Thoughts: Might & Magic Legacy.


Potentially controversial opinion time: I don’t like Might and Magic:Legacy very much.

That I ended up not liking it surprised me as much as anyone else. Legend of Grimrock came out a couple of years ago and did the first-person tile-based dungeon-crawler thing (gosh, that’s a lot of hyphens) very well, successfully proving that this unashamedly old-school concept could work when resuscitated and being given a fresh coat of paint. This Might and Magic reboot is shooting for the same goal, albeit with a different approach: where Grimrock focused on puzzles and exploration in a single massive dungeon, Might and Magic prefers to do pseudo open-world gameplay in an outside environment populated with monsters and dungeons. There’s barely any puzzles in the game and the ones that are present are extremely easy1, and so the focus shifts onto the game’s combat. Fortunately for Might and Magic its turn-based combat system is leaps and bounds ahead of Grimrock’s real time safety dance. Unfortunately for Might and Magic everything else that feeds into the stock RPG combat loop is not so much broken as it is dated by about twenty years.

This is – in my opinion, anyway – Might and Magic’s greatest failing: it’s attempting to resurrect an ancient gameplay concept, just like Grimrock, but its approach is to slavishly copy every single feature and mechanic that went into that old concept in the hope that having a perfect replica will lead to a repeat of the original’s success. It’s only because this particular offshoot of the genre has been utterly abandoned for a decade or so that Might and Magic gets by at all on novelty value; I like a lot of the things it does purely because I haven’t seen them done in quite this way before. I wasn’t sure how well the tile-based approach would work in an outside environment but it’s actually pretty effective. Everything is abstracted and scaled down so that towns are only fifty-odd squares apart, but the crucial sense of exploration and place that the first-person perspective provides is very much intact and the map designers have been quite good at sprinkling secrets and points of interest around the place. There are monsters that can be seen lurking in the distance and if you want you can go over and fight them, even if you’re ten-odd levels below them and get murdered horribly. Might and Magic does put some scripted blocks on your progress during the first act, but once you’re done with that the only limit to your exploration is your ability to cope with the enemies you’ll encounter along the way. But about that…


…yeah. This is where Might and Magic’s low-budget nature catches up with it.  It’s not bad-looking and aside from some horrifying pop-in when wondering around the world map it runs decently, but the only reason it looks even half as good as it does is because of its wholesale theft of assets from Heroes of Might & Magic/Dark Messiah. Building and animating characters is clearly not one of the developer’s strong suits (as evidenced by there being very few original models in the game) and so I wouldn’t normally begrudge them filling in this gap by purloining stuff from other titles in the series. However, because they’re basically stuck with what’s in those games with no way to really change it themselves Might and Magic ends up reusing models a hell of a lot. Like, a hell of a lot. To the point where there’s often two or three of Leanna standing around in a given town. I can let that go because town residents are nearly all generic NPCs anyway – and the ones that aren’t get a nice hand-drawn portrait when you’re talking to them to distinguish them from everyone else – but when it comes to the monsters and enemies you fight this constant reuse of assets is nigh unforgivable.

Here is the problem. During Act One of the game you fight milita and rogue mages, which use the militia and rogue mage models. Then later on you’re supposed to fight militia captains and elite rogue mages, which use the militia and rogue mage models. After this you fight blackguards and dark sorcerers, which use the militia and rogue mage models (albeit painted black). It’s a similar story with spiders, ghosts and undead; there’s almost no way to distinguish between the easy version of the enemy you’ve been slicing through for the last hour and the ubercharged version that’ll often one-shot your spellcasters, making it impossible to gauge how difficult a given combat encounter is going to be without physically going up to an enemy and letting it punch you in the face. Combine this with a difficulty curve that’s absolutely merciless, even on the easiest difficulty setting, and you have a game where you quicksave and quickload a hell of a lot. Any given fight will often take at least two or three tries to finish, even if you use cheesy tactics like backing into a corridor and making enemies come at you in single file.  Might and Magic is the most trial-and-error game I’ve played in quite some time, and not in a good way.


Anyway, about that RPG combat loop I mentioned earlier. The way RPGs have done it since the dawn of time is:

1)      Fight enemy.

2)      Kill enemy.

3)      Get XP and loot

4)      Repeat steps 1-3 until you can level up and buy bigger weapons.

5)      Repeat steps 1-4 with a bigger enemy.

Now, the big problem RPGs have is that step 1 is only partially dependent on how skilled the player is. Their character’s maximum power level is built into the system by design; the core mechanic of the game is focused around killing small things until you can increase that power level and take on progressively bigger things. If you aren’t high enough level to kill a given monster then all the buffs and consumables and lucky combat rolls in the world aren’t going to help you. If it’s beyond your capability to kill it then you’re best off leaving and coming back later when you’re higher level. It’s a fairly straightforward mechanic, so much so that games like Diablo base themselves entirely around it with great success, but the catch is that there needs to be some sort of safety valve in case a player isn’t very good at the game, builds their party suboptimally or otherwise reaches a point in the game’s storyline where they’re blocked from progressing further by the level difference between their characters and the monsters they’re facing.

Said safety valve is a very simple one, albeit one which has been adopted and abused by just about every other genre under the sun these days: grind. By always giving the player the option to kill crappy low-level enemies you ensure they will never get themselves into a position where they’re stuck with no chance of continuing further into the storyline. It might not be much fun for the player, but making an already existing element of the game repeatable in this manner is an incredibly simple fix to a very serious design flaw. If a player can grind their level up they can eventually overcome any shortcomings they might have in personal skill or party compositions through their sheer power.


I don’t usually spend a paragraph and a half of my reviews outlining game mechanics so fundamental I thought that their existence was pretty much taken for granted these days, but you can probably guess why I’m mentioning it: Might and Magic doesn’t have any respawning enemies, and hence no grind. If you don’t include a self-correcting mechanic like grind then you have to absolutely nail your game balance so that players progress through the game in exactly the way that the designers intend with no room for error – except because the people playing your game are going to be squishy, fallible human beings who will do extremely strange and unexpected things when faced with your apparently perfectly-pitched game experience2, there is going to be an awful lot of error. Taken in conjunction with the punishing difficulty curve – which is balanced towards players who know how to build their parties and who are making full use of spells, consumables and buffs – it’s all too easy to get stuck in Might and Magic with no apparent way of beating a tough encounter. There were too many occasions where I’d get destroyed in two hits by some innocuous-looking enemy and wonder if I’d somehow missed an area somewhere, since this was the only way I could account for my party’s apparent low level. There’s also no character respec, meaning that if you do build your party suboptimally – and while Might and Magic does have an excellent system built around dumping points into a myriad of passive skills, because there’s so much choice it’s very easy to put points into the wrong thing – there’s no way to get yourself out of that particular hole.

It’s this hole that I’ve found myself irretreviably stuck in after fifteen hours of battering my way through unwinnable fight after unwinnable fight. It’s not that they’re truly unwinnable, you see. The one I’m stuck on right now, I imagine that if I went to a merchant and bought a bunch of Scrolls of Water Protection I could probably scrape through it by the skin of my teeth, but after going through this crap for the tenth time in a row – where I had no real idea what would be needed to win the fight before I actually started it – I’ve completely lost interest in continuing further into the game. I’ve run out of smaller monsters to kill. My initial class choices turned out to be distinctly underpowered; ranged weapons are practically useless so the Ranger had to be converted into a crippled dagger-wielder (after I put about 15 points into the Bow skill), while the Orc Barbarian’s class bonus and two-handed weapon bonus are bugged and do not work. The Rune Priest’s Fire Magic dragged me this far into the game, but I’ve started to run into enemies with significant amounts of fire resistance and he doesn’t have any other magic that’s really worth a damn. My party is underpowered and apparently underlevelled; every fight is frustratingly hard now, and that frustration has grown to the point where I’d rather go and play something else than continue on with Might and Magic: Legacy. I’m hardly a lightweight gamer, so my assessment is that if a game has let me get into this position of being so irrevocably stuck that my only option is to restart the whole thing – and let us remember that Might and Magic is not a short game, and that I was two-thirds of the way through it – then that game is fundamentally flawed in terms of design. I’m not saying that you’ll definitely fall into this pit too if you play it, but the risk is there; Might and Magic is a game that has no compunctions about wasting my time, at least, and my time is far too valuable to waste these days. So I’m moving on. So long, Might and Magic. You had (or resurrected) several good ideas, but I really don’t think you had to bring the bad ones along as well.


  1. With the exception of the riddle chest where I apprehensively typed in “Palimpsest” thinking “Nah, this is way too obscure to be the answer,” only to have the thing unexpectedly pop open.
  2. And believe me when I say I have seen player behaviour so weird I thought it had to be a robot because no sane human would act in this fashion.
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17 thoughts on “Thoughts: Might & Magic Legacy.

  1. Curiously, my history with M&MX is very similar to yours, only shorter. Act 1 was intriguing and interesting: I’ve discovered new tactics, researched new skills and spells… And then in Act 2 I’ve used exactly the same spells and skills, only slightly more powerful and increasingly useless. I’ve started to rest after each fight, aggro’d enemies one by one, discovered how useless my Orc archer is, discovered that mages do not need armor skill cause there are special robes for them… And party hasn’t evolved. My main attack skill was Rune Priest’s fireball, Elven Mage healed everyone and I’ve walked through the world with save/load looking for some idiots to kill. I’d get more tactical RPG fun from free roguelikes, I’ve decided, and uninstalled it.

    Ah yes, and FPS were low as hell.

    • Hentzau says:

      Yeah, that’s pretty much my experience with it. I persevered further because there are some things to like about it, but at the end of the day it’s just not worth it when there are other, better games available to play. Might and Magic is far from the worst offender where this is concerned, but if I made that decision sooner with bad games I’d probably be a lot happier.

  2. Darren says:

    I agree with you that there needs to be the option for grinding, though I’m more willing to restart and reroll for a game like this.

    I’d like to say the performance is pretty bad considering how primitive the game is in every regard (though this is supposedly going to be patched later this month), but that worse yet is the placement of trainers.

    There is no Expert Spear trainer in the starting town, for example, even though a spear-wielding character is likely to get to that point before the next town is open. The other trainers are scattered all over Hell and Creation with no rhyme or reason, and the higher end ones have strict requirements that may be far outside the bounds of what you are capable of achieving when you stumble across them.

    I think, all things considered, that I’d like to see another game of this type–turn-based, tile-based, party-based–with a few tweaks to the formula, so hopefully the game at least sells well enough that there’ll either be a sequel or a similar title from another studio.

    OH, also, what about the game’s open development? Do you think that had anything to do with the slavishly old school nature of the game?

    • Hentzau says:

      There’s two types of open development. There is open development a la Project Eternity, where Obsidian are providing semi-regular detailed updates on the processes they go through to design and develop the game, and this is fascinating. It’s fascinating even when one of the updates is basically one of the producer’s spreadsheets for blocking out how the team divides their time. As a Kickstarter backer I have sod all real influence on how they make the game, but it’s still really interesting to see how they go about it. While it probably wouldn’t work for all games I’m very much in favour of this kind of open development.

      Then there’s the other kind of open development, which is the one where you let your fans have direct input into the development process. This is suicidal. You might think that developing directly for them is the easiest way to please your target audience, but what people think they want is often not what they actually want, not to mention the fact that opening up development to a thousand amateur designers who all think they know best is not the way to produce something coherent or worthwhile. While I wasn’t following M&M’s development I imagine there was a lot of feedback from long-time fans of the series to keep it as old-school as possible. I also imagine that these long-time fans of the series are very pleased with the resulting game. If this is true, though, I *know* that the long-time fans are dwarfed by a far larger number of new players who will have bounced off the surface or given up like I did. That’s not how you develop a game; while you don’t have to cast your net particularly wide you don’t target a small fraction of your most vocal fans either, otherwise your game will stagnate in the tiniest of niches.

      Also I don’t think the lategame trainers were particularly ill-placed, but putting Expert trainers in areas of the map that were blocked off until four or five hours after a character would have hit Expert level in that skill was really, really stupid.

      • Nailed it. The “Most Helpful” review for Dead State, on Steam Early Access, is a rant from someone who feels like they’ve been screwed over because they feel the developers aren’t interested in their opinion.

        That in itself makes me feel justified in backing the thing on Kickstarter in the first place.

        • Hentzau says:

          True story: I saw a comment the other day that referred to Dead State as a “State of Decay clone” and it made me so damn sad.

      • innokenti says:

        From what I know, Limbic did take on fan input, but they were pretty on-board with this style of game, and I don’t think there was anything significant that fans requested that wasn’t already in the game.

        I don’t think they were targeting fans particularly to be honest.

        Anyway. Whatever.

        • Hentzau says:

          Well, *you’re* happy with it. I REST MY CASE.

          (To everyone else: I am joking. I recognise that it is perfectly possible to enjoy M&M, and I don’t begrudge people doing so.)

  3. innokenti says:

    Having a pretty different experience to everyone here…

    I am by no means a powergamer… but I’ve had little difficulty in puzzling out how to get my party working. It seems that the game pushed me to having slightly broader characters, focusing on doing 2-3 things fairly well (gated gently by the need for trainers to progress past those chockepoints).

    I’ve also enjoyed working through the handy bestiary and figuring out patters for how monsters work and what weaknesses I need to exploit – which magic I need to bring to bear, or which of Evade/Armour/Both I need to be cutting down to deal the damage. The descriptions for ranged damage clearly show that it has penalties in melee range, so finding myself in melee range a lot of the time I made sure that my primary ranged user expanded out a little bit to provide other support and damage.

    Some fights seem to be unwinnnable, but aren’t. Not even in the sense that you can theoretically punch a bit above your level with careful use of scrolls/etc. Just using all the tools at one’s disposal.

    Coming to the end of Act 3 and it has been a thorough and interesting romp – steady scaling of the challenge – lots of things to explore and find and areas slowly opening up.

    It’s quite possible I’ve just evaded most of these problems but… I dunno… I think you just might not be hardcore enough Hentzau. :P

    • Darren says:

      I think the problem is that it isn’t clear from the outset how you need to compose your party. Typically in party-based RPGs you want each character to be fairly specialized, but here you generally need characters to have some variety. The keyword in the title is neither Might nor Magic, but and.

      I agree that ranged is fine if you accept that it’s not meant to be the primary offensive tool in a character’s arsenal (actually why I picked the orc rogue, as they are clearly geared towards being a supplementary rather than primary archer). However, I imagine many people would assume the presence of an archery-focused elf class to indicate that ranged skills are a viable primary skill and ended up painting themselves into a corner.

    • Hentzau says:

      I have already shouted at you about every one of these points. Just cast your mind back to those moments. Imagine I am doing it to you again now. Bask in the warm glow of my rage. And then never mention this game to me again.

  4. Anonymous says:

    ooh spicy blog love…I’m coming back…

  5. I notice that torment Numenera won’t have any “trash mobs”, I wonder what their balancing mechanism will be

  6. […] a similar note, it’s also perfectly possible to run afoul of the upgrade system and find yourself part-way through the game, having screwed yourself through […]

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