Alright, I've put this off long enough. Here is my first wack at writing something (I won't say "something I just threw together" since it took me most of the afternoon - I am not a fast writer).
Please look it over & suggest areas for improvement/ trimming/ expansion. I've deliberately tried to avoid spoilers, but would be happy to add a section on shortcuts...
M&M 9 is the long-awaited latest installment in the M&M series and, as advertised, features a new 3-D graphics engine. The game had to be completely re-made from scratch to use the new engine, so those who were expecting it to look like M&M8 on steroids might be disappointed. Some features that had evolved from M&M6 to M&M8 are now back to square one and the skill and magic systems have been completely revamped. That being said, I found the graphics to be a vast improvement.
The monsters are truly three-dimensional and can be viewed from any angle. They move around and swing at you, no longer just blindly marching into your bows and blows. It is obvious that a lot of attention was put into the detail in the scenery and dungeons, so "stop and smell the roses" as you go (don't miss watching daybreak through the trees or in the mountains).
In case it's not abundantly clear from this article, I truly enjoyed this game & recommend it to any true M&M fan.
Before you get started, be sure to install the patch from 3DO (for financial reasons, this game was rushed at the end and went out with a few rough edges; more about those later).
This game starts with the usual character creation screen for four characters. Choose carefully here, because, unlike M&M8, these four are with you for the duration.
You'll have only two class choices to begin with (fighter and initiate), but each of these will have two choices for their first promotion and two more for each path for their second promotion (making a total of eight second promotion classes).
The mix of might and magic characters is not critical for this game, but life will be easier if you have at least one magic type (initiate). Each starting character will have two required and two optional skills.
For the optional skills, I would recommend one member of the party have the perception skill (preferably an assassin or ranger wanna-be), and one have the merchant skill (preferably a future paladin, or even a lich or assassin, as training is expensive).
I would also recommend the bow skill as it is very helpful early on in the game. Beyond those, pick your favorites; you can find the others later. More important than which skills you give your characters is which skills you choose to develop as the game progresses, as you won't generally be awash in skill points to waste and each class is limited to how far it can advance in each skill. So work out early on which skills each character will advance.
The game starts out slowly to give the new player an opportunity to get used to the mechanics of the game.
The first area is literally just a practice area, where you can learn how to walk around, open doors, talk to people, climb, swim, etc. Get used to talking to everyone you meet and exhausting all of the conversation paths for several reasons:
1) much of what at first looks to be idle chatter turns out to be clues you will need later in the game
2) you can't always tell the important people from the others at first look
3) sometimes asking routine questions will give surprise answers
4) the dialogue of several people changes during the course of the game depending on which quests you are on or have completed
5) some choices you will only be offered once.
The second area you will visit is also limited in scope to give you a chance to become acquainted with interacting with the NPCs and doing simple quests. You will also pick up your first NPC companion of the game (you have three spots for NPCs to join your party. The main story plot controls one of the spots, the other two are optional and give you the chance to hire people to cover any inadequacies in your party).
The choices of action in this second area are pretty limited and the quest path is linear. While there is a dungeon here that's worth a look-see, fighting the monsters there is beyond the ability of your party at this time (read: you can practice dying if you wish). Don't worry, you'll be back.
Once you reach the third area, however, you will be free to do pretty much as you please. You can work on character promotions, pursue the main quest line, or go looking for side quests to gain experience and money.
As you wander around the cities and surrounding areas, the similarity of this game to it's predecessors will start to grow on you and you will find yourself being drawn into the game (I started loosing a lot of sleep at this point in the game).
Early travel between cities is primarily by boat as the game area is spread over four separate land masses, so feel free to sail on to another city whenever you want, the quests will require you to come back anyhow. Similarly, if the quest you are working on is too hard, go do something else until your party is stronger.
As I mentioned earlier, this game was a bit rushed at the end of it's production, which means the developers did not have a chance to try out all of the possible paths people would play the game. In addition, the developers have made the dialog paths of many of the people you will meet more complex, which means you may only get one chance to do certain things. If you remember the following pointers, you will miss most of the pitfalls and have a much more enjoyable game experience (installing the patches will eliminate several of the rough spots):
Save frequently and keep back-up saves at key points (this is good advice in any RPG game).
If underground areas appear to dark, go to the graphics screen under options and slide the "gamma" bar over to the middle.
Don't rush the dialogs of the people you meet (hey, someone spent time writing it, so do them the curtsey of reading it).
The people who give you the promotion quests will generally ask you who is interested in that promotion; this will your only chance to designate anyone, so don't miss out.
When the troll you meet in the second area reappears unexpectedly, don't speak to her until she speaks to you and be polite and say goodbye when she is done (her revenge is subtle but devastating (read terminal)).
Best to avoid doing quests elements out of order, or before you've been given them.
Don't save in the arena.
When you go to get rid of pesky imps, go in the back door.
Kill concubines in real time.
Don't believe you have your writ unless you see it in your inventory.
If a priest says he'll see you later in another city, don't bother to go looking for him, it's not necessary.
If you get stuck, go to the 3DO community pages for help (don't be afraid to sign up, there is no down side).
Don't bother paying $10 for the guild membership there is nothing there you can't get on the free boards for this game.
And for the adventurous types, the game has been played solo (you just have to haul around a bunch of tombstones) with the exception of the required NPC's. It's been played with all-magic groups (I'm not aware of any all-might groups yet, but I don't see why it couldn't be).
There's a dragon to slay (bring a can of whoop-ass with you for that one... a very big can. A very very big can). Also, I have yet to hear of anyone who claims to have completed the game at level 1, maybe you can be the first...
The Grey Wanderer