Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Might and Magic: Clouds of Xeen: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

I guess the likelihood of any two players getting a tie is pretty low.
         
Might and Magic: Clouds of Xeen
United States
New World Computing (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS, 1993 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 8 February 2021
Date Ended: 18 March 2021
Total Hours: 35
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 43
Ranking at Time of Posting: 357/412 (87%)
      
Summary:
 
The first half of the World of Xeen package showcases some of the strengths of the Might and Magic series, including its dedication to side quests, frequent character development, and open world exploration. The game uses an upgraded version of the decent Might and Magic III engine, a first-person tile-based blobber that supports six characters with a satisfying variety of race, class, and attribute options. The game world is a bit empty and silly and the plot is a bit too basic. Nonetheless, the sheer number of side quests and the relatively rapidity with which you clear maps and dungeons keeps you from ever getting really bored.
   
*****
    
At the end of the last entry, we had rescued Crodo and found Lord Xeen's castle, but we lacked the special magic sword necessary to kill Lord Xeen. It was supposedly buried in the basement of Newcastle, which raises a lot of questions regarding why a special magic sword is needed to kill Xeen and how it got into the basement of a ruined castle in the first place.
         
I'm glad you understand because I'm not sure I do.
     
In any event, we returned to Artemus, the king's advisor, who gave us a permit to construct the dungeon. Emerson, the engineer, took another 5 King's Mega Credits to order the work done, which was fine, because we still had 18 of them. We ended the game with 13. I hope there's some use for them on the Darkside.
   
Actually entering the dungeon required a password, but that was written all over the castle as individual syllables on statues: LABORATORY. (I had overlooked one when I reported on it last time.) Sure enough, the dungeon had a special "Xeen Slayer Sword" on a pedestal, plus a few Potions of the Gods, which I have yet to try, but I'm guessing cure you of all ailments.
       
How does an ancient "Xeen Slayer Sword" exist when Xeen himself didn't exist until recently?
      
I had Saoirse equip the sword, and we returned to the clouds above Darzog's Tower to get to Xeen's Tower. At the front door, we were told that to enter Xeen's Tower, we would require a "cupie doll." If you want to know what that is, Google it under the proper spelling of kewpie doll. Carnivals offering kewpie dolls showed up in Might and Magic III and will recur in VI. It's one of those nonsense things that shows up in multiple Might and Magics that I usually excuse but for which I am now rapidly losing patience. Anyway, to win the doll, we had to first win a bunch of individual dolls by proving our accuracy, endurance, speed, and strength at various carnival tents scattered around the area. We had returned to the area fully buffed, so it wasn't hard.
        
Is there anyone who thinks there's even a germ of a good idea here?
       
Xeen's Tower was a quick trip up several floors guarded by "Xeen's Guards," which are clearly robots. The first floor had a bunch of traps, but we disabled them by destroying poison, fire, cold, and electricity generators hidden in the four corners of the level. There was also a "guard making machine" whose destruction prevented more guards from spawning.
           
Why does the "fire generator" need a curtain?
      
The top level had combats with a huge dragon called Xeen's Pet and Xeen himself. Again, we were fully buffed and hastened, so although we couldn't have lasted more than a couple of rounds with these foes, we didn't need more than a couple of rounds. The dragon died in three or four hits.  Lord Xeen was a bit tougher because only Saoirse could hurt him. Still, killing him only took two rounds, and all he managed to do to us during those rounds was knock Mica unconscious.
    
I'm guessing the king hasn't really spent any quality time with his brother for a while.
       
Near where Lord Xeen had attacked us, we found the Sixth Mirror. Only then did I remember that I'd forgotten to go seeking it in the lava area. Before we could do anything with it, Xeen's Scepter emitted a high-pitched whine and caused the mirror to shatter. This precipitated a chain reaction by which Xeen's entire tower crumbled and got sucked into some kind of portal.
        
Is that anything like fingernails on a chalk board?
        
A laugh emerged from the portal and a masked face appeared. "You have defeated my general, Lord Xeen, and foiled my plans to conquer this world, but the Darkside shall always be mine!" He then laughed as if he hadn't just, you know, lost.
      
Xeen's Tower didn't seem this elaborate from the inside.
         
"Later, at Castle Burlock," a title screen said before transitioning us to the king's throne room. There's a quick pan through the throne room that shows a number of different individuals looking at King Burlock, and essentially none of them are from the setting's known races. I don't know what to take from that. 
       
Who the hell are these people? What are these people?
       
"Congratulations, adventurers!" Burlock said. "Crodo and I are eternally grateful. Let us review your fantastic campaign." What follows is a two-minute video of the attack and "getting hit" animations of every single enemy in the game. I was then given my "final score" and encouraged to send it to New World Computing's headquarters in Hollywood, California, to be added to the Hall of Legends. I know New World Computing doesn't exist anymore, but I wonder if whoever bought their property kept the Hall of Legends intact. I'm picturing a grand, open room in a building next to the Ripley's Believe-It-or-Not Museum on Hollywood Boulevard, in which you can find busts of all the players who won Clouds of Xeen.  
       
Crodo looks so unhappy I'm beginning to suspect he was secretly working with Xeen.
I remember those guys from 35 hours ago!
         
After the endgame sequence, the party appeared back in Vertigo. I guess it's time to hit the Darkside. A few final notes, though:
    
  • If you return to Castle Burlock, the king is still going on about the mirror. What was so special about the mirror, anyway, that you can't accomplish with a combination of the existing mirrors and "Town Portal" or "Lloyd's Beacon"?
     
If it helps, I still think you're fairest of them all.
    
  • King Burlock also thanks me for "rescuing Xeen from that foul spirit." If you'll recall, the back story has "Lord Xeen" starting out as Burlock's brother, Roland. So it sounds like we somehow saved Roland. Roland is nowhere to be found, though, and one wonders why Burlock is still referring to him as "Xeen."
  • My quest log still has finding the Sixth Mirror as an active quest. It also says I'm supposed to "free Celia from the clutches of zombies in the forest and return her to Derek"; I don't know how I possibly missed that. It also has that druid quest in there, which I'm pretty sure is never-ending.
  • The game tracks accomplishments for each character. "DEFEATED LORD XEEN" is now one of them.
      
I'm going to put that on my c.v.
       
  • No trainer on this side has the ability to train higher than Level 20.
  • I kept forgetting to mention it during individual entries, but I got into the habit of banking my excess gold and gems. I end the game with almost half a million gold pieces and 10,000 gems earning an interest rate of 1% per day.
        
I guess I could trust these guys after all.
  
I had expected more interactivity between the two sides of Xeen even as I focused on the Clouds material. Since this didn't happen, it makes sense to me to rate Clouds of Xeen as a unique game and then apply a separate rating to Darkside of Xeen later. 
   
Going into the preliminary rating, I would say that while Clouds certainly kept me busy, I didn't find it an entirely enjoyable experience. The engine is still modestly strong (albeit with limited shelf life since Ultima Underworld made its debut), but the content is weak--probably the weakest of the Might and Magic series. Xeen simply isn't a believable place. Although in literal squares it may be larger than some of the previous games, it feels absurdly small. Three of its five towns are in the hands of monsters. Except for the dwarves presumably living in the Red Dwarf Mines, there are no signs of any of the game's canonical races. The king, his advisor, his engineer, his tax collector, and the idiot dwarf who shows up every time you try to enter one of the mines seem to be the only permanent people in the world. The quests all feel imported from better games, and the game strays too often into silliness. The main quest is about as bare and boilerplate as it gets, and yet even within its limited content, it manages to make little sense. I thus expect the rating for this one to be comparatively low.
    
  • 3 points for the game world. I think there's something to be said for the Might and Magic universe, but none of it is on display in the first half of Xeen. Instead, it's just a cookie-cutter high fantasy location with unrealistically small biomes.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. This aspect of the series remains moderately strong. You get a fair number of options in creation, the choice of party members does make a significant difference, and the game rewards you continually in both experience and attribute boosts.
  • 2 points for NPCs. The game doesn't so much have "NPCs" as it does a bunch of faces who first give you a quest, then reward you for that quest. You have no dialogue options and you get no lore from the NPCs that you find. The loss of hirelings is also too bad.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. Also relatively strong. The enemies have a satisfying variety of strengths and weaknesses to figure out, there are contextual encounters everywhere, and the dungeons offer a few slight navigation puzzles. Only a lack of role-playing keeps this category from going anywhere.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. The game has a nice variety of spells, but I hardly used any of them. Combat mostly comes down to buffing and whacking. Spells become obsolete awfully fast. I miss the huge mobs that offered nail-biting tactical combat in the first two games.
  • 5 points for equipment. Not much of it is that interesting, but there's a lot of it, and I liked how just about every dungeon gave me a pile of stuff to sort through. I like the sheer number of wearable equipment slots and the number of items that duplicate spells, which I probably used far more often than the spells themselves. The materials don't make any sense, and I could have done without the breakage system.
  • 3 points for economy. You need money for a lot of things, but the game is pretty generous. By the fifth hour, I was just depositing large amounts in the bank despite spending a liberal amount on training, item repair, healing, and item identification.
  • 5 points for quests. The series remains one of the few that actually understands the concept of "side quests," to the extent that it tracks them for you in a log. There are no role-playing options for those quests.
  • 6 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are perfectly nice; the sound is a bit overdone but otherwise fine; the interface has a number of excellent elements that I covered in the first entry. This is about as high as a game can score until graphics and sound get good enough that they're truly immersive.
  • 6 points for gameplay. It has about the right length, and I appreciate the open-world nature. It's maybe a bit too easy with all the buffing and a bit too hard without it. I wouldn't call it replayable except for mega-fans who want to try challenging party combinations.
     
On that last point, I might recommend replaying it with something like an all-knight or all-ninja party just to see how it goes. You certainly wouldn't abuse the fountains, since the only "Lloyd's Beacon" and "Town Portal" spells at your disposal would be from magic items. You probably would want to vector half of the attribute upgrades into a single character, since one powerful character is more important than a bunch of weak ones. 
   
Anyway, the final score is 43, still high enough that I think you could have some fun with it, but quite a bit lower than the 52 I gave to Might and Magic III and the 60 I gave to the first Might and Magic. This is a good time to remind readers that the 60 I gave to the original game isn't inflated out of consideration of its year. All of my rankings are meant to stand on their own and provide direct comparisons to games of different eras. I honestly had about 33% more fun playing the 1987 Might and Magic than I did playing Clouds of Xeen, and I thus recommend it 33% more.
      
        
Scorpia and I were in lockstep on this one. In the January 1993 Computer Gaming World--her first review of a Might and Magic since the third one portrayed her in grotesque parody--she approves of the new shortcut spells ("Day of Sorcery" and "Day of Protection"), several interface changes, and the lack of bugs, but she has the same complaints that I do about the threadbare plot and the emptiness of the world. She's particularly critical of the final battle with Xeen, noting (correctly) that average diamond golems and other enemies are a lot harder. In contrast, the reviewers in the March 1993 Dragon absolutely gushed over it, giving it 5/5 stars.
     
The good news is: by all accounts, Darkside gets better. We'll have a look after the transition.

68 comments:

  1. The scores seem to only add up to 43? In any case, a fair review, it's the weakest part of the Might and Magic series until 9. Darkside will score a few points better in several categories and does have a different feel, which makes me think it was developed after this game and not alongside it.

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    1. Yeah, I ended up lowering two of the original scores but forgot to change the total.

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    2. Well, now the "enjoy 33% more" line needs to be updated, too! :)

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    3. It's a fair point that Clouds was clearly not designed with Darkside in mind, and that combining the two games (and releasing the fifth game shortly after the fourth) was most likely an afterthought for Clouds.

      It's pretty obvious that Clouds contains absolutely no references or forward call-outs to Darkside. Integrated design this is not.

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  2. Oh god, I always assumed kewpie dolls were little plush creatures. Who on Earth wants a horrifying porcelain (or plastic) facsimile of a nude baby staring at them 24/7?

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  3. Congrats on another victory! I do think Darkside is better, storywise at least, tying in with the previous games, but I enjoyed them both. The silliness doesn't bother me, as long as the gameplay is good.

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  4. I think "rescuing Xeen from that foul spirit" is just generically referring to the world, akin to you rescuing CRON/Terra from Sheltem.

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    1. That's correct. Not sure where Chet got the misconception that Roland is Lord Xeen, either? Didn't the lore materials say that Roland was sent on a mission of some sort to the Darkside of Xeen?

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    2. Xeen posed as a Roland for awhile. Crodo exposed him, but lost a magic battle and become a prisoner. It is a story from the manual.

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    3. I have no idea why I interpreted his line that way. It was late at night, I guess. But yes, the backstory does say that Roland came back from his trip to the Darkside calling himself "Lord Xeen." I took the story to mean he was transformed somehow, not that Lord Xeen was impersonating Roland.

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    4. Gee, the BBEG impersonating a good king (or prince), I wonder where we've seen THAT one before...

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  5. I enjoyed this one far more than M&M 3 (the only one of the previous games I finished), mostly because it was more transparent and accessible. It was always clear what you needed to do, whereas in 3 I always felt like I was somewhere I wasn't supposed to be yet, doing a thing I didn't really understand.

    (And no, I don't always want a game to hold my hand, and exploring is good gameplay, but I didn't like M&M 3's particular interpretation of it.)

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    1. How do you mean MM4 makes it clear what you need to do? Literally the entire plot is bumbling around randomly until you happen across the Xeen Slayer Sword.

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  6. Congratulations, you got a better score than I did (I think I skipped a lot).
    I agree Clouds is the weakest M&M game before MM9.

    I completed the game some 8.5 years ago, and unlike MM1-2 I've never felt an urge to replay it.
    These are my impressions from back then:

    "It's too bad Clouds of Xeen is so easy.
    Using Day of Protection, Day of Sorcery, Lloyd's Beacon, the magic mirrors and the fountains in Vertigo, Nightshadow and Rivercity there is no challenge anymore. Especially the fountain in Rivercity means you never have to rest anymore or waste time in Temples, since it will always work for a character who has less then max Spell Points, so you can cast all Revitalize and buffings spells you want without worrying about the spell points cost.
    MM1 and 2 were fully of nerve wrecking fights, while so far in Clouds of Xeen the only hard fights were against the Dwarf King, the Yak Liches (if unprepared) and the Yak Master.
    If the combat system wasn't so simplistic I think it could have been fun to try the game without using any buffs from spells and fountains, and rely on equipment for protection against the elements.
    Still it is a fun game for exploring and looting. "

    And after I won:
    "I used the default party.
    Didn't kill the Yak Master and I didn't explore the lava area, so the score could have been higher.
    I finished the game on Day 98 of 612 so I used three years game time.
    In real time I only used six days, so Clouds of Xeen is definitely shorter than the previous M&M games. I used two weeks on MM3 and nearly three weeks on MM2.
    I also think it was the weakest M&M game so far - too watered down and streamlined compared to its predecessors.
    The character development and constant item upgrades is what makes this game fun. It's also more balanced than MM3. In MM3 you could find caches on Obsidian gear early in the game, while in MM4 I didn't even find any Obsidian stuff. I didn't bother with unplugging the Cave of Illusions and thus making the safes "real", or pumping up Might to open the sarcophagi in Castle Basenji, though."

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    1. The Day of spells become worse when you realize you can easily find items which cast them, and Recharge Item will keep those items going until you've finished the last bonus dungeon.

      Meanwhile, the only viable healing spell is far too damn expensive, compared to just resting/Super Shelter. All other healing doesn't scale; only Power Cure, and it's cost is exorbitant.

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  7. I know I played Clouds and Darkside, but my memories of Clouds are vivid while I remember basically nothing from Darkside. Looking forward to seeing if your posts jog my memory.

    You review of Clouds is pretty fair, I reckon. It's really good if you just want that pure "killing monsters, looting, levelling up" gameplay loop, but it lacks a lot in the lore/story department.

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  8. Congratulations on winning that one.

    I know you're playing ahead, but maybe this bit of advice will be usefull. Your party from Clouds has a Mountaineer skill. On the Darkside the trainer for that skill is found fairly late in game. So, for the better gameflow experience, pretend you can't walk over mountains until you find that trainer. The party fresh from Castleview would be slaughtered in the areas beyond the mountains anyway, even with the buffs.

    For Celia, you need to visit Derek after rescuing her from the hut to finish that quest. It has a minor consequence on the Darkside, by the way.

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    1. I'm not playing ahead anymore. I haven't played anything in nearly 2 weeks. This post was the last of my prescheduled ones. I need to get moving if I'm going to have something out by Thursday.

      I'll probably have a "clean-up" entry where I finish some lightside business before moving on.

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  9. I know from firsthand experience, replayability is quite low. While other party members make for a new challenge, you end up lawn mowing everything, discovery is done, the story doesn't carry much and the jokes repeat. The humour is arguable anyways. Basically it becomes a grind - but a quite okay one. You can correct mistakes from your first run. Still have fond memories of it.

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  10. I wonder if I would have enjoyed this as much had I played the previous games in the series. The dumb comedy probably bothered me a lot less because I hadn't seen it done repeatedly before.

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  11. I like some of the absurd humor jokes, like when Xeen's castle is crashing and the PCs decided to "leave in an orderly fashion". Coincidentally, I'm watching Friends again this days and Joey is my favourite character

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  12. Being a big M&M fan myself, as M&MI was my first cRPG love, I was a bit disappointed to see Clouds do not so well in the Addict ratings, but aside from my evidently higher tolerance for silliness I can't disagree with your excellent and fair review. I just completed Torment: Numenera with my first playthrough as gold/blue Tide Nano (having lacked a 64-bit system to play games on) and was planning to give Clouds/Darkside another spin. I'll postpone that until I see what you make of Darkside now. Maybe Divine Divinity: Original Sin deserves the time more than a repeat play of this game. That way I can also keep my rose-tinted nostalgia glasses intact.... ;-)

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  13. The hall of legends was probably just a Lotus 123 spreadsheet.

    Somewhere in game, it may just be a rumor or some random person on a bench someplace I think they do say that New Castle was destroyed by Lord Xeen because they were working on the Slayer Sword in their basement. Then again it could have just been my head trying to make sense of it. Also if you are smart enough to make a weapon to kill the big bad you'd think you would be smart enough to not make the password to your laboratory be 'laboratory'...

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    1. In Richard Feynmans biography he describes how he became a safecracker at Los Alamos. Besides getting fast at trying combinations, and using some mechanical properties of the combination locks, it mostly involved trying personal data of the owner, like birthdays or other important days in their lives. So, even brilliant scientists and engineers are often bad at choosing codes/passwords.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. The sword being in Newcastle Dungeon does make sense if you read the manual. The party gathered because Crodo spoke to them (and obviously to others too) in their dreams.
      "You are the only people in the world with the power and resources to make a weapon capable of slaying Lord Xeen in your laboratories in Newcastle. You must make haste. If Lord Xeen discovers what you are doing he will destroy you."
      "The day after you had your last dream, Newcastle
      was destroyed by a bolt from the sky, and all its inhabitants were killed."

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    4. Not quite. The sword being in Newcastle Dungeon is *mentioned* in the manual, but that plotline still doesn't make a lot of sense.

      For instance, why doesn't Xeen or his minions seize the sword from the destroyed castle? Or why doesn't he use his skybolt power to destroy other parts of the world? Or why would Newcastle be the only place in the world where such a sword can be made, or why does a castle have laboratories in the first place? It really makes no sense if you think about it.

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    5. If castles didn’t have laboratories, where would witchers even come from?

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  14. "The first floor had a bunch of traps, but we disabled them by destroying poison, fire, cold, and electricity generators hidden in the four corners of the level."

    Sounds like Xeen made his dungeon into a microcosm of a typical M&M world with elemental lords in the four corners...

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    1. Hmmm. That's actually an interesting observation. I've been pondering what the "four corners" could mean in MM2 given the later revelations about that game world. My working thesis is that the elemental planes are other dimensions accessible (with the right technology) from anywhere in the universe. I think the four corners of CRON probably have portals similar to those we see in MM8. Xeen may have used similar technology.

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  15. I'll agree the Clouds portion is 'easy button' due to the protection and buff spells, and overall lack of spell diversity. Darkside is a bit more of a challenge but not much different than Clouds in that respect.

    I think the primary flaw with development of Xeen was that they made the simple Heroism spell mistakenly scale with level, eventually making short work of basically anything in the game with melee to where most spells aren't much needed anymore. Of course Ludwig's Xeen mod addresses this issue and subsequently nerfs the spell terribly back to within reason.

    At first I questioned the necessity of the change, but after playing both modded and original I can attest both Clouds and Darkside are far better from this revising of the broken Heroism spell. I'd probably just have removed it altogether and replaced with something else. If you want a better challenge, I'd say try not to rely on the spell as much or just don't use it at all.

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  16. I agree that Clouds feels a bit simplistic and empty but I am curious why it scored lower than MM3 in graphics.

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  17. IIRC, it was in the manual as to what happened to Newcastle. The player's party mistakenly got a series of dreams from Crodo, which explains why the obsession with the 6th Mirror, the thought that Lord Xeen and Roland were the same, and why Crodo was imprisoned. The end of the story has Newcastle destroyed by a bolt from the sky, the day after the last dream was sent.

    That said, it is a basic plot line, and not as well fleshed out as prior titles. Of course, M&M4 is little more than a 20 level demo for Darkside/World of Xeen, so take that as you will. IMO, they should have simply held off until Darkside was ready, and released World of Xeen as a singular title (like it's sold these days anyway).

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  18. Doom II also did the show-all-enemy-attacks-and-deaths thing in its ending. I wonder if someone at id got the idea from Might and Magic?

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  19. I have to agree that the first two M&M games have some real advantages over the III and Xeen games, though I'm much more tolerant of the sillier aspects.

    My biggest complaint about the newer games is that leveling up doesn't have the same visceral feel. Spells aren't level gated, and the attribute gains don't seem to give that much of an impact. Granted, the latter might be a consequence of the game being allergic to text - damage differences are easier to see when you see the actual numbers instead of maybe going over a splotch-size threshold.

    That said, these games are very satisfying to play in general.

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  20. Consider starting Darkside this way: Put all money except 800 gold and 10 gems to the bank, enter the Pyramid, teleport 5 squares west and walk north to the inn. Create 6 fresh characters there and don't enter Clouds before Darkside is finished. This way you'll have new classes, new faces and a bigger challenge.

    There are still the lava area and two caves there to explore on the Clouds side which I recommend doing with the old party before entering Darkside.

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  21. Impossible to know... but I always wonder how many people have actually solved many of these games. I would have to think a vast majority of purchases when never lead to the game being solved.

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    1. I got Might and Magic 1 in 1988 and beat it in 2011.

      I can't find it now but I thought I once read someplace where someone had mined the steam database and looked at completion rates for games and come up with how many people actually beat games on average I want to say it was something like 25% but I'm really not sure why.

      Despite taking 23 years to beat MM1 I would think that more people beat their games pre 2010s than do now because without steam/gog sales we were limited to 3-4 games a year unless we were really lucky or did a lot of trading or piracy.

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    2. There's a bunch of games on Steam that have an achievement very near the beginning - complete the tutorial, start a new game, etc. In almost every case, a pretty high percentage of players don't have it.

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    3. That's why they have them huh... smart bastards! And poor ones, by the sound of things.

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    4. I think the achievement thing might be because not everyone who bought a game started playing it already. I have plenty of games in my library I wanna play one day but just haven't gotten around to yet. Sometimes they sit in my library for years before I play them.

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    5. That's kind of what I meant. The comment I was replying to was discussing how many Steam players have games not finished, which is heavily skewed by the number of people who have games they have never even started.

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    6. A better way of ranking is, then, "out of all the players that have at least one achievement, how many have THIS achievement".

      That's pretty close to "what percentage of players that have started the game have actually finished it".

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  22. Wow, I called it on the syllables spelling LABORATORY. Good thing you'd already won and scheduled your post. I didn't mean to spoil anything. :)

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  23. I think the "cupie" dolls go back even further to Might & Magic II. There was a circus that showed up on certain days, and, similarly, you could get stat boosts from it.

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    1. The cupie dolls appear in MM2 and MM4 (you can understand the appearance in MM4 as tribute to MM2) but definitely not in MM3.

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  24. I have played M&M4 several times and got part way through it and I do agree that it is lacking in structure and variety. I haven't played M&M5 though. Without spoiling anything, what is it about M&M5 that is such a big improvement over 4?

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  25. I was quite surprised to see Clouds score so low, so surprised actually that I had to compare your review to MM1. Having played MM1 about two years ago the discrepancy of almost 20 points in favor of MM1 didn't make any sense to me. I definitely respected the things MM1 did, they seem to be very advanced for its time, but in the end I would be kidding myself if I pretended I had more fun with MM1 than MM4.

    I hope you don't find me comparing both reviews against each other disrespectful, it is certainly not meant this way. I just wanted to see what led to the difference and why my experience was so different.


    You gave MM1 a 6 for the world and Clouds a 3. I understand that Clouds is relatively bland for its time and MM1 was great for its time but it doesn't really have a more detailed world, it doesn't have a larger storyline, the sidequests are decent, but not that great either in 1. I just don't understand the 3pt difference here.

    Char develeopment is 5 for both which makes sense to me.

    NPC interaction is 4 for MM1 and 2 for Clouds. But the NPC system is almost exactly the same. Maybe there were a few encounters in 1 where you had a trivial choice. 2pts less for Clouds seems overly harsh in comparison.

    Encounters/foes has 1pt in favor of MM1. Again it is mostly the same system, but maybe the balance is better in MM1. Seems fair if you perceived it that way.

    Magic and Combat in Clouds you describe as buffing and whacking. While I think your approach of exploring an open world game on your terms is a totally fair and valid one it probably warps your impression of the game most in this aspect. Walking into certain areas underpowered you had to rely heavily on buffs which mostly help your melee characters whereas spells scale with character levels and thus feel underpowered, which they wouldn't be if you had an adequate level. At least I remember Fireball/Lightning Ball/Energy Punch doing a very servicable job for me.

    Equipment is 7 for MM1 and 5 for Clouds. I'm not sure where the 7 for MM1 comes from. The equipment is certainly fine in both, but 7 for MM1 seems awfully high.

    Economy is rather weak in Clouds although 3 seems harsh. I must admit I don't remember exactly how long gold was relevant in MM1 so I'll not "challenge" the 7 here. Something to keep in mind for equip and econ however is that you are essentially evaluating half a game. Clouds doesn't make use of the MM3-5 high lvl equipment because it needs to leave upgrades for Darkside. With Gold it is similar. The midgame of WoX you don't care about money, but it becomes more relevant towards the end again when training costs go through the roof.

    Quest 8 vs 5 seems fair to me. I found MM1 quests often a bit tedious, but they seemed to do a better job for your taste. At the same time Clouds quests are too often find and retrieve stuff or trivial puzzles.

    Graphics/Sound/interface is 6 to 4 in favor of Clouds. The difference seems a bit small considering how much better Clouds looks and taking into account that MM1 sound is quite awful (although you seem to have adapted a bit to the sounds of the era, noting it as improvement on the other games of its time). Considering that you value controls extremely highly the smaller discrepancy makes sense, though.

    Gameplay 8 vs 6 in favor of MM1 comes down a bit to personal taste I think. Where you revel in the completely open world of MM1 I find myself rather lost there. I prefer an open world where the game gives you some guidance like in Wizardry 7 where you complained a bit about the pseudo-open world if I remember correctly. Clouds funnels you more than MM1 so it would make sense that it caters better to your taste.


    Anyway, thanks for your great work. Brings back so many good memories!!

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    1. I think the Addict has said before that some of the early entries in this blog have somewhat inflated scores compared to where he's settled over time? So perhaps that accounts for at least some part of the discrepancy between the two games.

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    2. MM1 and 2 not only allow for a much larger number of enemies in any given fight (which can drastically affect how you approach the combat), but also allow much more diversity in enemy types. This potentially makes tactical decisions much more complex.

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    3. I think he's also said that he's now saving higher scores in each category for modern games, the assumption being they'll trend upward as he moves through the years.

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    4. Well, addict also said that the numbers are supposed to be independent of time of release. Of course while that goal is a good one maybe at some point you realize that it basically cannot work, no matter how hard you try.

      But if we say that some ratings deflation is inevitable then the numbers make more sense to me.

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    5. Between the two games, I would much rather replay MM1, so to me the relative position of the two games works very well. I honestly think MM1 is a better game irrespective of its year.

      I don't want to encourage point-by-point comparisons of the GIMLET scores. Yes, maybe I was a bit generous during that first year. But I can explain most of them. MM1 gets a higher NPC score because it had joinable NPCs, which I always prize (still, I admit that if I was grading it now, I'd probably give it a 3). Meanwhile, the game world felt more interesting to me in MM1 because, paradoxically, it wasn't graphically advanced. That the "outdoor" maps were just indoor dungeons with outdoor textures meant that it took longer to explore each area, and you couldn't do it by lawnmowing. You could use your imagination to fill in the blanks and make the areas feel like the fantastic images on the game map.

      As you point out, a lot of the rest comes down to personal preference. The changes that I would make to the GIMLET based on conventions developed in later years might ultimately subtract 3-5 points from the score. It would still be in the top 10-15 games I've played since starting this blog, which remains consistent with how I feel about the game's quality.

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    6. I agree that the topic of what level of realism we expect due to the quality of the graphics is an interesting one. For me Clouds doesn't cross the threshold yet, where I expect an actual effort towards realism.

      What I found a bit paradoxical is that I very recently played MM6 for the first time and the higher level of "realism" annoyed me no end. The towns are populated with people, but everybody is walking around aimlessly like a zombie day and night. In MM1-5 I just accept that normal people etc are not relevant for the game and thus not displayed. In MM6 they are irrelevant for the game, but displayed in an in your face unrealistic way and this seems to be the worst for me.

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  26. This has to go here but just a jay to a new entry and good speed on your jolliday.

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  27. Now is the time to do Swords of Xeen. I know it was released years later, but the quality is borderline and it may be a good segway to prepare for Darkside of Xeen.

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    1. Swords is explicitly a sequel to Darkside, though. Ng yrnfg fgbeljvfr, gur ovt onq bs fjbeqf pynvzf gb or gur oenva oruvaq gur ovt onq bs qnexfvqr. Zrpunavpnyyl gur tnzrf ner vqragvpny, naq va grezf bs tnzr jbeyq gurl unir nofbyhgryl abguvat gb qb jvgu rnpu bgure.

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  28. I don't believe there is really ever a good time to play Swords of Xeen. It's an incomplete user mod with quests that you have no way of figuring out without a walkthrough. I don't know why NWC turned it into an 'official' M&M game but they sure didn't check the complete game out for quality.

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    Replies
    1. Swords of Xeen was never sold. It's a fan-made game which was given away as bonus content in some collections. It's not as polished as the official games but still worth playing.

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    2. I predict that Swords will score lower than Clouds.

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  29. I wouldn't really do Swords before Darkside. It is by far the hardest game of the series and it doesn't make much sense thematically to do it before Darskide.

    On the plus side I'm not as down on the game as Ken. The increased difficulty makes for tactical challenges that no other M&M offers (unfortunately some of these tactics get old and repetitive rather quickly).

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  30. I think judging Clouds as a separate game is somewhat of a disservice to both games; Clouds served as a starter to Darkside and as a whole World of Xeen is pretty fantastic... although I do prefer Terra overall. I think the Might and Magic series may be my favorite series overall and the fact that I have so much history with the series could color my view. I am currently finishing up Terra and in the middle of Mandate and can honestly say those are my favorite games of the series overall and it all comes down to FUN this series is based on entertaining the player more than being challenging in the way Wizardry is
    BTW I really would like to see you take on Grimoire

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  31. We had a lot of discussion on the grand overarching plot of Might & Magic, so it's interesting to find the fourth game does absolutely NOTHING with this plot. As far as I see, it doesn't mention Corak, Sheltem, or the Ancients anywhere.

    For that matter, the third game doesn't do anything with it either; it instead deals with three kings and their power orbs. Only at the very last minute of the game you randomly run into Sheltem; he doesn't even get a picture, immediately flees from you, and your party never meets him again. That's more of a shaggy dog story, really.

    As I recall, the second game is actually about King Kalohn and his magic orb. At the very last minute, Sheltem appears out of nowhere (with no mention earlier), and the party kills him.

    The first game is actually about Corak and Sheltem, I'll admit. But if an overarching plot skips three whole GAMES, how much of an overarching plot is it, really?

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    1. Well it certainly is overarching. Arching over at least 3 games, that is.

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    2. It's kind of like an episodic TV series where 90% of the episode is about the "problem of the week" but the last 10% is devoted to the season's arc.

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  32. The Xeen slayer sword and why it's in the ruins of Newcastle makes perfect sense after reading the manual. I'm surprised that you did not read it seeing as you seem quite fond of The Might and Magic series as a whole and generally read the manuals for most of the other games on your blog.

    Also, the game gives several story points/hints on the Rumors tab at taverns that address your other questions. For instance it tells you Roland left for the Dark Side, and that some of the dungeons on Clouds will be inaccessible until visiting Dark Side along with the machines on the four corners of the map.

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    Replies
    1. Don't be absurd. Of course I read the manual. I summarized it for the first entry. I just didn't remember this specific part of the manual by the time I reached it in the game.

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