Last week, I announced that I was taking a break from The Bard's Tale II, and shortly thereafter I found myself playing a game that looks a lot like The Bard's Tale II: Might & Magic I: Secret of the Inner Sanctum. Like The Bard's Tale series before it, Might & Magic I is a descendant of Wizardry, offering a tile-based multi-party game in a first-person perspective. The game's approach to combat, magic, and exploration seem remarkably like its predecessors.
Yet playing it, I found myself enjoying it a lot more than The Bard's Tale II. This may have been external. I finally finished my traveling season and I've returned home for a full month (expect a post nearly every night in July). But there are some game play features that improve upon what came before, even if the graphics aren't quite as good (among other things, there seems to be no animation).
Might & Magic I was released for the Apple II in 1986. I'm playing a DOS port from a year later. It was the first publication of New World Computing and is the beginning of one of the most successful franchises in game history. I'm sure I played it before, back in the 1980s, but frankly I can't remember it. The first Might & Magic of which I have any real memory is III.
The game does not begin promising. Based on the game manual I consulted, Might & Magic I: Secret of the Inner Sanctum tosses you into the world with no hints whatsoever as to the world's history and what your quest is all about--or, indeed, if you even have a quest. There's a cryptic line in the manual: "When you begin, the uncharted world of Might and Magic is as strange and unfamiliar to you as it is to your characters." Huh? Why is that?
To get a clue, I consulted the evocative map of the Land of Varn. The map is divided into 20 sections (A1-E4), that show some neat terrain: rivers, sea, mountains, a volcano, forest, plains, a desert plateau. Towns and castles are shown on the map as are numerous monsters: a scorpion, a sea dragon, a knight on horseback. Do these indicate actual game encounters or are they just decorative? Based on a clue I picked up in the first town, Sorpigal, I think the former. A statue reads: "One by water, one by land, one by air, one by said. The wheel of luck will favorably pay, the more of these menacing beasts you slay. Although wishes may come true, all the beasts will become anew."
The basic characteristics of the game break no new ground. There are six character classes: knight, paladin, sorcerer, cleric, archer, and robber. Each requires a different minimum combination of seven attributes: intellect, might, personality, endurance, speed, accuracy, and luck. There are five races: human, elf, dwarf, gnome, and half-orc. You can choose your alignment from good, neutral, and evil, and set your sex and name.
Character level is based on experience, which is accumulated through quests and combat. Your level determines your hit points and spell points and, for spellcasters, what spell level they can cast. The magic system features 47 sorcerer spells and 47 cleric spells, divided into 7 levels. Obviously, higher level spells use more spell points and many also require gems, which you pick up from slain foes.
All characters start at age 18 and can age through magic and natural passage of time. Your skills deteriorate as you age, and after age 80 there's a chance of dying in your sleep! Fortunately, there's a rejuvenation spell to reverse old age. As in the Ultima games, your characters have a food store and they eat a meal every time you rest. One major difference that seems to be a bit unbalanced: every time you rest, all of your hit points and spell points are regenerated. As food isn't terribly expensive, this suggests the major difficulty in the game will come in the form of individual encounters rather than the culmination of encounters like Wizardry and The Bard's Tale.
I created a party of six characters. I couldn't think of any reason not to just include one of each character type, so I did that, mixing races, sexes, and alignments. If you're curious, my party consists of:
- Palamedes, a good male half-orc paladin (kudos to Might & Magic for allowing any class to be a paladin well ahead of D&D)
- Redbeard, a neutral male dwarf knight
- Kata, a neutral female elf archer
- Lone Wolf, an evil male gnome robber
- Sarah, a good female elf cleric
- Grey Star, a good male human sorcerer
The game starts you with clubs, 10 meals, and absolutely no gold. I needed to find something to beat with clubs before I could even think about an edged weapon. Each character has between 8 and 10 hit points and the two spellcasters have 5 spell points. Talk about brutal.
I ventured out to explore Sorpigal and almost immediately died at the hands of a band of six sprites who bombarded my party with "curse" spells making my attacks ineffective. I wanted to throw up my hands in exasperation but I re-loaded and did a little better. Through exploration, I learned:
- Sorpigal consists of a 16 x 16 square. Until I find otherwise, I'm going to assume that all Might & Magic I areas are this size. This makes exploration a little quicker than in The Bard's Tale where all maps were 22 x 22. Might & Magic may actually have more levels (so far, I figure there are at least 20 outdoor areas, 5 towns of at least two levels each--I've already discovered that Sorpigal has a dungeon--and a couple of castles, for a minimum of around 35 areas), but I like that you can get through them at a faster clip. And unless there are ways of finding secret doors that don't simply involve walking in to walls (I've found a few that way), not all of the squares on each map are used.
- There seems to be a lot more things in this game. I've only half-mapped Sorpigal, but I've already found half a dozen statues with cryptic clues, a trap that dumps you into the dungeon, a mystical leprechaun who offers transportation to other towns for a gem, and a jail full of monsters where if you're not careful the doors lock behind you--along with the usual shops, temple, and training facility.
- Random encounters vary from somewhat easy to very hard. It took me a while to realize that you have to (s)earch the square after you finish fighting a battle or you don't get any treasure. Even when you search, the gold and experience rewards are not that high. Based on the encounters I've had so far, it's going to be a long time before my characters reach Level 2 and can afford decent equipment.
The game follows The Bard's Tale's convention of only allowing you to save in the inn, so you have to be careful about getting trapped too far away. Fortunately, I've discovered that if you run from combat, instead of simply skipping the battle and leaving you where you are (as in The Bard's Tale), you end up back at the inn. In dungeons, as I found out after a trap square unceremoniously dumped me into one, fleeing takes you to the entrance. This makes up a little for the fact that one out of four combats leaves all your characters dead (at least at level 1).
I'll leave combat to tomorrow's posting, but suffice to say that it seems like it has that same nail-biting ultra-tactical quality as Wizardry. I need to spend some time analyzing what makes Wizardry and this game fundamentally different from The Bard's Tale even though they seem so similar.
Again, I don't know what it is, but I'm mapping and exploring with a lot more gusto than with The Bard's Tale II despite the game's difficulty. I kind of like that I have no idea what the main quest is about (I assume it has something to do with an "inner sanctum"). I'm looking forward to continuing this one.