An over-the-top fantasy shooter (sans guns)
In terms of visceral, face-to-face, first-person-combat, Dark Messiah has got the field licked.
Kicking opponents into fires, spikes, and over cliffs is endlessly amusing, if improbable.
Full frontal nudity in cutscenes are always a plus.
Stability, stability, stability. Even on its latest patch, Dark Messiah tends to crash way more often than it should...and beware those of you who like to turn the settings knobs to 11.
Throwaway story and plot.
Some very tedious, go-through-the-motions gameplay in areas.
Uneven graphics -- some outdoor areas are particularly onerous.
Giant spiders ahoy! Somebody call the fantasy monsters union and complain.
Game overfavors "tank" melee characters. Don't expect to play Garrett or a pure mage here.
The Bottom Line
Might & Magic Dark Messiah is very easy to sum up: it’s a fantasy first-person-shooter where all of your good ranged weapons are taken away and replaced with melee weapons. It is most definitely not an RPG – while the game uses RPG-like elements, they are trivial and would have been better replaced with a streamlined shooter-style interface. For example, there’s an inventory screen…every RPG needs an inventory screen, right? However, you have enough slots to carry every portable object in the game, and since many objects are simple upgrades to earlier objects, why not just go for a simple “next-item-previous-item” interface?
Other RPG facades include the ability to upgrade your alter-ego with the use of skill points given to you throughout the game. You can buff up your character’s melee skills, stealth skills, or magic skills. Unfortunately, the game’s design focuses around the golden path of the tank. Enterprising sneaky types will be disappointed by the fact that enemies are able to unerringly locate you after one successful sneak attack, regardless of where you’re hiding (or the fact that you soaked up a ton of skill points in hiding skills). Magic users will be disappointed by the slow rate of fire of their offensive spells, since the enemy A.I. mainly consists of quickly getting into your character’s face.
Luckily, however, I like tanks, and I play them all the time. M&MDM is a wonderful fantasy tank simulator. The first-person melee combat is meaty and bloody. It rewards both the frantic button-masher as well as the more deliberate button-masher. Although many of the combat situations are implausible and suffer from “why is that guard standing next to a barrel of boom” syndrome, there’s a lot of mileage in being able to pound, kick, and smash enemies into fires, conveniently-placed spike traps, and over the edge of cliffs. Although some folks may prefer the trickier 3rd-person melee combat setup of games such as Jedi Outcast, I prefer straightforward bashing and smashing over spinning wall-leap maneuvers … but then again, I believe that if god wanted us to play shooters in 3rd person, he would have given us floating cameras in real life.
Surprisingly, the one trick that M&MDM does well is just enough to cover up the game’s myriad flaws. Stability is not the least of those flaws – the game is a RAM pig, and if the graphic settings are set just a smidgen too high for your system to handle, the game will crash all over the place. The old Source engine bugaboo of stuttering sound makes an annoying reappearance, as well. More downsides include a yawner of a background story (complete with a “plot twist” that can be spotted from a mile away), uneven graphics, and an ever-present NPC (whom I dubbed “Shodan” for reasons made obvious for any System Shock fan that plays this game) that ruins all of the game’s puzzles by telling you exactly what to do next. It should be noted, though, that you do get full-frontal nudity “Shodan” cutscenes, so that’s a plus, I suppose.
So, is the game worth $40? Probably not. The game is weak in every area but melee combat (in which it admittedly does well) and its few subtleties are shown far too early and used way too often. The incarnation of the Source engine used in this game struggles mightily and crashes frequently. The story, settings, and opponents are all generic throwaway quality (yes, you WILL fight giant spiders, that’s all that needs to be said). Still, this is a game where the overall experience somehow manages to lift itself from the sum of its component parts, and I had a surprisingly good time working my way through it. Wait until it hits the $20 price point, and it’s a decent, if totally forgettable buy.