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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by 3DO and New World Computing

Interesting character development system; tried-and-true gaming. 

Downs:  Tired-and-true gaming; outdated graphics engine, laughable (in a bad way) audio.

System Reqs: P166, 32 MB RAM, 375 MB on the Harddrive, Win 95 or 98

There has been a serious drought of role-playing games since the release of Planescape:Torment.  Most of the titles to come out of various respected gaming establishments have had serious drawbacks, and you can be sure that nothing released since January is going to make any “Best-of” lists.  Might and Magic VIII is no different.  In fact, M&M is not only disappointing; it’s insulting.  The people at 3DO, who have been very dependable in the past, treat their customers as if we’re all fresh off the boat; we ought not to support such slip-shod production with our money.  I’ve given M&M a generous three stars because 1.)  it can run on underpowered machines and 2.)  it finishes out the M&M narrative.  (Anything that completes a story will appeal to a game’s die-hard fans, and, while some manufacturers know that they can serve up just about any drivel as long as it concludes a drawn-out tale, a decent story deserves some respect.)  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

M&M starts where the last game left off: the world is safe for various forms of inter-species government when a strange figure appears in the town of Ravenshore, summons a big crystal thingy from the ground which simultaneously opens inter-dimensional portals at the four corners of Jadame to the elemental plains of fire, water, air and earth.  Yup, it’s time to save the world (again).  You begin this excuse for an adventure on the Dagger Would Islands, and the first order of business should be turning the game off and looking for a refund because after the opening credits, it’s all downhill.

The first and most obvious deficiency is that Might and Magic VIII is strikingly similar to Might and Magic VII, which was almost but not quite exactly like Might and Magic VI.  The game engine is exactly the same.  Very few details have changed: you can play a wider variety of characters (vampire, dark elf, troll) and you begin with a single character as opposed to a party as in Might and Magic VII (later you can hire up to four Non-Player Characters); you still face the same, inadequate first-person perspective and crummy graphics.  Monsters are two dimensional sprites which differentiate themselves merely by color.  For example, there is the plain ogre and the slightly tougher mauve ogre.  There is the plain mercenary and the slightly tougher puce mercenary.  (A word of advice: avoid the aqua dragon.  Nobody wants to fight the aqua dragon.)  The M&M engine is old and plays that way. 

M&M does have an interesting character development system.  Each character has a staggering number of skills available, including weapons, armor and magic abilities.  Upon attaining a new level of experience, skill points are earned and can be allocated among them according the your whim or the position of the planets.  Each skill begins at the Novice level and once a number of skill points have been poured in, it can be elevated to the Expert level and later to Master and Grandmaster.  The only problem is that it takes a certain trainer to elevate each skill.  With tons of skills, each with an Expert, Master and Grandmaster level, your list of trainers is HUGE, and you will spend inordinate amounts of time running all over the continent trying to get your characters’ skills advanced.  It’s a big hassle and renders the role-playing element of M&M un-fun. 

I’ll just be blunt and honest about the audio; it stinks!  Nothing more needs to be said.  It’s silly in the worst sort of way.  Voice acting, what there is of it, is embarrassing; no sound would be better.

If you thought it couldn’t get worse, it does.  M&M is filled with quests.  Each quest is, however, essentially the same.  Head Honcho X wants item Y.  Or, Head Honcho Y wants item X delivered to Under Honcho Z.  It’s all FedEx.  The quest structure is antiquated and, more important, boring.  You run around delivering items; that’s almost the whole game.  3DO should have called this game Might and Magic VIII: Plight of the Delivery Boy!  

M&M’s learning curve is short and gameplay is quickly frustrating.  You control a group with a first-person perspective, which effectively eliminates any potential a group can provide.  Everything from your character stats to inventory is available from the main screen (which is nice), and mouse-clicks both pick up items and send arrows winging towards to vermilion bandits that will litter your path.  Combat is in real-time or turn-based depending on your preference, and there is a lot of combat.  Let me repeat that, there is A LOT of combat.  Sometimes the sheer number of magenta centaurs that stand between you and a successful delivery of the Pizza of Ultimate Doom is ridiculous.  3DO was also considerate enough to include several quests that require jumping when the jump ability of your party is small and difficult to control.  Remember to save that game because you will become very familiar with the load screen.

Maybe I’m being too hard on this game, and if it only cost a few bucks, I’d be much nicer.  But M&M is a full price game with a stellar reputation, and for that I expect a cmuch better return on my investment.  Fortunately, the year 2000 looks promising with titles like Diablo 2, Vampires, Neverwinter Nights, IceWind Dale, Baldur’s Gate 2, and Thief 2 on the horizon.  The only reason I can see to play this is if you don’t have a computer capable of running some of the better titles.  If that’s the case, save your dough and buy a new machine.  Or maybe you simply must play out the Might and Magic saga.  If so, Might and Magic IX promises a completely new engine and design.  Wait for that.   

--Matt Blackburn