Tested: Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements
On Easter weekend my young cousin and I settled in for a long haul of gaming. We cast aside Smash Bros. in favour of a game we both were curious about but hadn’t yet played, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements. This game came out last year on the PC, but we played the recently released Xbox 360 version. Now, when I spoke of this earlier there was not a little concern for the voice acting and overall writing of the game. That concern has not left me, instead, it has been thoroughly affirmed. Yet, all was not lost in the playing of this game and I did enjoy playing it, for the most part anyway.
You have the option of playing as a warrior, assassin, archer, or a mage. We chose archer and were fairly happy with the choice until about two hours in and we tried starting over again to change the class to warrior. Then a mishap with the save feature caused a loss of data so we reverted back to archer status after a waste of another hour. We soon found out, however, that being an archer wasn’t bad at all as our need for close combat diminished and our range of special bows increased. Also, further into the game you pick up hammers and can forge new weapons, including ones from different classes. We made ourselves a long sword and were set for good melee times after that.
In regards to that save mishap I mentioned, you’ve got the option to save at any point. I made the mistake of saving right after we were told to go a certain point in the city and I was on like a timer or something so I couldn’t get to that point before it would say I had failed the mission. Very annoying. We stopped saving after that and would save only at the beginning of each new chapter (this made for long sittings) and we would save in a different slot each time. Open saving has pluses sometimes, but not in this game. Too dangerous with the way they engineered the missions and you can totally screw up your game.
The combat in the game is intuitive and realistic. You block blows and wait for opponents to drop their guard to parry. It’s not all hack and slash with no precision, which I was very glad to see. Also, I was happily surprised when I beheaded a goblin with blood spraying and everything! For the most part though we stuck to long range shooting. A few good hits to the throat or head and most enemies drop. It was especially nice when fighting the undead since in close combat you have to impale them to keep them from coming back up, but a well aimed shot pops the head off and no more resurrecting undead menace! Necromancers are screechy lil’buggers, but aren’t they always?
The variety of foes is well balanced. You do take on one type of enemy in each area usually, like you don’t fight undead and goblins in the same room, but it doesn’t get annoying. Except when fighting spiders! I think the only spiders I’ve ever been able to tolerate in a game were the ones in EA’s LOTR games. The spiders here are so aggravating! They poison you for one thing, are a bitch to kill, and just keep coming! I hate spiders in games.
Chapter bosses vary from straight on kill them with your might or use your wit to turn the environment against them. Puzzles are littered throughout the game, especially when you’re deep in the heart of an island temple, but are basic and more akin to Zelda rather than Prince of Persia. One of the annoying things about the hints from your guides is that you’re already in a room pulling a lever when they say “Sareth, you should pull that lever on the far wall”. The timing is slightly off and this happened more than once. I guess the developers thought people would be looking around more or something, or just really need directions.
As any adventuring gamer can tell you though, looking for levers to pull and boxes to jump up on is second frakking nature! Alot of the more basic principles of dungeon crawling do not have to be spelled out so, but this brings me to an important point. I feel as though Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements is an excellent primer for young gamers who haven’t had much experience with swords and sorcery. It’s like baby steps for a game such as Oblivion. Learning the tricks of the trade in a fairly short, linear adventure is important. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, this game captures the feeling of a grand adventure in a nice, tight package that gives lots of gameplay variety but does not overwhelm.
As you progress through the chapters you level up and gain more skills. There are set skills for each class and common skills the higher you go. I was so pleased when we finally got Healing magic, because up to that point relying on potions alone was frustrating. Those damn spiders! Healing yourself is a much better alternative. And since archer class barely uses magic we had lots of mana to spare! You do pick up one time use spells as a non-mage, but we barely used them. The only spells we used were Heal and Trap, which is like a land mine you set up on certain types of flooring.
You do use your environment alot in terms of climbing, jumping, and combat. You have a rope bow, across all classes, that has unlimited arrows that will drop ropes if they are shot into wood. Fun times! You can also light your arrows on fire if there is a nearby flame, which is always appreciated. If you light something on fire it doesn’t burn up though unless it’s a goblin or monster. I was disappointed in the first level when I couldn’t burn a shabby hut down. It you can light an arrow you should be able to burn any thing. At least that’s my pyromaniac logic. There are also lots of spiked walls and open flames that you can kick your enemies into. Again with your guide telling you the obvious though. Sometimes I didn’t want to kick a goblin into a spiked wall but the guide won’t stop reminding me I can do it. Tsk tsk on that flaw. Tell me once and ne’er again!
The story! Some spoilers below!
The game opens with an impressive cinematic of a heavily armed warrior standing over a well holding what appears to be a glowing blue dragon’s skull. He throws it down the hole and suddenly the floor and the well give way until he is left standing on a outcropping precipice, ala LOTR:RoTK. A horned demon lady thing leaps up and goes into the warrior and then a huge, fiery super big daddy evil demon leaps up and touches the head of the warrior. Yeah, if you’re already thinking what I was thinking when I saw that you’d be right. The plot of this game is fairly predictable, but we’ll get to that, because it’s not negative by any means. It’s just predictable.
You play Sareth, a young apprentice to the Wizard Phenrig. Phenrig wants you to go retrieve a crystal for him but he’ll guide you through the how to of it while talking in your head. That’s where all my troubles with the writing and voice acting began. Phenrig is kinda…creepy. Not in a scary way but like in a creepy guy at the grocery store who’s petting lettuce kind of way. When you’re learning how to throw and move objects Phenrig goes on about “In life objects can be conquered”. Then when you throw a box he’s all like “You’re beginning to like this aren’t you” in a very suggestive and odd tone. So that was the tip off to me that this was going to be an odd sort of ride voice-acting wise. Sareth himself has a typically bland hero voice.
You get the relic and bring it back to your master who praises you and says your father would be proud. Apparently, you have no idea who your father is but as the game progresses hints are dropped and you get the distinct impression your daddy is a big bad. Really the whole point of the game is that your daddy is a big bad frakking demon and there are certain forces who want him free and certain forces who want him imprisoned for eternity. Phenrig sends you off on your journey with the sorcerous Xana as your guide, she travels in your head and there is seemingly no end to her jabbering. I really wouldn’t mind her so much if, again, the voice acting was better. Then the great “let’s go get the relic” chase begins!
Rival wizards, a pretty young lady, a crazy demon lady, and lots o’baddies await you as you follow orders dutifully while having nightmarish recollections of past events when you sleep. You also have visions of future events, all nasty and uncomfortable. The game does have different endings depending on choices you make in the last few chapters of the game. Unfortunately, save from a few variations on the ending cinematic and script each ending looks the same and doesn’t really pack that much emotional impact. Meh, what can you do? At least it’s not just plain ol’good and evil.
I compare this game to Red Sonja vs. Conan, the films not books. Red Sonja is Dark Messiah_ and Conan is Oblivion. I loved both films, both were attempting to take the audience into a world filled with adventure and wonder. Where Conan and Oblivion delivered classic moments that stay in the mind and heart for a lifetime, Red Sonja and Dark Messiah tried very hard to deliver a few good times. And both do succeed. In Red Sonja the budget was smaller, the story was shorter, but oh the battle with the mechanical monster in the reservoir was awesome! Dark Messiah is a shorter game, with a predictable but eventful story with solid action and pace.
I hated the spiders, the voices rubbed me the wrong way, but beheading orcs and sniping with arrows was a great experience. I dislike shooting from afar in most games so this was a change up for me that I enjoyed. It’s not a great game, no it is not, but it’s a good game. Gamespot had given a rating of 3.5 and I just do not agree at all. It may not be the best thing, in fact, it fits more with games from a few years ago, but there’s a story there and it’s quick and easy to play through. The environments are nice and bigger than at first glance. You really do feel like you’re exploring a temple when you’re searching for that relic.
As for my dislike of the voice acting. The script isn’t that bad, but when a line is delivered poorly it just pulls you out of the game so fast it’s like severe lag. The Deutsche version sounds way_ better, way more natural. I don’t know why the English version doesn’t work for me but again, Red Sonja had wooden acting as well. My B-movie comparison holds fast!
All in all this is a good game for beginners in the realm of swords and action adventure. It’s not complex, and I know that is the main criticism coming from elsewhere, but not every game gas to be complex and in-depth role playing wise. Sometimes you just want a watered down version, sometimes that is just what the doctor ordered.