Might & Magic X: Legacy
The Good: Faithfully recaptures spirit and gameplay of old-style D&D adventuring.
The Bad: And equally faithfully includes all the bits from back then that sucked.
The Ugly: Really long load times. Most boring opening movie ever. Unpredictable and unfortunate spikes in difficulty.
Man, did the first couple of hours of Might & Magic X: The Legacy bring back memories. Memories of hours of rattling d20’s, weeks spent laying out dungeons and planning adventures, debating the finer points of puncture tables and critical hits. Memories of friends, and late night gaming sessions, and the almost coming-home familiarity of a Dwarven fighter named Roth that I played off and on for more than a decade. Safe to say I played a lot of D&D. And later when those games transitioned to computers, I was there as well, Wizardry, Ultima, Eye of the Beholder. Not two weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine about how he was cleaning out some old bookshelves in his house, and he came upon his binder of hand-drawn graph-paper Wizardry maps, and how he was agonizing over throwing them out. He’s forty-nine freaking years old with faded and yellowed maps from 1980 clogging up his bookshelves. Time to move on. Or maybe not. For good or ill we’re in something of a second great renaissance of old-style dungeon crawling. As much as Skyrim represents the coalescence of all those years of gaming and how we’ve taken advantage of increased computer power, games like Legend of Grimrock and now M&MX almost flaunt their old-timeyness. All those intervening years of gaming didn’t happen, they proudly proclaim. People still want turn-based strategy RPGs, the satisfaction of battles hard won, starting with nothing and grinding out legends. In the same breath, however, they also declare, ‘We will live, but we will not learn.’
Some of the old game mechanics – square grid dungeon mapping, turn-based combat, complex character generation – are a welcome return. M&MX does a great job of bringing all that to life, and it does so with pretty good graphics and well above average music. But then the law of unintended consequences kicks in. Square grid mapping works like gangbusters in a dungeon, calling to mind all the wonderful graph paper adventures of yesteryear, but out in an open field it makes less sense, forcing you to take zigzag paths to approach enemies and items. Complex character generation is all well and good, but ultimately a lot of characters, because of a whole crazy cluster of choices on the way to creating them, end up as evolutionary dead ends, so to speak. They don’t gain power quickly enough to contribute and survive in the brutal world of M&MX. And the game is rather unforgiving in that you’ll be cruising along, doing OK, but then suddenly you’ll hit a wall, some battle you can’t win. M&MX lacks any kind of grinding activity in that there are no random encounters – once you’ve cleared out an area there’s nothing left to kill and nothing left to do to level up your characters. So if you get stuck behind some boss battle, unable to advance either your characters or the story, your options are to flat quit or go back to the start and try again with a different party. And if you do go back and restart, something else you’ll instantly realize is that the entire world is scripted – every encounter, every quest, every treasure chest, right down to the single gold piece. I think maybe the items for sale at individual merchants are randomly generated, but other than that I’d be hard pressed to find something random about M&MX. And as you’re essentially adventuring through a story, that wouldn’t be a big problem except that you end up doing some pieces of it over and over again because the difficulty level is so wonky. Want an example? Read on.
I mean, sure, that cave was labeled “Dangerous Cave,” but I figured that was just an artistic exaggeration, in the same way that the Bob’s Big Boy’s Belly Buster Burger doesn’t require a trip to the emergency room for a stomach rupture immediately after eating it. Yet lo and behold one step through the doorway and a dragon obliterates half my party of second and third level characters. One feeble round of combat later everyone is dead. When I return out of curiosity as eighth and ninth level characters, the result is much the same. That dragon is stratospheric compared to my team. And though resurrection is cheap (just 100gp, which in the game economics means you can well afford to have characters die dozens of times) someone has to survive the combat to drag the dead bodies home for resurrection, and you can’t retreat from combat. In fact, in melee combat, you can’t retreat or back up at all; you’re stuck in contact with your enemy until either they die or you do. Worse still, even in narrow hallways, everyone ends up in melee combat, so the old standard approach of bricks in the front row and relatively fragile spell and arrow throwers in the back is for the most part out. So you do a lot of loading, but for some reason M&MX has ridiculously long load times.
I have to at some point make a comment about voice work on M&MX. The people who did the voices did good. Nice accents, with some emotional projection even, but the game has so few spoken lines of dialog, especially incidental dialog, that you’ll rapidly get tired of hearing them. During one combat, one single combat, my wife pointed out that my magic user said “Ouch, that hurts,” fourteen times. And perhaps even more ironically sometimes she had celestial armor up, so when she was attacked she would be hit, but the armor absorbed the damage so she would be uninjured. And yet still, “Ouch, that hurts.”
Coming on the heels of The Banner Saga, I really wanted to like Might & Magic X: Legacy because I’m still very much an old-school D&D player, and in comparison I do dislike M&MX less (that quote is available for purchase if the publisher would like to put it on the game box or Steam page or whatever). But while I like tough D&D games which push my adventuring party to their limits, it’s grating to randomly wander into a room and have my team killed in two hits, even if resurrection is just a load screen away. I’m annoyed even more going down into a dungeon, having half my party members killed, and having to traipse all the way back out to the nearest town for resurrection (no teleport spell?) when there is zero chance of encountering anything of interest on the way (at least Wizardry had random monster encounters) and then back again to where I left off. So I guess I’m still looking for that perfect old-school D&D experience, something that pays homage to the way those games used to play while at the same time integrating some newer gaming facets to smooth over the roughest edges and sharpest corners of the old gaming world. M&MX is not that game.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
This review is based on a digital copy of Might & Magic X: Legacy for the PC provided by Ubisoft.