Review: Might and Magic X: Legacy (PC)

Might and Magic X: Legacy
Genre: Turn-based RPG
Developer: Limbic Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 1/23/2014

I’m a really big fan of the turn-based, grid-movement RPG of days gone by; from older titles like Lands of Lore and the older Wizardry titles to modern games like Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey and The Dark Spire, I find that the genre still manages to be engaging and challenging, when done correctly. In the past several years, oddly enough, the best developers for such games were either Japanese or part of the indie scene, as games like those mentioned above and titles like Paper Sorcerer and Elminage Original have done an amazing job with the genre. The sad downside of that, however, is that the same Western developers who popularized the genre have moved onto more action-oriented RPG’s, meaning that if you want to play that sort of game, you pretty much have to look to Japan and the indie market to satisfy that itch. Even the progenitors of the genre, Wizardry and Might and Magic, had moved onto the world of MMO’s and action RPG’s, respectively, with… less than optimal results. Never let it be said that the classics can’t make a comeback, however, as Ubisoft saw it in their hearts to hand the Might and Magic to Limbic Entertainment, who actively sought to bring the franchise back to its roots. The end result, Might and Magic X: Legacy is the first traditional release from the franchise in, literally, over a decade, and while it’s got a couple technical issues holding it back from true greatness, it’s absolutely a good first start that will please fans immensely.

The plot of Legacy starts you off with your created party in the coastal town of Scorpigal-by-the-Sea, where you have arrived to make the long trek to Karthal to bury the remains of your deceased mentor. Well, SURPRISE, that’s not happening anytime soon, because the land is basically suffering the aftereffects of a massive governmental overthrow, and with it massive bandit uprisings and general chaos (as in anarchy, not the EA game). Your characters, being adventuring types, are largely undeterred by such things, and as a result you end up basically getting sucked into the political dealings going on as you cross the land, taking down bad guys, undoing the damage done in the political uprising, and ultimately fighting a massive evil that seeks to bring the world to its knees or die trying. Obviously, the plot is calling back to the exact sort of plot that makes this kind of game what it is, and while it’s as much a cliché as it is an homage, for the most part, it works. You’ll generally have a decent idea of who the principle players are by the end of the game, but it’s really your show, and you call the shots, so the plot is engaging enough to carry you along but vague enough to let you have the spotlight, no matter what your party composition. You’ll also have plenty of quests to take on across the game, and interestingly enough, how you choose to handle several of the quests ultimately changes aspects of the ending (though not extensively so), giving you a feeling that what you’ve done matters. It’s not Mass Effect, mind you, and you shouldn’t go in expecting an epic tale that will emotionally affect you, but the plot’s solid, has plenty of surprising twists and turns, and carries the game along well to the end, so in the end it does exactly what you’d want of it.

Visually, Legacy is something of a mixed bag. The hand-drawn artwork looks fantastic and is full of personality and flair, giving life to the NPC’s beyond their words and character models. The game world also has certain artistic flare, as many dungeons look completely unique from one another, there are a few really amazing visual setpieces, and the artistic design of the monsters you’ll face are all really impressive and varied. However, technically speaking the game has obvious visual issues; the game isn’t going to push the capabilities of a top-tier PC, there are some obvious animation and visual glitches at times, and NPC models tend to repeat more often than not. There’s also some obviously lower quality textures throughout the game, and while the trade-off is that you can basically walk around the overworld without much notable loading, the loading when changing zones is noticeable enough that it offsets that a bit. Aurally, the game fares somewhat better all around. The game music is mostly solid, and full of the sweeping orchestral fantasy score you’d expect from such a game; there’s nothing here that you’re going to want to listen to outside of the game, but what’s here compliments the experience well and fits the game perfectly. The voice work is also mostly spot-on, especially for the notable NPC’s and your party, but the various minor NPC’s also have some solid acting behind their lines overall as well. The dialogue from your party can get repetitive, since they keep saying the same things about how it’s a great day to start a journey or, if you have an Orc in your party, about running on Mother Earth under Father Sky, but once you get into a dungeon that mostly stops for a while so you can adjust. The audio effects are also rather good, as combat sounds exactly as you’d want it to, and magical spells and monsters sound appropriately impressive when you’re dealing with them.

For those who’ve never spent much time with turn-based, grid-based RPG’s before, Legacy basically can be considered something of a traditional RPG, except that everything moves along straight lines, and everything moves in relation to your movement. Basically, everything in the game world is divided into “turns,” where your entire party gets a turn, then everything else in the world that is active at the moment gets their own. If you move, the entire party’s turn is used; if you act in combat, each character in the party gets to perform a single action during the turn. Enemies tend to be grouped individually, however, so while your entire party is grouped together, the foes you face all act individually, so they can move or attack however they want. When you’re moving around normally, IE, when an enemy isn’t actively aware of your presence, this tends to not be a concern, since nothing is opposing you, so you can move and act as you see fit. When enemies are aware of you, however, they will take a turn for every turn you take, in an effort to either get to you or attack you, depending on where they are and what they can do. All battles in the game take place in the actual game world, so nothing is instanced, meaning that you can theoretically use the environment to your advantage, by backing into a path to prevent being flanked (since you can be attacked from all sides) or by running away and firing on enemies as they approach, for example. The enemies can do this too, however, and several setpiece battles are actually set up in such a way as to prevent you from exploiting the environment, forcing you to use your skills and tools to survive and win.

In most cases, these sorts of games either set you up in one massive, multi-floored dungeon that you’re consistently scaling/descending through, or in separated dungeons you can travel between via an overworld map, but in a nod to its roots, Legacy actively sets the entire world up in this fashion. Navigating across the overworld map works in the exact same fashion, meaning that you can get into battle virtually anywhere; even towns aren’t entirely safe, as you might accidentally open a box or piss off the wrong NPC and end up fighting for your life in the middle of town. Legacy is absolutely the sort of game the term “hardcore” was made for, make no mistake about that, as one wrong move will almost certainly end up with a total party kill (TPK), and saving early and often is a must (though the game does perform autosaves when you change zones). The whole world is open to you, so you could easily walk into a zone you’re unprepared to face and get ruined, or charge into a location without planning and find yourself surrounded, or even find a puzzle dungeon full of exploding traps or a cave with a gigantic monster that wants you dead living inside it without trying very hard. The game also has no concept of “losing aggro” or “running away to fight another day,” as enemies will follow you to the ends of the Earth to end you once they catch sight of you, you can’t run from an enemy if it’s adjacent to you, and you can’t leave the zone if you’ve been sighted. In other words, you’ll want to spend a fair amount of time considering your actions and make absolutely sure you’re saving routinely, as this may well be the only thing standing between success and the grave. You’ll also want to pay attention to your party and their time spent active, as the game actively expects you to let your party bed down routinely, or else face statistical penalties to basic activities due to exhaustion. On the other hand, doing so also replenishes your health and magic, so you may simply want to do so after a particularly taxing battle anyway, even if it seems completely silly to make camp in the middle of a dungeon full of enemies.

In the beginning of the game, you get the choice to build your own party or use a set of defaults the game offers you if you’re new to the genre. There are four total races to work with, each with their own specific bonuses against certain elements, as well as unique racial bonuses, such as Humans being given additional skill points, Elves being more adept at dodging, dwarves being able to earn more health per point in Vitality and Orcs gain an increase to their critical attack damage. Each race offers three possible classes, and while the function and name of each changes, they can neatly be broken down into melee focused, magic focused, and in-between class types, so you can balance out your parties as you see fit. As you take your customized party out into the world, as they kill things, they will eventually gain levels, which allows you to improve their capabilities on two fronts. You can improve their statistics, meaning they can become stronger, hardier, and so on, though Might and Magic uses its own descriptors for things so you’ll have to pay attention to figure out that “Destiny” is “Dexterity” (which, even as a historical holdover, is kind of silly) in some cases. You can also improve their class abilities, meaning you can increase performance with various weapon types, or spells, or inherent abilities, or whatever else the class might offer. Eventually you’ll top out a particular skill, meaning you’ll need to train yourself to reach the next tier of upgrades, which means you’ll have to find a trainer. In theory this means searching the land and taking lots of notes (as we did back in the 80’s) but in practice you’ll probably have to search the internet for the answer, though this trades personal note-taking for community building, which is cool in a different way. Each class also has a promoted version of their class that involves a quest of some sort before you can do so; these promotions only really teach the character a new skill or two, but the skills can potentially be quite worth it, so it’s worthwhile to pursue this thing if you’re looking to get the best out of your team.

You’ll also spend a good amount of time improving your team through the pursuing of quests (for experience and loot), wandering the countryside looking for odds and ends, and the acquisition of new gear. As one might expect from this sort of game, there are a whole lot of people who are asking you to do stuff for them, especially in the early going, often for cash, items and a hefty dose of experience. Many of the early quests you pick up may not allow you the chance to complete them for several hours, but they often pay off very well, and since there are actually a finite amount of enemies in the game, you’ll want to get in all of the experience you can, however you can, to maximize your levels as best as possible. There are also completely random locations you can visit that are tied to absolutely nothing else in the game, including caves that play host to violent and powerful monsters, tombs locked down with confusing and deadly puzzles, and various hidden knick-knacks out in the middle of nowhere. The Elemental Forge also qualifies under this category; the plot introduces it fairly early on and you’ll need to perform some of the tasks within for long-term success, but about half of it is entirely optional, but completely well worth completing, for profit and long-term benefit. Finding the items needed to investigate the entire Forge can be challenging, however, so you’ll want to keep your eyes open and your investigative wits about you at all times to make the most of your time and effort. You’ll also end up having to acquire gear through somewhat more standard means, usually by taking it from the dead or using the loot you acquire to buy some from the shops throughout the game. Shops routinely restock whenever you change zones, so you’ll find that there are always new objects to strike your fancy, at least until you find a few relics that gain experience as you do, as these end up being the best pieces of gear in the game.

You can complete Legacy in around forty hours, depending on how much time you put into side quests and searching every corner of the world for hidden stuff, trainers, and more, and the more time you put into this thing, the better off you’ll be. You can always come back to the game with a fresh, new team, however, as new job classes and racial makeups can potentially open up new quests, and you can test out new combat mixes to see what works and what doesn’t. There are also two difficulty levels to choose from, so those who are less experienced or skilled in the genre can take the normal option, while those with years of experience can pick up the harder difficulty for a real challenge. There are also Achievements built into the game through the uPlay interface, so you can work to unlock all of these if such a thing interests you, and there are even rewards tied into doing so (as normal), such as relic weapons and even a quest that takes you to a cat-themed puzzle-oriented temple. There’s also DLC expected for the game at one point or another; The Falcon and the Unicorn DLC dropped at the end of March, for example, and there’s likely more where that came from. Also, if you pick up the Deluxe Edition of the game, not only do you get the above DLC as a part of that package, you also get an exclusive dungeon, “The Dream Shard,” which explains more of the events behind the scenes, as well as Might and Magic VI, all for five bucks more, which isn’t a bad deal in the least.

That said, Legacy is absolutely hardcore in a lot of respects, and because of that, it’s kind of frustrating to play in this day and age because of it. For example, while the game offers carriage travel between the towns in the game, there’s no fast travel of any sort, at all, so you’ll basically have to walk every step of the way to any location that isn’t a town, which gets tedious in a hurry given that there’s an extensive amount of backtracking to be done. Whether it’s completing quests, heading off to trainers or anything in-between, you’ll easily spend fifty percent of your time just walking, and while it would make sense to prevent this in zones you haven’t explored, enemies don’t respawn, so there’s literally no reason not to offer the option. You’ll also walk into a fairly large amount of ambushes during your time with the game, and the first time you enter a dungeon without saving only to discover a face-rending monster inside will literally be the last. The game tells you very little and in that respect, it is very much a game for diehard fans, but it could’ve stood for SOME modernizing so that it wouldn’t exclusively appeal to people like, well, me. Further, for all of the talking the game does in the early going about the Elemental Forge, the fact that it plays not even a small bit into the endgame is kind of silly, and it’s odd to realize that you don’t even NEED to complete it to finish the game. Also, the uPlay integration with the game is awkward; having to launch uPlay every time you launch the game is kind of annoying in and of itself, but it also misses accomplishments at times, such that I completely missed the “Complete Act One” reward UNTIL I completed Act Two, at which point both popped. It’s nice that it paid out EVENTUALLY, but it doesn’t work as intended, unfortunately. Finally, the last battle in the game, while it’s appropriately challenging, is kind of silly; it’s fine that the game created a nigh-unkillable final boss to face, but making the last battle of the game a giant puzzle battle, and an obvious one at that, was weird in comparison to everything that came before it. It’s not BAD, just an odd change of pace relatively speaking, as it mostly just challenges your endurance and how well you stocked up on potions and supplies beforehand over anything else, and given the creative battles that came before it, it’s kind of just… there.

In the end, I personally loved my time with Might and Magic X: Legacy, and if you yearn for the days of dungeon crawlers with a hardcore bent, you likely will too, but anyone who didn’t grow up with the genre will likely find it to be a bit TOO oldschool for their liking, and possibly a little technically unsound. The plot is clichéd but works in the right ways, the visuals are solid but not amazing and have some hiccups, and the audio is generally what you’d expect from the genre all in all. The gameplay is entirely what the phrase “old school” was created to describe, but it’s very structurally sound and generally rewards the careful, thoughtful player, and there’s a whole lot to do with the game, not including the DLC which only adds to the robust experience the core game offers. That said, the game is unapologetic in its desire to evoke the same responses as the prior games, meaning that it lacks a lot of conveniences it probably should have had, and it also suffers some technical issues with uPlay functionality and setpiece issues that knock a bit of the luster off the experience in the end. If you long for the days of the dungeon crawler and fondly remember your time with them, Might and Magic X: Legacy is a definite return to form, and one genre fans will eagerly devour, but anyone not in on the appeal of the genre might find this a bit impenetrable as a result.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Might and Magic X: Legacy is the sort of game that’s aimed at a specific audience like a missile, and that audience (genre fans) will absolutely love the game, as I did. Everyone else, however, will likely have to wade through archaic design choices, technical flaws and pacing concerns to derive joy from it, and that may simply be too much for them in the end. The plot is fairly cut and dry on a base level but features some novel twists to keep it interesting, the visuals are solid enough but not technically powerful and occasionally wonky, and the audio is generally strong, if occasionally repetitive. The gameplay is tight and well-crafted for the most part, though, and is the single biggest selling point of the experience, as it absolutely challenges you and does not try to hold your hand, giving you freedom to do as you wish, consequences and all, and rewarding you for smart play very well. There’s a lot of depth to the game between the core campaign, quests and general exploration, and with DLC both out and upcoming there will only be more to love if the game does something that speaks to you. That said, however, the game is entrenched in its old-school roots, meaning that concessions are not made to modernity in cases where they should have been if only to alleviate tedium in spots, the uPlay functionality doesn’t always work as intended (or at all), and some of the setpieces feel less than imaginative given the game they’re surrounded by. If you long for a good dungeon crawler Might and Magic X: Legacy is absolutely that game, and anyone who counts themselves as a genre fan should latch onto this and beat it into submission, but anyone who doesn’t may find it to be a bit more than they can tolerate for a few reasons.

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    • Mark B.

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