Yesterday evening, after exploring Sorpigal and its dungeon, I thought Might & Magic was a little bit difficult. Oh, how I would love to have those innocent, carefree days back again.
The problem isn't so much that the game is universally "hard" so much as that, starting out, you have no guidance as to your main quest and you can literally go anywhere. This is one of the most non-linear games I've ever played. Unfortunately, the different maps don't offer predictable levels of difficulty, so it's extremely common to blunder into monsters well outside your class.
Let me back up a little. Last night, I had decided to explore the towns before trying the outdoor areas. This worked for the second town, Erliquin. I delivered the scroll to the wizard Agar, who gave me a nice reward. He sent me on to another wizard in the next town, so after mapping Erliquin and part of its dungeon (access to the rest of the dungeon required a code word that I haven't found yet), I moved on to the city of Dusk. I delivered the scroll no problem and got a hint about some brothers in the last two towns.
But I couldn't finish mapping Dusk. One of the sections led me to increasingly difficult encounters with undead, and after dying half a dozen times, I gave it up for later. I moved on to Portsmith where I was slaughtered immediately and mercilessly. The town features hot spots that drain hit points from all male party members, the sexist bastards.
So my plan to explore all the towns first went out the window, and I decided to venture outside. "Outside" in Might & Magic is basically the same thing as "inside" but with different textures and more open areas. There are "walls" of forests and mountains, and "secret doors" that go through them.
I mapped the area around Sorpigal--map square C2--without much problem. After that, however, my characters began dying with alarming frequency. There are some map squares that just have impossibly high-level monsters, like the red dragon above. Then there are other maps that are generally easy but occasionally throw a random encounter at you that destroys you. Some of the creatures that the game treats as "low level" are actually horrifically deadly. My current most hated nemeses are:
- Killer bees and locust swarms: Both of these monsters have a "swarm" attack that damage all of your characters. If any of your characters are unconscious when they initiate the special attack, they will die.
- Acid blobs: Essentially the same problem as above, but they spray acid.
- Minor devils: I keep getting hit with packs of 10 of them, and they overwhelm my party with energy blasts.
- Troglodytes: Spray poison and I don't have cure poison yet.
- Sprites: Cast "curse" over and over making them impossible to hit.
The upshot of the game's difficulty is that for every 30 minutes I play, only 10 minutes are "saved"--meaning 20 of those 30 minutes are wasted when I die. It's not as bad as it sounds because I'm getting a lot of mapping done, but the repetition has become almost comical: venture forth to a new map area, map 10 squares, die in combat, re-load, venture forth, map 10 more squares, die in combat, re-load, venture forth, map 10 more squares and win one combat, hustle back to the inn to save, repeat from step 1.
My basic approach has been to hit each of the 20 map areas one by one, mapping as much as I can, and saving after every few successful battles. If I die three times in any one map area, I move on to the next one, saving a return to the previous one for a higher level. Two spells have made exploration a lot easier: "fly," which allows you to quickly go to any map area (and back to an area that has a town), and "water walk," which allows you to explore the oceans and lakes.
As I predicted in my last posting, this game is about the difficulty of individual battles. There are a few places where you can't rest, but they're rare. For the most part, if you can stay alive through a battle, you can rest, heal, recharge your spell points, and be ready for the next one fresh. This is in stark contrast to Wizardry, where there was no resting and the tactical difficulty came in the accumulation of battles. In Might & Magic, there's no particular reason to hold back on your most powerful spells whereas in Wizardry you tried to conserve them.
Might & Magic introduces a few features to combat that make it more interesting than other games of the genre. The basic things you need to know are:
- When you choose a command for a character, it is executed immediately, not "stacked" the way it is in Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, and Phantasie.
- Your characters, and the monsters, attack in the order of their speed attributes. If I'd known this, I might have spent more time on the character creation screens.
- "(S)hoot" is a command that appears in this game for the first time, allowing characters not engaged in melee combat to fire a bow, sling or crossbow. Archers can do this even if they are engaged in melee combat, and I find that my archer's shot is always more deadly than her regular attack.
- "(F)ight" allows you to attack any enemy in melee range. This allows you to concentrate attacks on spellcasters or other foes you want to dispatch quickly.
- Characters and creatures with a "+" next to them are in melee combat. The neat thing is, the number and arrangement depend on the terrain. In a narrow dungeon corridor, for instance, only the two front characters will be in melee range, whereas if you come to a "T" junction with the wall to your left, then your first two and rightmost characters will be in melee range. Monsters will occasionally "infiltrate" your party, putting everyone in melee range and turning combat into a free-for-all.
- When your party members reach 0 hit points, they don't die; they fall unconscious. As long as they don't take any more damage, you can revive them. If your cleric falls unconscious, you're pretty much screwed unless you have some "magic herbs." I'm assuming my paladin gets the ability to cast cleric spells eventually, but not yet.
- Until recently, my offense spells have been pretty lame. My sorcerer just got the ability to cast fireball and lightning bolt, two level 3 spells that require a lot of points and gems but really help with the more difficult monsters.
I wasn't sure--still not sure--about combat order. Palamedes the paladin and Redbeard the knight are in the first two slots, no question, but 3 and 4 are tough decisions. It seems a waste to put an archer in a melee position because she can shoot enemies from a distance, but it doesn't seem like my robber or cleric will be particularly good fighters. I ultimately decided on the archer in slot 3, the robber in slot 4, and the two spellcasters in the rear.
Despite the difficulty, I'm still enjoying the game, largely because there are so many interesting encounters throughout the maps. On one map, there's an island with crazed natives who are able to neutralize magic, another has a series of deserted "merchants' wagons" that alternately hold treasure and ambushing monsters. Here's a toothless old gypsy who tells my characters their "signs," which I assume will come in handy later. On this map is a mysterious statue holding a scale of judgment and a trackless desert that I cannot yet cross. And deep in some mountains, I came across this oddity, which I assume will ultimately lead me from Might & Magic to its sequel:
So it's slow-going but fun slow-going. I still have no idea about the main quest (if there is one), but I'm noting anything I don't understand or can't complete on my maps, and hopefully these mysteries will all unravel in time.