Timing shouldn’t make any difference when reviewing games, but, well, it does. Just last week I reviewed Heroes of Might and Magic IV, a turn-based strategy game from New World Computing. Now I have Might and Magic IX, a fantasy role-playing game also from New World Computing, and it’s amazing to see how two games from the same developer can be so different -- and not just because of the genres. Heroes of Might and Magic IV was a professionally made game, albeit with some problems, but everything about Might and Magic IX screams bargain bin trash. The graphics are awful, the story is (largely) non-existent, and the combat isn’t even fun. Might and Magic IX doesn’t do anything right, and it’s sad to see such a long-standing franchise aim for and hit such a low target.
Might and Magic IX takes place on a series of islands collectively called the Chedian. Chedian wasn’t always made up of islands, but 500 years ago there was a Great Cataclysm, and the land was broken up and the empire ruling the land was decimated. Six clans sprang up to replace the empire, and they managed to create an uneasy truce, but now a long-lost descendant of the last emperor is threatening to overrun the clans and recreate the empire. Your job in the game is to stop the empire from being re-formed because, as we all know, empires are bad things (just look at Star Wars).
And so the game gets off to a bad start. Not only is there no reason to think the land will be any worse off under an empire than it is now with the six clans, but the whole deal doesn’t have anything to do with your party of characters. They simply find themselves shipwrecked on an island, and a seer tells them it’s their destiny to stop the empire. “Well, sure,” they respond (paraphrased), “we’re a bunch of level 1 wimps, and we were off minding our own business, hoping to raid an innocent coastal town, but we can see ourselves stopping the new emperor’s army. No problem!”
Worse, it takes about 90% of the playing time to convince the leaders of the clans that they have to unite together to stop the would-be emperor. Every time you visit a clan, the leader says something like (less paraphrased), “Sure, I’d like to help you, but first you need to do these two things for me.” And so there’s lots of running around doing fairly meaningless things, like proving you’re smarter than somebody or raiding a conveniently nearby dungeon. The game (and story) gets a little more interesting once you unite the clans, but by then it’s far too late, and at that point I just wanted to finish the game and get it off my hard drive.
Even beyond the story, Might and Magic IX has problems right from the start. When you go to create your party, you discover that humans are completely worthless because of how the bonuses and penalties for ability scores work. (Humans will always have the worst scores. Yay.) Then you discover there are only two classes in the game, and while they can eventually specialize into a total of eight classes, most of those classes (like priest) are totally worthless, and you’re probably best off forming a party of four liches (a mage class). Then you might discover that there are only 16 faces to choose from for your party members (two each for every race-gender combination) so you’re probably going to be stuck with faces you don’t like. So not only is character creation wildly unbalanced, it’s also cheap.
But supposing you make it past character creation, it soon becomes clear that gameplay is tedious and boring. It’s tedious because while your characters can learn numerous skills, they have to track down trainers to improve their rank in each skill. But trainers wander around the towns, so they’re hard to find. And New World Computing only created about five character models for trainers and peasants, so they all look alike. And some trainers only train you to “master” while others can train you to “grandmaster.” And trainers all have names like Tore Halvardotir and Tjorvi Faleifson, which might roll off the tongue in certain parts of the world, but which just gave me a headache. This whole aspect of the game is frustrating enough that I just gave up on it after a while, and only sought out trainers if I really cared about the skill.
Plus, because all the towns are coastal towns, you have to travel to them by boat. But you can’t just go to a dock and select the town you want to go to. No, that would be too easy. Instead, each dock has a schedule it adheres to, and there is at most one destination you can go to each day. And since some towns don’t connect to other towns, you have to spend a lot of time waiting for boats and sailing to places you don’t want to go. Eventually you get to learn the town portal spell so you can instantly jump between towns, but there are a whole lot of locations you can’t portal to, and so you still have to spend a lot of time walking. I don’t know about anybody else, but waiting and walking aren’t the two things I like to do in a role-playing game.
But that only covers why Might and Magic IX is tedious. It’s also boring. Why? Because combat is boring. One problem here is that while you have four (or more) characters in your party, they make up a single blob in the game’s world, and, with the game’s first-person perspective, you never get to see them fight (or do anything else). And what you do get to see is pretty lame. Melee attacks don’t show up at all, and ranged attacks all look the same, whether you hit or miss. The only thing that makes combat interesting to look at is the spells, but there are only three or four spells people are likely to use (if they use anything beyond chain lightning), and so even that gets old after a while. Plus, combat is boring to control, since all you do is right-click over and over (and over) again to fight.
New World Computing didn’t help themselves with the quests, either. Most quests involve clearing out dungeons, and since that involves a lot of combat, they’re not very much fun. And of the other quests, I think New World Computing was trying to be funny, but the quests ended up being pretty lame. For example, near the end of the game you think you’re going to storm off to kill the bad guys, but instead you have to go to two different fairs and play silly little games to win prizes. And at another point you have to help Lugwig Van retrieve his manuscript from the Beet Hoven. (Get it? Lugwig Van Beet Hoven. Ha, ha, ha.) And don’t even ask about the religious group called the Honkies.
So the game isn’t very much fun to play, and, as I’ve hinted at elsewhere, it’s not very good to look at, either. The graphics are far blockier than they should be, and it’s especially noticeable when you look at people or creatures close up, which you have to do when you fight them. Plus, even if New World Computing was stuck with the graphics engine, they made almost no effort to work with it. The people all look the same, the trees all look the same, and most creatures are simple color variations of other creatures. Plus, the sound isn’t anything to brag about either. There is almost no voice acting in the game (and what’s there isn’t very good anyway) and the background music and sound effects are mediocre.
So, basically, there just isn’t anything to recommend about Might and Magic IX. The graphics, story, and gameplay are all below average, and it truly looks like the game was designed to go right into the bargain bin next to Bass Avenger 16. So don’t waste the 50+ hours it would take to play Might and Magic IX. Play Dungeon Siege instead, or wait for Morrowind to come out.