Dark Messiah: Might and Magic

aka: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, Mofa Men zhi Hei'an Misaiya
Moby ID: 24996

Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 76% (based on 50 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 68 ratings with 5 reviews)

Underdevlopment strikes again

The Good
Fantasy themed FPS's are rare, much too rare for my taste. Heretic, Hexen, and Hexen II ("The Serpent Riders Trilogy" as I refer to them) were fantastic, clever, creative games that were a nice break from the more common FPS themes. At least, they were for their time. Yet still, to this day, the overwhelming majority of this genre consists of military, stealth, sci-fi, and horror. For some reason, fantasy remains an elusive theme.

Enter Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, the first fantasy-themed game I've seen in quite some time, about the adventures of one mage apprentice named Sareth (I'll leave it at that). The first thing you'll notice is the beauty of the game. The Source engine, while not the most technically advanced, especially now that it's nearly four years old, spins us a web of a haunting, sinister atmosphere that could compete with the Thief series. Outdoor areas are appropriately bright and beautiful, while darker environs such as crypts and abandoned temples are genuinely frightening and can cause a sense of paranoia.

The weapons and other inventory items are pretty standard fare for a fantasy game: daggers, swords, shields, magical staffs, bows, as well as the expected array of defensive/offensive spells and armor. The game is designed with the idea that the player can choose which type of Sareth character to play during the course of the game, be it magic, combat, or stealth based...essentially an RPG-lite design without rolling the dice.

Like Half-Life 2, the player can also put their surroundings to use during combat with enemies. Speaking of enemies, if you've ever played a typical fantasy game, then you'll know what to expect; spiders, undead, orcs, and evil wizards. The most fun part of the game is, obviously, the combat. I must say it was highly, highly entertaining sneaking up behind a necromancer and slitting his throat, kicking goblins off cliffs, impaling evil knights onto spikes, setting zombies on fire, and electrocuting spiders. I also can't tell you the pleasure of cutting the rope on a chandelier only to have it the crush five knights who were previously charging at me swords waving.

Unfortunately, well...

The Bad
...the combat is about the entirety of the game's value. And as fun as it may have been, it wasn't enough after a while. In fact, the combat environments seemed as though they were laid out on a snap-to grid! No matter what locale your traversing, be it a crypt, a castle, a temple, or a courtyard, there were always carefully placed spikes, fire beds, stacks of barrels on destructible racks, and a/an [insert pendulous heavy thing here] suspended on the ceiling only held there by a weak rope, and your friendly neighborhood bottomless chasm. Seeing as how the Source engine is so well known for its physics capability and its ability to render many movable objects at once, it surprises me that the developers didn't invent more creative ways to utilize the environment. The above options are about all you have.

Speaking of combat, the game does indeed heavily favor the Fighter over the Mage or Assassin. While there are a wealth of spells and some decent magical weapons (staffs of course), most of the enemies in the game don't appear to be designed to be damaged much by them. While shooting fireballs at a knight will eventually kill him, it's simply no comparison to slicing and dicing away with a pair of high-damage daggers or a sword. Still, the stealth player is yet again the most neglected. Sure, there are missions/areas with plenty of shadows and opponents ripe for some stealth play, but most of the game just doesn't call for that because it isn't designed for it. The game is simply too linear for its own good. Yes, I do realize that despite the absence of guns this is an FPS, and most FPS's are linear, but the level design still could have been more open-ended and not so water-tight.

As for the game's plot, well... The FPS genre is generally not known for great storytelling;.that isn't to say an FPS cannot have a solid plot (see Half-Life or Thief), but they are far and few between. Dark Messiah is not one of those few I'm sorry to say. The plot is harmless, generic fantasy: find the Magical Object and destroy the Evil Power because it is Your Destiny. But seeing as how the gameplay hours for this title are quite short (8 to 10 hours is a rough estimate), there just is not enough time for Arkane Studios to give us their own personal Silmarillion.

All in all, the game feels extremely underdeveloped. There were so many elements of this game that could have made it a great title, but sadly fate did not smile upon this game. I'm unsure as to whether or not Arkane was being hen-pecked by Ubisoft to get this game out, but it certainly seems that way.

The Bottom Line
To put it succinctly, if you want a gigantic fantasy world ripe for exploration, more weapons, spells, enemies, styles of play than you can count, and an epic fantasy plot, then I would direct you to the nearest Elder Scrolls title. But if you're looking for mindless fun... In spite of all the flaws I rambled about, the atmosphere is fairly engaging, the combat is entertaining, and Dark Messiah is a perfect game for playing in 30 minute or one hour bursts. Now that it can be had for less than $20, pick yourself up a copy and kick some goblins off cliffs!

Windows · by HandofShadow (49) · 2008

An over-the-top fantasy shooter (sans guns)

The Good
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.

The Bad
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.

Windows · by Chase Dahl (5) · 2007

Fantasy, epic, boredom, spectacle, boxes, barrels and tits

The Good
So you are fourteen, you got acne, you are male and you probably live in some Anglo Saxon, European or some ex-soviet country. You have played games since you can remember and 2D is a concept that you don't even understand. Then you browse through your favorite, flash loaded webs about videogames and, suddenly, you find some videos or screenshots of "Dark Messiah" and you think, "wow!, that is a cool game".

It's like an FPS, except that there are orcs and stuff. And look, there is even a dragon, too. My god!, look at those awesome spell animations, and you can impale your opponents! And you can cut ropes that trigger traps, that's amazing. You know what?, there is even magic. Certainly, your teenage tendency to associate action with sex is making your hormones act like kids asking their fathers for some stupid toy they saw on TV before Christmas.

In fact, this game is all about shock value (yes, there is even a lighting spell, too, :)). Finally, whoever holds rights for Might & Magic has realized that the best evolution possible for the franchise is to make an FPS, instead of another game of..., well, thinking. We all know that games are all about action and fans of the series has finally received what they wanted since the first M&M game was released, an FPS, the king of genres.

The Bad
Probably, if you actually are fourteen years old, you wont understand what the problem with this "cool" game is, but this is actually a very good example of the sickness the industry of videogames is experiencing since the late 90's. It's all about shock value and fast transactions of money from your pocket to the content producers' pockets. If you don't believe me, let's see what for are you paying the 40€ this game used to cost.

The game lasts around 12 hours, 8 of which are mostly iterations of the previous ones and as you may have guessed, you can watch most of those 4 hours in the promo videos.

There are, let me count..., no more than 15 different enemies in the whole game, and I'm counting the bosses too (I'm serious, I have counted them). Not only that, but, as they barely mix, you can expend a whole hour killing the same type of enemy all the time. And with the same type, I mean even with the same model and voice. Just because some orcs have bow and others don't, it doesn't make it funnier to kill the same orc 30 times in a row.

The scenarios are also very repetitive. There are like four types of them, and the cliffs from Skull Island (you know, the island where the skull is), which are slightly more interesting than the rest. These are temple, palace/house, city and, of course, the loved-by-all sewers. Necropolis could also be counted, but it's looks a lot like temple, but multiplying the number of tombs by two. When these are not enough, fire and ruins can make some of the previous look slightly different and sum up to the total 10 levels of the game, each of one less original and more tedious than the previous. You know when you start playing a game and it's very fresh and varied at the beginning, but when the part they showed at E3 is finished the game begins getting more and more repetitive? Well, Dark Messiah has it too.

As for now, this game doesn't look very worthy to me. This is just the usual fast-developed product that gives the videogame industry the property of industrial instead of artistic or cultural and makes the general public think on videogames as a form of entertainment instead of culture. You can see this on the average to low quality of all the artistic design on Dark Messiah. You have orcs, goblins, dragons, undeads, necromancers, spells of fire, of ice, of lighting, swords, staffs, bows, etc., and they all look like always. New is a missing concept here.

"What are those statues of big warriors in the temple scenarios for?", you can ask to the lead designer, "nothing, they looked cool and we add them to fill the place" he will answer you. "Ey!, how could I design an orcish sword?" could some object designer ask, "I don't know, look on the internet and copy the coolest looking one" would say the object lead designer. "We are designing a second model for the undeads right now" could the lead designer say, "no, one foe one model, we want to release the game as soon as possible to spare money on the production" would the production director respond. "...and then Leanna defeats the..." tells the story writer while explaining the story to the marketing director, "that's silly, make her just helpless and stupid..., and with big tits" he interrupts and "much better, make another secondary hot female character" he adds.

You can imagine this kind of conversations between unmotivated designers and impatient and money-thirsty producers. Seriously, just hear the dialogues of the porn actress that accompanies the main character, I'm playing the game again just to see if I can have sex with her (which I doubt). And how cleverly does she points you to the solution of every puzzle in the game. Just when you spend more than five seconds looking for the solution to a dead-end she tell something like “well, it looks like you should go to the well hidden panel in front of you, push red-white-red-blue buttons in that order, use the “iron key” in the keyhole at the right of the panel and say the magic orcish words I'm writing you phonetically in a note”. Phew!, you nearly needed to use your brain.

And technically, the game doesn't look that good either. Yes, graphics are more or less modern, but the whole design lacks motivation and it affects negatively the player very fast (as anything else in the game). As I said, models and textures are reused a million times in each level. Orcs looks like typical orcs, swords like typical swords, black knights like typical black knights and so on, and the animations are rather broken. Even the spells, that looks spectacular most of the time, have very unrealistic sounds (yes, spells are not real by themselves, but still...).

But the worst graphics feature in this game have to be the lighting. The lighting is not bad by itself, but level design makes it really painful for your eyes. Every time you are indoors lighting will be composed of low intensity but bright light sources scattered through the level. That means a continuous change in the light intensity of your screen which can make your eyes hurt in less than half an hour of playing session. The solution to this? The dark vision spell, that let's you see the world in a scale of purples that also gives you headache. And not happy with this, the spell designers decided to make your most powerful attack spell some kind of flamethrower that fills all the screen with yellow fire to make your already hurting eyes cry. If I say this game is painfully to play, I'm talking literally.

The only thing that can save this game is the combat system, based on using extensively the many traps the levels consist on and the many weapons and spells you can access to in the game. Still, this gets repetitive very fast, specially in the last levels, when you can kill hordes of enemies without even looking put interest in what you do. By the second or third level you start considering how lucrative it has to be to have a shop of spike traps.

Other not-too-bad feature is the simplified RPG system. Every time you finish a level or complete a task, you gain some skill points that can be spent increasing your abilities. Basically, you can be a thief, a mage or a warrior (now that's variety) or a mix of them. As any role player knows, mix are only good if the system is balanced and this is quite truth for Dark Messiah. The problem is that this game is very repetitive and changing your strategies all the time to make an effective use of all the skills of your warrior-mage, mage-thief or thief-warrior will only make it last longer. I played the game as a total warrior and a total mage, and by the half of the game it was so boring that I only wanted to finish it fast. If you choose a mixed role for your character the game will only take longer and more tedious, and I don't even want to imagine how is it to play it with a thief.

Other RPG element simplified for Dark Messiah is the inventory. I think there's nothing on this game that you can be called a "puzzle" so the inventory only stores thing that wont interact between them nor with thing the world outside the inventory. And it's so huge that, unless you want to collect it all, you wont have to choose carefully what to store and what not.

The Bottom Line
Ok, Dark Messiah is a spectacular game, with a lot of action, some interesting use of RPG and... more spectacle, but it is an ostensibly low quality product. You can feel it, is everywhere. All elements are repeated a gazillion times, everything looks like done before, the story is boring, the characters void, you know that even the producers and designers of the game don't give a crap about it. It's very hard to enjoy and take seriously a game under these circumstances. Don't get tricked by the trailers and cool screenshots, it doesn't worth it.

And who the hell is that guy in the main menu?

Windows · by MichaelPalin (1414) · 2007

A Legend in the Fantasy FPS

The Good
To be honest, I always took a much greater interest in the multiplayer portion of Dark Messiah rather than its single player brethren. Developed by Kuju Entertainment, the company responsible for helping develop the EyeToy games for the PS2, the multiplayer mode for Call of Duty: Finest Hour, and Battalion Wars for the Nintendo Gamecube, the multiplayer mode of Dark Messiah encompasses a unique style of gameplay in a fantasy setting. The game splits between 2 factions, the Humans and the Undead. Each faction allows 5 playable classes, the Assassin, the Priestess, the Mage, the Archer, and the Warrior. The only difference between the Humans and the Undead is their physical appearance; otherwise, they are essentially the same.

The Bad
Despite some slight conflicts of class balance, the multiplayer portion of the game leads as an excellent and worthy contender of popular multiplayer first person shooters. To begin with, the Assassin is a very fast paced and fun-to-play class. In fact, all classes are extremely fun to play, and it will only get better as Kuju decides what should be done to help make the game even better. (And they do, their commitment to the Open Beta was extraordinary, as far as updates and forum responses go). The Warrior is a tanker lover’s dream, being able to negate any spells and absorbing the most damage with its Reinforced Armor. Surprisingly, the Warrior’s attacks are powerful as well. The Priestess is most likely the main concern of many balance critics. With her instant self-heal ability and an armor buff that lowers any kind of damage, the Priestess can take on any class and win. I haven’t even mentioned the insane range of her Corrupt ability and the Bramble spell that slows ALL players to a crawl. Kuju Entertainment obviously decided that Priestesses should do more than just supporting other classes. The Mage is insanely powerful as well, but only in late levels. Finally, the Archer is a class that rewards those with practice; arrows not only take time to reach the target, but they also arc as well. However, 1 fully charged shot deals 56 damage; 2 shots will kill the player.

The Bottom Line
In conclusion, the multiplayer portion of Dark Messiah is anything but the norm. It features a retrospective view of the modern first person shooter with 5 totally different playable classes. The game delivers tons of different tactical strategies, and will only get better as Kuju Entertainment continues to please its fans with updates and additions to the game.

Windows · by gi han (2) · 2006

Tries so Hard to Be Xtreme, Fails. At Everything Else Too.

The Good
There were times when the game’s graphics didn’t offend me. The Spiders the giant trolls and of course the Dragon. The Spider lair itself scared me pretty well, and when hoards of arachnids are tumbling down on you, you’ll appreciate the game. That’s about it.

Aside from that, the melee combat was entertaining for an hour, maybe. I enjoyed kicking people into spikes and whatnot, but only for that same first hour. Um, aside from that there isn’t much else to say. The water looked pretty good, I guess?

The Bad
There honestly isn’t much that I loved about Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. The acting, dialogue and story all made me cringe. Aside from the ludicrous and sexist portrayal of the demon temptress who you meet at the beginning of the game (trust me, you won’t believe how badly this character is implemented) the rest of the characters are more stereotyped than those of a bad Japanese RPG. The villains are always cackling and laughing up their sleeves, the good female character is there solely as a romantic interest, “hot” body and foil to the sexy demon temptress, and all other characters are secondary. I actually thought that the plot was interesting, but it was so muddled and badly organized that I quickly lost interest.

The combat, as mentioned before, gets old fast. You’ll quickly realize that you have to block and attack in a very regular fashion. Bows, magic and other supposedly cool abilities are largely unpleasant to use. Enemies are mundane when confronted as a fighter, and annoying when confronted as a spell caster or thief.

Returning to the presentation of the game, I liked some of the landscapes a bit, but the problem was how the Source engine was used. I know that this engine can create some amazing vistas, so why was it that every single wide-open area looked awful. Every other texture was so blurry it was like they were underwater. This applied to creatures and items too. The worst was when I realized that my sword was basically a grey stick that got a bit red when I stabbed people. The darker areas look pretty bad, and all of the enemies animate horribly. The later zombie encounters are maddening, as is the fact that you don’t get really good items until way too late in the game.

Multiplayer is a mess, and there aren’t really enough people playing to make you care about it.

The Bottom Line
I really wanted to like this game. It takes place in one of my favorite universes, and it boasted a visceral, melee-oriented look and feel. Sadly, when you have a melee-oriented game where the melee is awful, you might have a problem on your hands. This game annoys and frustrates at every turn, and its portrayal of women is childish and offensive. A few fun creature encounters and some clever set pieces can’t save this game from its own awful design. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a melee FPS, an action RPG, or any other swords and sorcery epic. Look somewhere else.

Windows · by Tom Cross (28) · 2008

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Jeanne, Patrick Bregger, Scaryfun, Xoleras, Wizo, Tim Janssen, Picard, nyccrg, Zeikman, Cantillon, COBRA-COBRETTI, beetle120, Kabushi, Cavalary, tarmo888, RhYnoECfnW, Sciere, CalaisianMindthief, GTramp, Samuel Smith, lights out party, Alsy, chirinea, Flapco.