Dark Messiah of Might and Magic

So there’s this guard in front of me. He hasn’t seen me yet – I’ve spent some skill points getting my stealth abilities up. I draw back my dagger, get a hold of him, and pretty soon there’s a body on the ground and a spreading pool of blood.

This sort of situation can be found in many games, but the thing that matters is how well these moments are executed. In the case of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, these moments are pulled off extremely well, to the point where the combat and the numerous set piece battles are the best points about the game. It’s a shame that other aspects of the game aren’t quite up to par, but if you can ignore a few (sometimes fairly major) issues, you’ll have a fun time with this one.

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Dark Messiah is a first person action game that favours melee weapons over the typical projectile attacks found in most shooters. Melee attacks are often underdone – or just done really badly – in first person games, so it was a welcome relief to find that the developers had taken the time to make the combat in Dark Messiah both engaging and satisfying. Valve’s Source engine is used to great effect in this regard: not only can you engage in a bit of swordplay with your enemies, but you can also use a ton of objects littered around the environment to your advantage. Items can be thrown, piles of crates can be dropped from a height, and fire can be used as quite a lethal weapon.

This, coupled with all the set piece moments that the game sends your way, helps make Dark Messiah’s battles highly entertaining. Sometimes three or four enemies might all rush you at once, forcing you to look around for any part of the environment that might help even the odds. When situations like these work, they work well.

But unfortunately, they don’t always work. This is due in no small part to the AI. When playing through the campaign, you’ll come across many instances of enemies running around aimlessly, shooting one of their companions if they’re blocking their path to you, and even running through fire to try and get you. That last one is actually pretty hilarious, but it still shouldn’t happen.

Another thing that shouldn’t happen, but does with alarming frequency, is the game crashing. Sometimes it’ll just crash to desktop, but other times you’ll be presented with the ever-popular blue screen of death. This certainly won’t happen for everyone, but on all the systems we tried the game on – and we tried it on a few – it either crashed at least once a level, or simply wouldn’t run at all. This just adds to my theory that publishers have deemed proper beta tests to be out of fashion; it's extremely annoying when you have to wait for a patch to (hopefully) fix your problems.

The singleplayer campaign is quite fun overall, but it feels a bit repetitive towards the end – then again, the last third or so of Doom 3 did exactly the same thing, and so do many other games of this type. Luckily, then, there’s a relatively decent array of multiplayer options available to you. The main mode puts people into a swords and sorcery version of Battlefield’s conquest gameplay, where you select from one of five character classes (Priestess, Warrior, Archer, Assassin, or Mage), and must work in teams to try and capture strategic points. You can also gain experience within each game, which lets you unlock further abilities. This is perhaps a good idea in practice, but tends to make things a bit lopsided, and adds an unnecessary amount of complication to an otherwise fun experience.

Graphically, Dark Messiah is pretty easy on the eye. It uses a modified version of Half Life 2’s Source engine, which means high res textures and detailed character models are numerous, but also means the game will stutter like crazy even on medium settings if your computer isn’t a bit of a powerhouse. The sounds are more of a mixed bag: the effects are fine, but the dialogue is just atrocious.

In the end, it’s kind of hard to recommend this game to everyone. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but a couple of quite major issues prevents me from heaping praise on Dark Messiah. If you don’t want to risk having the game run terribly on your computer, I’d strongly advise waiting until a major patch is released to fix the stability issues that currently plague it. Of course, you might end up being one of the lucky users who can run the game just fine, and if so, you’re bound to get at least some enjoyment out of this one. It’s not perfect by any means, but the gameplay itself warrants a look.

"You may need to wade through crap to find the hidden fun."
- Dark Messiah of Might & Magic
Follow Own it? Rating: M   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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