Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor
With Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor, New World had learned from several previous mistakes and added some welcome depth to a series known more for its enormously playable hack-and-slash than its storylines and adherence to standard role-playing conventions. It succeeds admirably, though a few recurring design issues and initial uncompromising difficulty will likely scare off people unfamiliar with the series.
The fundamental core gameplay retains the same flavor of its predecessors. You control a party of four adventurers walking around massive 3D environments, talking to people, accumulating quests and tasks, solving them, getting experience, hoarding gold, buying new goodies, upgrading characters, ad infinitum. This game, as with previous versions and games like Diablo, is a massive carrot dangler – there’s always a thrust forward to find the next cool thing.
Thickening The Plot
Perhaps in response to one of the main criticisms of the last version, Might and Magic VII features a considerably beefed up narrative. Set in Erathia, the same land as the Heroes of Might and Magic strategy series, the game begins on Emerald Island, a small self-contained region designed to get the player up to speed. It plays like a tutorial level, with help messages letting you know what this or that shop does, but any sense of hand-holding quickly dissipates as you first enter combat.
Far from being pushovers, the starting flying buzzers you’ll face are damn challenging, and require quite a good amount of resourcefulness. Indeed, the initial hour or so of the game isn’t that fun – it’s more of a grind, at least until you really start building up levels and can afford better equipment and spells. Of course players that are familiar with the series will be right at home, but an optional ‘Easy’ mode aimed at curious amateurs would have been fantastic. Even handing some extra starting gold or skill points would have helped tremendously. You can find a great online strategy guide here to help you out if you get stuck.
The story isn’t anything Baldur’s Gate, but it does force players to make a choice about midway through the tale, one with repercussions in other parts of the game. After a certain event, players are forced to take sides in the conflict, essentially choosing whether to be good or evil. Each side has its own unique class promotions and spells, and in a few instances your choice of sides affects how you’re treated in certain locations. It’s a cool touch, but outside of people telling light players they can’t become liches or they can’t learn this or that spell, there appears to be little overt change to the game, and the story eventually converges back to the same narrative path.
At its core, the entire enterprise plays in a very expected Might and Magic fashion, and you’d have to be familiar with Mandate of Heaven to notice some of the more subtle improvements – new playable races and classes, ingame maps that enjoy higher resolutions and actual markings, monsters that attack civilians, town watch that patrol the city streets and kill intruding monsters, a new-found ability to pilfer townsfolk, a law system that punishes such transgressions, etc. These are not huge differences, but they quickly add up. Other much needed improvements (shops with larger potion stocks, mouselook, less stringent ship and coach timetables) would have been nice. But enough nitpicking.
Ye Old Dungeon Crawls
One of the most obvious improvements are offered by the four starting races – Humans, Goblins, Elves and Dwarves (which play a distinct role in establishing your starting stats), and the addition of several new skills and classes – the Monk, Ranger and Thief. New World has really beefed up the class system, forcing you to make distinct choices based on your play style when creating your first party. The greatest limitation is experienced when you look at the spell system, with higher level spells now locked out of one’s use completely before that spellcaster attains the necessary Expert, Master or Grand Master level. This hugely impacts the initial effectiveness of magic in Might and Magic VII.
Greater care should also be spent building a well balanced multi-class group, typically comprised of a powerful Knight or Paladin, a Sorcerer for offensive spellcasting, a Cleric or Druid acting as a supporting spellcaster and a Thief for disabling traps, swindling purses and identifying rare items. Skills, which you now learn from shops, are well distributed among the classes – some they excel at, others they can’t even learn. Even time itself now has an odd influence on characters – though they can never die, they generally get weaker as they age, but smarter and more charismatic.
Yet combat is still very much same-old, and this is a double-edged sword. Because fights in Might and Magic games are very mechanical – it’s more about mowing down rows of bad guys rather than the tactics required in the Heroes strategy games – it walks a fine line between entertainment and tedium. Fortunately there are considerably fewer monsters wandering around the countryside in this game, and many can be avoided. Sure, you’ll still face them in hoards, but not quite on the Mandate of Heaven scale. However, what monsters lack in numbers they make up in difficulty.
Although superior to its prequel and likely the high point of the series, For Blood And Honor nevertheless retains several annoyances that gnaw at you the more you play – there’s an exhausting amount of pointless walking around everywhere, exacerbated by the game’s frustrating reliance on scattered NPC’s to upgrade your skills. Later in the game you learn the Town Portal spell that let’s you region hop more efficiently, but this takes much too long. There’s an engaging middle ground where the game is a blast and you don’t mind – exploration being the juice of it all – but eventually the mundane sinks in and you start cursing as you scour the kingdom for that one guy who will finally upgrade your Water Magic.
Still it’s a worthwhile experience most of the time, even though it feels extraordinarily familiar. It’s the same sense of familiarity we felt playing Might and Magic IV and V, Clouds of Xeen and Darkside of Xeen. Scouring through the lands of Erathia has some new bits in it as well, but in the end it’s in the same tradition as every other game of the series.
System Requirements: Pentium 133 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 375 MB HDD Space, Win 95/98
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