Hello all! Last week’s game blended first person shooter mechanics with horror and action flicks. It was pretty successful, too.
This week’s game is another first person game, but it’s more focused on melee combat and magic. There’s some RPG mechanics too! Everyone likes those, right?
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (maybe or doesn’t belong in there? I can never tell) is a spinoff of the long, long running Might and Magic series. Those games are traditional RPG’s, but Dark Messiah takes things in an action-FPS direction. You play as a dude named Sareth, who is sent to find a MacGuffin called the Shantiri Crystal. Soon after meeting the typical wizard guy, love interest, and bad guy, you set off to do...who knows what. It’s typical fantasy stuff, and it’s all, at best, mildly interesting if you’re really into fantasy.
But Dark Messiah’s strength lies completely in the actual gameplay. You have a couple of long-range options, like a bow and magic, but the majority of your time in DM is spent in melee combat, using a variety of swords, knives, and staves.
At the game’s core, it’s pretty simple; click to attack, right click for a more powerful strike. But it’s how DM uses these simple mechanics—that’s where the magic is.
DM’s combat system has a sense of weight and impact, something that’s usually missing from games like this. Condemned is a good and more popular example; in DM, your weapons feel like they’re doing the damage they should do. Or something. For the most part, a heavy strike with a sword will take an enemy’s arm off, while a blow from a staff lands with a satisfying thud. Enemies also scream and holler as they fight; they’ll block and parry attacks, and, well, almost every fight is a memorable encounter.
I say “almost” because of DM’s kicking mechanic. You can kick enemies into a variety of objects, with hilarious results: there’s fires you can kick them into, send hapless goons off a cliff, or kick them into the oddly numerous spiked walls. This mechanic is a riot...
...but it’s where the game starts to fall apart. See, the kick is so wildly overpowered that it doesn’t make sense to do anything else. Seemingly every enemy can be kicked into something, and the kick sends them flying even more if you’re kicking them into something, like the spike traps that are freaking everywhere. And sure, it sounds fun. And it is fun—for maybe the first ten times you do it.
But after that, the game devolves into kicking endlessly. Every enemy encounter becomes “what can I kick this guy into?” And, on the rare occasion there’s nothing to kick a guy into, well, you end up kicking them anyway to break their defense. It’s just...kick, kick, kick, all day long.
It’s this kind of simultaneous brilliance and overpowering of one move that keeps DM from achieving greatness. Instead, it hovers just below the line of greatness, and frustratingly so, because you can see how the game could be great. It’s right there. So close. I made a chart.
It’s like Devil May Cry 2; it’s not horrible like that game, but it’s comparable to DMC2's guns: the game offers you a variety of moves, but the guns can solve everything because they’re stupidly powerful. So what’s the point of everything else? Just shoot it—or in DM’s case, just kick it. The mechanics become pointless because exactly one move can solve everything, and doing anything else becomes a chore.
I still generally kind of liked Dark Messiah; the levels are nice and big, and it’s got a sort of guilty pleasure feel (I don’t actually believe in “guilty pleasures”—like what you like), but it frustrates me, because it could’ve been so great, instead of the kinda forgotten novelty it is today. Still, the team that developed it, Arkane Studios, went on to create Dishonored, which is freaking fantastic. So Dark Messiah can be viewed as a kind of “before they were famous” thing. Like with Bungie and Oni. Check it out if it goes on sale for cheap on Steam, but be aware, it runs poorly on certain systems.
Thanks for reading my stuff! Leave comments and suggest games to cover! Tweet at me! And find more of my stuff (and the stuff of people more talented than me) at Current Digital (like my very late review of Undertale)
Next week brings us to a game based on a movie. I know, I know. BUT! This might be the only game that destroys the movie on which it’s based, in terms of quality.