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Dark Messiah Preview

Dark Messiah of Might & Magic pack shot
Developer:Arkane / Kuju
Genre:First Person Action
Official Site:http://www.mightandmagic.com/
Release Date:September 22, 2006 (UK)
Writer:James Barlow (Malis)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

Many of you will be aware of Ubisoft's upcoming game in the massive Might and Magic franchise. Entitled Dark Messiah of Might and Magic and developed by Arkane Studios, the game is a first-person action game featuring brutal close-combat game-play. Described as 'a new breed of action game' Dark Messiah is powered by Valve's mighty Source Engine, and comes requisite with all the bells and whistles we've come to expect; exceptional character animation, advanced AI, real-world physics, shader-based rendering and of course, HDR lighting.

The other week I was lucky enough to actually play Dark Messiah of Might and Magic hands-on in multi-player mode. Rather than just tack on a standard deathmatch mode and be done with it, Ubisoft have had an entire development team focus solely on the multi-player. Accomplished developers Kuju Studios bring some of their experience creating the online play for Call of Duty: Finest Hour to the project, and have set out to craft an epic team-based multi-player mode.

Two factions will battle it out in multi-player, Humans and Undead (though at this time the difference appears purely aesthetic), and games will allow for up to 32 players at once. Three game modes are on offer; the self explanatory deathmatch and team-deathmatch, and Crusade mode, which I'll talk about later. The game itself plays out very much like the classic Battlefield series. Once a team is joined, the player must choose from one of five classes, before being thrust into battle. The classes themselves are standard RPG fare, but each with their own unique slant on game-play, making each one a very different gaming experience. I'll take some time to give you an overview of each class:

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Archer The archer was described as the 'classic FPS character,' as the player who chooses him will sit back with his bow and pick off enemies with heavy damage. With a low defence though, he won't last long if a warrior gets up close and personal. An interesting spin on the classic ranged combat we all know, the archer can deal massive damage to a single target. Don't worry, head-shots with a bow are as satisfying as they ever were with any gun you'd care to mention. In fact one of the most enjoyable moments I experienced was rattling off a flurry of arrows at an approaching warrior, only to watch in horror as they glanced harmlessly off his armour and shield. Just when I thought I'd be hacked to pieces, I managed to loose off a reflex shot at his head, promptly downing the brute. Add arrow drop to target location and I can see the class becoming a skilled one. Amongst the skills an archer can upgrade are; poison arrows, flares and fire arrows, scatter shot, increased range and power and zoom. Finally if you are cornered by the enemy, the developers confirmed that 'running away' was a legitimate and recommended strategy for the class.


Assassin The assassin is the class you'll learn to both love and hate. You'll love it when you're in the driving seat and brutally murdering your opponent, and be screaming curses at your monitor when you've been one-shotted in the back. A very cool and fun class to play, the assassin's biggest weapon is his stealth. Using his cloak will turn the assassin invisible, at the cost of draining his magic bar. Invisibility works much like the cloaking in the Predator films, the more you stay still, the less noticeable you become. If you do manage to get up behind the enemy, you can inflict massive damage on your enemy, very often killing them in one blow of your daggers. Definitely a class for sneaky types, but also one with room for skill. Several times in playing I saw a skilled assassin dance around a warrior and brutally dismember him, avoiding his clumsy strikes. Skills the assassin can upgrade include; silent movement, poison, resistances and traps.


Mage Nicknamed the 'artillery' by the developers, the mage can inflict serious damage to a multitude of enemies. You'll be able to choose from either fire or lightning based spells as you progress, each packing some serious fire power. High level spells can blow away several enemies at once - the deadly fireball in particular can decimate enemy ranks. One cool touch was on one of the early level fire spells. The spell allows you to rapid cast fire missiles, but these can actually be guided mid-air by holding down the mouse and moving it. No doubt this will be used for some sneaky and skilled shots by better players than me. If the enemy does get past your barrage of pyrotechnics, you have the option of switching to your trusty stave. More a desperation weapon than anything else, it might just get you a lucky kill. As the mage progresses he can learn better and more powerful spells, and a magic shield to counter enemy mages.

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Priestess The priestess is a very interesting class and should prove popular with those who value true team-play. The priestess provides the role of a support class, and is primarily range focused. She is the only class who can heal with her heal spell, which is used by simply pointing at a team-mate and holding down attack. Point heal at an enemy however, and the spell turns to a curse, draining their health away. The priestess can also see all the souls of killed players on the battlefield. If she has levelled enough for the revive spell, she can bring back her team-mates to life simply by casting on their soul, making them avoid waiting for a respawn. There is a catch though - if the priestess is slain, all the troops she has revived will die with her. As the priestess levels up she can learn other abilities to aid her team, from stoneskin (temporary defence boost), magical mark which increases damage on an enemy and even pinpoint cloaked assassins for her team.


Warrior Perhaps the most interesting class on the battlefield is the warrior. Totally devoid of any ranged weapons, the warrior is solely dependant on getting up close and personal with his enemy. Luckily he's the fastest on the battlefield, though his stamina gets used up faster. Should you cover the distance to your opponent, most of the weaker classes will go down with a few well placed hacks of your blades. Engaging other warriors though, is a different matter. Due to the armour they wear, standard sword swipes have no effect on other warriors, harmlessly glancing away. The key to beating other warriors is using stance attacks. Stance attacks are initiated by holding down attack and a direction (each direction producing a different attack). Upon releasing the button, your warrior will release a devastating attack that will go through armour. Stances can be observed on your opponent though, and if you respond with the same stance move, you can block each other. While this was tricky to get used to in the limited time we had, I can foresee some epic duels between skilled warriors. Amongst the skills a warrior can upgrade are power, stamina, endurance, running attacks and shield bashes.

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As you can see, each class plays very differently, and the key to success will be carefully balancing your team to meet with every threat. Once a class is chosen you're off and running. Controls play the same to every other FPS and you'll feel right at home. Much like the Battlefield series, a flick of a button will bring up a screen where you can change class, or change spawn flags in crusade mode.

Crusade mode is the real meat of the multi-player mode, and one where I imagine most games will be played. Multi-player features five maps:

  • Stonehelm, a free city of the east, protected by huge walls.
  • Vradek's Crossing, a small coastal market town near Stonehelm.
  • Border Keep, an ancient ruin surrounded by two abandoned temples
  • Nelsham's Scar, a coastal cliff scorched by a deep pit which guards the entrance to the Undead realm.
  • Nar-Heresh: the gigantic Undead necropolis, set in deep caves guarded bottomless pits.

These 5 maps are actually linked together geographically, set in the same region, and during a Crusade mode campaign, they will load automatically depending on the result of the previous round.

By way of example, if the Undead win Border Keep, the next map to be loaded - deeper into Human territory - will be Vradek's crossing. Starting at Border Keep (the 'middle point' on a 5 point line), war rages across the region until one team eventually wins enough maps in a row to force the other team off the region map.

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Game-play here is very much in the Battlefield vein, with a variety of flags spread across each map. Capturing these flags reduces your opponents team's tickets and gives you spawn points. Once one team's tickets reaches zero, the map is lost. Experience points are doled out for kills, teamwork and flag capturing. Once a certain amount of experience is gained, you level up and can dish out skill points in your skill screen. These skill points allow you access to new attacks, or bolster the effectiveness of old ones. In Crusade mode, you keep your levels across maps, and thus this adds a sense of development and continuity across games.

What's hard to get across in pictures is the brutal, visceral nature of the combat. Remember how you would wince when your character would stumble after being smacked about in Oblivion? Well Dark Messiah is possibly even more violent and gritty. Animation on weapons is top notch, swing your sword enough times with different stances and combinations and you'll realise just how fluid it all looks, with one attack gracefully moving into another. It's really quite exhilarating charging into the enemy ranks and cutting down two before they know what's hit them, only to find yourself suddenly locked in a duel with another skilled warrior. Stop to look around you and you'll see arrows and spells whistling past as each team struggles to gain possession of a flag. Bigger fights can get quite epic in scope, and you'll no doubt be telling stories for weeks of that one time you duelled three at once and won. Gruesome and violent sound effects only enhance the experience. If you're familiar with Counterstrike, poison plays out very much like flash bangs. Get nicked by a poison blade or arrow and you'll stumble about with blurred vision, desperately seeking cover whilst wildly swinging your sword.

Although relying on single duels and skirmishes, Dark Messiah remains, at heart a team-based game, and as such rewards team-play. Priestesses are vital to the team able to heal and revive you, whist alerting you to the dangers of prowling assassins ( a skilled assassin can decimate entire groups of unsuspecting enemies). Similarly, if there's a pesky warrior who seems to be breaking up every attack you make, it'll be down to another skilled warrior to engage him and take him out of the equation. The warrior also gains access to a shield wall move that can protect all team-mates who stand behind him from harm for a short period. Once the community for the game gets going, it'll be very interesting to see if clans adopt it for wars, and just how strategies and tactics will play out.

As it stands after the hands-on, I was very impressed with Dark Messiah. The combat system (especially the mêlée ) is very cool and immersive. There also seems to be great potential for both skilled play, and quality team-work. My concern at the moment would be a lack of maps (only the 5 for the Crusade mode), but I would be surprised if there were not more maps added, either before release or afterwards depending on popularity. What more can I say? Superb graphics and animation and a tried and tested multi-player formula (as proven by the Battlefield series) coupled with fun and engaging combat. I'm definitely looking forward to this.

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