By Drew Wilson
In this review, we check out another entry into the Might and Magic series, Might and Magic VIII – Day of the Destroyer. We find out if this one is worth playing or not.
This game is the eighth entry in the series. It was released in 2000 as a PC game. The only port of this game was to the Playstation 2 in Japan. Earlier, we took a look at Might and Magic VII – For Blood and Honor. That game got merely above average marks. In another review, we looked at Might and Magic 6 – Mandate of Heaven. The sixth entry was certainly an incredibly well done game. So, the question for us is whether or not the 8th entry regains some of that gold standard quality gaming achieved two entries prior to this game.
This game technically took me 39 days to complete. Unfortunately, this is an inflated number because if personal circumstances prevented me from playing this on a regular basis. In terms of actual days played, I would say this game took me about 21 to 22 days. I did use a guide for this game, but it was limited use. The guide, for me, was used to figure out an optimal path between areas and help to find some of the trainers later in the game. The only other real use for these guides was to figure out alchemy. I should point out that the recipe on some guides for pure intellect might be inaccurate, so watch out for that. It was merely a way to save some time so I could finish this game more quickly.
The setting of this game is Jadame. A mysterious entity known as only the “Destroyer” appears with a mission to destroy all life on the planet. A cataclysm appears as well as a giant red crystal in the middle of the city of Ravenshore – not to mention the four mysterious gates at the four corners of Jadame. You start on Daggerwound Island near the village of Blood Drop where your caravan leader has vanished. The island is populated by friendly lizard-like people. Unfortunately, pirates are attacking the island at that particular moment. As you piece together what is going on, you find out that a giant volcano appeared and destroyed the bridges that link all of the islands as well as any connection to the mainland of Jadame. You are to reactivate the teleporters and make your way to the mainland and warn the others that pirates are advancing to the mainland. You are also to prevent the pirates from making Daggerwound Island a permanent outpost for the pirates. That is essentially your starting position to this intense storyline.
In both Might and Magic VI and Might and Magic VII, you start off the game with creating your party of four characters. This game is a major departure from this formula because you start this game off simply creating a single character that must be in the party throughout the entire game. I ended up selecting a human knight thinking I needed a half decent way to defend myself in the beginning of the game. From there, you can build a fully customizable party through the various characters you meet up with throughout the game. At first, I was not sure this was a positive change from the previous entries because it seemed to add a layer of complexity to this game. However, as I worked my way through this game, this feature was actually a very positive one because different races have different limitations. If you did not like certain limitations of one of the characters, you can always dismiss that one character and hire another at the adventurer’s inn. Besides your starting character, by the time you leave Daggerwound island, you’ll get a necromancer (good for offensive magic skills), a cleric (good for healing spells), a vampire (a sort of cross between necromancer and cleric), and a knight. Unlike the past two entries, you can build a party of five characters instead of four.
There are numerous classes and races found in this game. There are knights, trolls, Minotaur’s, and, infamously, dragons to name a few. All of these are characters you have the option of playing as while building your parties. My party ultimately became a knight (the starting character) for melee offense and repairing weapons and armor, the necromancer I hired in the beginning of the game for offensive magic and alchemy, the cleric I hired towards the beginning for healing spells, a dark elf for thievery skills, and a low level dragon for raw offensive ranged power. Besides quest specific characters (some requires you to have a specific character in your party to complete), I found that I had no need to deviate from this formula. Of course, many players will have other successful combinations as that’s not the only way to form a party.
This game features an element found throughout the series – a skills system. You can increase your level through skill points. Skill points are primarily earned through levelling up your characters, but can also be obtained by completing stat challenges or using horseshoes. You can purchase upgraded expertise through the many trainers found throughout Jadame. Some of these skills open up new levels of spells. Others add a multiplier effect to your level of skill. These levels of expertise are normal (obtained by simply purchasing this skill via one of the many merchants you meet – character dependent of course). From there, you can obtain Expert status, master status, and the ever elusive grand master status via the trainers that charge varying fees. Sometimes, your character may be required to complete a promotion quest to obtain a certain level of expertise in some of these skills. To find out your characters maximum skill achievement, you can right click on a skill in your character skill window. White indicates that it’s possible to achieve that skill. Yellow indicates that you need to complete a promotion quest before achieving that skill level. Red means you cannot achieve that skill level ever. You have to obtain each level of expertise progressively. For all of the skills, you are required to get a level of four skill points to achieve the expert status. A skill level of 7 can permit access to the master skill level. 10 can allow access to the grand master expertise skill level. Because of the limitations certain playable characters have on some of these skills, that makes the new level of customizability all the better. Unlike For Blood and Honour, you don’t have to worry as much about picking the right classes at the very beginning. You can eventually just find the right combination once you find enough characters that suits your style of play.
Another returning feature is the stats system. You can increase your might for better damage, speed for faster recovery rates, endurance for more hit points, and a whole lot more. To increase the stats, you can either find one of many color specific barrels (barrels labelled with red increases might, yellow increase accuracy, white increases luck, and purple increases speed to name a few examples), or get a one time major boost through black potions. Black potions can be found in potion shops, mixed together with the help of a character with a grand master level of alchemy, or found in treasure either through random loot found lying around in dungeons or in treasure chests (typically towards the end of the game). You can create the beginning level potions through reagents and empty potion bottles and go from there. While catalysts can increase the effect of many potions, I didn’t personally find them useful when it came to making black potions. So, a philosopher’s stone might be most useful for a red potion as that will increase the amount of hits you can earn in a single dose. Using a potion uses up the potion bottle sadly. You can use a red potion on an unconscious character as a method of reviving them. Useful when your cleric gets knocked out.
Levelling up is the same as the past two entries. You can gain a certain amount of experience through general combat. Once you get enough experience, you can go to one of the many gym’s found throughout Jadame and level up for a small price. Different gym’s have different limitations. The gym in Blood Drop, for instance, can only train your characters up to level 5. The gym found in Shadowspire (Twilight) has an unlimited amount of how high your characters can go. There are two such gyms in this game. To add to this, you can net large experience bonuses by completing quests. It’s not uncommon to complete a quest and suddenly have enough experience to level up. Sometimes, you can get enough experience to gain an extra four levels, though again, those larger bonuses are reserved to end game quests typically.
What is slightly different is the fact that you can purchase spells through scribes as opposed to different guilds. Before, if you wanted water spells, you went to the water guild. If you wanted spirit spells, you went to the spirit guild. This seems to have been more or less done away with in this game and replaced with scribes that generally sell a variety of spells. This is often either the four elemental offensive spells or the three defensive spells reserved for clerics. The exception to the rule seems to revolve around light and dark spells which more or less replicated what was seen in previous games. Personally, I think this is a step back because it can be confusing as to who sells the better spells. I actually wished there was a nicely defined guild so I at least had an idea of where to find specific spells. I felt that this aspect was, in fact, a step back from the previous games in the series.
Another slightly different element is the returning Arcomage minigame. While the ideas are largely the same, there are some new cards to be found in the deck. I found that, because of these new cards, destroying the enemy tower becomes a viable strategy. Certainly makes the game more interesting to say the least.
A step forward in this game is the fact that dungeon sizes were greatly improved. In Might and Magic VI, this was something I really looked fondly on because when one completes a dungeon in that game, it actually felt like a really nice accomplishment in and of itself. Even many of the optional dungeons presented their own challenges and required some time to get through. Might and Magic VII did away with this good feature and featured mostly dungeons with one or two rooms separated by a hallway or two for the most part. That made the game more about getting to the dungeon, rather than a full blown exploration of the dungeons and constantly having something new to discover. This game went more or less back to it. The dungeons weren’t exactly as big, but this was a step back into a feature that should never have been taken away in the first place. The unfortunate element in this game is the fact that it re-uses chunks of dungeons found in Might and Magiv VII such as the pews and pulpit design. It also features an underground cavern area that matches closely with some of the caverns found in the previous iteration. It was disappointing that such things were merely recycled, but fortunately, they are only present in a few of the earlier dungeons. Everything else felt fresh and new, so I didn’t think this aspect detracted from the game in the grand scheme of things. It certainly made me worried at first though. One more point about map design is the fact that the maps make the overland appear to be more natural and curvy then it really ended up being. Case in point is the fire plane where it looked like a series of nice round lava pits and mountain peaks. When actually exploring, it looks like a bunch of blocky terrain that was a few angles away from the look and feel of Minecraft in a way. Luckily, this isn’t always the case, but the fire plane was particularly bad for that. One last note. If you’re running a faster computer, parts of the wasp nest will become inaccessible. Apparently, the jump spell in slower machines are more effective as you can reach the upper tiers. On faster machines, these tiers are inaccessible and you’ll always find yourself unable to reach the next level in both halves. Fortunately, this is a completely optional dungeon with only royal jelly to be found, so it’s not the end of the world.
If you’re like me and came to expect the overpowered laser guns by the end of the game, you’ll be disappointed to find out that there are no ancient weapons to be had in this game. While some might criticize previous games for having them, I thought it was a nice feature to have because you spent numerous hours forging and grinding away in the game. When you get to the end, the game more or less rewards you with an uber weapon as if to say, “You deserve this after such a long journey.” This game, doesn’t have these weapons. Instead, you have the dragon race which caused some reviewers to lambast this game.
The dragon race is often seen as overpowering. They have a main fire breath attack that can damage any enemy (including fire elemental enemies interestingly enough). Simply upgrading the dragon skill can allow for not only greater attack bonuses (which increases the chance to hit), but also the overall damage. By the time you reach, say, level 20 in skill (and have the grandmaster ability), doing well over 100 in damage each volley becomes the norm. This is particularly damaging because a warrior with well over 100 strength, a grand master armsmaster skill of 20, a grand master skill of 10 in sword, and hitting with a relic weapon can typically yield about 50 to 85 in damage per swing. Because of the impressive damage a dragon can do, some have made the argument that this race is far overpowering compared to other races. Some go so far as to say that getting a dragon in your party dramatically decreases the difficulty of the game to the point where there is no challenge at all. I would say that the dragon species does make the game easier, but they don’t make the game suddenly have a pushover difficulty. For instance, there are monsters that have the ability to stone or paralyze you. Once the dragon gets petrified, you are suddenly without your heavy hitting character. In addition, you can always find yourself in a dungeon where the monsters are far more powerful than your party can take. So, although the game is way easier, the game doesn’t magically become instantly way too easy. You do have to build your dragon up first before it gets to that point. Even when you do get to that point, you’re going to be finding yourself at the end of the game rescuing the lords of the various planes. I would say that, in the absence of ancient weapons, you have dragon characters that can be built up to be a semi-replacement for them. Besides, if you want to make the game more challenging, then you can simply play without them. You can still find massively powerful spells that decreases the games difficulty anyway. I didn’t mind this species in the game personally.
What I didn’t think was a great feature is the tiered characters you can find in the game. You can find playable characters throughout the game and build up an impressive collection. The caveat is the fact that your main character has to be above a certain level before the character is willing to join your party. Personally, I find that by the time you reach the required level, there’s a high probability that the character will be less powerful than your current party. So, essentially, you can find yourself merely recruiting weak characters most of the time (i.e. Dyson). The only real advantage to this is finding new races with different abilities which I discussed earlier. Apparently, some people were able to take advantage of this, but I felt hardly any need. I suspect that this game is an either or thing in this respect. Either you are constantly recruiting and changing your party up, or you simply build up characters from earlier in the game because your main character simply builds themselves up while the rest of the party remains comparatively weak. The newest recruit in my party was always going to be the lowest level/weakest. If I was constantly recruiting, then it will eventually be advantageous to recruit more powerful characters in similar classes. The only real main advantage to this is the fact that you have to seek out fewer trainers to build you characters skills up as many of the later game characters come more or less pre-trained in certain skills. Really, finding trainers is simply a case of wandering around town and looking into every house. The map automatically updates when you find a trainer and when you revisit a particular town, you can upgrade your characters skill on the way through. You’re already going to find yourself revisiting towns, so remembering to train up along the way more or less allows you to have decent skill masteries. As far as my gaming experience is concerned, it would have been sufficient to simply have one character of each race be playable. A vast majority of collectible characters will end up sitting around in the adventurer’s inn throughout the game. Only real advantage of characters in the adventurers in is extra item storage space.
One unfortunate element is the fact that the same glitchy engine was used to create this game. This engine was used to make the past two games and, somehow, becomes more and more glitchy with each progressive game. The 6th game features hardly any problems whatsoever. The previous game in the series had a few glitches which includes one thing that made the game crash. In this game, there are multiple ways to cause the game to crash. For some reason, it was exclusive to me, but the immolate spell seemed to be one method of causing the whole game to crash. It’s likely that some error occurs when calculating the damage on surrounding monsters. Another way this game can crash is when you start playing a round of Arcomage. This happens infrequently, but does happen. Another way this game crashed for me was when I was entering the Destroyer’s dungeon. A way around it was to mute the volume on entry. You can put the volume back up to max after, but there was something about entering this dungeon and sound that causes the game to crash for some reason. The good news is that these glitches end up being predictable and you can save, say, before every round of Arcomage in case this happens. The only truly inhibiting crashing was the Destroyer dungeon which you must visit to complete the game. Every other instance can technically be avoided altogether. The glitches found in this game aren’t anywhere near the level found in The Elder Scrolls games, but it was a larger problem than in previous games.
One criticism I will give this game is actually an element that got a lot of positive reviews – the storyline. The storyline was well done all the way up to completing you alliance. It was at this moment the game had that feel of the writers writing themselves into a corner. This is because finishing your alliance forming will merely cause the Ironfists to want to come to Ravenshore. From there, the alliance thing disappears from the storyline and it suddenly becomes a story all about the four planes and rescuing the four plane lords. The alliance thing seems to vanish from the storyline completely as if it was a big waste of time. I thought this made the game awkward to play. Still, this is the only real weak point in the storyline that I found. Beyond that, the storyline seemed decent enough to me. It even has that “choose your own adventure” style in when forming your alliances in the first place.
Some people criticized the GUI of this game. Personally, once I was able to learn the speed keys (there aren’t a whole lot to learn), this game isn’t that bad. If you rely exclusively on clicking, then yes, this game has a learning curve here. Spells are found, confusingly enough, when you click on the skull. Status can be found when clicking on the hero on the upper left corner. Some other elements can be found along the top. The worst part, for me, was the fact that the lower bar seems to cover a strip of the bottom of the screen. This can make items more difficult to pick up. Fortunately, space bar can solve some of these problems, but it is still a nuisance in my opinion.
Graphically, I will have to agree with most game critics on this one. The game not only has outdated graphics for a game of its time, but it is also a step back from previous games. I would go so far as to say that Might and Magic VI had better graphics than this game. The heavy use of 2D sprites are bad enough, but what’s worse is that they seem much more pixelated than other games. Another major detracting feature is the use of extremely stretched textures in the landscape. This is particularly noticeable in, again, the fire plane where it seems one tile was used to cover an extremely tall hillside in some areas. Surprisingly, the poor graphics aren’t everywhere in this game. Some of the graphics in the various houses are actually extremely well done. One example would be the flooded houses found in the minotaur lair. The pre-rendered animation sequences when completing certain quests were also quite decent, though still smacked of “done in Poser” which is known (by some) for being a cheap 3D program. I personally have yet to see anyone produce well rigged talking animations with that and the look of them matches closely to that seen in some of the animation sequences in this game. Speaking of poor rigging, the talking animation sequences when a character identifies an item can be anywhere from passable to ridiculous looking. Have a dragon character identify an item and watch the cringe-worthy excessive jaw movement in action on his portrait. Another note about the graphics is an interesting glitch I stumbled on. When in the fire plane during the day, jump off into the lava and die. When you resurrect in Ravenshore, it’s possible to turn the sky red for some reason. I thought it was me completing certain portions of the game causing it at first, but this was just the result of a graphical glitch. It looks really weird in any event. If you focus almost entirely on the graphical side of things, this game is mostly a fail. Fortunately, there’s more to this game than graphics.
The audio was decent enough in this game. Might and Magic VI had great audio. Might and Magic VII had questionable quality audio. This game had half decent audio. The music was decent enough. The sound effects are largely re-used from previous games, however, these sound effects were so well produced, that it wasn’t that big of a deal that I’m hearing them again in this game. I would say they were decent overall in this game.
Overall, I would say the quality of this game depends on what you emphasize. If you emphasize almost entirely in the graphics department, this game was a step back over previous iterations. If you focus on gameplay, I would say this game improved upon what was weak in Might and Magic VII. There are some minor irritants such as the GUI, but there are aspects of this game that are an improvement over the previous iteration in the series. The customizability of the party is one major improvement in this game given the new limitations imposed on the skill system. At the end of the day, if you can stomach the graphics quality, this game is actually a decent play all around.
Update October 8, 2016: The skill level cap in this game is 60.
Update October 8, 2016: The level cap is 200 (Shadowspire training hall limit. The training hall in Balthazar Lair caps out at this or sooner).
Furthest point in game: Beat the game:
(No idea if that score is great or horrible, but I was able to take the experience gained from the final part of the game and push my characters above level 80 after.)
General gameplay: 21/25
Replay value: 7/10
Overall rating: 70%
Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85