Ever since Might and Magic 7: For Blood and Honor came out, Might and Magic series fans have been arguing over New World Computing's decision to retain the same engine they used in Might and Magic 6: The Mandate of Heaven. That argument carried over to Might and Magic 8: Day of the Destroyer. Proponents of NWC's decision claimed that using the same engine would make the game more stable, since most of the bugs had been worked out of the previous games, and that, since the programmers would be more comfortable working with it, they could spend more time on plot development and less on the intricacies of coding for the engine. Opponents, on the other hand, railed against the decision, arguing that using the same engine showed a lack of creativity on the part of the programmers, as well as making the game look dated. After playing through the game, I have to admit both sides have valid points.
The story takes place on the continent of Jadame, shortly after the events of Heroes of Might and Magic 3: Armageddon's Blade. Jadame is the third continent of the world of Enroth, the planet on which the previous two games take place. It is a land of many races; troll, ogres, dark elves, minotaurs, dragons, frost giants, and humans living together, sometimes in harmony, sometimes at war. One day, in the city of Ravenshore, a mysterious stranger walks, calmly, into the town square amidst the stares of many of the city's inhabitants. After pausing for a while, the stranger magically inscribes a circle in the ground and out of it rises a huge red crystalline structure which first envelopes the stranger, then casts out energy to the far corners of the land.
As all this is happening, you are escorting a caravan to the Dagger Wound Islands, home of the Lizardmen, for the Merchant Guild of Alvar. It is then that the disaster strikes. From out of the sea, a volcano rises into the sky, spewing molten rock into the sky, rock that manages to destroy all the bridges between the individual islands. If that weren't bad enough, the fiercesome and bloodthirsty pirates of Regna decide it is a good time to invade the island and take it for themselves. Naturally the Lizardmen of the island are quite perturbed at the events, as are you. From then on you set out to find out what has been causing the cataclysm at Dagger Wound as well as what created and for what purpose the crystal in Ravenshore was created.
Day of the Destroyer's storyline is less than impressive. Usually known for its non-linear story, the games of the Might and Magic series still managed to keep you fighting and searching on to learn the truth about whatever it is you set out to learn. Might and Magic 8, however, falls short in this category. The plot is much more linear and forgets to weave an interesting mystery. The game felt almost like a side story to the Might and Magic series, which also happens to be known for a continuous plotline. Throughout the game you find yourself fighting and questing for an almost predictable ending (as long as you know your M&M.)
The plus side (or minus side depending on how you look at it) is that, this time around, there is only one main character to play as. You create him/her/it at the beginning of the game and are allowed to recruit other adventurers from the Adventurers Inn in Ravenshore ala Might and Magic 1-5. This means that the story revolves around that main character's exploits, not just a band of random warriors. On the one hand, I found it to be a nice change from the previous Might and Magic games in which you just have a party of generic adventurers who go around to save the world. It lets you almost bond to your character, and actually feel as if you are him or her, something I believe is a true characteristic of a Role Playing Game. On the other hand, the virtual absence of any personality in any of your characters makes you feel disconnected, so you need to take it as you will.
Advancing the story, this time around, depends upon the staple RPG concept, the fetch quest. From the moment the caravan leader asks you to deliver a letter to the merchant guild till the very end of the game you'll be taking item X to person Y to get item/person/promotion Z. It's truly a monotonous pattern. The one positive I can think of is that the game is consistent.
The game is also a lot shorter than its predecessors, taking me only a few days to complete, and the ending left me feeling ambivalent about the plight of Jadame. And the scoring at the end made is seem all the less like an RPG. Truly not John Van Canneghem's best work.
The gameplay in Day of the Destroyer is, at best, simple and, at worst, unoriginal. You start out by creating your main character from classes such as Knights, Clerics, Necromancers, Vampires, Trolls, Dark Elves, and minotaurs (though you can recruit dragons into your party, you can't have your main character be one). Gone are the racial choices from previous M&M games, meaning you can no longer create a Dwarf Cleric or a Goblin Knight etc. Also missing are some of the older classes such as monk, druid, paladin, archer, etc. I found these to be startling changes, and I feel the game was diminished for it. It took a lot of the element of customization out of the mix.
You gain party members by recruiting them from houses or completing quests. You can then integrate them into your party by going to the Adventurer's Inn in either Dagger Wound or Ravenshore. Each of the hirelings (not to be confused with the NPCs from previous M&M games) has his or her own unique talents, abilities, and starting levels. They're all pre-programmed, so when you recruit one, it's the same character and stats every time. I did not like this system very much, as I'm used to making my whole party at the beginning of the game, and making each one unique. This new system made it feel as if the other party members were just temporary troops who you used and left behind when something better came around. It didn't foster a sense of loyalty or camaraderie to say the least.
The experience system in the game will be instantly familiar to any Might and Magic veteran. You gain experience in two ways: killing monsters and completing quests. When you have enough experience, you go to the training hall, pay the fee, and viola, you've gained a level. The only downside to this system is that you have to find a training hall that can handle your level. For instance, you can only train up to level 5 in the hall at Dagger Wound, up to 15 at Ravenshore, etc. However, once you get to Shadowspire you really don't have to worry about it, since they handled me up till the mid 60s no problem.
Returning from the previous two games is the skill system. The concept goes like this: each character class starts with and can learn certain skills from townsfolk, such as the ability to mix potions, proficiencies with certain weapons and armor, disarming traps, etc. When you train at a training hall you get a set number of skill points which you can distribute between the available skills. As you increase your skill levels you get better and better at using the skill. Each class can achieve a certain level of proficiency in said skill, from normal, to expert, to master, and finally grandmaster, by seeking out the proper teacher. I like this system a lot, and it is one of the best additions ever made to the series. The only problem, and this is more a critique of the lack of customizability aforementioned, is the absence of some skills and the ease of obtaining mastery in skills. Teachers are everywhere, and you gain enough levels to have all your necessary skills grandmastered at around level 45. There is also the fact that you now need master only a handful of skills to do well in the game (perception, disarm trap, the characters' weapon/armor proficiency, and magic), and higher mastery of those skills usually resides in one or two characters, leaving them to bear the burden of spending all their skill points while other classes just focus on weapons or armor. Very unbalanced.
Fighting in the game is also very streamlined. Your characters walk around in fully 3D polygonal overworld or dungeon maps and fight enemies with weapon and spell. There are two modes of battle; real time battle in which you fight against the enemies in a first-person shooter type venue, and turn based battles where you can take as much time as you want to select your actions. The real time battles have their advantages, mostly for the purposes of dodging projectiles/spells and pitting your superior speed against an opponent's. However, I tended to use active time battle most of the time. In active time battle you can act at your leisure, as well as control your movements more specifically (between your turn and an enemy's turn you get to take 5 steps in any direction). This also makes the game too easy, almost to the point that you can't die. Many a time I've picked off all the enemies on the map with my arrows or magic without getting hit once. Worst is if you have a dragon in your party, you can pick off almost any enemy before it can even get in melee range!
Magic is handled the way it always has been since Might and Magic 6. You find or buy spells at spell shops and, depending on if you're at a high enough level of skill in that particular field of magic, learn them by using the spell books as items. You then cast them by spending magic points. Clerics know healing magic, Necromancers know elemental magic, and, new to the series, now certain classes have their own brands of magic. Vampires, Dark Elves, and Dragons all have their own racial magic that they learn as they achieve higher mastery in their special skills. I like the system and find the magic to be neither better nor worse than attacking, merely different. In other words, magic is balanced against might quite well.
My general impression of the gameplay is that it's too easy by far. I've heard it suggested that perhaps a difficulty setting would have been a good idea, and I have to agree.
The control in the game has to be one of the best things about it. The interface the game uses is extremely simple and streamlined, definitely owing to the engine being the same as that of the previous two games. Everything can be accomplished with a mouse click or a drag and drop. Most commands have hotkeys assigned to them making selecting commands quite easy. You can set a spell to be cast with one key, but that key also shoots an arrow or attacks with a melee weapon, making it sometimes difficult to perform the desired action (damn, I meant to shoot an arrow, not cast fireball!). The inventory screen is also quite user-friendly. All objects in your pack can be selected with a mouse click; weapons and armor are equipped by placing them on a sort of paper doll portrait of the character and potions can be mixed with simple right clicks. All quest items are used automatically, so there's never the problem of taking out the item and clicking on a keyhole or shelf and ending up throwing the item away.
The graphics are another story. Graphics in the DoD are really lackluster, probably also due to the programmers using the same dated engine. The maps are fully 3D polygons, while the people and characters are sprite based. Textures look fine from a distance, but up close they get very grainy. Characters and enemies pixilate up close and sometimes have a 2D look to them. In addition, most of the environments are drab and dark with easily seen seamlines where the textures change instantly rather than a smooth blending of one into the other. And, while the game has support for 3D accelerator cards, I have a feeling that mine wasn't really working up a sweat. The one saving grace was the CG clips at the beginning, end, and various places throughout the game. They were of good quality and weren't too grainy, and the character models looked good.
Music has never been the strong suit of the Might and Magic games, but lately NWC has been really paying attention to that aspect of their games. Might and Magic 8's compositions obviously draw greatly from those in the Heroes series (as does the plot, the characters, the magic, etc.) which is a definite plus. The Heroes series had stirring as well as soothing compositions and Day of the Destroyer does as well. The themes for Garrote Gorge and Ironsand Desert make you feel like you're in a wilderness, while the Shadowspire theme is sufficiently dark and eerie. The only problem with the music is that there's so little of it, not just in length but in sheer number of tracks. The game only has a handful of tracks, and those are so short, owing to the fact that they are only meant to be played when you enter a new area. I've always found this to be a shortcoming in the Might and Magic series, and no matter how good the quality of the composition, if you don't have more than a few tracks, it really hurts the game.
Sound effects are neither great nor terrible. Like the music, the sound effects are repeated quite often and there aren't a lot of them. Every chest creeks the same, every switch grumbles the same, misses are swish, hits are thumps, explosions are booms, grunts are grunts. As I mentioned before, the aural is not Might and Magic's strong point, and the sound effects are nothing new or exciting. The only plus is the voice acting; the voice actors did a good job portraying their characters, and none of them sound phony. However I will have to kill Cauri Blackthorne's voice actress for making M&M stand for Marilyn Monroe!
In conclusion, I was disappointed by Day of the Destroyer. After having played through 7 and almost all of 6, Might and Magic 8 just seemed too easy and just more of the same. Though it was more stable than the other two games, it still has a few bugs to work out (do NOT store items in the chest in the Merchant Guild of Alvar!). It does have some nice extras, such as the ever popular Arcomage, but the bottom line is that this game was way too easy, way too short and very unoriginal. I just hope that when New World Computing makes the new engine for Might and Magic 9 that they remember to balance the gameplay, length, and story. And of course, bring back Corack.
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