Might and Magic VI
Since Might and Magic V, it would take five years before New World Computing released another RPG in the Might and Magic series. The wait was worth it. In 1998, we got Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven.
I should warn all readers that this game is my all time favorite game, this article might show that bias. I will still try to be objective, at least some of the time. Also, I play the game with an unofficial patch that makes it run much better on modern systems, as well as fix some old issues that were never fixed before. The patch is available on Grayface's page (opens in a new tab).
This is the first 3D role playing game in the Might and Magic series. It is not fully 3D as all NPC's, rocks and trees are actually 2D sprites. Since the engine handles a 3D world, you are no longer limited to 90 degree turns (North, East, West, South), and can move in any direction. The gameplay is obviously quite drastically changed from the previous entries. So we will have a little look at the key elements.
This game is real-time instead of turn-based, so you can't take your time to plan everything. Enemies will relentlessly attack you as soon as you are within range. There are two main groups of enemies, ranged and close combat. Close combat enemies will move towards you constantly, until they are close enough to attack. Some close combat enemies have the ability to cast ranged spells, so they can damage you with spells while they are closing the gap. Ranged enemies will circle around you, while continuously firing at you. Enemies will always follow this behavior, until you damage them to a certain point. Then they will usually disengage and try to flee. This simple behavior is easy to take advantage of, and while inside dungeons you can easily abuse this to your advantage. I never felt bad for taking advantage of the poor AI since you are usually overwhelmed by very large groups of enemies. Sometimes you will enter a room in a dungeon and be surrounded by at least twenty enemies, all attacking at the same time.
In some situations, you might want to slow down combat. For that purpose, there is a turn-based mode available. When you enable turn-based mode, the game almost plays like the older games in the series, with one important exception. You can't mode in turn-based, so you lose the ability to maneuver and avoid enemies. It is still a very useful feature, because in real-time your ranged attacks might miss since the enemy keeps moving. In turn-based mode your enemies will stand still while you shoot at them. Enemies do not lose the ability to move, and they will advance towards you when it is their turn. Even ranged enemies will move closer to you, before they start circling.
You control a party of four adventurers. Unlike the previous games where you could swap out party members at an inn, you must create your whole party when you start the game, and you are stuck with them. That makes it important to put some thought into how you want your party. Elves, dwarves and other races are not available for this game, all your characters are human. There are six classes available. The Knight, which can learn to use all weapons and armor, but no magic. Cleric, which can learn all the schools of Self magic, as well as Light and Dark magic. Then there is the Sorcerer, which can learn all elemental magic, as well as Light and Dark. The Paladin is somewhere between Knight and Cleric, being able to learn all weapons and armor, as well as self magic. The Archer on the other hand is like a combination of Knight and Sorcerer. A bit limited in armor selection, but can learn all elemental magic. Then there is the Druid, who can learn all schools of magic, except for Light and Dark. Through the game, you will encounter people who can promote your characters. Each class gets two promotions, which will improve their hit points and spell points. The improvement is quite significant at higher levels, so these promotion quests are important. They will also change the name of your class. To give one example, the Sorcerer is promoted to Wizard, who is then promoted to Arch Mage.
Skills are very important. Each character will start the game with a few skills, and then they can learn more throughout the game. There are guilds through the land that will teach the different skills. There is a skill for each type of weapon, armor, school of magic, and miscellaneous skills. This includes skills like Disarm trap, Merchant, Body Building, Meditation, Identify Item, and a few more. Each class has some limitations to what skills they can learn, and apart from hit points and spell points, this is the only real difference between the classes. Each skill start at level 1, and you must use skill points to increase your skill level. To increase from level 1 to level 2, it takes 2 skill points. To increase to level 3, it then takes 3 skill points. You gain more skill points when you train your character level up, and the number of skill points you get depend on your character level. Your skills don't just have skill levels, but also a proficency. At four ranks in a skill, you will be able to train the skill up to Expert level. This will give you a bonus related to the skill. In order to train up to expert, you must find someone who can teach you. Trainers are found throughout the world, and you must simply explore all houses in the towns to find them. Lastly, all skills can also be trained up to Master level, the requirement for this vary from skill to skill. Some skills require 7 ranks, while most magic skills require 12 ranks. Then there are some skills that will require that you have completed a specific class promotion quest before you can train to Master level, and a few even have a reputation requirement.
Reputation and Fame are elements in this game that don't have a big impact and can be ignored for the most part. Fame will increase with almost anything you do, and it has almost no significance, except as a way to let you know that you have become famous because of your actions. Reputation will at least have some effect. Wandering NPC's might not want to talk to you, depending on your reputation. If your reputation is too low, you will actually be imprisoned upon visiting a castle. With time, your reputation will gradually go back to neutral, so with time all deeds, good or bad, will be forgotten.
Like the previous Might and Magic games, this game is not very linear. You are free to pursue quests at your own leisure, and the main quests are frequently vague enough that you have little choice but to explore the world. Exploration is, as in the previous entries, a very important part of this game. The world itself is full of monsters to fight, treasure to find and many dungeons. The dungeons in this game are quite impressive, and some of them are ridiculously large. I know some people dislike a couple of the dungeons since they are confusing to explore and filled to the brim with enemies. Anyone who has played this game will usually have strong emotions associated with Castle Darkmoor. I hated it on my first playthrough, but now it is one of my favorite dungeons.
Magic in this game is divided into three types. Self magic, which consists of Spirit, Mind, and Body. This is the magic of Clerics, Paladins and Druids. The spells of these schools are primarily focused on curing and boosting statistics. Elemental magic, which consists of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, is more focused on damage and other utilities. Sorcerers, Archers and Druids learn these schools of magic. Lastly we have the schools of Light and Dark magic. These are not available to learn in the first few towns, and the spells for these two schools of magic are quite powerful. Only the Sorcerer and Cleric can learn Light and Dark magic. Out of all the available spells, I want to give a special mention to the Fly spell. It only works outside, but it lets your party take flight. This spell is very useful during turn-based mode as you are still able to fly vertically even when it is the enemies turn. You can safely avoid all enemy attacks with this spell, and only come down to the ground when it is your turn to attack. There are some enemies that can also fly, and these will obviously be able to reach you in the air.
Hirelings are available to your party, and you can have up to two hirelings at any moment. A hireling will not participate in combat, but they might have abilities or skills to help your party. All wandering peasants in towns can join your party, and they will tell you if they have any useful skills. Some hirelings affect your reputation, others give you an experience bonus, or let you cast a specific spell a certain number of times each day. All hirelings will need pay, which is taken as a percentage from all gold you find.
In Heroes of Might and Magic II, Roland won the war against his brother, Archibald, and was crowned King of Enroth. Archibald was turned to stone, and put away in the royal castle. This game takes place several years after the war. Some creatures has invaded the world of Enroth, the people of the land refer to these creatures as Devils. King Roland set out with an army to investigate these creatures and the disappearance of Lord Kilburn. His army encounters the devils and pushes them back first, but they are overwhelmed later. His army is destroyed and the King is taken prisoner by the devils. Meanwhile, Queen Catherine has been recalled to her homeland Erathia to attend her father's funeral. This leaves their son, Nicolai Ironfist, just a young boy, to sit on the throne of Enroth.
The story of our brave adventurers begin in the town of Sweet Water, in the north-west of Enroth. The town is where the Devils landed, and our heroes are surrounded by the devil army, which is led by the King of the devils. As a red dragon swoops down to attack the heroes, they dive into a well to escape. In some caves under the town, they encounter Falagar who will train them so they are better suited to stand against the devils. With his magic, they escape Sweet Water and is transported to the southwest of Enroth, to the town of New Sorpigal. Here they come upon an abandoned goblin camp where they find some letters from King Roland to his wife, and a letter from the King of the Devils, Zenofex, to a traitor named Sulman. Sulman was apparently the one who betrayed Roland's expedition and ensured that the Devils managed to defeat them. Sulman appeared to have died at the hands of a band of goblins. These letters were the first clue to what happened to the King. The party sought out Regent Wilbur Humphrey, who rules the kingdom since the prince is too young, and delivered the letters to him. He urges the party to find out what happened to Lord Kilburn. While in Castle Ironfist, the party visits the Seer, who tells them that they need to perform tasks for all the lords of Enroth, so they can gain access to the Oracle in the town of Free Haven.
The party proceeds to visit all the lords of the land and do their tasks. They find that Lord Kilburn was killed by werewolves, and they also retrieve some plans from a Devil camp. Some of the lords have less important tasks, such as fixing prices for carriage transport, and ending the constant winter in the north. In the process, there are suspicions that one of the council members in Free Haven is actually a traitor. There is a cult in the land called the Temple of Baa. This cult is secretly attempting to sway the population into rebelling against the rulers of the land. It is no surprise that this cult is actually worshiping the devils. The suspected traitor on the council is indeed a member of this cult, and upon exposing this traitor, the heroes are admitted to the Oracle. Below the Council chamber are strange metallic corridors, and these corridors lead to the Oracle. To the heroes surprise, the Oracle does not say much, instead it will just tell them of four locations where they are supposed to find Memory Crystals.
Searching for these crystals takes the party across the entire continent of Enroth. From an old alchemists castle, to the lair of the necromancers. They search through the castle where King Roland's forces held their last defense against the Devil army, and finally to the Supreme Temple of Baa. With these crystals, they are able to fully waken the Oracle, who explain to the party that the Devils are in fact called Kreegan. It was in fact the war with the Kreegan that made the Ancients lose contact with their colonies centuries ago. And this loss of contact made some of the Ancient technology stop working on the colonies, until eventually the technology became a myth. The Oracle's name is Melian, and it is the guardian of Enroth, supposed to help the colonists. Archibald took the crystals during the war against his brother when the Oracle refused to help.
The Kreegan threat must be dealt with, as they will not stop until they have drained Enroth of all resources. Melian tells the heroes that they will need the weapons of the Ancients to fight the Kreegan, and they can be found in the Control Center below Melian's chamber. Unfortunately, Melian's instructions is to only allow entry for anyone who hold a Control Cube. The only last known Control Cube, rests under the Pyramid in Dragonsand, also known as the Tomb of VARN.
Within this pyramid, the heroes learn from great murals that this was in fact a great ship that carried colonists across the void. The pyramid is home to dangerous creatures, but the heroes find their way to the depths. Here they encounter metallic creatures that shoot beams of energy. Fighting through these strange beasts, they find the Control Cube which will let them enter the Control Center. Within the control center, are the awesome weapons of Ancients, powerful Blasters. These weapons fire fast and deadly, capable of taking down any enemy with deadly speed.
Melian tells the heroes that they must now attack the Kreegan's hive ship in Sweet Water and destroy the ships reactor. This will destroy the ship, but the resulting explosion will also destroy all of Enroth. In order to contain the explosion they will need powerful magic, but the only one powerful enough to create such a spell is Archibald. The party receives the help of Prince Nicolai to turn Archibald back from stone. He is grateful to the heroes and gives them the spell that will save Enroth from the exploding reactor. After this, Archibald disappears and the heroes do not see him again.
With the spell and the Blasters, the party fight their way through the hive ship. They find the reactor and destroy it. They also encounter a massive creature, the Demon Queen. She is also slayed by the heroes, although they do not encounter the King of the Devils, nor do they find any signs of King Roland. Archibald's spell contains the explosion from the reactor and Enroth is saved.
Looking at only the mechanics for this game, it does not seem to stand out. But when you play this game, it is such a rewarding experience. I think the primary reason for that is that this game has amazing level design. The outside maps are interesting to explore, not just to find all the dungeons, but for the sake of exploration itself. I always find myself wanting to see what's behind some mountains, or if there might be something just past a hill in the distance. I will be honest, in this game it is usually just more enemies, but that still does not take away the desire to explore.
Then there are the dungeons. There are very few small dungeons in this game, most are quite large and there are a few that are ridiculously huge. Whenever you decide to enter a dungeon, be prepared to spend a lot of time clearing it, especially if you want to find secrets. This is one of the strong points for this game, excellent dungeons with great design. This is what will keep you occupied most of the time.
Your characters can only be human in this game, which is a bit of a step back from the previous games. But the land of Enroth appears to be mostly inhabited by humans, we don't actually encounter any elves in this game. Dwarves are only encountered as enemies, but this is explained by an evil dwarf, Snergle, having taken control of the dwarves and is cooperating with the Kreegan invaders. Just one race might seem a bit limiting, but it makes sense when you look at the game world.
A lot of games attempted the transition from 2D into 3D during the late 90's. Some were not particularly successful, but this game was a definitive success. The game world feels a bit more fleshed out compared with the previous games, but that might be because we had some backstory built up in the Heroes of Might and Magic games. If you played Heroes of Might and Magic II, then you already know several of the characters that appear in this game. King Roland and Archibald, Lord Kilburn, Falagar, Agar, Corlagon. Dwarf King Rocklin is also mentioned, although you don't get to meet him.
Leveling up your characters is very satisfying in this game. You don't just get more hit points and spell points, but you get to pick what skills to improve. This is a difference from earlier games, giving you more control over how your characters evolve. This really shows for spellcasters that can get drastically improved spells with higher skill levels.
The science fiction elements take a really big part of the game towards the end. Up to that point you don't really notice much about it, but when you explore the Control Center it's almost like a completely new game. It is a clear science fiction dungeon with robot enemies and blaster weapons. This contrast from the medieval fantasy setting adds extra depth to the game, not to mention the awe effect it has on first time players.
In case I have not made it clear by this point, I happen to find this game to be absolutely brilliant. Picking the right classes for a new game is not too important, as long as you have most spell schools covered. This makes it easy for new players to get into without needing to know the classes inside out. People who enjoy a good challenge will also be quite satisfied by some of the dungeons in this game. There are also enemies who have a chance to instantly kill your characters with single attacks, so no matter how high level you are you will always need to be careful and save often.
To sum it all up, if you like old school rpg's, you are going to like this game. This game is a true gem, polished and shining.