Sunday, April 10, 2011

Might & Magic II: Touring the Countryside

Not quite as picturesque as the Andes.

Over the last 10 days, I have been traveling constantly through South America and, at the same time, fitfully through the land of Cron. Travel through Cron is rendered easier with a number of spells, any of which I would have liked to cast in real life. Consider:

  • "Water Walking," obtained in MM2 from a man walking on a river near Middlegate, allows exploration of oceans and lakes. With it, I could have strolled across Rio de La Plata between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, instead of taking a noisome ferry.
  • "Fly" instantly whisks you to one of Cron's 20 maps, dropping you in a safe zone (unless you've eaten peasant). The real flight from Boston to Buenos Aires was interminable, and I would have appreciated a quicker method. I'm pretty sure I haven't eaten any Argentinan peasants, although a hamburger I had on the edge of the Palermo District definitely wasn't beef.
  • Lloyd, who was in Corak's Cave just as the message in the Middlegate dungeon said he was, taught me "Lloyd's Beacon," which allows me to mark a spot and recall myself to it later. This would definitely be useful for returning home each evening, where air my air conditioning actually works.
  • "Surface" provides a quick escape from dungeons. In real life, I'd use this to avoid the two-mile walk and four-hour wait at customs in Atlanta.
  • "Time Distortion" provides quick escape from encounters, allowing you to regroup and try again before re-engaging 3 GATE AGENTS or 17 COLLEGE STUDENTS WHO THINK IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO WEAR PAJAMAS TO THE AIRPORT.

This is either a screenshot or a photograph I took outside San Esteban in Chile.

  • "Teleport" moves you up to 9 squares in any direction, thus bypassing long security lines and fellow travelers seeking to shove piano-sized suitcases into overhead bins.

I don't have "Town Portal" yet, but this would be the best real-life spell. Travel between Boston and Buenos Aires, Buenois Aires and Santiago, Santiago and Bogota, with the ability to go home every night. I won't bore you with anything else about my South America excursion except one tip: La Avenida 11 de Septiembre in Santiago does
not commemorate the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and if you suggest as much to your attache, you will wish for simultaneous castings of "Time Distortion," "Erase Memory," and "Instantaneous Death" (on yourself).

The availability of so many spells means that towns, and safety, are usually a short jaunt away. I am suffering fewer full-party deaths than I remember in the first game. If a single character survives, I can usually limp my way back to a town and heal. If I run up against a group of foes I know I can't defeat, "Time Distortion" usually works to get me away--I just need my sorcerer to survive the first round.

The overall MM2 game map. The elemental bits in the corner aren't just decorations; you actually find the elemental planes in those corners.

The outdoor world of
Might & Magic II consists of 20 maps arranged in a 5 x 4 grid. Each map, like the dungeons, is 256 squares, and each is easily accessible with the "Fly" spell. The maps quite notably correspond with the pictures on the game map. So in the lower right, where you see water and islands and such, the 16 x 16 map looks like this:


The lower left corner isn't exactly the Elemental Plane of Water, but rather an issuance from it. In the far corner of each corner map is a portal to the related elemental plane. I'm not strong enough to begin to explore these.



Exploring randomly in
Might & Magic II is just as dangerous as in the first game. Difficulty varies considerably even on the same map. On one square you're fighting a gathering of orcs, and on the next you run into one of the most difficult monsters in the game.

And you die.

Aside from the dangers, moving around the game world in
MM2 is fundamentally different than MM1. Outdoor areas in the first game were essentially dungeons with different textures. Forests and mountains formed "walls," and there were even secret passages through them. In contrast, in MM2, there are no "barriers" to your progress through the outdoor maps (as long as you have the pathfinding and mountaineering skills and the "Water Walk" spell, anyway). Forests, mountains, water, and other landscape features form the texture of the squares themselves.

The
Might & Magic series is known for the depth of its quests and special encounters, and this game is no exception. Special encounters in the outdoor maps take several forms:

  • Difficult, fixed monsters. You see my ill-fated battle with the Cuisinarts above. Other fixed battles have included an impossible-to-hit "Mist Rider," a convention of 250 orcs, a group of "white knights" that only males can damage, a "Mist Warrior" who gave me the "Dancing Sword" spell; a group of high-level undead at a shipwreck; and some "cosmic sludge" dripping from the sky. Most of these enemies I have been unable to defeat, but my prowess is growing.

I disrupted their convention.

  • Fountains. All the Might & Magic games seem to feature fountains that temporarily boost your statistics. I've found several that boost one statistic, and one, near Atlantium, that boosts all seven of the stats to 100. It's only good for one battle, but it has been useful against the water elementals on the same map, which offer high experience. In conjunction with the "Fly" or "Lloyd's Beacon" spells, the fountain serves as a useful shot-in-the-arm before particularly hard battles. Some fountains poison or kill you, though.
  • Castles and Caves. Each map has two or three entrances to castles, dungeons, and other indoor maps.

Pinehurst and Peabody are both communities in Massachusetts, fairly close to each other. Coincidence?

  • Natural disasters. In the four "elemental" maps, and those adjacent, you run into blizzards, earthquakes, tidal waves, and other natural disasters that do significant damage and sweep you to some other square on the map, making mapping difficult. At first, I though these were random, but later I realized they always occur on certain squares.


  • Messages. I keep encountering signposts like this one, which ultimately will reveal a message once I figure out the interleave. As I said last week, this breaks the immersion of the game a bit. It's hard to imagine someone taking the trouble to make these posts and stick them around Cron, and that no one damages or removes them. You can just imagine a farmer finding this in his field, scratching his head, and chopping it down for firewood. Other signs indicate routes to castles and towns.

"Wat" was my reaction, too.

  • Spells. You "find" spells in abandoned keeps and ruins sometimes, rounding out those you get automatically when you advance. Incidentally, my paladin and archer are starting to pick up spell levels, making them more useful.
  • Other special encounters include a test of strength with some lumberjacks that provided; a "gourmet" who wants to speak to someone who has tried every meal in every tavern; prisoners staked to small islands; a "guardian pegasus" who wants me to find her name; a "magic monster pit" that produces random encounters; and a sparkling pool, bathing in which melts all of the objects in my backpack.

As in dungeons, the way you're facing sometimes determines whether you find the encounter on the square or not. It's important to look at the map and make sure you're facing north when the path ends at a north-facing dead end. The only other option is to literally approach every square from all four directions.

As I explore outdoors, I'm also popping into some dungeons (which I'll write about next) and trying to figure out the main quest (which I'll write about in two postings). Right now, my only real complaint about the game is that I have nothing to spend my rapidly-accumulating money on, but we'll see if that holds.


22 comments:

  1. I don't really remember how money works in this game, but I DO remember with amusement the later stages of M&M: World of Xeen, in which there wasn't even close to enough money in the entire world to do all the leveling-up that your experience dictated you should've been able to. Actually, there might've been something similar in M&MVII. The series has always been a bit goofy, moneywise.

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  2. It sounds like your World of Xeen party became truly godlike, GeoX - being unable to pay for further training even with the wealth of the entire world. ;)

    I never realized that the M&M maps were that literal with regards to border flourishes and the like. I knew that the overall coordinates (e.g. A1, C5, etc.) matched up with what you could find in that area in a general sense, but didn't think it was much beyond an "artistic suggestion" of what you'd find in the game world. Nice.

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  3. I remember the World of Xeen money problem. I remember there was a building or shop in one of the towns, called something like "Temporary Work", or something like that. And you could accept the job and it would pass a week and give you small amount of gold, like 50 or 100. But the advantage is that you got to pass a week just by accepting the job. What I did was put all my gold in the bank, I believe there was some sort of interest paid, then accepted the jobs a bunch of times in a row to pass years, thus gaining interest on my funds in the bank. I aged my characters into their 60's doing this and still did not have enough money to pay for all my leveling.

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  4. Quick follow up to my last comment, even though there was not enough money in the game to fully level up, you don't need anywhere near max level to complete the game,

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  5. Hahaha, I remember so well that money levelling problem around level 150 or so... It's true that you didn't need further levels to finish the game, but it really ruined the fun of battles in the end when you new you were getting tons of useless XP that you would never be able to convert to levels.

    Another thing that was disappointing in MM4+5 is that Dark Side of Xeen didn't add any new spells or abilities, after about 15% of the whole game (around level 20?) you had learned all the top spells and then it was just stats grinding up to levels in the 100s.

    On topic, extreme randomness of encounters puts me off a bit, I think it ruins the sense of progression from "easy" to "difficult" areas. Later Might & Magic games seem more balanced in that respect.

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  6. Yeah, it was definitely super-unbalanced. In spite of that, however, I think I was more addicted to that game than I ever have been to anything else in the world.

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  7. Great post, if only for the proper use of the word "noisome"!

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  8. Wow. I'm playing World of Xeen right now. Nice coincidences.

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  9. As soon as I get done with Dragon Age 1 (first playthrough, having a lot of fun), I too will be going straight to World of Xeen for a replay.

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  10. I'm currently playing The Witcher and Drakensang, but I have been thinking about a World of Xeen play through. I have the GOG.com versions, anyone running these on Win7? Any issues? Also isn't there another game that was released with a collectors edition? Swords of Xeen? Something like that, anyone actually ever play that through?


    SER

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  11. Swords of Xeen is an authorized fan-made thing. I remember trying to play it, but I had some sort of driver issue that prevented me from getting very far. The impression I got from what little I played was that it didn't have any of the storytelling flair of regular Xeen--the quest dialogue and whatnot was VERY basic and utilitarian; it was clearly not made by writers. Might've been fun nonetheless, but surely not on the level of its predecessor.

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  12. @SER: I also have the GOG version of MM1-6. I've played through MM4 on Win7 with no problems. And the pack includes Swords of Xeen. I haven't played through the Darkside part of Swords of Xeen yet though. I have briefly started them though and they seemed to run just as well as Clouds of Xeen.

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  13. I've only recently played Swords of Xeen, and it seemed really rough and unpolished compared to the professional games made with the same engine. I quit after the second town, because everything seemed so random and pointless.

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  14. Time for a terrible confession--I farm the living heck out of the White Knights, what with the fountain right there. I often get up to level 40 or so just fighting them. I am a terrible person.

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  15. Your post inspired me to try to play Might and Magic 2, but I admit, I despise this game. Maybe I've been spoiled, but the difficulty level is simply too high for me. I've played now for 6 hours, and I have simply been unable to advance at all. I have never once had a monster encounter where I gain any gold, and without gold there is no way to buy better equipment or to level up. Even the weakest enemies sometimes get in a lucky shot and drop one of my characters dead, and without money, I can't resurrect them. My new characters that I replace them with fair even worse. I tried adventuring all around the starting town, but not a monster has dropped anything useful. I went down into the catacombs, and the difficulty level there crushes me. I read there's gold down there, but it's all guarded by combats I have no chance against. I tried wandering around the countryside, but I got crushed even worse. I guess CRPGs are just not for me.

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  16. Hey, Anon, you need to Search after defeating a group of enemies to get their loot.
    Then things should start getting easier.

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  17. My feeling of the M&M games is that they had so many problems (like poor balance, bad inventory management), aged features (why can't you see people in inns unless you click on chairs?) and oddities (plain weird humor, overly saturated graphics, money being the limiting factor of leveling instead of exp) that they never had the respectability and critical acclaim as, say, the Ultima series... Still, I think they are some of the most FUN RPGs around. I got into Xeen a few years back for the first time, and I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed it. I was playing Oblivion at the same time and couldn't help thinking how much better Xeen was in comparision.

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  18. What a coincidence, I'm also playing world of Xeen at the moment, of of GOG.
    And I have hit the money problem at this point, my party is level 50-55. I also don't think I will play any of the older Might & Magic games.

    Seems we have hit the RPG era where things are getting interesting.

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  19. @Rob You might consider playing MM3 as it is pretty similar to World of Xeen, just a little less refined.

    You can break the Might and Magic games into 4 types based on engine and combat. 1 and 2 are alike. 3, 4 and 5 are alike. 6, 7 and 8 are alike. And 9 is unique.

    My faves are 2, 3, 4+5(world of xeen) and 7. Haven't played 8 that much, and very little play of 9(just the the starter area).

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  20. Swords of Xeen was interesting because you had to free and restore the cities before you could explore them thoroughly, but aside from that it was too repetitive and definately not as good as the World of Xeen. I loved M&M7, by the way, probably my most favourite episode followed closely by World of Xeen.

    Nice to see another update, crpgaddict!

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  21. [i]"moving around the game world in MM2 is fundamentally different than MM1."[/i]

    Actually, it's misleadingly different, but fundamentally similar. All those outdoor areas typically DO have things like "walls" just like in MM1. The difference is that if you've got two Pathfinders or two Mountaineers, you can break through those walls as if they were secret passages.

    But, even without Mountaineers and Pathfinders, you can still get through mountains and dense forests-- there are "secret doors" on these, just like in normal maps. Hence, you can walk right through SOME of the barriers, gradually winding your way through.

    As near as I can tell, the game mechanics altered by providing:

    1) A floor tile. Each square on every map has a particular type of floor tile graphic. In towns, ALL the floor tiles are identical, and show up blue on the automap. In caverns, again, all the floor tiles are identical, and show up green on the automap. It's only outside where the floor tiles differ from square-to-square, and show up differently on the map.

    2) Special outside area walls. They're sometimes passable as secret doors, and sometimes only passable by people with certain skills.

    Anyway, the graphical effect is nicer, although some strange things can happen when you get to the edges of the game world (or sometimes, even the edge of a given outside area) thanks to the wrapping effects.

    DaveE

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  22. DaveE thanks for the post. It seems, though, that when I'm on the edge of a wooded or mountain area facing outward, I don't see the "wall" in front of me. It always confuses me, and I've resorted to mapping using the Eagle Eye instead of the 3D perspective (which is my preference... it keeps me immersed).

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