Typical isn't it? You wait and wait for a new grid-based dungeon-crawler, and then two come along at once. Well within a couple of years of each other anyway. After the success of 2012's Legends of Grimrock, it's perhaps not that surprising that Ubisoft and Limbic Entertainment have chosen to revisit the venerable, well-loved Might and Magic series with Might and Magic X: Legacy.
There's the barest glimpse of a plot before you're thrown into the world of Ashan, a colourful medieval filled with loot, dungeons and familiar fantasy conventions. Your chosen party are the Raiders, a group of adventurers hoping to make their name in the politically unstable and monster-threatened Agryn Peninsula. While there is an over-arching story involving a mysterious temple of the elements and a steadily increasing roster of bad guys, it's really just an excuse to send your party off exploring those aforementioned dungeons.
|Sir Roderick thought the ogre was simply waving hello. This was his last mistake
This is no glossy re-imagining of the franchise that strips away all the old-school features in favour of crowd-pleasing action and contemporary trends. Might and Magic X
wears its ancestry proudly on its sleeve.
Movement is grid-based, with every map in the game made up of a series of squares. You can move forward, backward, left or right. Enemy creatures appear in front of you, generally, although occasionally you can be flanked by a surprise attack. Once they catch sight of you, the game's tactical combat kicks into action. It's your classic turn-based style, each member of your team getting their own chance to attack, use a spell or activate another of their various abilities. In the narrow confines of the game's dungeons, combat is simple to grasp, tricky to master and satisfying to play. Glugging potions, buffing your team, taunting enemies to focus on your tank, it's all present and correct, along with seven schools of magic each with their own spell list.
Finding out a particular monster's special abilities can only be done after defeating them in combat, with extra details revealed the more of them you kill. By the time you clear a temple of dark elf assassins, for example, you'll know how much damage they do, their weaknesses and which way they'd vote in a general election. Learning to adjust your favoured tactics to combat new enemies that are resistant against them is key; your earth magic specialist will be next to useless against plant creatures, for example. Simply grabbing the biggest axe you can find and thwacking away is rarely the best option. Spells provide all sorts of tactical options, from freezing foes in place to making them easy pickings for your archer, to removing nasty status afflictions like poison and stun effects. You'll need to build a varied repertoire for your team to handle various different situations.
Some battles are just brutal. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see players quit after the utterly punishing first dungeon, which throws snake-like naga enemies that return your attacks with their retaliation ability, at you right out of the gate. I hit several points where progress seemed an impossibility. That's never truly the case, though. It might take a bit of creative thinking, a new spell or at the last resort a long trek back into town to resupply, but the game never feels like it's being wilfully unfair. There's great joy to be found in coming up with tactical solutions to a particularly challenging boss fight.
So, combat and dungeon-crawling is fun and works well. For some reason, however, developers Limbic Entertainment have decided to retain the same grid-based movement for overland travel. I don't quite understand the thinking behind this decision. While the enclosed corridors and caves of the dungeon segments complement restricted movement, it's awkward and unnecessarily time-consuming to have to shuffle square by square around towns and open areas. Worse still, you get stuck in a kind of darkly comic Benny Hill shuffle with enemies you encounter in the open as you both try to manoeuvre into position for an attack. You can't shoot with ranged weapons unless your target is directly in front of you, so you have to awkwardly shuffle into a dead end in order to funnel enemies into line.
|Your party is required to contain at least one dwarf by law. For obvious reasons
Exploration and combat on the world map takes up a considerable portion of the game, so to have it be this frustrating and inelegant turns what should be the exiting anticipation of exploration into a clunky chore. I gave up searching for secrets because sliding about like a knackered, one-legged robot was so little fun.
Thankfully the game's levelling and character development systems are a return to form. I'm one of those people who regularly restarts a game five hours in to try out another class, so it's nice to see those of us who are similarly deranged catered for with a suite of twelve classes, three for each of the four races. The cornerstones of mage, warrior and support aren't all that radically different across the different racial options, but they each have individual bonuses in certain skills and interesting abilities that will satisfy the tinkerers out there. There's enough options for skill progression that two dwarven runepriests, for example, could play very differently depending on the choices made when levelling. Eventually each class also unlocks an advanced specialisation giving them an extra set of skills.
The downside to this is that the skill system isn't particularly kind to first time players. Errors made early on meant that I was tragically saddled with an orc scout who, without wishing to be unkind, couldn't tell his arse from his elbow. I'd managed to focus on skills that the poor sod couldn't increase beyond the second progression level, which lead to him ineffectually flicking arrows at a bemused band of dark elves while they methodically bisected my furious dwarf fighter. My advice is to try a couple of practice runs to get the hang of the system before committing to a team.
Once settled, you can increase your skills from through novice, expert, master and grandmaster tiers by visiting certain trainers in the world, most of whom are located in taverns and stores back in town. Some of the top tier trainers you'll have to hunt down in the wilderness, just to stop getting to grandmaster level from being too easy. While in one of the game's several hub towns you can hunt for side-quests, sell your gear and recruit ancillary followers. These followers provide extra bonuses depending on their role; lorekeepers can spot magical secrets for example, while soldiers have a chance of blocking an attack against you. There's even unique hires; I picked up a goblin gourmet chef in the first town who gave bonuses to my party's stats after each rest.
There's lots to do and lots of things to see in Might and Magic X
. The Agryn Peninsula, your playground, is a varied landscape which packs in plenty of the franchise's trademark exuberant high fantasy. Caves glow with multi-coloured crystal light, the sun rises and falls over barren rocky wastelands and pleasant grassland, and there's always something visible just over the horizon waiting to be explored. With the vibrant art design so easy on the eye, it's a shame that technical issues often rear their ugly heads.
|There's plenty to discover in the wild Agryn Peninsula
Performance on my perfectly decent mid-range PC was frequently poor, even with toned-down graphics settings and plenty of tinkering. This isn't an extraordinarily good-looking game at the best of times, so it was even more troubling when frame rates starting crawling at seemingly random times. Was it enough to ruin my time with the game? No, but it certainly detracted from the experience. Which is a shame, and a mark against the game's long-running Early Access programme, which was meant to filter out these sorts of issues.
MIGHT & MAGIC X: LEGACY VERDICT
These caveats are not minor ones, and it’s important that people don’t rush into buying the game from blind nostalgia without some idea of its not inconsiderable technical deficiencies. However, I still enjoyed my time with the game, no matter how gleefully it tried to stop me doing so. This is a genre that, Legends of Grimrock aside, you just don’t see nowadays, and it’s undeniably good to see it making something of a comeback. Exploring ogre caves, elemental temples and naga towers with my intrepid band of badly optimised warriors still somehow managed to be fun, despite the chugging performance and irritation of grid-based overland movement. If you can look past these blemishes there’s plenty of fun to be had with Might and Magic X, but it could have done with a lot more polish.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Finally taking down that Earth Elemental who’s been smashing your head against a rock for the last hour or so. Oh, and look, he had a legendary sword on him!