Might and Magic IX

I’ve played and enjoyed Might and Magic 4 through 7, and I’d heard bad things about #8, so I went straight to #9. First Impressions: It’s interesting and immersive, but there are some things about it that are really frustrating.

I like the new decision-tree class system, where you start out as a fighter or an initiate magic user and specialize more and more over the course of the game. I’ve played computer RPGs that didn’t even have classes, and I’ve always thought that the idea was rather limiting and oversimplifying.

The graphics are very immersive, and there’s ambient sound down to conversations you can overhear in taverns, or sounds of smithing on the edge of a town. They’ve worked very hard to create realistic towns, for instance.

The problem is that a lot of the extra touches of verisimilitude don’t enhance the game play, and many even detract from it. It’s realistic that the people you would be looking for to learn skills from wouldn’t always be in the same place, so it makes sense for them to be walking around town. But it makes them hard to find, especially since there’s no way to identify someone from a distance. Similarly, in MM6 and MM7, nearly all objects - or at least all objects of certain common types, like barrels, crates, cabinets, etc. - were usable. Even if a drawer was empty, it would open. Well, cabinets, crates, barrels and the like are all over the place, but I’ve found just one that actually reacted to anything I tried to do. The towns feel like they’re unfinished.

My second major frustration with the game design is the hobbled mapping system. In MM6 and MM7, you had a constant automap in the corner of the screen that showed the area around you, and you could zoom the automap in or out as needed. Bringing up the map screen showed you a larger view of what you had seen so far, and you could zoom and scroll to show the entire area at once. Well, now the automap is gone, and the map screen will neither scroll nor zoom. It’s not quite useless, since I do keep popping up the map screen whenever my party gets turned around. And to make matters worse, they’ve crippled the Wizard Eye spell as well. Previously it would place markers on the automap to indicate hostile or friendly creatures, treasures, and so on, and would last something like an hour per skill level in the appropriate magic sphere. It was a standard spell for setting foot in a dungeon or a new land area. Now it brings up a radar-type view with a number of symbols that I have yet to identify… and lasts for only 20 minutes. Now this is internal game time, not real time, so it really doesn’t last very long.

Finally, whoever designed the interface actually made it less usable than before. For example, the spell casting system used to display a page for each sphere of magic, with each spell in a particular place on its page. This meant it was easy to locate the spell when you wanted to cast it. Now, since there are no spell spheres (a move that I like, actually), it displays all the spells on a single list… in alphabetical order, resorting every time you learn a new spell. So one character might have “Heal” in the third position on page one, while another character with more spells might have it in the fifth position on page two… until you teach that character a new spell. So every time you cast a spell, you have to look for it first.

Despite all this, it was fun enough to play through to the end. But I think the series peaked with 6 and 7.