The anticipation surrounding Dark Messiah isn't surprising. Earlier this year, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released and it quickly became the must have title for FPS and RPG gamers everywhere. Not only did it boast luscious graphics but it was set in a fantastical universe that sat well with a post-Lord of the Rings audience. Gamers worldwide had watched Jackson create a world full of orcs, elves and dwarves, and it is probably Elder Scrolls' tapping into the 'flavour of the month' fantasy genre that made it such a massive success (well, that and the fact it was a brilliantly made game).
One area that was slightly lacking in Oblivion though was the in game combat system. Oblivion was always an RPG at heart and although you could run around fighting bad guys with your sword, arrows or spells it never really felt like a gritty FPS game. Is there a market for a real 'sword-em-up'? The guys at Ubisoft seem to think so, and riding in on the wave of Oblivion swoops Dark Messiah of Might and Magic - a game that promises to focus on sword play, on slashing and hacking, on a creating a dynamic world running on real physics. Does it pull it all off? Read on to find out.
You shall not pass!
The single-player game contains ten fairly straight forward, if slightly repetitive levels, in which you're given objectives to complete. These objectives tend to have you working your way along paths filled with enemies and relatively simplistic puzzles – chop this rope, climb that ladder kind of stuff. Usually the end of the level will contain either a prize, an artefact of some sort, or a boss, like a cycloptic ogre. If you're particularly lucky the end of the level will contain both. Woo!
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The structure of the levels is simplistic and traditional. That isn't to say it's not enjoyable though, there is a definite level of pleasure attached to running through levels hacking and slashing enemies to bits. Dark Messiah also contains numerous (optional) set-piece events which add variety, albeit of the staged kind, to the 'on-rails' feel of the game. The staged events provide some of the most memorable moments in the game. On one occasion, a group of guards were blocking my way but were also standing below a crane that was holding a heavy crate. A quick rope cut later and the result was splattered guards across the town's dark and dirty cobbles.
Killing the enemies throughout the levels is usually a pleasure. You can take the gentleman's route and face off in hand to hand battle, sword versus sword, or there are less obvious ways of killing an enemy. You can use your kick manoeuvre to send an enemy falling backwards off the edge of a high cliff or into a bed of spikes. This leads to some rather humorous moments – watching an Orc squeal as he plummets to his doom is actually a lot more fun than it sounds.
There aren’t a huge amount of enemies to fight in the game: evil human guards, mages, orcs, and other stereotypical fantasy characters will be the obstacles to completing your objectives. They all have their own particular attacks and you need to employ different techniques to best them. The spider, for instance, inflicts poisonous attacks on you and the undead, zombie-like enemies have a green deadly breath attack should you get too close. Dark Messiah's enemies tick all the boxes of the 'Game Developers Guide to Game Enemies' but I do have some reservations about them, which I'll discuss on the next page.
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The storyline isn't brilliant, but nor is it as dire as is often seen in FPS games. You play the role of a young assassin called Sareth, trained in both martial and magical arts. You're commanded by a powerful wizard to recover a precious artefact and so your journey begins. Before you set off, however, your body gets enchanted with a rather sexy looking spirit named Xana, a guardian entity whose role in the game is to act as a guide. The other character of note is Leanna, a buxom wizardess who falls in love with you. Xana, the voice in your head, doesn't particularly like Leanna and the remarks she makes about her to you will at times raise a smile. The plot for the game isn't particularly strong and serves only as a sideshow to the main event of killing demons and the like.