Might and Magic IX is the fantasy RPG game where a group of adventurers have to save a world fighting various mythical beasts and using not only swords and bows, but also powerful magic.
Might and Magic IX has a spectacular history of the previous games in the series. It began a long time ago and the series was resurrected in 1997 when Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven was released. The magazine advertisements for the game said: "Some say that the genre of role-playing games is now dead...they are quite wrong." The advertisement was actually very close to the truth; Might and Magic VI resurrected the whole first-person role-playing genre. The game was followed by two more, using the same graphical engine but featuring progressively shorter gameplay.
The 3DO CEO Trip Hawkins promised that both Might and Magic IX and Heroes of Might and Magic IV, the two major titles of the company (both already quite delayed) would be released before the end of the fiscal year. He kept his word, and both games were put on shelves on March 28, the last workday before the end of 3DO's fiscal year, which ends on March 31. What he didn't say, however, was that both games were rushed.
However, after years of waiting the game was eagerly expected by the fans worldwide.
This game introduces you to a whole new world, quite reminding the player of Scandinavia during the time of the Vikings. Once again, you will form a party of four members that are trying to save the world. The six Clans are being threatened by an army approaching their lands, and nothing seems to stop them. Your task would be to unite these Clans and build an army of your own, to stop the invaders. Through several twists, a treachery and your own death, however, you will find that you have become the pawns in a game played by the Gods; it will be up to you to defeat the very God who caused the whole mess.
The game is played in a first person view, with combat either in real time or turn-based mode.
There are ten main locations in the game, with several dozen dungeons and some few special locations, including the Afterworld. In addition to your four party characters, you will be able to hire three more NPCs (this stands for "none-playing characters", but they are in fact playable) that you will have a limited control over. These will help you to survive a world filled with any kind of a nasty monster you can imagine (and very few that you can't).
The game is based on a very strong character creation engine.
While there are many essential quests to fulfill so you would have a progress in the storyline, there are many others that you will have to accomplish in order to promote your characters to new, far more advanced classes. Then, these more sophisticated classes of your heroes could learn significantly more advanced skills and spells. These gives the player a lot of opportunities to replay the game with other characters and explore other possibilities, and have been the most unique aspect of the Might and Magic games for quite a time now. It still does remain as one of the strong points of this game.
The dungeon design of Might and Magic IX is simply outstanding.
Actually, I rarely have seen such well-made dungeons, full with clever traps and puzzles you will have to solve to continue your journey. From the common spikes falling on top of you, to the more surprising floor traps, fake walls behind which often does stand a monster in ambush, to falling axes and saws that are especially designed to chop your head off - the traps are ranging in styles and looks. They are placed so well that you will need all your concentration, attention and skill to survive.
Puzzles range from quite a simple pushing of a special sequence of buttons, to adjusting mirrors in order to direct a ray of light to the appropriate place, trying to ignore the powerful deception that you will encounter.
Quite many of the dungeons in the game are very big - it might as well take you many hours to pass through them from one place to another, only to be attacked by furious monsters, or hurt by traps again and again.
Besides the great design of the tough dungeons, there are other improvements - compared to the previous games in the series.
Firstly, the magic system was completely made over, making it incredibly unique.
Your skills now will determine the number and efficiency of spells that you will be able to learn, as every spell has a requirement of at least two magical skills, instead of one. Sometimes, for most powerful spells found in only one school of magic, the entire three magic skills are mandatory. Otherwise, you will just not be able to learn the spell.
This places a large effect on the game the skills become much more important than they were before in the previous series.
Second, the aspect of gold (money) that you will have in the game was greatly improved. All through the game, you will experience a constant lack of funds. This seems far more realistic, of course, than when you are ending the game with a well some million gold pieces in your purse.
Now you will have but a few copper coins in your possession at the end.
Third, the soundtrack is on the same level with the previous Might and Magic games, already famous for some of the best music compositions found in video games.
Lastly, the game features very, very impressive cities with some natural looking scenery of large fortress-like medieval castles and bastions.
Now, speaking about the negative things.
Basically, there are the three major problems with the game: Bugs, Graphics and Interface.
First. The bugs.
I am talking about scripting bugs, not any other. These bugs directly affect the playing of the game in such a manner that will force you to use numerous slots for save games, and return back again and again only because you didn't do something in the correct way.
For the simplest example (this is not just any place in the game, the exact location is given):
When you have entered the location of the quest, and found it too hard to fulfill because of any reason, you exited it. Afterwards, you will not be able to enter it a second time.
Therefore, it is absolutely vital to download the official game patch that was released by the 3DO Company. Without it, your life in the game could be really, really miserable. But with the official patch downloaded and installed, all of the above will disappear. Well, some of the less-important details in the text lines of the dialogues with the town-folk were solved by the unofficial patch. It was made by some of the players that were enough technically skilled to create one.
Second. The graphics.
Dissimilar to the three previous games, Might and Magic IX is based on a new engine, the Lithtech.
In spite of this, the graphical side of the game did not experience any large improvements. The only change is that instead of the detailed and high-level 2D objects, there are the square-shaped 3D objects that are very blurry at a more close examination. Compared to the other games that are using 3D engines, Might and Magic IX is not very impressive in graphics just with the only possible exclusion of the city structures.
Third. The interface.
Unfortunately, using of the Lithtech engine required an entirely new interface as well. Instead of using the keyboard for all movements, and using the mouse as a cursor, the mouse is now locked in the center of the screen. You are to use it for looking around, while the keyboard is used mainly only for the "forward" and "backward" moves. This, (if it would have been the only thing done) is not that bad; the same kind of mouse-lock has been effectively implemented in several of other games. The most recent one is Morrowind.
But in the case of Might and Magic IX, the designers apparently were lacking in the needed experience with this sort of interface. Instead of just one easy way to alter the mouse-lock into a cursor (alike the right-click in Morrowind), the player is forced to learn a dozen or so keyboard shortcuts.
There are keys for selecting each character, for opening each hero's spell book, skill book, the inventory and more. There are some different keys for attacking, firing a projectile, spell-casting and more. This considerably complicates your operations with the party.
A few other, minor things (also quite important nonetheless)
The inventory screen just does a list of all items in a scroll-down menu of your backpack. While you can select only one item (such as sword, plate armor, ring, etc.), you have no way of sorting them in any other manner - alphabetically, for example, or in the way that you want them placed yourself.
This, in the case (quite frequent, actually) of more than 50 different items in your inventory makes looking through them a very confusing matter.
The spell book, on the contrary from the inventory, does list all of the spells alphabetically, and sometimes, to find a spell that you want you might have to turn several pages.
The main statistics (characters' attributes) now play a very limited role in the game.
The faithful fans of the Might and Magic series will probably be greatly disappointed with the size of the world.
Instead of the huge battles that were so common in the previous games, to face more than six opponents at once will now be a rarity.
This world is less rational and far more confusing than the one world in the previous games.
The names of the main characters are somewhat altered from the actual Norse Mythology deities. The other names of the NPCs are much too long and baffling; remembering them and finding them in cities is quite a challenge.
The lack of the printed manual (the only one available is in Acrobat Reader format on CD) and very inconvenient layout of it make the proper planning of the character development much more difficult than before. I can only suggest searching for fan sites where the players themselves created helpful charts, tables and other reference materials helpful for the game.
Absence of the option to make notes on the maps (as it was in the previous game, Might and Magic VIII), along with some very confusing locations in the game requires either the good memory capabilities or again, the search for custom-made maps on fan sites.
All in all, there are both improvements and backsteps in Might and Magic IX. All the negative things listed above are minor providing you have downloaded the official patch. Nevertheless, the game is an enjoyable experience, despite of its much shorter length in the comparison with the previous games. It still requires a lot of hours of heavy playing to beat it. You must be prepared to spend a couple of months of weekends dedicated solely to monsters fighting and puzzles solving.