I'm going to do something a bit odd here. I'm in the last dungeon of the game (I actually got all the way to an end but got screwed up by a cryptogram, of all things), but I'm going to save the recap of what I did to get here for the "Won!" posting later. Instead, I want to take some time to review something I've only glossed over in previous postings: the game's extensive magic system.
The Might & Magic series has one of the more detailed magic systems of this era. While it does not have as many spells as The Bard's Tale III, nor the same creativity in spellcasting as Dungeon Master or Ultima IV, nor the same tactical intensity as Wizardry, the game does strike a nice balance among all of these favorable attributes.
The basic facts about the Might & Magic II spell system are these:
- There are 96 spells in the game--48 cleric spells and 48 sorcerer spells--organized into nine levels. Clerics and sorcerers gain one spell level for every two character levels; they have the full set by Level 17.
- Archers gain sorcerer spells starting at level 5, and paladins gain cleric spells starting at the same level. Both classes can only go to spell level 7.
- Some spells are awarded immediately upon achieving the spell level. Others have to be bought in temples or magic guilds, and still others must be found. Late in the game, I found a wizard who sold me all available spells for 2 million gold.
- Each spellcaster has a number of spell points dependent upon his or her prime attribute: intelligence for sorcerers and archers, personality for clerics and paladins. There are fountains in the game that can temporarily raise the spell point maximum. Resting recovers all spell points.
- Some spells have a fixed cost; others have a spell point cost dependent on the character level (these typically do more damage).
- Some spells require only spell points; others require gems. Gems are plentiful throughout the game. If the game had made it more difficult to find them, it might have led to some more strategy as the player tries to conserve them, but I was never in danger of running out.
Towards the end of the game, my sorcerer had a maximum of 440 spell points and had a comfortable 1,224 gems.
- Most monsters have some type of spell resistance or immunity. Some are immune to all spells.
- Some monsters drain your spell points. Phase Spirits and Coffin Creeps can drain all characters' spell points in a single attack. With Phase Spirits, this is particularly bad news because they cannot be hit by melee weapons and they are immune to most (all?) damage spells. I honestly don't know how you defeat Phase Spirits if you don't manage to kill them all in the first round.
- You find many objects in the game that take the place of spells. For instance, the Ray Gun, in addition to raising your accuracy, casts Energy Blast. A Witch's Broom casts Fly, and a Super Flare casts Lasting Light. All characters can use objects. I loaded up my robber with Storm Wands so he could cast Lightning Bolt round after round.
96 spells is a lot to keep track of, and looking over my usage, I think that I could have gotten through the game with only 9 spells: the cleric spells of Power Cure, Moon Ray, Raise Dead, and Town Portal; and the sorcerer spells of Lloyd's Beacon, Fly, Lightning Bolt, Teleport, and Dancing Sword. These probably account for 80% of my spell usage. The rest fall into one of nine categories:
1. Spells that cure conditions you rarely experience. These include Awaken, Cure Poison, Cure Disease, Restore Alignment, Uncurse Item, and Remove Condition. I think that during the game I was poisoned maybe once, I never suffered a disease, and I never came across a cursed item. My alignment never slipped. Remove Condition came in handy for a couple of paralysis fixes, but nothing beyond that. There's a spell called Shelter that supposedly prevents you from being attacked while you rest, but I was never once attacked while resting.
2. Spells that never work. Top contenders are Apparition, Silence, Sleep, Web, Finger of Death, Feeble Mind, and (for me) Turn Undead. The failure rate on these is so high that it's hardly worth wasting a round to cast them.
3. Spells that are useless after Level 3. The sorcerer spells of Flame Arrow, Electric Arrow, and Acid Spray, and the cleric spells First Aid, Cure Wounds, and Pain. These are useful in the beginning stages when you need to damage low-level creatures or heal a few hit points, but they soon fade to the back of your mind like cantrips you learned as an apprentice. Similarly, Location is only valuable until you have a character with the cartographer skill.
4. Spells that make me suspicious of their effects. There are a host of spells that sound like they do good things, but that don't show any visible effects so you have to discern them from the amount of damage you do or take. I'm talking about Bless, Heroism, Shield, Weaken, Holy Bonus, and Invisibility. These sound like spells I should cast to gain a combat advantage, but I'd rather save my round for things that I know work.
5. Spells that duplicate what the temples do for you. The protection level offered by Protection from Magic and Protection from Elements depends on the level of the caster. As I finished the game, I had only just reached the level in which my casting those spells gave me more protection that if I went to a temple and kept donating 100 gold until they cast the spell for me. The temple blessing also gets you Walk on Water, Guard Dog, Eagle Eye, Wizard Eye, Lasting Light, and Levitate. Since I always got a blessing before venturing out, I rarely had to cast these spells. (Wizard Eye, oddly, takes a ridiculous number of spell points--almost 1/3 of the characters' total.)
6. Spells that come with too high a cost or risk. Resurrection heals eradication but at a cost of 1 endurance point to the raised character, 5 years of age to the raised character, and 1 year of age to the caster. Better to take the character to a temple. Divine Intervention ages the caster 5 years. Rejuvenate backfires and ages the character as often as it works. Duplication, Recharge Item, and Enchant Item might end up destroying the item. None of them were worth the risk to me.
7. Mystifying spells. This category deserves its own sub-bullet list, because I could never figure any of these out.
- Entrapment: "Surrounds the battle with a magical energy field preventing all from escaping." The problem is that enemies don't try to escape unless they're ridiculously overmatched, in which case the experience reward you get from killing them is negligible.
- Prismatic Light: "A powerful but erratic spell that has completely unpredictable effects." All this spell does is randomly choose some other group-effect spell to cast, like Sleep or Paralyze. Why would you cast Prismatic Light instead of just targeting them with a specific spell you know will work?
- Nature's Gate: A spell that just teleports you from one outside location to another one, seemingly at random. One level later, you have Fly and can go exactly where you want. I think it's only useful on the one day you can get the Starburst spell with it.
- Air/Earth/Fire/Water Transmutation. The spellbook suggests that you need to cast these spells to explore the elemental planes, but I never did and I was able to explore just fine.
8. Spells that only work on one creature. At higher levels, targeting a single creature always seems to be a bad use of spell points. Most individual creatures that you're really keen to kill have spell resistances anyway. I never used any of the Encasement spells, for instance.
9. Overpowered spells. I hardly ever used a large selection of higher-level damage spells: Fiery Flail, Mass Distortion, Implosion, Inferno, Star Burst, Mega Volts, Incinerate, and Meteor Shower. A lot of them only work outdoors, and by the time you're high enough level to get these spells, you can handle almost any outdoor enemy with melee attacks and castings of Moon Ray (simultaneously heals the party and damages enemies) every round. Others only work on a single creature, with the same problem as above. Sorcerers already have a spell called Energy Blast which scales with the level and seems to do almost as much damage (when it works). Mostly, it comes down to the lack of a need to be very tactical in combat (which I covered in a March posting); once you get a selection of spells and combat tactics that generally work, it doesn't pay to get creative.
There are a handful of spells that are occasionally useful for specific purposes: Surface to get out of a dungeon; Create Food in case you forgot to buy some; Identify Monster to see how many hit points your foe has; Jump to get over a trap; Time Distortion to escape combat; Etherealize to get through a wall; Holy Word to kill all undead; and so on. If the nine spells listed above make up 80% of my casting, these addition spells account for another 15%. What do you think: is this common among CRPG players? I'll bet 75% of the wizard spells I cast in Baldur's Gate are Fireball, Magic Missile, and different levels of monster summoning. What I can't decide is if this is just laziness or if the games really are unbalanced towards certain spells.
One thing is certain: Without the large selection of navigation spells, including Fly, Town Portal, and Lloyd's Beacon, gameplay in the later stages of Might & Magic II would be somewhat excruciating.
One final note: the names of these spells, and their effects, remains unchanged throughout most of the Might & Magic series. Almost all of them appear in VI-VIII, although separated into categories. In those games, I found Starburst and Meteor Shower a lot more handy.
We've been on this game long enough, wouldn't you say? Time for the winning posting.