Back for another dip into the Source engine game catalog. Aside from just being the most enjoyable game so far, this took me longer to get around to as I've been working on some other game related stuffs for later.
There was something really off putting about the whole package I felt while trying to look up info on this game. Not being a big classical RPG person, I literally couldn't tell whether this game's universe was based in an already existing one because they never really make the effort to make any licensing connections apparent (aside from the fat logo on the box art). Before this game, the co developers seem to have pretty sparse back catalogs and came out of nowhere. Ubi doing the publishing also feels kind of left field.
Another oddity is that this is the first game I've run into that doesn't have any walkthroughs on GameFAQs.The one single walkthrough I've found was done by GameSpot who ironically gave it fairly middling to low scores.
Coming up after this (but hopefully not the next thing I write up) is probably Garry's Mod and either Zeno Clash or Nation Red after that.
Release Date: October 25, 2006
Developer: Floodgate Entertainment / Arkane Studios (acquired by ZeniMax)
Platforms: PC, 360
Steam Store Page
For the unfamiliar, you may have heard this game's name brought up during discussions of first person melee combat. It's fairly appropriate as this is pretty much the best sword on sword action you'll find in a game. The Might and Magic universe is a straight forward fantasy/orcs/wizards/castles/goblins type affair. You play as a dude and do heroic things while cutting up a bunch of bad folk and giant creatures on the way. There's some pretty neat and well incorporated decision making in the game which affects the ending you get.
As with many of the Source games of yesteryear, the game got fairly panned for it's optimization and buggery. The 360 port in particular got blown up by GameSpot for being unsightly and found it to be the worst looking Source game to date. I don't have any experience with it, but looking at the screenshots it does look like a different monster than on PC. Based on this screenshot
though, the reviewer clearly never played Vampire: The Masquerade. The port came out in 2008 (2 years after the PC release and 4 years after Vampire), so he had his chance
The character you play is named Sareth, who you actually hear respond to others while playing. The other big characters are Xana, a demon female spiritually bound to you, and Leanna, daughter of an important person you run across during your journey. Being immediately wrong from my last write up, this game does have disembodied voices speaking to you with Xana doing most of it. Much of it is in the form of not so subtle gameplay hints to the point where there's a mod out there removing a good chunk of it.
Dark Messiah has some of the best and numerous vistas of any Source game. Some great looking cliff sides and castle exteriors to wide open underground caverns. When HL2: Lost Coast came out, Dark Messiah has pretty much been the best realization of a lot of that vision. There's a certain quality and consistancy to all the character and enemy models that's much higher than usually found on Source, even compared to Valve stuff currently. Little touches like the hairs on spiders' legs and really accurate looking chain mail on armor bring all of it together.
The biggest shining point to me is the combat, although it requires a bit of qualification. I'm not sure of the terminology for when the camera and first person animations try to simulate the feeling of actually being a person (ala Mirror's Edge), but the game does it fairly well. One thing that's bugged me a lot in first person games was the lack of relevancy of whatever the first person animations were doing with whatever they were coming into contact with in the rest of the game world. An easy example of this is Oblivion wherein swinging your sword for the most part just deals damage to the area in front of you. There's obviously still skill involved, but I could never get a visceral feeling of sword fighting because the fact that I'm using a sword at all always felt besides the point. Whatever you were holding felt like it could be interchangable with another melee weapon.
In Dark Messiah, all the animations are relevant to how they deal damage. If you do an overhead blow that kills, their body crumples and crashes straight into the ground. If you do the special two swing combo to finish off two enemies, their bodies fly in the direction your sword was flying. If you do any of the special finishers, the first person model interacts directly with their model which leads to some satisfying poking of cyclops' eyes out and fallen enemy impaling. Often times encounters occur in (pretty deliberate looking) combat arenas which are another highlight of the game. They usually have a good number of traps you can spring, items you can throw to catch enemies off guard, and spiked walls to kick enemies into.
At the risk of blathering too much about just the combat, it does warrant bringing up how their implementation of it really ruined much of the late game for me. As mentioned earlier, the qualification for the combat being excellent are that it be against other humanoid, usually melee based opponents. The problem being that some loon developer thought variety was inherently a good thing and threw a number of other enemies at you. Spiders are an absurdly common enemy, which in hindsight gives the impression that the entire world is just covered in the things. They just aren't fun to fight and way too many are thrown at you in almost every scenario. Another downfall that also ties in with the undead enemy are that poison attacks happen much too often. When poisoned, your character constantly loses health all the way down to 5hp. The problem here being that the only real defense outside of the one attribute you can level that makes you less suceptible to it is staying eagle eyed for antidotes around the world, of which there are a relatively small finite number. There's a later sequence in the game where you're swarmed with ghouls and they are pretty much the epitome of bad design.
Just to lump all the rest of my thoughts into a single paragraph, the combat variety from your side is pretty wide and aside from swords allows you combat staffs, daggers, archery, and a good amount of magical spells that all feel super satisfying. The cyclops battles are handled great (albeit they straight up have too much hp), and the one off bosses are pretty nifty. The ending boss is kinda horrible though at the risk of spoilers I'll restrain from getting into it. The actual ending cinematics are pretty bad and have a strong, clearly outsourced, afterthought aftertaste. The lack of new game+ is a bummer since you only really have enough points in a single play through to only advance any one of the main weapons.
It's a bit unfortunate to end this off focusing more on the negative aspects, because for the most part I enjoyed it and easily recommend it for the $10 it costs. read