The last couple of days, Jeff has been playing the game, and put together a thorough preview of the game for you all to read.
Go here to read the MMX Preview.
After waiting over eleven years, it is time to once again pull out the armor, sharpen the blades and practice magical incantations. Ubisoft has finally taken on the challenge of reviving a time honored and much beloved series. After several missteps with the Heroes franchise, I for one was unsure whether Ubi was the company that should do this game. I was lucky enough to play the preview over the weekend. Yes, there were bugs, but to be fair, it is far from finished and all but one of the bugs were identified in advance and did not impact gameplay.
The preview was restricted to only 4 of the eventual 12 classes. Party creation is very similar to that used in MMVI and old fans will have little trouble navigating the steps. As before, each race have advantages and disadvantages. You will assign skill points and attributes to each of your characters. A helpful menu pops up when the cursor is placed on the plus sign for each trait; it tells you what will change if you add to that category; for instance, Might in elves will increase health by 8 and melee damage by 16%. I would suggest that the player read up on the skills and attributes prior to playing the game as I suspect good choices here will make a big difference in the early stages of the game.
In my party, I selected one from each of the four races (elf, human, dwarf and orc). There are currently only two choices of portrait for each sex, while this may not be a problem; I suspect some fans will try single race or single sex parties and some of the portraits may need to be used more than once. Hopefully, the final product will have at least twice as many portraits. The only annoyance here was the background music. It was set too high with no way to adjust it lower; I could not hear the voices of the characters, so I had to guess which version, heroic or cynical, I wanted.
The game starts with a lengthy cutscene laying out the history of the land and the background for the adventure you are about to embark upon. This is good as I had never paid much attention to this new universe created by UBI. At the end of it, we find ourselves at Sorpigal by the Sea. As you might guess, there is a growing unrest in the land and only a group of heroes can save the day. Just how I like it.
The look of the game will be familiar to the old fans. The graphics have been updated, no longer restricted to the 256 color pallet of MMVI. The screen is first person perspective, with the portraits of the four members of your party, the minimap and several buttons opening the journal, inventory, spell book, movement and so on. There are also ten quick action buttons along the button which I will mention later. The scene changes with the time of day as you would expect. There is an indicator in the middle of the top that indicates threat level. When red, an opponent is in range. Something new is two rectangles in the top corners; the left side shows the results of your interacting with objects or NPCs. It lists damage dealt or taken during combat. The one on the right shows quests you have in progress.
Movement is a bit different from MMVI; there is no continuous movement - instead, you can only move forward, backward, rotate or side step with the arrow or letter keys. The mouse can only be used in movement by clicking on the six movement buttons; it can be used to interact with some adventure objects. Prior to entering the city you have a conversation with a former raider; he directs you to Maximus in the town garrison. You need to prove yourself to him, so he joins the group. Your task is to clear out a den of spiders in the town well. It is a dungeon reminiscent of the Abandoned Temple in MMVI but on a much smaller scale. This is a good thing, as it serves as a very good tutorial into how the combat system works. More on that later.
Interacting with the NPCs and shopkeepers is reminiscent of MMVI. You can buy, sell, identify or repair items in the various shops. Several shops have trainers to raise skills to expert and master levels, (there may be GM level as well but not that I saw). Most of the NPCs have gossip they will pass on and other offer quests. There are NPCs who will join the group for various quests or will aid your party. I tried to hire a chef but despite a couple of attempts he failed to join the group, but the scout outside the tavern readily joined once his fee was paid.
Interacting with adventure object is easy, simply approach it and a query pops up telling you what to do. Once opened, you are asked if you want to loot all and they are added to the party's inventory. A couple of panels in one of the dungeons were protected by a magic ward and a menu popped up asking which character I wanted to attempt to dispel the ward. Locked chest are supposed to operate the same way, for instance some may require might to open. This is similar to the skill challenges such as pulling the sword from the stone in MMVI. There was a lack of disarm trap, identify item, identify monster and repair item skills. I do not know how many, if any of these will make it into the game.
The tile based movement works fine in tight dungeons; however it is awkward out in the open. I frequently had to side step in order to interact with a door or object. When adventuring in large areas out in the open, being able to move diagonally just makes sense; this is minor and I believe most will adjust to it. It also becomes an issue in combat. Your opponent must be in the same column or row as your party in order to attack them. I much prefer the MMVI method where you could attack anyone in the field of view. In combat when multiple creatures are in a group; the computer decides which one you attack. No more using the mouse to select your opponent. This was particularly annoying as my party took much more damage than necessary because I could not concentrate my attack on a specific opponent.
After clearing out the nest of spiders, you should return to Maximus for more information. After investigating more of the city, it was time to head outside. The transition between areas is similar to earlier editions; a load screen appears while the new area is being loaded. Adventuring outside the city is more dangerous with numerous creatures that need to be dealt with and at time this may seem tedious, but it is necessary. The party has to improve their skills and increase their experience.
Here is where the tile based system needs adjusting. The passage of time is based on the party moving forward or backwards, time does not run continuously as before and clicking the enter key no longer functions to start and stop time. This method is in need of adjustment, as time passes too quickly. My party might be a bunch of geriatrics but it seemed as only minutes had passed between times I needed to rest them. This caused an unexpected problem when adventuring. The party could only carry 4 foods, the level the tavern sold. I did not find any other sources like the apple tree in MMVI. This limited the amount of adventuring I could do in a foray. Between having to rest to heal and replenish spell points or (if lucky) in combat, the passage of time and only four foods became a limiting factor. This is easily fixed by having other food sources or having the chef join the party (I am assuming he would make food). The adventure maps and the minimap were helpful but I am hoping for the ability to put notes on the maps to help keep track of locations.
The combat system is turn based and I am a big fan of that style. I have already discussed the impact of the tile system, but the system itself in intuitive and easy to use. You quickly learn how to initiate ranged and melee attack, as well as the use of magic and potions. I really like the ten quick action buttons along the bottom. The first three are for melee, ranged attack and defend; the rest/all can be set however you want. I had my mage set a couple of useful spells and potions. These speed up the combat and make it much simpler, and if you plan on using an item out of inventory, then as before you just switch the item into one of the ten slots or use it directly from the inventory screen. This is a very nice improvement on the old theme.
Also, the use of a shared inventory simplifies the use of potions and scrolls. All party members draw from the same source, so you don't have to rearrange items on the fly as frequently happened in MMVI. If a type of attack or spell listed is not available (lack of spell points), it is dimmed, so you can quickly select the correct action. Experience points, gold and treasure, if any, are automatically added in. You no longer have to seek out a trainer once a new level is reached; you simply add the skill and attribute points where you wish. Trainers are still necessary to reach expert and master levels in the different skills just as before.
So what is my overall impression? It is a new chapter in the MM series, and giving the series a much needed update. It probably could be said it is MMVI with updated graphics and a new story. That would not be far off the mark; all aspects of the game are similar to its predecessors. A few improvements such as the quick action buttons have been made, and a few steps backwards, like the tile based movement, as well.
It could be compared to the first Star Trek movie; not a great movie but it served the purpose of reintroducing people to a show that has been off the air for years. This serves the same purpose, it is not revolutionary but it is a good reintroduction to the Might and Magic series, and like the Trek movie, I hope this is just the start to a series of new games in a genre that has been underappreciated by many gaming companies.
The best endorsement I can give this game is to say I will buy it. Ubisoft appear to have learned the error of their ways with the Heroes franchise, and seem to have listened to the fans and the enthusiasts. It may not blow away the younger gamer who looks for continual combats and spectacular graphics, but I think the fans of MMVI will find this game comfortable to play. What I mean by that is the learning curve to this game will be very small. The tutorial-like menus that appear are more than adequate for anyone who just wants to sit down, install and play without spending time reading any of the documentation that should accompany any game.