A game can turn out to be a failure for any number of reasons. Maybe a game is like Beyond Good & Evil where it gets lost in the shuffle of bigger releases for years before being properly appreciated. Maybe you’re a developer who’s too close to his game to recognize fundamental flaws in certain aspects of its design, as was reportedly the case with Lair. Or maybe you’re like today’s cheap game, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and you just got a bad rap.
Originally released by Ubisoft in October of 2006 and developed by Arkane Studios, Dark Messiah didn’t have the luxury of blaming its less-than-stellar reception on other, more hyped games coming out along side it. 2006 wasn’t bad for games, but I don’t think Splinter Cell: Double Agent or Marvel Ultimate Alliance were what kept people from playing Dark Messiah at the end of October. No, Dark Messiah’s failing was primarily due to little more than a buggy launch that earned it a bad reputation. Alas, even the demo was plagued by bugs, so the game was leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths before it was even released. Despite what must have been a very frustrating launch for Ubisoft, DMMM has since been patched up quite nicely as well as had some hefty price reductions.
Another, less prevalent contributor to people’s aversions to Dark Messiah may have been perception. 2006 was also the year that the third game in The Elder Scrolls series, Oblivion, was released. Oblivion was a huge success both critically and commercially, but it was also a lot of people’s first experience with first-person fantasy combat. First impressions mean everything, and when people began to take notice of Dark Messiah’s combat system and camera, comparisons were drawn and sides were taken.
Though their magic, stealth and basic melee mechanics are very similar, Dark Messiah’s can go a bit further by way of leveling up skill trees for each of your character’s abilities. Skill points are spent to grant you new spells, combat feats and passive improvements. There are a minimum number of skill points that you’ll earn simply by progressing the story, but there are also many chances to earn extras by completing optional objectives, such as progressing in unique ways by disptaching enemies using the environment, or even by bypassing them entirely using stealth.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Oblivion and Dark Messiah that people were eager to ignore is their level design. Oblivion features an extremely large game world with numerous cities, villages and dungeons to visit, which offers much to explore and the freedom to play at your own pace, but it can also leave many players feeling directionless. Conversely, Dark Messiah’s design is much more deliberately paced, while still making you feel like you’re traversing and exploring real castles, catacombs and dungeons. Neither is a good or bad way to design your game, it’s just different strokes for different folks. I happen to enjoy both very much.
Also worth mentioning is the multiplayer aspect of Dark Messiah. Though I have not experienced much of it (it has been relatively inactive when I’ve tried, though at the time of writing this there are 3 somewhat active servers), it felt unique in that the skill trees are available to you as you play. You choose your base class of warrior, mage, priest, assassin, or archer and as you complete objectives and kill enemies you are awarded skill points to spend toward the betterment of your respective class. Upgrades are carried with you throughout your campaign when playing Crusade mode. Think of a campaign as a series of maps that are connected thematically. Each team (undead or human) is trying to work toward a respective goal, and accomplishes this by capturing and holding key points on each map. Sadly, it looks as though Crusade mode is not played anymore. Two of the three servers are Capture The Flag, with the other being Holy Wars, which I wasn’t aware of when I played. I can’t find information about it online, either. This may be a mod.
You’ll play as a Wizard’s apprentice named Sareth. The game starts in a dungeon that your master Phenrig helps you traverse before sending you to deliver an artifact for him. Adventure ensues.
Like Day of Defeat: Source, Dark Messiah uses Valve’s Source engine. System requirements are very similar. If you can run any other Source-based games, you’re probably okay to run Dark Messiah. Specs are as follows, and though they mention XP, the game also runs perfectly fine on my Vista machine:
Minimum: AMD Athlon™, Pentium® 2.4 GHz, 512MB RAM, 128MB video card, 7GB HDD Space, Windows XP, Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection
Recommended: AMD Athlon™, Pentium® 3.0 GHz, 256mb dx9 video card, 7GB HDD Space, Windows XP, Mouse, Keyboard, Internet Connection
Another simple gameplay montage for this one. I show you some staff and dagger combat as well as some ways that you can use the environment to your advantage.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is available through Steam for just $9.99. You shouldn’t have worries about bugs anymore. The game was playable after its first patch which was issued shortly after its release in 2006, which is when I played. When I played through the first few chapters again just this week in order to write this post, it ran like a dream. While I’m not sure of the state of the demo’s stability, you can still give that a try by grabbing it off Steam or some other site like FileFront.