Dark Messiah Of Might & Magic Review
|Developer:||Arkane Studios (Single player) / Kuju (Multi-player)|
|Genre:||First Person Action|
|Release Date:||October 26th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Ryan Sayce (Stan)|
Let's get this straight right away, Dark Messiah is NOT meant to be another Oblivion. It is in fact closer to Half Life 2, but with swords and orcs instead of guns and aliens. This is more about action and chopping of limbs than it is exploring and talking to characters - it's a balls to the wall action game with swords.
You play Sareth, a young man who always seems to have the fate of the world on his shoulders, of course you have the odd character along the way to help or maybe even hinder. I should also comment that the female characters are very attractive and have ample chests and wiggle while they walk, not that I 'm complaining. I would have liked perhaps a few more characters, and to have had the story fleshed out a little more, but at the end of the day this is not an RPG and as such doesn't have the huge stories they are renowned for.
A game of this type has been begging to be made with a good physics engine and Dark Messiah makes very good use of the tried and tested Source Engine. I found myself killing enemies more often not with some form of environment attack rather than a weapon; things like being able to shoot the rope on a bridge and make it collapse with the enemy still on it. The A.I. will even use these natural weapons against you by setting off a trap or kicking a support beam. You can see that almost every area has been designed to fit in as many of these natural traps as possible, with even most of the boss's needing to be damaged via use of the environment in some way.
The first time you fight a huge monster it is truly awesome, with you running about trying to hurt it until you realise that you need to trap it, or use the environment to knock it down so you can attack its vulnerable spot. While not quite up to the size of the boss's in say Resident Evil 4 or Painkiller, I still found these boss's more than impressive enough.
The hand to hand combat is what makes Dark Messiah the game that it is, and it really feels down to skill and timing rather than just button bashing or luck - well in the single player anyway. To do the most powerful attacks with a hand held weapon you need to hold down attack and one of the directional keys, this will perform a power move that does a lot more damage than just simply hitting attack. In fact you will probably find that you rarely just hit attack. After you've done a certain amount of damage, your rage meter fills up and you can do a special move that normally kills in one hit; sometimes you will cut off the enemies head, or stab your blade right through them so that you have to push them off your sword with your boot. Big swords are not the only way to dish out damage though, you can use a number of spells you buy with experience points you get throughout the game. One of my favourite spells is the freeze spell which you can not only freeze the enemy with but also fire at the floor - cue much laughter as you put a patch of ice at the top of some stairs and watch as the unsuspecting bad guys try not to fall to their death. Once on their back you can finish them off with a powerful stab, this is very helpful versus the likes of zombies.
The A.I. will make each race you encounter fight slightly different; orcs for example are just full on attack with everything, even picking you up and throwing your across the room. Little goblins however are the most fun, they are like little scamps and are really quite cowardly, running off after you kill one of them with a killer move.
Sadly the level design while not shocking lacks that magic sparkle that makes a game truly great and memorable. The spider lair for instance is just annoying to play through, too much like a maze of tunnels with the added annoyance of spiders that poison you with nearly every attack. However I must say I did enjoy using the rope bow on some of these levels. The rope bow works by you firing it at anything wooden and it releasing a rope which you can then climb, much like Thief 2. If you are clever about it you can fire several rope arrows and then cross large gaps that you could not normally get across. It reminded me of an old school rpg, which if I am honest is what a lot of the level design reminds me of. It would be nice to have defended castle walls with some NPCs against a lot of orcs trying to breach the wall, or something epic like that, instead of what is sadly mostly a lot of corridors and indoor areas. Also I would have liked to have been able to interact with more characters to improve the story and your relationship with the people in the world.
The graphics engine is the Source Engine used by such games as Half Life 2 and the Sin Episodes, this graphics engine really suits this type of game making everything feel real rather than just shiny that a lot of engines give you. There is some fantastic use of HDR with the backgrounds almost looking hand drawn. The best thing though is the physics engine, which allows you to destroy a lot of things and use the environments as weapons - whether it's to knock down a support beam, or kick a enemy of the side of a cliff, or even kick barrels into the enemy. In fact that leads me to one of my more treasured moments during my time with Dark Messiah. I was walking down a hall when I heard some Orcs talking. As I turned the corner I saw five Orcs stood around a fire, so I instantly kicked the barrels at them. Some of these barrels caught light, and then I kicked those barrels at the Orcs setting them on fire. It was a fantastic twenty seconds of game-play, and there are fair few of these moments during the game. Strangely the hit boxes for some of the models are oversized, with you being able to miss by about a foot and still register as a hit - it's quite strange seeing your arrow hit air and have blood materialise out of nothing.
The sound in all of this mayhem is good, with all the different races sounding suitably realistic. Orcs sound gruff and grumpy, and the little goblins sound slightly squeaky. Once or twice dialogue was played at the same time from several characters making it hard to hear what either said, I am sure though that this can be fixed in a future patch and isn't a game breaking bug. However I did have the game crash back to desktop on me at least five times during the relatively short time it took me to play through the single player story mode. I get the feeling if Arkane Studios had more time to polish this game then we wouldn't have the few bugs I encountered or the fairly large memory leak that meant I had to reboot if I wanted to play another game at a playable fps.
Sadly the multi-player also uses the source engine netcode and I am afraid that I have never liked it. In this game in particular, when players can move quite quickly very close up and you're trying to hit them with slow moving weapons, the laggy feel tends to make the whole experience feel somewhat random. Eventually all the up close battles turn into to button bashing rather than anything of any real skill. The amount of times I have killed some one on my team that I didn't even see on my screen is a joke, and had me tearing my hair out. However, Crusade mode is a nice idea and things will no doubt improve greatly with patches but I just don't feel that this is the game to bring multi-player mêlée combat to the masses.
While Dark Messiah is not perfect, it does have possibly the best close combat fighting in a first person game to date, with the fantastic kick button being used almost as much as standard attacks. It is let down by less than inspirational level design - with nothing truly memorable standing out, it could have done with a little more time to be tested and polished. If you like swords and fantasy, this is a no-brainer - get out and buy it immediately. For the slightly more reserved amongst us - Dark Messiah is a relatively short single player game with a basic story and slightly uninspired level design, and a multi-player mode that seems to miss the mark. However, you do get some of the best close combat action in any game to date. I recommend you download the demo first, and if you enjoy the action in that, then you will be well set to go on a murderous Orc-killing rampage in the full game.
- Fantastic fighting
- Different A.I. behaviour for each race
- Makes good use of the Source Engine
- Hot female companion
Not so good stuff
- Poor Multi-player
- Not quite polished enough
- Average level design