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SummaryWe'll always have A2 1,9
The GoodI haven't played the seminal first game of the legendary series, mostly because I was told that this second installment is like a more polished, upgraded version of it. Also, I have to admit that I can't stand the lack of an automap feature in old first-person games with complex dungeons, and Might and Magic II is famous, among other things, for being one of the first games with an automap feature.
Might and Magic II is a challenging old-school role-playing game that requires a lot of time, patience, concentration, and conscious effort on the player's part. You begin the game in a fairly maze-like city, controlling a (in-game generated or self-created) party of six weaklings that don't stand a chance even against some of the enemies wandering the town itself. It is your job to train, outfit, and customize this party in such a way that it will be able to defeat fearsome creatures and advance towards the game's final dungeon.
The beauty of the game is that you are completely free to ignore that goal and do whatever you want. You cannot get stuck working on one task, because there are myriads of things to do at any given moment. Unlike Wizardry games, which consisted of one huge dungeon each, and Bard's Tale games, which didn't really have cohesive wilderness, Might and Magic II boasts a vast interconnected world which you can explore at your own pace. And it provides you with the tools to do so in a smooth, elegant fashion - making finding and acquiring those tools a pleasant, rewarding, and fascinating experience. Curious about that seemingly sweet spot between two mountains? Teach one of your characters the Mountaineering skill and climb up there. Can't pass those nasty magical traps in a dungeon on your way towards some coveted gems? Have your Sorcerer learn the Levitate spell, and float right over them. Desperate after losing the same fixed battle with a powerful enemy blocking the road to an important item? Buy a Teleport Orb and materialize right behind him, or find a fountain that raises your attributes for just one fight, or try your luck hiding.
The game is full of such things, and it keeps you busy - not just with fighting and leveling up, but with actual planning and taking care of your character. You'll have to study the game world, get used to it, and figure out where to go, which quest to tackle, which item to hunt for, how to improve your characters. It doesn't hold your hand and expects you, the player, to make your own choices and decisions. Depending on your knowledge of the game, it can appear frustratingly difficult or pleasantly fulfilling - and chances are that you'll experience both those sensations.
There is a huge amount of monsters to fight in the game, yet it nearly does away with what was, in my opinion, a real mood-killer in early RPGs - random enemy encounters. If you set your party attitude to the most discreet, you'll barely encounter random enemies. The foes that do pop up seemingly out of nowhere are actually confined to fixed squares - which means that most of them can be avoided by jumping, teleporting, etherealizing, etc., if you are well familiar with the location's layout and are planning a safe trip. This increases the flexibility of the game, emphasizing knowledge and tactics over brute force and mindless key-mashing. The cool part is that you can also do the complete opposite and actually seek out enemies. The game thus becomes as combat-heavy or as combat-light as you want it to be - but the latter requires you to know it really well and to work hard for it.
One thing I love about Might and Magic II is how unforgiving it seems in the beginning, and how much more benevolent it becomes if you take your time and study it and subsequently outsmart it, instead of getting angry and trying to take it by force. The game walks the tightrope between frustration and reward, and does so masterfully. It is full of tricks you need to discover in order to take advantage of it. There are easy, yet well-hidden sub-quests that net you large chunks of experience or money, hard-to-discover areas providing huge boosts to the party, and enemies way above your level that can nevertheless be vanquished if you know what to do. The fight against the Cuisinarts, which could instantly propel a weak party ten or more levels up, is one of the better-known such occasions. I have to confess that, due to serious time constraints, I've used a guide extensively to get my bearings in the game and finish it quicker than it intended me to, but I almost regret it now and wish I had spent more time with it.
The game has a memorable structure with a distinctly non-obvious, but nevertheless clearly outlined main quest, which includes such interesting episodes as re-writing history by traveling through time, and having characters of each class compete in unique challenges without the help of the rest of the party. Most locations in the game are not required to visit in order to complete the main quest, and you are free to decide whether you want to pursue it strictly or take your time to explore the game's many dungeons and amass experience points, gold, and powerful equipment.
Might and Magic II has an attractive personality. There is something energetic and even flamboyant in its mixture of generic medieval fantasy, time travel, and science fiction. There are jesters telling you silly jokes in castles, hirelings with ridiculous names, and characters using catchphrases taken from Star Trek. And who can forget a giant singing karaoke into his mic-shaped club, listening to which raises your Endurance?
The BadIf you've heard about the battles against up to 250 opponents, then I don't need to tell you that it is insane. If you haven't, then it is my duty to warn you: there are battles against up to 250 opponents in this game. And yes, it is insane. Holding down Ctrl + A wipes out the enemies much quicker than you'd think, but the catch is that you do need to have a party that is strong enough to wipe them out with default attacks. This is an unnecessary and frustrating feature. Luckily, most such battles can be avoided.
Might and Magic II is very hard if you don't know what you're doing - and you won't, unless you explore the game painstakingly and study it, or use a walkthrough. It is possible to build a powerful party and adventure to your heart's content, but beware: particularly the beginning is highly challenging and frustrating, unless you figure out a couple of tricks to get early gold and experience. Also, even with the maps, the dungeons are very tricky to explore, and most of the truly important locations with the best items are well-hidden.
The text-only interface is tiresome. You'll be micromanaging your party a lot, and it will always take time to execute simple commands. For example, in order to transfer an item from one character to another, you need to press four keys: T, 4 for "item", the number of the desired character, and the letter under which the item appears in your inventory. Casting spells requires a similar procedure.