Unlike other games who have employed such marketing tactics, the usage of the word “legacy” in this latest Might & Magic installment isn’t just there to try to rope desperate oldschool CRPG fans into parting with their money, but rather, to warn those expecting a modern title to wear their stonewash denim and pastel colored windbreakers. Unlike the horrible ninth game that killed the series back in 2002, this “Legacy” creation is, without a doubt, a true heir to the main series. So much so that I would count it amongst the best of its kind and believe it would make series creator Jon Van Canegm proud to share the Might & Magic name.
For those that don’t know, Might & Magic was one of the three great “founding fathers” of the RPG genre. These three series, which were Canegm’s Might & Magic, Garriott’s Ultima and Andrew Greenberg’s Wizardry, helped create the foundation that all other RPGs would spring up from. As a precocious and dangerously curious (as well as hopelessly nerdy) ten year old boy, I was fortunate enough to grow up along with all three series and found my gaming tastes deeply influenced by them. I wasn’t the only one though, since many famous CRPG writers and designers frequently name one of these three great series as the reason for them getting involved in the genre.
Unfortunately, most of the original RPG founding fathers of the 80s and 90s died ignominious deaths once the 21st century came around. Though Wizardry managed to squeeze out one last stellar sequel before the Japanese bought away the rights to the name, both Ultima and Might & Magic died slow and shameful deaths by having their last two games become the worst received of their respective series.
…and so we waited. Might & Magic fans who dreamt of one day playing a true sequel to the classic series hoped that someone would resurrect its gameplay and give it a proper update. There were fan projects to create a tenth game but they were mostly broken promises that never got any further than posts on the Celestial Heavens message board or doctored up screenshots thrown onto an amateurish-looking free web hosting site. The chances of a sequel being made were positioned roughly between the states of slim and none.
Then news of Ubisoft creating a tenth game hit the web. A little unknown group of inexperienced designers would be crafting an oldschool sequel to the main series. Perhaps driven by the outrageous success and fan response for Legend of Grimrock (Which was based off another great pillar of the genre, FTL’s Dungeon Master), Ubisoft saw a chance to resurrect an intellectual property that had languished in the basement of their trademark warehouse for an abnormally long time. With retro gaming and hardcore CRPGs coming back into vogue, many thought this would just be a cash grab meant to sucker old folks like myself into buying a haphazardly thrown together game that didn’t do the legacy of the series justice.
I know I say this a lot, but thankfully I was wrong.
The most interesting aspect of M&M Legacy, and perhaps its best design decision, is that rather than merely copy-pasting the gameplay of the original games, it creates a strange but pleasing hybrid of both the 1980s and 1990s versions of the series. Taking the step-based movement and corridor laden dungeons of Might & Magic 1 through 5 and gluing it onto the backdrop of the skill and magic systems of the later 6 through 8 chapters, this sequel isn’t just some retro inspired retreading of worn ground. Rather, it combines the very best features of the previous games and re-purposes it in such a way that should please any fan of either Might & Magic era.
Though I’ve heard a lot of complaints from 1990s fans that the game lacks the open world feeling of 6 through 8, I don’t really see it the way they do. Granted, Legacy’s world is quite small and the four towns that you can find aren’t very interesting to explore, but the gameplay itself is “meaty” enough to make up for its miniscule size. The 50+ hours it took me to beat it were the result of me doing every single quest available, which was more than enough for Legacy to take away a month from my life.
Though individual results will vary, I feel confident calling Legacy a “long” game. With twelve character classes spread amongst four races (Elf, Human, Dwarf, Orc), Legacy has a *lot* of replay value and still feels fresh even when played a second consecutive time… which is something you can’t really say much anymore about modern CRPGs. Party dynamics play a huge role in the game, with unique abilities being given to each class and every archetype having a hybrid option to toy around with during character creation. Simply put, Legacy gives you a lot of choices in how you want to hack your way through the game and doesn’t shy away from its hardcore roots.
Which leads us to the first gap in its retro armor, the harsh difficulty.
My first trip through the game lasted about 22 hours (Roughly halfway through the game) before I realized my traditionally built party was simply incapable of progressing any further. My lack of melee strength combined with my reliance on two mages and a hybrid for most of my damage meant that nearly every member of my party could get “one hit killed”, which was a recipe for disaster that made the game frustrating enough for me to openly regret purchasing. After deleting my saves and perusing a few party creation guides online, I started fresh with a much more melee-heavy party that only had one caster and a hybrid elven Blade-Dancer…a group that for the most part sailed through the game.
I say “for the most part” because the game, while quite beatable, is horribly unbalanced and unfair. Disturbingly frequent critical hits and insanely huge enemy mobs are the main deterrence for parties hoping to move forward, and this only gets worse as the first half of the game unfolds. With boss monsters pulling instant-kill traps on you, scripted ambushes taking place on almost every floor and damage mitigation seeming impossible without constantly “spam-casting” regeneration spells, Legacy was responsible for me throwing random objects off of my couch on more than a few occasions.
Now while the original games did rely a lot on scripted enemy ambushes (The 60+ strong Skeleton ambush in Might & Magic 6’s Temple of Baa that happened after you grabbed the gong comes to mind), it seems that Legacy’s designers fell in love with that aspect and made every other 3rd or 4th fight a “surrounded on every side” turn-based trip to spell-caster hell. Even with having every buff spell active and a constant spamming of the three turn regeneration spell going, I frequently found my entire party getting one-shotted into the grave. It became so bad that my poor Freemage character was a full two levels behind everyone else by the end of the game since she died at even the slightest touch…and this was with me giving in and dumping every last level-up point into her vitality in a pathetic race to help her survive the crushing blows of our enemies.
This level of difficulty kept rising, until I approached level 20 and crossed over the hump to pass the game’s halfway point. After that, the game went to being so hard I wanted to take a wrecking ball to Ubisoft’s French headquarters to becoming so easy I no longer casted magic and simply hit the hotkey for regular attacks. The amount of damage I could do once I hit grandmaster in my chosen weapons and found a few relic items was absolutely astronomical. Going from barely hitting the triple digits to doing well over 600 points of damage in both magic and melee meant the game went from slog-fest to snooze-fest. Though this might have also been due to my specializing in Prime magic and constantly casting Hour of Power along with Implosion, it shouldn’t have been so much of a change that the game made such a drastic transition in difficulty.
Still, it did, and the fact that the difficulty only exists in extreme peaks or valleys is something I can’t really ignore in a review. If only more time could have been spent fine tuning the balance and evening out the spikes in difficulty as well as the dips in it, the game would have left a better impression on me. A much more gradual slope in difficulty was what you found in the earlier games, and not having that balance really left me feeling disappointed with what was, in nearly every other aspect, an excellent CRPG.
Looking at the other aspects of Legacy, you can tell that a lot of work really did go into the game. Gameplay imbalances aside, the developers did a fantastic job of making a remarkable title. Especially in the visual department, which is one feature I never expected I’d be praising in a future review of the game.
Though Legacy runs off the poorly optimized and disappointingly over-used Unity engine, it somehow manages to still look stunning even when compared to big budget RPG blockbusters like Witcher 2 or Skyrim. Granted, you need an incredibly powerful and well cared for PC to be able to crank everything up to their maximum values, but if you do you’ll witness some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen in a so-called “retro” RPG. Especially since this one was made on a smaller budget by a team with limited resources and relatively little experience. The screenshots you see in this review no doubt prove that.
One thing though that may turn off newer RPG fans might be the weak story, which is actually a bit of a Might & Magic series staple. Outside of seven, not much of what was written in the main series would be considered memorable narrative. While Legacy does a good job of sprinkling in familiar names and faces (Crag Hack, Falagar), it doesn’t really *do* anything with these interesting characters and seems to invite the player to skip dialog and ignore the plotline altogether. While it doesn’t bother me since I’ve always thought of Might & Magic as more of a “dungeon crawler with depth”, it will certainly bore most of the younger generation to tears. Legacy is, as was its forebears, a game about careful character building and strategic turn based fighting. If those two aspects of a CRPG are most important to you, then you’ll find a lot to love in this delightfully frustrating game. If you instead demand large interactive worlds with a rich story, you might want to wait for the next Witcher sequel and bypass Legacy entirely.
All of the above taken into account, I still consider Legacy a successful return of the long dormant “main” Might & Magic series. With Heroes of Might & Magic having been the sole M&M fix for fans since the ninth game’s failure of a release over eleven years ago, it’s nice to see Ubisoft giving traditional CRPG fans a game to call their own. It could be due to the retro movement on Kickstarter or it could be due to Grimrock’s success, but whatever spurred them into action, it’s a good thing that Ubisoft devoted time and money to making a game that no other big name publisher would even dare dream about pushing to market. For that alone, I salute them.
Might & Magic X Legacy is more than just some throwback CRPG meant for doddering old fools who still wax nostalgic about DOS games on youtube; it’s actually a challenging and addictive game that I believe most true fans of the genre would derive considerable enjoyment from. It certainly has its downsides, as most games of this type often do, but if you are used to sketchy difficulty and paper thin dialog and just like the character building/dungeon crawling of the genre’s storied past, then Legacy is what you’ll be spending your next 50 hours worth of free time playing.