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Discussion The Patient Gamer: Dark Messiah - Might and Magic

GodisanAtheist

Platinum Member
Nov 16, 2006
2,324
700
136
I recently completed Dark Messiah: Might and Magic (2006), a first person sword and sorcery type game by Arkane Studios, the guys behind the Dishonored series and Prey (2017). The game plays a little like a fantasy "Shock-Like" game: 10 largely linear levels with some minor branching, some limited character development through three skill trees focusing on Combat/Magic/Stealth, an Inventory with different equip-able armors, weapons, and accessories.

I won't go into the story too much, it was there and honestly not all that great, but the game itself offered up some very engaging mechanics and despite its age held up much better than it had any right to in the graphics department.

Dark Messiah was built on the Source engine, which as we all remember was hailed for its integration of Havok physics, and this game certainly takes that to heart by building its levels and gameplay around the core physics engine. Levels are built with tons of traps (typically of the heavy pendulum variety), throwable objects, and destructible structures to aid you in dispatching enemies that might be too difficult to handle in a straight up fight. Sareth, your player character, is relatively fragile (this becomes less of an issue later in the game, but never really entirely goes away) so using your environment is a must.

Like any other early source game, ragdoll physics are in full force here, and the devs found an interesting way to put them to work: The Mighty Foot. Originally featured in Duke Nukem 3D, The Mighty Foot is a secondary kicking attack that you can use in combat to stagger enemies and if you get them just right, send their ragdoll flying back about 20 feet or so. To fully leverage this, almost all the levels in the game are designed with some extreme vertical environments and are absolutely littered with deadly objects to kick enemies into and ledges to kick enemies off of. The use of the environment to dispatch foes is really the defining feature that sets this game out from the rest.

Lastly, the game's platforming elements are largely the function of the glorious rope bow, which as the name suggests allows you to target any wooden objects in the scenery with an arrow coiled with rope, which you can then climb to reach hidden areas, escape from enemies, or just traverse the environment. Its a simple but very enjoyable mechanic that adds a bit of a puzzle solving element to the game.

The game does have some serious hitches in the design, however. While fighting humanoid enemies is a bunch of fun and offers a lot of options, fighting monsters such as giant spiders (thanks to their awkward sized hitboxes) and especially large boss monsters is handled terribly. All large boss fights devolve into finding a spot in the room where the monster cannot navigate, then cheesing the fight using a ranged attack until the boss dies.

The game also has some set pieces that, as far as I can tell, require you to be a warrior or carry a shield in order to progress. As such. although there are different skill trees (and each skill tree is fairly anemic, don't go in expecting some vast amount of character customization) all characters come off as optimally built as a warrior with some magic and stealth abilities.

Lastly is the story/plot/characters. Holy crap, Dark Messiah slams basically every fantasy trope in the book: Dark Prophecy about the end times (guess: does it all have to do with your character?), not one but two comically over the top sexualized fantasy female characters (and of course, one is an innocent virginal Madonna and the other is a literal succubus), your standard assortment of Orcs/Goblins/Spiders/Etc as enemies, and the bad guy looks like he want to "bad-guys-r-us" or the Spirit Halloween bad guy store.

Plot wise, there are only three "choices" (all of which are handled terribly and crammed into the last hour of the game), and a couple variations of a 10 second ending cutscene is all the payoff you get to end the story.

That being said, I really enjoyed the bulk of my playtime in Dark Messiah. The game itself is not overly long at about 15 hours, with some frustration at the start of the game as you learn the game's mechanics and the end of the game where you've kind of seen all the game has to show you and its a bit of a cake walk. That said, if there was ever a good candidate for a remaster/sequel, Dark Messiah would be it. Solid core gameplay that needed some more time in the oven to reach its full potential.
 

nakedfrog

Lifer
Apr 3, 2001
49,953
2,665
126
I played through this back in, oh, 2009-2010 or so, and I definitely enjoyed my time with the game. Your assessment seems true to my memory.
 

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