Might & Magic X Preview
RPGWatch was given the opportunity to take a look at the recent "early release" of the upcoming addition to the classic series, Might and Magic : Legacy, being produced by Ubisoft. After about 20 hours of mowing every map in sight, I can say old skool RPG gamers are going to be pleased with the game when it hits the street, currently targeted for early next year.
First, let's take care of some clerical issues. We were given a Steam key for the game. The installation requires a UPlay account as well. As best as I can tell, UPlay does not have to be active to play the game; it's a one-time activation only. That may not be the case when the full game ships, but it also might. I found it slightly annoying as UPlay crashed a few times when I'd exit the game, but beyond that it was unobtrusive. I mention this so the folks that are militant about DRM can ignore the rest of the review. Those folks will be missing out on a potentially great game, but to each his own.
I'm running the game on my warhorse of a rig, which is eligible for the Smithsonian next year. Although the game specs show a minimum system requirement of Vista and 4GB RAM, I had no performance issues running on my quad-core XP rig with 2GB of RAM. I did drop a GTS450 in a couple years ago, but I'm still well below the min spec. I was able to run the game on settings between medium and high with the performance still being fine. I had no problems with the quality of the graphics, although I'm admittedly not much of a graphics whore. I figure the sort of gamer that wants to play an old skool turn-based RPG is probably going to be fairly reasonable about graphics quality, so the visuals should stand up well enough. About the only downside I noticed to my crappy hardware is that the loading screen between map zones sometimes took a while for me, up to 10 seconds. Not enough to be annoying, but long enough to remind me that I'd love to have a better PC. I did crank up the graphics to max just to see what it would do and the game stuttered a bit, but it did look fairly nice. Ubi mentioned several times in the "propaganda" they included with the early release that they have some work to do with engine optimization. So something that wasn't a problem looks to be even better when the full game is released.
Let's start playing
When you get started, the game offers 2 difficulties. It seems that picking the higher difficulty just gives the monsters extra hit points, at least for now. I went with normal. You also have the option of using a pre-made 4-toon party as built, tweaking that pre-made party, or building your own from scratch. While the game is planned to have 12 classes, the demo (OK, early release, but I'm tired of typing that out) only contains 4. In terms of archetypes, the offered classes are similar to a tank, a dps, an archer, and a casting generalist.
That's the dps guy. You won't get to level 17 in the demo. I barely made level 6 with a nearly complete map mow. No healer, which turns out to be a real pain. More on that later. I took the pre-made party. Since the game mechanics were familiar but different, I didn't see much point in blind tweaking.
You're dropped into the starter town. Exploration is rewarded even there-there are numerous chests of goodies laying around in various nooks and crannies of the entire world. Of course, there are certain risks to grabbing anything not nailed down as some of those chests and barrels contain monsters instead of loot. The balance on that was fairly good. Quests are laid out very well. It's easy to see what you're working on and your progress on each quest, although you'll have to remember or write down where the quest givers are hiding. The in-game map is decent, marking points of interest as you uncover them. Unfortunately, the map doesn't include tool tips, nor the ability to add notes. That's right, folks, you just might want to take some notes like the old days. Graph paper is probably optional, but a notepad is probably wise.
The demo includes 4 quest dungeons, a large outdoor area, and several single room dungeons. The themes of the dungeons are varied. There's some repetition of graphical assets, but not enough to become a problem. Both the minimap and larger regional map have a 2 stage fog of war- the black unveils somewhat 3 tiles in all directions and the tiles you actually traverse become clear. This does lead to some spoilers in the dungeons since you can sometimes see parts of rooms that you shouldn't technically know are there. Hidden/secret zones (and there are more than a few) mostly stay black until you actually discover them. I expect those have to be hand-coded individually, so it will probably be more consistent and more "correct" when the full release comes out.
Combat (and, just like the old M&M titles, there's a lot of it) is pretty easy to grasp and fairly quick to complete. It's classic "I go, you go". Battles actually have some tactics involved since ranged attacks only go in a straight line and melee only works when you're adjacent to the monsters. The wise adventurer can take advantage of corners to put the fight on a desired footing. One problem I noticed is that the monsters will always get the first attack. They have a line of sight and become active when the party moves into range. Since that movement counts as the "I go", monsters will always get the first attack. You cannot initiate combat, even with bows or spells. Another complication is that once monsters move into melee range, you can no longer use bows. So that awesome archer that you've meticulously developed to be Death By Fletching will dutifully swap to her largely worthless dagger whether you like it or not. I don't know if that's something Ubi will be looking at, or whether it's working as intended. You might remember that MM7 (at least) had an autoswap as well, but you could turn that off if you wanted to use a specific weapon all the time.
There's some story in there, as well as tons of background lore that can be acquired by finding books or by gossiping with NPCs. The demo, in being only the opening region, is a little light on story, but that's to be expected. There's enough groundwork laid that I think it will be adequate for most folks. It won't be a novel masquerading as a game, but most old skool games were fairly thin as well.
My first day with the game was a 12 hour marathon according to the Steam timer. The day flew by. I think my kids got a meal or two, but I don't know that I'm certain. "Just one more..." is the name of the game, just like previous entries in the franchise. It's actually been quite a while since I've been engrossed in a game that deeply (probably Puzzle Quest 1 if anyone cares), so Ubi must be doing something right here.
The sound effects and music were fine. Honestly, I don't really pay much attention to that sort of thing unless they're ridiculously good or painfully bad. These were neither. Ubi did make the brilliant decision to recycle one sound effect. Every time you hear it, you'll smile and know you're playing Might & Magic again. Little touches like that reinforce the feeling that this development team truly understands and properly respects the history of the franchise, unlike the team that created the abomination that was released after MM8, which shall not be named in polite company.
There were several puzzles in the demo. Most of them were "step on the tiles in the right order", but one of them in particular was hard enough to make me take notes.
The reward for figuring out this little brain exercise made it worth the effort. No riddles in the demo, and I don't know if any are planned for the complete game, so one of the charming aspects of the old games might be gone. Of course, the availability of the internet has eliminated the challenge of riddles versus Ye Olde Dayz, so perhaps that wouldn't be a major loss.
The game does have a few bugs right now. Most are minor things that should get cleaned up in QA, but there's one bad one. Occasionally the game will hang in combat, where the monsters have taken their turn but you're not allowed to start yours. The good news on that is that Ubi identified that bug in their propaganda as one they were still fighting and they already had a workaround (CTR-ALT-R) to force the next turn to begin. With so many developers in denial about bugs in their games these days, I thought the honesty was a nice touch. I suppose there's no guarantee this sort of thing will be properly fixed before release, but the fact that they're aware, openly admit it, and slap in a temporary workaround is encouraging.
There was one area of the outdoor map I couldn't explore. It was guarded by numerous ghosts, which absolutely cleaned my clock every time I got near even one. Given enough time and patience, I might have been able to chip them away, but I'm not sure that was the intention. That's actually true to the old games as well. You're free to walk anywhere you wish, but the game is free to hand you your butt if you wander into an area that's over your head.
So then, enough slobbering....
What's wrong with the game?
The day-night cycle is WAY too fast. Normally, nobody really cares, but they've got it set where your party gets weak and then enfeebled after 20 hours of "world time". When it takes a day and a half to walk to the furthest dungeon, that's a problem. Compound that with the initial limit placed on supplies and you spend a lot of time running back to town, one tile at a time. Ubi actually quietly did an update to the demo the day after release that increased the supplies you could purchase from 4 to 6, along with a few other tweaks. That made a surprisingly big difference. Still, they really need to slow the clock down. Should be 5 minutes of coding to correct it, but they absolutely must fix this before release.
The four classes available right now do not include a healer. Many of the monsters in the game have an ability called retribution that basically means they get a free swing every time you hit them in melee. That's fine, but it means you're going to take a fair bit of damage because it's extremely rare that you can force a monster to stay at range. Without a good means to put those hit points back, you end up resting often, which means more supplies, which means more running back to town. I'm certain the full game will include a healer archetype of some sort, but they really should have put it in the demo. It's not that the game was made overly difficult, but it was a constant annoyance. Generally, it's a bad idea to annoy the gamer during a demo.
There are some graphical glitches. Each time you damage a monster, they stagger to the side. If they're next to a wall, sometimes they'll stagger right thru the wall. The monsters generally realize they've been naughty and shuffle back to where they belong, but it certainly breaks the immersion. One glitch of note is that monsters occasionally won't be displayed on the tile that they actually occupy. This seemed to be linked to 2 situations (the gust of wind spell that includes a knock-back, and monsters doing too many staggers in a short period of time) and was also clearly noted in the propaganda as a problem they were working on.
Some of the controls were less than obvious, even with the popup tips. In particular, using a scroll could be an adventure if you read it from inventory rather than dragging it to your hotbar. In using a cure paralysis scroll (they've got a different name for the spell, but we all know what it is), you right click on the inventory slot to use it. That generates an instruction window that unfortunately pops up behind the inventory window. When you find the instructions, they tell you to select the character you want to use the scroll on. What they fail to mention is that the only acceptable way to select the character is with his/her function key-clicking on the toon's portrait, which works in every other situation, just cancels the spell without any sort of acknowledgement.
There was one interface issue that didn't make sense to me. To view the skills on a toon, you did not go to the character screen, which included tabs for general stats and gear, deeper stats, and inventory. The skills are displayed as a tab on the spellbook screen. Doesn't really hurt anything, but I don't understand the logic. Perhaps there's some coding issues that make it easier to group skills with spells, but it just seemed strange.
They have some balancing to do, which they admitted in the propaganda. In particular, the boss of the third dungeon is an absolute beast.
Yeah, he's got retribution, too, so it's a bloody fight. That's fine, but the fourth dungeon is actually trivial if you're strong enough to knock off this guy. I had more reloads than I care to admit getting past him.
That's about it for problems. With the mess that many games are on release day, this development team is way ahead of the curve and they already know most of the things they need to work on. You really can't ask for more than that.
Overall, the game was a blast to play and remained faithful to the mechanics established by the franchise over two decades ago. Ubi has some work to do, and they know it, but they've gotten a great start. Old skool RPGers should go ahead and schedule some vacation for early 2014. Y'all ain't gonna have time for that working and sleeping nonsense when MMX hits the shelves.
Information aboutMight & Magic X: Legacy
Developer: Limbic Entertainment
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Expected at 2014-03-31
· Publisher: Ubisoft