Welcome to the InternetRPG review of Might and Magic IX.
I ordered my copy of Might and Magic IX from amazon.com, the same place where I get most of my software and books from. The usual three days later, the amazon package showed up in the mail.
My first surprise came immediately after I opened the box: "What the hell did they send me, some kinda book!?!", I exclaimed. You see, the MM IX box is just a bit smaller than what I'm used to for games showing up at the door. There was a sigh of relief as I opened the tiny box and found that yes, there was in fact a CD inside. Inside the box is also the usual Player's Guide that we've come to expect from the MM series, as well as a map with no less than five folds to get it to fit in the tiny box ('oh how I miss the days of the cloth maps that used to come with the good ol' ultima games...)
Installation was uneventful. The install program is your usual window "installshield" type of thing, and the game comes on two discs. The second disc only about 15% full, so NWC must have either run just a tiny bit over, or decided for marketing purposes that two-disc game is better than a 1-disc game. Be prepared to cough up about a gigabyte of disk space. Waiting for the install program allowed me to review the players manual.
The "Whats New" section promises that we'll be treated to a 3D version of M&M for the very first time. It also brags that the game is not a first-person shooter (thank god!). Also worthy of mention is a new spell system and dialog system.
The class system differs from what M&M veterans are used to. Your first choice is either the "path of might" or the "path of magic". During the game, you'll encounter "promotion quests" that will let you choose between two subclasses. You cannot go back. An example on the path of might would be to start out as a fighter. The first promotion quest would allow you to choose between mercenary and crusader. Assuming you picked mercenary, you second (and final) promotion quest would be to either assassin or gladiator. My first impression is that this system of binary choices is a bit restrictive, but we'll have to play it out and see how it turns out.
The players manual is not very complete. It lacks detailed tables, promotion information, and spell requirements. For example, I found it difficult to determine which skills could be mastered by which classes. Detailed information on skill requirements, promotions, etc is an absolute requirement for this complex of an RPG.
The intro is brief an somewhat uninformative. They did a nice tapestry thing that shows an artful touch, but I must admit I was more impressed with previous intros.
Creating a party is also somewhat simpler that usual. There are four races (human, elf, dwarf, and half-orc). There are only two starting classes (fighter, mage). Add a handful of attribute points and pick two starting skills and your character is created. For my party, I chose a human fighter, half-orc fighter, elf mage, and human mage.
The interface is from the first person perspective. The center of the screen contains a crosshair -- which always remains in the center. Moving the mouse pans the entire world. Arrow keys move your player in the usual fashion. Using the space bar will pick up an object that's under the crosshair. 3D performance was very nice -- it pans enough that I could make myself dizzy in a few minutes time if I wanted to.
The first town, Ravensford, contains an old man that introduces you and scrolls that apparently contain sections of the user manual -- one has to wonder what the point is -- since the user manual is also available in full from the windows start menu. There's also lots of places where you can push buttons, watch movies, or interact with townspeople who don't know anything. The whole point of the first town appears to be for you to get a feel for the interface.
The interface is of the mouse movement variety -- that is, there's a crosshair fixed on the center of the screen, and you move the mouse to pan the entire screen. Your focal point is always in the center. The panning is done smoothly and quickly enough. To walk, press the arrow keys forward, reverse, left/right, etc. Items are picked up or used with the space bar. Close combat is accomplished with a single mouse left mouse click, and ranged combat via a right mouse click.
Inventory is available by hitting the 'I' key. Each player has a number of equipped items slots for things such as weapons, armor, etc, as well as a scrolling inventory list of general possessions. The scrolling list is a poor idea -- two dimensional inventory grids are much nicer in my opinion. Previous M&M installments used a 2D grid, I'm not sure why they thought going to a linear list would be a good idea.
Combat is real-time or turn based -- you can toggle back and forth by pressing the enter key. The real time combat has the look and feel of a typical first person shooter. Clicking the right mouse button will fire off ranged weapons and quick spells which act much like guided missiles. If you get in over your head, just hit <enter> and you'll be given a turn-based system that'll keep things from getting out of hand.
You can recruit up to three NPCs to join your party. The NPCs can be fighters, magic users, or other "specialty" NPCs such as the gatekeeper, who can teleport you to towns, merchants who will reduce the amount of gold, etc.
Although I like the NPCs, I did find them somewhat incomplete. For example, I can find no way to bring up an NPCs stats, find out what kind of weapons they are using, etc. It would be nice if there was some way to evaluate how "good" an NPC is.
I'm thoroughly unimpressed by the dialog system. I don't really see how it's any different than the old dialog system, and it can be really annoying. For example, one of the first quests is a lot like the following:
NPC1: "go see NPC2"
Can you say "pointless busy work" ? I hope the quests get more interesting than this. The dialog really is this bland -- no voice overs, no explanations.
Bugs and Glitches:
There's always bound to be a few problems with any new game, so check the 3do website and make sure you have the latest patch. There's an automatic utility (Gameupdate) that's supposed to do this for you, but I'd double check just to be sure. Two bugs socked me early on:
In my opinion, the game could have used a bit more playtesting before release. The bugs are sometimes irritating, but with the exception of the Anskram bug mentioned above, I haven't run into any that would actually prevent me from completing a quest.
Until I finish the game, I can't provide a thorough conclusion, but here is what I think so far. On a scale of 1-10, I'd give it about a seven. I love the M&M world and the general game look and feel, but I really don't believe this title offers much new that previous M&M titles didn't offer. The graphics, while decent, aren't spectacular. The quests I've done so far are the run-of-the-mill "go clear out a keep" or "go fetch an item".