By Drew Wilson
In this review, we check out another in the Might and Magic series. This time, we are reviewing Might and Magic VII – For Blood and Honor. We find out if this first person RPG game was as good as the previous game in the series.
This game was released in 1999, one year after Mandate of Heaven which we have not only reviewed, but given top marks for being an overall incredibly well done game. It’s the high score from the previous game that compelled us to give this game a try.
The storyline if this game is that, during a heated battle, mysterious beings appeared out of the water wearing strange small boxes around their necks (reference to control cubes from the previous game). After that, you find yourself attempting to win a scavenger hunt to be the new lords of Harmondale. The only catch that is found right away was the rumor that a giant dragon was spotted on the island, killing a few of the previous contestants. You are tasked to both find the true fate of the previous contestants and win the scavenger hunt.
A lot of what is found in this game was carried over from the previous game, so you can get a good idea of what this game is like by checking out the previous review. We’ll focus on the differences in this particular review.
There is a fair bit separating this game from the previous game. For one, you can now choose different races. You are not tied to going out into this open world simply as humans. For another, there are new skills characters can learn. This includes dodging (which is armor added to characters when they aren’t wearing any armor), ID monster (which allows a character to see more vital statistics of friends and foes alike by using the right mouse button), armsmaster (which adds a bonus to most physical attacks), and alchemy (which allows characters to have a greater ability to mix potions with greater success and complexity – something that was previously not barred by a skill score, but more on that later). I personally couldn’t find a skill that was excluded. If it’s in the previous game, it’s found in this game (unless there’s something I’m missing).
One element in this game that has changed is the structure of skill mastery. The good part is the fact that one can achieve a “Grand master” skill. Grand Master is, as far as balance is concerned, just an additional level a character can get to with added bonuses not found in the previous game (such as quintuple effect of score). Another positive change is that skill mastery is all much more uniform. Now, all expert skills require a level of 4, master requires a level of 7, and grand master requires a skill of 10. One other upside is the fact that no skills require a certain attribute (such as an endurance of 40). The downside to all of this is the fact that there are new restrictions applied based on class. For instance, it’s possible for a sorcerer to obtain the skill of mace. Unfortunately, restrictions do not permit the sorcerer to obtain the grand master level skill (although you can add as many levels as you wish). Some limitations are soft limitations, though. An example is that if you have an archer, you can obtain master earth, fire, water, or air, but only if you have been promoted to a certain level through completion of quests. You can find out about these restrictions after you have learned the skill and holding down the right mouse button. White lines show what your character can achieve so long as the skill level requirement is met. Yellow lines indicate skills that can be achieved for that character, but only after being promoted. Red lines indicate skills that character can never achieve. If you enter this game blind, forming a party and hoping for the best is all you have to work with. I didn’t see any warnings on what a character class can or cannot achieve. I didn’t have a thief in my party and found my chest opening skills drastically rolled back because of this (as a result, I found that almost every chest I encountered blew up in my face, forcing me to heal up from the experience each time).
Another major difference is the fact that potion mixing is now highly restricted. Even if you know the formulas to make a black potion, you cannot actually make that potion unless you have a grand master skill for the character making that potion. Previously, the restriction was simply trial and error which gave the experimentation a much more natural feel to it. I thought this was a bit of a downer in the end as the only way I could get black potions with my party was through late game potion shops and forking over the high amount of cash to get it.
One thing that was notably new was the use of flashing orb like pedestals. These can be found pretty much anywhere in outside areas. These pedestals grant temporary bonuses that can be granted through scrolls, high end potions, and spells.
The kind of loot that can be found randomly lying around has also changed. Now, it is possible to even find small piles of cash lying around randomly. Additionally, there is a vastly expanded set of ingredients (or reagent’s) that can be found. Previously, there were only three different ingredients that could be found to make potions. Now, there’s an entire array of reagent’s that can be found that fall within the same base colors of red, yellow, and blue. Red, which is generally potions that increase health, can be made through either a red rose (which is a lower power reagent) or a dragon’s eye (a high level reagent). Naturally, the higher the power of the ingredient being put into an empty potion bottle, the higher the effect of the potion can have when you drink it. Obviously, there is also now an additional array of potions thanks to this larger range of power that can be found through the ingredients – not to mention the fact that there are now a lot of different new kinds of potions that can be mixed together with new effects. One new potion, for example, is harden item. While there is the three main kinds of base potions, there is also a fourth color – grey. Grey potions are “catalysts” (which have their own range of reagent’s that have different kinds of possible power. Catalysts can be mixed with potions to make a much more potent potion.
Besides the new items, battles can be much more complex. You can see this when you appear on the first island. Now, it is possible for certain characters that wander around to attack monsters that might wander into town. For instance, there are soldiers wandering around Emerald Island that will defend themselves against the dragon flies if you decide to retreat back into town to heal up. One practical upshot to this is the fact that if a soldier is killed, you can collect the gold off of the body after. This is huge since gold is really hard to come by compared to what you can buy in town (such as new skills and magic). While you could kill peasants for gold, it’s not recommended – especially since one of them wandering town sells a critical item needed to complete the area. The down side is that if you accidentally hit, say, a soldier, they will all attack you until either the map is reset or you die. In certain dungeons, this can be a difficult thing to do as there are lots of friends and foes battling each other.
One more notable difference in this game I’ll mention for now is the fact that the first map you land on is Emerald Island. Once you get off of this island, there is absolutely no way to go back to it. So, choose wisely when you want to leave.
Of course, one of the most major notable addition to this game is the introduction of the minigame Arcomage. Arcomage is a tabletop two player card game you can play once you’ve obtained a deck from one of the dungeons. You can win either by having a certain amount of resources, destroying the enemy tower, or (and was often the case for me) building your tower up to a set number. Winning conditions varied between taverns (which are the only places you can play this game). The number of the three different kinds of resources are displayed in the black font on the lower part of the resource image. Meanwhile, the yellow value depicts how many of each resource you gain for each turn. The resources can either be built up or spent by playing a card (or multiple if you got a card that permits you to play again). The cost of the card for certain resources are shown on the lower right hand corner of it. Brown cards will use up bricks. Blue cards cost gems. Green cards cost beasts. Sometimes, cards can cost you some of your other resources (though that is depicted in the card description). Winning Arcomage in all thirteen taverns will complete a quest you can obtain regardless of path you choose. The game, in my opinion, wasn’t bad, though in small doses.
One thing I found with this game is that there are a lot fewer monsters to defeat in this game compared to the last one. While this, on the surface, sounds like a good thing, keep in mind that it seems that the game wasn’t rebalanced accordingly. That means that there are fewer opportunities to gain experience points – which, naturally, means it’s harder to level up via defeating monsters as a result. This doesn’t, at first, seem to be the case when you enter the Harmondale or Barrow Downs maps on the surface, but as you play through the game, yes, the number of monsters was dramatically reduced – even on surface maps.
With fewer monsters dishing out fewer experience points, I found that the main source of experience was actually through quest completion. If you complete a quest, you’ll be able to level up. I only ever had one quest that didn’t allow me to level up all of my characters, though it did make me get very close to leveling up the characters that didn’t get to level up as a result. In fact, I would say that, in the course of the entire game, only about a dozen or so levels were actually earned through beating up hostile monsters. It wasn’t until I started challenging Titan’s and Dragons (end game monsters) before I started leveling up on a regular basis without completing quests. My characters completed the game averaging around level 75. Some quests allowed me to level up multiple times as well. I thought this did detract from the game somewhat because the emphasis was far less on actually attacking monsters and put it more on simply talking to the right person, collecting the right item, or killing one particular monster. Leveling up was ultimately a case of the game more or less holding you hand.
One interesting feature was the fact that you can take two different quest paths. You can either choose the light path or the dark path. This is dictated by which arbiter you choose when the one you start with dies. When you choose your path, not only does the interface change to reflect your decision, but also your entire quest tree will change course as well. In addition to this, the hostility of certain dungeon creatures can change their behavior (some will attack you on sight as a result of your decision). Even how some people will speak to you can change as well (namely the NPC’s – or Non-Player Characters – responsible for granting access to quests and rewarding promotions upon completion). I thought this made the game much more interesting.
Another interesting feature was the fact that some castles could be entered (as opposed to before where you just clicked on a door to a castle and you have the thrown room show up in a picture. The only annoying element in all of this is that I found great temptation to whacking some of the friendly dungeon residents because the game didn’t have many dungeons you could outright raid earlier on – especially if you chose the light path like me.
One good element in this game was the fact that dungeons now connect more thoroughly to other dungeons. A great example of this are the Barrows where not only will some tunnels lead to other dungeons, but also switches can change the destination of many of those tunnels as well. I thought this was a good feature all the way up to when certain overworld maps could only be initially accessed through one of the tunnels found in one of the dungeons. At that point, it can become annoying to find some of these areas – even if you catch the text from an NPC on which dungeon to visit. Fortunately, this only happens later in the game. Personally, I thought it would have been a great idea to have a bonus overworld map that can only be found through a dungeon tunnel where one could find a lot of bonus gold lying around or something. Sadly, the only Easter egg like that is via the dungeon in a bottle found late in the game – and that only leads to a dungeon that features numerous NPC’s with the names of the developers. The only thing I found in that dungeon were free empty potion bottles.
What I did find strange is how early one can find an end game weapon (ancient weapons to be precise). One of them can be found when attempting to complete an assassination quest in the light path. I’m no where near the last three overworld maps, and already, I found a weapon that can mow down virtually every monster in the game with comparatively little effort so long as I keep casting Haste every once in a while. It sort of made the last 5th of the game rather easy as a result.
One big let down – and this gets me back to the problem of so few monsters – is the fact that dungeons are, on average, far smaller than those found in the previous game. In the previous game, it wasn’t uncommon for me to take an entire day just to get through a somewhat challenging dungeon. There were puzzles, massive rooms, and a massive number of monsters to defeat. In this game, a number of dungeons are simply a couple of rooms with a short hallway or two. Great examples are the Haunted mansion, the Hall Under the Hill, William Setag’s Tower, and even the Colony Zod which really only has two forks in the main path. Within these substantially smaller dungeons. What would be considered normal dungeon size in the previous game is what the larger dungeons are in this current game. Probably the only really huge dungeon locations are Celest if you chose the dark path or The Pit if you chose the light path. Titan Stronghold barely makes the grade in terms of a nice large dungeon with a good population of monsters. So, in a day, you could easily breeze through 2 or 3 dungeons which is something only possible if you are revisiting an easy dungeon on a high level in the previous game. In short, there’s far less game to be had here.
If you want an absolute comparison on how much less game there is, then you can find it in how long it took me to complete each game. Mandate of Heaven took me 42 days to complete. This game took me 16 days to complete. So, I was able to complete this game in just over a third of the time. Experience playing a previous game might account for some of that made up time, but not all of it – not by far.
Still, this game does have it’s good points. A lot of what made the previous iteration of this series good was carried over into this game. There is the spell learning, the improvements on skills, the building of characters, and many other small features that dot the landscape are carried over onto this game.
Graphically, I felt that this game was a step back. The HUD (Heads Up Display), for instance, left a lot to be desired – especially before you choose a path. Mandate of Heaven had a nice clean interface with very few obtrusive textures. In this game, there are far more obtrusive textures. This makes the game have the feel of being messy. It also causes certain features to just blur together when it’s on the peripheral part of your vision. The biggest setback this causes is the fact that it’s harder to see which character is selected. The spellbooks you use to look up spells you already know are also much more busy. Even some of the graphics don’t really make it clear what certain spells do. Remove fear is a good example of this. There are improvements over the previous game such as the graphic used for cure weakness, but there’s still plenty that could be improved on. In addition to this, there is the heavy use of 2D sprites. I’m more sympathetic for its use in Mandate of Heaven because games were generally more of a mix with 2D and 3D sprites, but even by 1999, there was much more emphasis on 3D objects. Even if trees were simply a brown cylinder with a green ball on top, it would have been an improvement over what I found in this game. Some of the sprites were an improvement over the previous game, but most were simply the kind of quality seen in the last game. (in some cases, they even looked worse). On top of this, there were also graphical glitches in this game. Sometimes, when you look a certain direction in certain places (such as flying in from the south and descending into the larger town in Deyja, the whole bottom of the viewing area would be improperly displayed. On top of that, wandering around in Harmondale will sometimes cause you to see random pixels pop up throughout the entire playing interface (often either white pixels or black that appear in lines). So, graphics isn’t this games strong suit – though the intro screens for different dungeons and cut scenes, I thought, were an improvement.
Audio, I thought, was a little worse this time around compared to the previous game. The theme for Emerald Island, I thought, tried too hard to be good. It was what compelled me to go digging into the options menu and cutting the volume level for music by 50% (defaults are set to all 100%). Once that was done, the music became more tolerable. The music for some of the later dungeons were pretty good, but were only capable of serving a good atmosphere while playing this game. I don’t really have the urge to play the music of this game outside of this game to be honest. In fact, one of the glitches was that when the music looped in certain dungeons, the audio starts to play the wrong song (Emerald Island theme of all songs) before suddenly switching to the proper track again. Not sure why. A lot of the sound effects were carried over into this game – though many were changed for some spells. While I thought the SFX set was better in Mandate of Heaven, the sound effects were still good in this game.
Overall, in spite of its deficiencies, this game was a good game to play. I would say it’s no where near how good Mandate of Heaven was, but it was still not a bad game. If you want to get into this series, I recommend playing Mandate of Heaven first before playing this game just because Mandate of Heaven was far more motivating to play. If you play through Mandate of Heaven and play this game, it’s easier to overlook the deficiencies in this game and appreciate the better qualities of it. Overall, though, this game was worth playing through in the end.
Update April 30, 2017: The skill cap for this game is 60 just like Mandate of Heaven.
Furthest point in game: Completed the game via light path in 16 days (real time) and have this for a general party:
General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Overall rating: 68%
Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85