Might and Magic IX

2_1The Might and Magic series has had a very long run on the PC. It first started out way back in the early 1990s, went on a long hiatus after the first five games, and resurfaced once again in the post-Diablo role-playing craze. Might and Magic VI (6) was an absolute hit, but its two subsequent sequels were hardly as innovative. They introduced some novelties but retained the same core hack and slash gameplay. They also used the same game engine since game number 6, which was starting to look embarrassingly dated by Might and Magic 8. Things had to change.

Some ten years after the introduction of the first game of the series came Might and Magic 9, bringing with it a new engine and ample promises of reinvigorating the old classic. The good news with number 9 is that the Might and Magic franchise has finally moved away from its sprite-based roots, using the powerful LithTech Engine (No One Lives Forever, Blood 2) to render its fantasy universe. The bad is that the same tired gameplay formula come along for the ride, now with a multitude of bugs added for your inconvenience.

You’re dumped into this fantasy RPG without knowing who you are. A shipwreck leaves you stranded on the Isle of Ashes, where a friendly transient is kind enough to let you know that you’re the savior of the troubled land of Chendian. The game takes place in a different world, following the destruction of the planet Enroth, which served as a setting for the three previous games. Its story is not directly connected to its predecessors, though there are a few references to them.

The initial premise leads to an experience that seems threadbare. You’re given just four races from which to choose your party — Elf, Human, Dwarf, and Half-Orc — and an equally paltry number of faces and voice options. There are only two pictures (one per gender) to represent each character. A tiny number of spells and skills are available initially, and it takes far too long — well into the double digits of gaming hours — to develop your characters’ “might†or “magic†capabilities. It took me 15 hours to move from “initiate†to the path for Crusader.

Might and Magic 9’s world may now be 3D, but it manages to feel remarkably empty. You’ll find yourself continually feeling déjà vu thanks to the lack of variety in the appearance of NPCs, monsters, and architectural design. In each quest area, you’ll do battle with the same two or three monster types, and NPCs look the same from town to town. That’s a real tragedy given that the expansive game world sets you up for a filling, and fulfilling, experience.

9_1The character and monster models themselves are extremely crude. And all the structures have a similar “cubist†design, with endless repetition of familiar textures and item placements. Add a list of other smaller grievances to this mish-mash of irritants, and it’s tough to recommend this game to all but the stoutest Might and Magic buffs. These hardcore fans will have to get past the fact that blood spray appears with both hits and misses, and characters continually get stuck while trying to move past items and obstacles. And you’ll also have the occasional unexplained fatal crash.

None of this is surprising considering that Might and Magic 9 is an unfinished game, and the death knell of the series as brought to us by its original designers. New World had went through quite a lot of layoffs at the time this game was being put together, and the final product demonstrates this

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, 500 MB HDD, Win95

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