyed every second of it. There are some bugs that render a handful of spells useless and the art-style combines the cheesiest enemy designs with what looks to be a Renaissance Fair-bonanza takes some getting used to but otherwise this game is superb. Course watch this game fall apart on the 110th hour and I feel like regretting every nice thing I've said about it.

No comments:

Post a Comment