|New World Computing's latest offering is an extension of the
highly successful Heros/Might and Magic series. Might and Magic VII, For Blood and
Honor, carries on where Heros III left off and was intended to address several of the
complaints players had with M&M VI: not enough interaction with NPCs, only human
player characters, and the lack of a coherent plot to name a few. To an extent they
may have succeeded without taking the fun out of hack and slash.
Might and Magic VII is not a cutting edge entry into the market. Its graphics are substandard, NPC interaction is stilted at best, and the plot is as fuzzy as the faces around you, but it can still be a surprisingly enjoyable game that will keep you up much later than you intended.
Installation was relatively painless. It comes on two CDs, one installer and one for play. While I had no trouble getting a party on the ground, the machine would immediately lock up if I tried to access any of the commands. This was fixed by downloading the latest Voodoo2 reference drivers from http://www.3dfx.com. Once the new drivers were installed my 3D card and the game got along fine and there were no more freezes. I had no trouble running on a P5-233MMX with 64M of RAM, a 4M 2D
video card, and a 12M Voodoo2 accelerator. A P-II/400 was overkill.
Creating a party is a lesson in compromise. You get to bring four characters along for free, and balancing all the possibilities with what you need to survive in that limited space is a challenge. The manual is invaluable, providing tables, charts, and explanations for all the variables. It takes a little bit of study, but it's well worth the
time. You have four races to choose from; human, dwarf, elf, and goblin. Each race has its particular strengths, and there is no gender difference within each race. The many classes allow you to choose between generalists, who do many things adequately, or specialists who do only one thing but do it extremely well.
This is not an intense first person shoot-em-up, but it has all the hack and slash you could want. If you need to grab another bag of chips and a drink the game will wait patiently for you. The save game feature will make sure you don't lose everything just because you took a wrong step...assuming you remembered to save your game. There are two modes of play, real-time and turn based. In combat the turn based play allows you to take measured, calm action to slaughter the enemy before it does the same to you. It also gives you a chance to answer the phone, if need be. Real-time mode keeps things moving at a respectable pace. If you're looking for adrenaline pumping, head banging action this isn't for you.
The graphics are generally pretty mediocre, and show none of the exceptional clarity you would expect from a 3Dfx-enhanced game. Every NPC is a clone of every other NPC, and the monster animations might have been impressive ten or fifteen years ago. The user interface takes some getting used to and doesn't rate high on the intuitive scale, but it's functional and not difficult to use once you're used to the layout. The sound is minimal, with occasional comments from your players or combat noises to punctuate the unremarkable background music.
NPC interaction is fairly static, giving you a defined set of responses from a list. In the beginning you'll find three types of NPC; those who want you to hire them, those who just wish you luck, and those who want to offer you something now for a favor later. Given the indistinguishable nature of NPCs you'll end up talking to the same one several times. There are occasional guards and even a couple parties of fellow adventurers, but they all share the same blurry graphic. In all there are only three
distinct NPC graphics on the island.
Your party begins on the docks of Emerald Isle, and your first quest is a scavenger
hunt for, quite literally, the keys to the castle. The streets are lined with shops and wandering NPCs, some of whom you can hire as followers. Followers allow you to add abilities and people to your party: at a price. Most require a sign-on bonus and a cut of any gold you might find. The first follower you get is Margaret the Docent, who acts as a kind of tour guide, giving you hints as you go along.
Once you complete this quest and move into your castle (which needs a bit of work, I might add) the real game begins. Might and Magic VII is built around a huge world, with plenty of quests to solve and monsters to kill. The plot, while occasionally apparent, is frequently transparent. After you've killed thirty or forty of the same thing, however, you find yourself looking for something else to do. Combat is pretty much the same in dungeons or on the plains, and in both cases your best bet is to have a party with ranged weapons; stay 20 yards in front of your adversary and kill them with arrows without letting them ever touch you.
In fairness it can be an engaging game, and despite its limitations it does have some entertainment value. Without some serious graphical and AI improvements, however, this series will die a slow, lingering, and unfortunate death.