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A pack of enemies stands before you, neatly lined up in the narrow corridor while they take turns attacking and whittling down your party of adventurers. Your healer is unconscious, your mage is out of mana, and your warriors are getting low on health. The ways to the east and west are blocked, and the dungeon exit is behind you. Most people would agree that the prudent thing to do in this situation would be to run away.
In Might & Magic X Legacy, available today (Jan. 23) as a download for Windows PCs, publisher Limbic Entertainment and developer Ubisoft apparently disagree. The latest installment in this almost 30-year-old role-playing game franchise forces you to either stand there and fight a hopeless battle or, more efficiently, just load a previously saved game. This marks what is just one of many questionable design decisions apparently made in an attempt to capture the spirit of previous titles.
Unfortunately, no amount of nostalgia can make up for the self-induced limitations and shortcomings of this flawed attempt to resurrect a classic RPG series.
What you will like
Provided you were at least 10-years-old before the ’90s hit, and you capitalized on the opportunity to explore earlier entries in the Might & Magic series, you should be able to jump right in to MMXL. Everything should be familiar. The statistics and skills that drive the game are largely unchanged. You’ll see the same, click-friendly interface with the portraits of your four characters. The turn-based gameplay will remind you of a time when we played RPGs before the Pentium processor was invented. Even the more advanced options found in M&M, such as skill mastery and advanced character class upgrades, are still intact.
If you are also a fan of the related turn-based strategy series Might & Magic: Heroes, you should enjoy that the plot of Might & Magic X: Legacy follows the events of the sixth installment of the Heroes series. The city of Karthal, located on the Agyn peninsula, is on the verge of seceding from the Holy Empire. The characters you create get caught up in the political intrigue of various factions vying for control of the city.
A good amount of content to explore
Despite the inherent constraints of grid-based movement, Might & Magic X: Legacy has quite a bit to keep you busy. Most of the quest-related dungeons feature multiple levels that are full of enemies to fight, switches to pull, and puzzles to solve. Certain spells also reveal hidden areas that you can open for more treasure. Even the overworld map has secrets packed in out-of-the-way corners and dead ends and areas that can only be reached with certain spells or blessings.
Other helpful features include an automatic mapping system to keep track of where you’ve been and a monster journal that gives you more information about your foes as you defeat them. The skill mastery system has you searching far and wide for more experienced trainers to upgrade your characters. Careful explorers will also find numerous side quests to keep you busy or provide a distraction from the main plot.
What you won’t like
A lifeless and almost completely noninteractive 3D world
While it’s great that the developer took the time to create a fully 3D world, the act of overlaying a grid on top of it for the purposes of supporting the turn-based gameplay sucks the soul out of the whole experience. You’ll encounter interesting looking rooms full of books, potions, weapon racks, and other environmental details, but you won’t be able to interact with any of it. This can cause some confusion in the beginning, since the only items you can interact with don’t stand out in any way from other background objects until you’re both adjacent to and facing them, in which case you’ll get a prompt to press the spacebar to perform some function. You’ll probably waste a large part of the first several hours walking on every square and facing every direction until you learn the small subset of objects that actually do something. Even water, though rendered, serves no purpose other than to create barriers.
What’s even more fun are the times when you can’t make a ranged attack at an enemy that’s clearly directly in front of you because the map designer decided that you can’t walk upon a particular patch of tall grass. Because of this, you get tons of false corners and obstacles that don’t really look like obstacles since the rendered world doesn’t perfectly match the artificial “squares” you can actually walk through.
A veritable colony of annoying, little bugs
Might & Magic X: Legacy contains numerous bugs that, while small, detract severely from the overall experience. You’ll find things such as typos in the text and items either disappearing from the user interface (UI) or staying on the screen longer than they should. The build that I played for review also contained some things that seemed like sloppy oversights on the part of the developer, such as rooms with names that were obviously programming placeholders like: 404 ‘ABANDONED_HOUSE.’
Also frustrating are the frequent “pauses” the game seems to take. You’ll be strolling through town just as fast as you can press keys on your keyboard, and suddenly the game will freeze for a few seconds. This gets even more irritating the more you get used to the maps. You start to learn how far and in which direction things are, but the sudden non-responsiveness causes you to either over-shoot or fall short of your intended destination. You also might find yourself wandering into a fight that you didn’t want if you’re not careful. The seeming randomness of these events makes them even harder to cope with.
Lack of motivation
“What is the meaning of a dream?”
These first words of the painfully long and boring intro that plays upon starting a new game proved ironically prophetic. Maybe it was partially my fault for starting a new game so late at night, but I found myself nodding off during this seemingly never-ending video.
Even upon starting the actual gameplay, your party of (quite possibly disparate) adventurers is dropped on the docks of a city and only given one instruction: Bring the ashes of the man who trained all of you back to a small chapel in his hometown. This is conveniently and predictably not the town you’re dropped in.
Sure, an underlying story does provide background to many of the quests you receive, but I never felt any urgency or proper motivation to do anything. Kill spiders in a small cavern beneath a well. Ok. Go kill some brigands in a forest. Check. Find lost object X for person Y. Sure thing. Unfortunately, this pattern of adventuring persists for most of the game. The apparent triviality of almost every task becomes tiresome after hours and hours of repetitive gameplay.
Might & Magic X: Legacy certainly did remind me of fun times I had in the past with earlier entries in the series. I even had fun for several hours. But once the nostalgia wore off, it served as a stark indication that many of these design choices should have been left in the past with its predecessors. What good is a fully 3D world when you can’t touch or interact with hardly anything? What sense does it make that you can’t run away from an encounter in which you’re clearly outmatched (or even move once you’re in melee rage, for that matter)?
These glaring issues, combined with a general lack of polish, make for an experience that just doesn’t live up to my fond memories of Might & Magic. In the case of video games, we have numerous good reasons that they aren’t made the same way as we did 20-plus years ago. Sometimes nostalgia just isn’t enough to conquer outdated or bad design.
Might & Magic X Legacy releases on Jan. 23 as a downloadable game for Windows PCs. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a Steam and a Uplay code for the purpose of this review.