Might & Magic X - Legacy
Retro gaming is all the rage lately amongst indie developers and now the publisher Ubisoft has decided it’s time to get in on the act as it revisits a game series last seen twelve years ago. Might & Magic is a sword and sorcery RPG series that allowed open world game play with 3D visuals back before computers really had the power to allow players such freedom of movement. So instead of the free rein you have today, the whole world was mapped onto a grid from which you could move about only in a strict north, south, east or west direction. Indie game Legend of Grimrock is the most well known game in recent times to recreate this classic style of movement but whereas that game plays out in real time, Ubisoft have stuck with the classic turn-based nature with the tenth release in their game series: Might & Magic X - Legacy.
With this game, Ubisoft were the first major publisher to take advantage of Steam’s Early Access service - something yet again more usually associated with indie developers. Early Access allows developers to sell a pre-order for a game whilst at the same time delivering an early version of that game to allow players to try it out. Ubisoft supplied Act 1 to players, effectively serving as a beta demo and allowing Ubisoft to get a wide range of beta testers and feedback before the game’s release. The full released game comprises of four acts and takes advantage of Ubisoft's Uplay action and rewards service to provide optional additional content to users including a set of rare equipment for your characters and even an extra dungeon to explore as you complete each act.
Might & Magic X - Legacy is a party based RPG and before it begins you will need to choose your team members. You can jump straight into the game with a default party or create one yourself from a variety of typical fantasy races and character roles as well as select their starting skills and attributes. The default party is recommended for new players and comprises of a balanced group including an offensive and defensive warrior, a mage and a ranger who is part archer, part assassin. The party you create will be with you for the duration of the game. There’s no picking up different characters on the way - although you can recruit up to two hirelings at a time who can provide certain benefits to your team. At the beginning of the game, there won’t be much to separate your party members but as they level up the skills you assign them will cause them to diverge into more specialised roles.
Rather than continuing where the original series left off more than a decade ago, Might and Magic X - Legacy actually follows up their far more recent turn-based strategy spin-off Might & Magic Heroes VI. The game begins with a story concerning the potential breakup of an empire through war and betrayal as your team of adventurers, known as raiders, arrive at the port Sorpigal-by-the-Sea on the lands known as the Agyn Peninsula. Your reason for being there is to return your mentor’s ashes to his home town of Karthal. Unfortunately it soon becomes apparent that a rebellion and bandit uprising is going to make reaching Karthal challenging. You are met off the ship by a character who volunteers to serve as your first hireling in basically a tutorial capacity. As you wander around this first town he points out the various building types you can enter for future services such as trading and training. There are also popup tips at various points that are clearly intended to explain elements of gameplay the first time you encounter them. Although it has to be said, their trigger conditions do not seem entirely reliable and more than once you will have been forced to work out something for yourself only to be instructed on it the next time it occurs.
Whilst in the towns you can move about in relative safety whilst getting to grips with the old school controls and movement mechanics. As with the previous games in the series you move around effectively on a grid and are only able to move forwards, backwards, sideways or rotate ninety degrees. Advances in graphic engines since the original games do give you the ability to free look anywhere you want using the mouse but to enforce the original’s game mechanics, your view will always return to your starting point. The controls take a little while to get used to these days but someone who has played the older games will soon find it becoming second nature again. The game is turn based and every step you take advances time. Outside of towns, time advances at a greater rate to signify the fact you are covering greater ground whilst travelling. The time is important because the game has a day and night cycle which affects what you may encounter on your travels as well as your visibility. Your party members also get tired and take severe penalties to their skills if they go too long without sleep.
The game has an open-ended design with a few core quests being given to you at any one time, the completion of which advance the story. You will also have plenty of optional side quests which will provide you opportunity to get more experience and gear for taking on the main quests. The game map outside of towns has a fairly open world design where you are free to go exploring wherever you wish. There are plenty of secrets to find including chests containing gold and items, barrels of stat boosting liquids and caves to explore. It is worth noting, however, that enemies do not scale with your level. Whilst exploring you can easily wander into an area that’s going to get you killed. The game isn’t checkpoint based so this will result in you having to reload your last save. You can however manually save at any point and an autosave occurs between any area transition such as between towns, the world map and dungeons.
A useful in-game map keeps track of you both inside and out of towns. It highlights squares you have passed through and marks out unvisited squares you have passed close to, allowing you to easily identify paths you have yet to explore. It also automatically marks doors, people and buildings of interest allowing you quickly return to them later. There’s also a journal that tracks your quests as well as books of lore you have discovered providing background information about the game world. The story actually seems to take a bit of a back seat to the exploration and fighting and is mostly told, fairly briefly, by the main quest line with background information being provided in an entirely optional manner via gossip from characters in the game or the aforementioned books.
The combat is the highlight of the game and is both varied and challenging. Like the movement, it’s entirely turn-based with your characters taking a turn each followed by each enemy. Might & Magic X - Legacy pulls off a neat trick here by allowing the enemies to perform devastating damage against your less armoured party members if you aren’t careful which makes combat play out a lot differently to that seen in the war of attrition style fights you’ll encounter in most modern turn-based RPG’s. You can’t use the same preferred pattern of moves again and again. With the exception of fighting against the very weakest of foes, you need to evaluate every action each of your party members is going to take every turn. Can you afford to take time out from assaulting your enemy to heal or cure a poisoned party member? If the enemy missed some of their attacks last turn can you afford to not renew your magic shield this turn? And if so, do you have your mage attack or take a mana potion in case they run out of mana later in the fight? Do you even have enough mana potions to use one in this way speculatively? And this only gets more involving as the game progresses and you learn more skills and spells and your enemies start to use more debilitating actions against you beyond just damaging you - such as poison, stuns and weakening attacks.
Prior to combat beginning, your party members may sense nearby enemies which they will alert you to vocally as well as showing on a threat indicator. At this point the foes haven’t spotted you and you may be able to either move away, move into position for ranged attacks or put cover between you and them to avoid their ranged attacks and force them to approach you for melee combat. Once you’ve been spotted and combat is engaged, you take it in turns to either move one square or have all of your party perform one action each, such as ranged attack or raising the magic shield. When an enemy is next to you, you are engaged in melee combat and with the exception of knockback skills or spells, neither party can move. You may be attacked by multiple enemies at once who may attack you from a mixture of ranged and melee positions, all stack on on the same square to attack you or on different squares around you. Due to the latter, you are allowed to freely rotate your party during your turn and in melee combat you are allowed to choose which foe to attack. Defeated enemies, in true RPG tradition, reward you with experience, gold and items you can either equip or sell to buy more suitable items.
Most quests will involve you visiting some kind of dungeon, usually multi-level, and then killing a variety of foes before taking on a much more challenging boss character. Whilst exploring these, you need to keep an eye out for hidden passages containing high-end loot, traps and occasionally solve puzzles. Any time your threat indicator is clear, you are allowed to rest to recover health and mana. These do not recover over time, even out of combat, so only resting, spells or potions will help. You are also free to leave a dungeon at any time if you determine it is too tough for your current level or if you need to resupply on potions. The dungeon state remains as it was when you return with any killed enemies still dead so there is no downside to doing this. Once you do reach a boss, the fight will require good use of all your skills as they are challenging from the very start of the game, even on normal difficulty - and there is no easy option. If the worst does happen and a party member’s health drops to zero, they will lose consciousness and can no longer carry out any actions. At this point they can be healed back to health, if you can afford to take time out from one of your other character’s offensive and defensive moves. If they are not healed and continue to take damage then they will die. This is not as drastic as it sounds because they can be resurrected for a nominal fee from a church, it just means you are without that character for the remainder of your fight and any fights between you and a church.
Presentation-wise, the game does seem to be lacking in a few areas and there are signs it was created on a budget, although as the game is mid-priced and intended to be retro these are mostly forgivable. Visually, there are plenty of detail options and even a retro graphics option that makes everything blocky and pixelated for a truly nostalgic feel. Unfortunately, none of these settings can overcome the fact that the object models and textures in the game lack detail and are reused a lot throughout the game. This is somewhat mitigated by the beautiful lighting and shadows, as well as the sheer density of the objects such as grass and trees. Towns are fleshed out with various buildings, people and market stalls that you cannot interact with and it’s never very obvious which ones you can and cannot interact with. Most of the characters in the game world appear to have a cold and seem to be there for the sole reason of annoying you with a repetitive cough track! Voice acting-wise, only the ‘narrator’ that pops up after major story events is fully voiced. The very first person you speak to at the start of the game is partially voiced depending upon how the conversation with him progresses and beyond that, nothing. That demonstration of the fact that they could have voiced the game simply leaves you questioning what budget or time constraints this game’s release was up against.
Might & Magic X - Legacy unfortunately has a very serious issue beyond just sub-standard production values and this is in the game performance. The game is very demanding for a title that is supposed to be retro. Expect low frame rates and your cooling fans to be running flat out to cope with the high occupancy of your computer’s resources. With a high end computer this in itself isn’t a major problem as the turn-based moving on a grid doesn’t really necessitate a great frame rate and at the beginning of the game it’s only really noticeable during a few of the ninety degree turns. As the game progresses however, things get worse and worse as every few moves cause the game to lag, even on minimum detail, on a system that meets the game’s recommended system requirements. This issue is actually so bad that this review is not based on a completed play through as play had to be abandoned in hope that Ubisoft will one day patch this. The game’s estimated duration is an impressive sixty hours but the performance was suffering after the first twenty and was intolerable after thirty.
Might & Magic X - Legacy has the potential to be a fantastic and challenging party-based RPG in the style of old games from the genre. It is more focused on exploration and combat than it is on story. There are some weak presentation issues that hold it back a little and unfortunately, intolerable performance issues that are a fatal blow. Based upon the first part of the game, which saw thorough testing via the Early Access beta, Might & Magic X - Legacy was on track to score much higher but the poor performance in the later game compromises it significantly. If and when Ubisoft address these issues in a patch, the game will be easy to recommend to any gamer of a certain age looking for a nostalgia trip. Until then it should be avoided by all but the most patient players with high end gaming systems.