Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven
The post-Diablo resurgence of action role-playing.
Don’t immediately draw that longsword as I start crediting Diablo for the revival of the Might and Magic series. The two games couldn’t be more different, but one has to acknowledge that role-playing as a computer gaming medium owes it to Diablo for refurbishing the formula, making it faster and more enjoyable for the masses. Although the merits of classifying Diablo as a proper RPG is debatable, its enormous sales caused every company to finally drag out those designs out of the closet – one of them is New World Computing’s sixth Might and Magic game – The Mandate of Heaven.
We’ve seen a few sporadic releases figuratively litter the post-Diablo landscape in its heyday – an excellent Fallout, an execrable Descent to Undermountain. However, the group of series that once defined the genre on the PC (we’re talking mainly about the Ultima, Wizardry and Might and Magic trio) have remained conspicuously absent. The end of the 1990s fixed that by reviving these age-old franchises, some to greater critical acclaim than others.
People who were expecting a revolutionary product were to be disappointed, as the game doesn’t really innovate or toy with the formula established in previous versions of the series. It’s essentially Might and Magic III with a free-scrolling engine, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – past versions of the series are much beloved by old-time gamers. Besides, there’s plenty more for them to love in this traditional version.
The game once again takes place in the world of Enroth and picks up where the 2nd Heroes of Might and Magic strategy game ended. The kingdom of the missing-in-action Roland Ironfist is in tatters, and the people are starting to question whether the heir to the throne, the child Prince Nicolai Ironfist, has lost the Mandate of Heaven to rule. It’s up to you to assemble a party of four adventurers to span the countryside, completing various quests that eventually lead you to some sort of closure for the main story thread.
Unfortunately the narrative is more or less an excuse for the myriad of fetch puzzles you must undertake. Most of your time in the game is spent running irrelevant errands for the locals, which in the context of the game’s fiction (earning the good will of the Ironfists) is perhaps easier to understand. But you’ll want to spend the time running even the most innocuous of these errand quests, as you’ll need the money and experience that serve as your reward. As an aside, those of you who insist on completing every single side quest in a game will be ecstatic to find that upon “completing” the game, you can continue playing to tie up any loose ends. But just going through the main quest is a titanic undertaking in of itself.
Decimating The Armies of Evil
Whilst dodging arrows, magical projectiles and fighting off innumerable hordes of goblins, zombies and skeletons, you’ll undoubtedly notice the game shows no mercy as far as monster placement goes – they’re everywhere, and they really do feel like armies. Many of the quests involve facing off such endless hordes, with clusters of bad guys ambushing you at around every corner, and decimating their ranks takes a lot of time.
The combat system, somewhat reminiscent of SSI’s Thunderscape, is definitely up to the task, being an excellent hybrid of real-time and turn-based. Unlike the SSI game, Might and Magic VI doesn’t automatically switch you to turn-based when things heat up – it lets you switch modes whenever you want. In general, you’ll find that you can dodge some long-range attacks in real-time or just dive in when facing weaker creatures, while switching in close combat allows for more calculated choices. All in all, it’s a system that works splendidly, even though it doesn’t quite have the complexity of a Heroes II combat match.
The game focuses a lot on character building. Completing quests and slaying beasts gives you experience which allows you to train, and training gives you skill points to distribute. Essentially, skills can be purchased, improved via the application of skill points, and promoted to “expert” or “master.” The six character types are limited in the type of skills they can attain, so you’re best off with a balanced party. However, at some point in the game, your characters become powerful enough that it becomes less relevant whether you have a party of hybrids or specialists.
All of that character development produces a game of nearly unprecedented length. Ignoring any sort of mainstream pressure to produce a “light” RPG, New World has imbued Might and Magic VI with upwards of 100 hours of gameplay. However, big isn’t necessarily better – playing the game can become a war against attrition, for your characters as well as yourself, as you navigate your way through the myriad of dungeons and landscapes.
Trouble In Enroth
Other issues include a non-mappable keyboard, quest notes that aren’t specific enough, area maps that are so low-resolution in the zoomed in views that they’re almost useless, and the lack of an annotated map to identify the various teachers that allow you to increase your skills. The skill system is nicely crafted but requires you constantly seek out the right teachers spread far and wide for upgrades, which tends to become endlessly aggravating. Even if you don’t like the interface or find yourself taking notes and mapping, you’ll likely enjoy this game if you’re prepared to invest some time in it.
The gameplay in MM6 eventually drags along a lot of repetition. Yet in that repetition and unending need to get better stuff, build up character stats and explore huge dungeons is where the game shines brightest, with the sixth iteration not losing that feeling that it’s been lovingly created, to borrow another company’s slogan, by ‘gamers for gamers’. While you can nit-pick it to death, its total impact far exceeds the sum of its parts. In some respects it’s the game Daggerfall tried to be, a sprawling epic of non-linear gameplay, and a wonderful throwback to the days of yore when role-playing ruled the roost.
System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, 200 MB HDD, Win 95/98
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