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RPG Codex Review: Might & Magic X: Legacy

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RPG Codex Review: Might & Magic X: Legacy

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 8 March 2014, 19:49:06

Tags: Limbic Entertainment; Might & Magic X - Legacy; Ubisoft

In January Ubisoft and Limbic Entertainment released Might & Magic X: Legacy, the newest installment in one of the most venerable RPG series. In a detailed review you've all been waiting for, esteemed community member and Might and Magic connoisseur Sceptic examines just to what extent MMX departs from or improves on the previous games in the series. I'll quote his conclusion here, but be sure to read the full review for his analysis:

There is no doubt about it: MMXL is an excellent game and the best turn-based blobber for the PC since forever, and not only because it has very little in the way of competition. It is obvious that Limbic put much love into making it and despite many flaws it stands as proof that turn-based gameplay is not and will never be passé. Only one question remains: how does it compare to the previous entries in the series purely as a Might and Magic game?

[...] In summary, MMXL does not quite live up to the expectations that I had when reading everything that was released by Limbic about the game, as well as the Codex previews. Perhaps no game could have lived up to the expectations one builds after 12 years of waiting for the next entry in a beloved series, an entry that no one ever expected would see the light of day. The game departs from the M&M formula where it matters the most, the overworld exploration. Additionally, it has quite a few flaws in its combat system. But it also preserves and improves core M&M tenets. The character system, the dungeons, the puzzles, the Relics, and yes, even many aspects of exploration have been lovingly recreated to please fans of the series, but also improved - something that the old series excelled at doing in almost every new iteration. Despite its flaws, the game's combat can be a lot of fun and it is certainly the most serious attempt at tactics that the series has attempted in a very long time. What matters is that none of the game's flaws are serious enough to warrant depriving oneself from the pleasure of playing it. After all, the Codex's favourite games are all flawed gems. We have always preferred games that try for challenging and tactical combat and for meaningful non-linear exploration, to ones that give up and go for typical modern formulae and restrictive cinematic experiences. MMXL certainly tries very hard, and it often succeeds. Even the exploration, despite being such a departure from what M&M did best, is excellent if divorced from the series' expectations and taken on its own terms.

The final verdict should be obvious by now: MMXL is a must-buy and a must-play. Limbic did a superlative job in bringing together many beloved elements from the series, improving where they could and not dumbing down where it matters. The flaws are immaterial in the grand scheme of things; Limbic have proven they can make a real (and good!) M&M game, and they have certainly proven that they can make an excellent turn-based tile-based blobber with all the joyful gameplay elements that entails. All Ubisoft needs to see is that there is a market for this kind of game, no matter how niche. MMXL may not be the best M&M game to date, but it's more than good enough, and if Limbic can iron out the flaws in the combat system and improve exploration and other aspects, then MMXI will really be something special. I'm certainly looking forward to it.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Might & Magic X: Legacy

[Written by Sceptic, edited by Infinitron]

When they acquired the rights to the Might and Magic franchise more than a decade ago, Ubisoft categorically stated that they would never make another entry in the main CRPG series. They then proceeded to scrap the universe that had been built by Jon Van Caneghem and New World Computing and replaced it with their own setting, much to the dismay of old-time fans of the series. Things didn't turn out too badly, after a fashion; HOMM5 was a pretty good game in its own right, and once the Tribes of the East expansion was released it was widely considered on par with the best Heroes of Might and Magic, and rightly so. The Nintendo DS spinoff Clash of Heroes is also considered good for what it is. Even Ashan, the new setting developed by Ubisoft, became less generic and eventually developed its own charm. With the certainty that the old and beloved gameplay would never return, we moved on and learned to live with what we had.

Then about a year ago, hell froze over when, seemingly completely out of the blue, Ubisoft announced that they had greenlighted Might and Magic X: Legacy, a turn-based, tile-based CRPG blobber(!) (which is what we call a first-person party-based RPG around here), mostly based on World of Xeen but also borrowing gameplay elements from MM6-8(!!), to be developed by Julien Pirou and the German-based Limbic Entertainment. Naturally, the Codex's immediate reactions were suspicious and included the usual “hurr durr another popamole consoletard game”. However, it quickly became apparent that this game was indeed "the real thing". In the Codex's second preview of the game, Zeriel played an extended version of the game's Early Access release and happened to like it quite a bit. In that same preview, fellow Codexer Broseph went as far as saying that “MMXL has everything it needs to be the next great title in the series” and even that “MMXL could end up being the best game in the series yet(!)” (yes, the exclamation mark is part of the original quote). Ubisoft wasted no time in using the former line as part of their advertisement (even the Codex likes our game!) and were even kind enough to provide us with a review copy and copious amounts of Mountain Dew Canada Dry. Needless to say, we waited for the 23rd of January and the final release with no small amount of trepidation.

There is no doubt about it: MMXL is an excellent game and the best turn-based blobber for the PC since forever, and not only because it has very little in the way of competition. It is obvious that Limbic put much love into making it and despite many flaws it stands as proof that turn-based gameplay is not and will never be passé. Only one question remains: how does it compare to the previous entries in the series purely as a Might and Magic game?


Audiovisuals, ergonomics and other technicalities

The only real requirement for graphics in a CRPG is that they not be ugly to the point of inducing blindness (see the bloom in Oblivion) and that they be functional. I was therefore a little mystified by some of the mainstream journalists' complaints about “ugly graphics” in MMXL. Sure they're not exactly stunning, but they serve their purpose and, more importantly, they don't look like someone randomly splattered pastels all over the screen. The M&M series has never really been famous for its state-of-the-art graphics anyway (though the graphical style in MM3-5 was excellent). Since MMXL was a very low budget production, many assets are lifted straight out of HOMM6 and other Ashan games, but I don't see the problem with recycling graphical assets if this means more resources can be spent on making quality content (after all, isn't this what we have always asked for?). Environments are distinctive, with decent variety in the textures used in dungeons as well as outdoors. On occasion there's even some impressive variety within the same dungeon, particularly in the Elemental Forge and in the Tomb of Terror. The outdoors occasionally give rise to some pretty vistas where you can see locations you have yet to discover, a nice touch. The visuals do seem to lack the cartoony charm of MM3-5, as well as the equally-charming mixture of 3D, sprites and photographic portraits of MM6, but this should hardly be a concern to anyone who has played MM1 in its glorious 16-colour EGA, which definitely had no charm to speak of either. The graphical assets are certainly functional; although the normal and elite versions of the same enemy sometimes look similar, each enemy type is extremely distinctive and once you have seen one you will instantly recognise it in future encounters, even when part of a mixed group. This is helpful in determining what special abilities are about to be used against you and how to counter them.

Speaking of charm, the UI will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has played MM3-8. The portraits of your party members are arrayed on the bottom of the screen, with the quick command buttons right below them (more on these shortly). Active beneficial spells on your party are indicated via handy and very recognisable icons above the portraits, with the number of turns left on each one clearly displayed. For the first time since MM2, the top-left corner has a scrolling text box that helps you keep track of the exact numbers generated in combat (such as damage taken and received) in stark contrast to MM3-5 where these numbers were completely opaque to the player. MM8 had previously moved the minimap from the top-right corner of the screen to the bottom-right, and MMXL keeps it there. As usual (for MM6-8 at least), clicking the minimap opens up a larger version. In dungeons the main map will cover the entire level, but on the overworld, since it's not split up into discrete areas as it was in the previous games in the series, it only ends up showing a tiny fraction of the areas surrounding you. As with the previous games there is no way to scroll or zoom out the main map; this was never a problem in MM2-8, since you could see the entire area at a glance, but it makes the MMXL map lose some of its usefulness due to the overworld design, a topic that I'll discuss later. Old-time players will fondly recall the bat at the top of the screen in MM3-5, which indicated whether enemies were nearby. The same position now holds a gem that glows yellow if enemies are near but haven't engaged you, and red when enemies are actively coming after you. The former setting is helpful in planning ahead for encounters, at least when the enemies don't ambush you and you can actually see them before combat begins.


Although MM1-2 could only be played using the keyboard, MM3-8 all included a mixed control scheme where all commands were duplicated, allowing either full keyboard control, full mouse control, or as much of a mixture as each player wanted. MMXL continues this fine tradition and brings a few small but pleasant improvements. In keeping up with the times, the movement system is shifted from the arrow keys (more specifically, the numerical keypad, with Numlock turned off) that the previous games had used to the now more natural WASD, which means you will finally be able to play M&M without having to move your keyboard to the side. As usual, the Spacebar is the main interaction button, and the game closely follows MM3-5 in that you do not need to select what part of the screen you want to interact with; there is only ever one object you can interact with and simply pressing Spacebar will do the trick. The game will usually zoom onto the object of interest (typically a chest) when you step into the tile containing it in order to allow interaction, though this part seems a bit buggy and in a couple of cases the zoom-in will not happen and interaction will be impossible, requiring a bit of back-and-forth before it finally catches. The character sheets, inventory, quest journal, area map and world map all have handy shortcuts for quick access. The journal is pretty minimalistic compared to MM6-8, which had pretty detailed autonotes, and even the quest log won't always tell you where the questgiver you need to return to actually is, which will necessitate good old fashioned manual note-taking. This isn't a bad thing - I haven't had to actually take out a notepad (not a post-it) to jot things down since Ultima V: Lazarus almost a decade ago, and having a CRPG make you think about what's important enough to note down is always good. Finally, almost every UI element has a tooltip with a description of what it does.

The best feature in the new system is the introduction of the quickbar commands. MM3-5 had nine buttons on the right-hand side of the screen that allowed you attack with melee or ranged weapons, block, open the spellbook, cast a quickspell and so on, and each had a keyboard shortcut associated with it. The quick commands serve a similar purpose using the number keys (1 to 0) but are fully customisable for each character, so if you don't like the default use of 1 for melee and 2 for ranged, you can switch them around, or put melee as 9, or take the ranged attack out entirely if that character never uses it. Speaking of quickspell, that option is now much expanded: instead of having a single spell assigned as the quickspell, any spell can be placed directly on the quickbar at whatever slot you'd like it to be by simply dragging it from the spellbook. You can go nuts and have the full 10 slots assigned to different quickspells. Although you will still have to go through the spellbook for the more situational spells, this system dramatically reduces the amount of tedious flipping through pages every time you want to cast a spell and makes the gameplay much smoother. In general, the whole interface feels extremely polished and easy to use and it is clear that much thought has gone into its layout, which is particularly welcome in a low-budget game. This is what that hated word “accessibility” should really mean: well laid out and fully customisable options that allow for easier control even during more complex gameplay.

Dialogue screens are very reminiscent of MM6-8, with some minor changes. The usual “trade” and “rest” options are still there, but instead of keywords you now have more specific options that are prefaced with the type of interaction, such as “Trainer: Axe Expert” or “Quest” Lost Lambs” and so on. The system works as well as usual, although it does have a couple of oddities: there appears to be no keyboard shortcut to exit conversations, and the only way to do so is by clicking on the exit button on the bottom right of the screen. Likewise, some houses have multiple people you can talk to, and you can only switch between them by clicking on their portraits.


Character portraits have been a series staple since MM3, and despite going through multiple styles throughout the series (from cartoony in MM3-5 to photorealistic in MM6 to 3D-rendered in MM7-8) they were always used to indicate which character was under a negative status effect. MMXL continues this tradition by putting a small red arrow on characters with a status effect, with a tooltip describing what the effect does and what school of magic can cure it. Unfortunately the portraits themselves are not as entertaining as they were in the past due to absence of the “insanity” status (not to mention “in love” and “heartbroken”), though as some form of consolation, old-timers will be delighted to find out that the “dead” portrait is eerily similar to the “eradicated” one from MM3-5.

If there's one area where Limbic has tried to play on old fans' nostalgia, it's clearly with the sound effects. Many were lifted straight out of MM6-8 and will be instantly recognisable, such as the sound of gold being looted, or the level-up fanfare (which used to play when switching from real-time to turn-based mode). MMXL also continues the older games' tradition of having the party characters say canned lines when enemies are nearby, and when accepting and turning in quests, and also to highlight specific events during combat. There have been some complaints (including from fellow Codexers) that the voices can get annoying, but this is staying very true to the spirit of MM6-8, as anyone who remembers “it's just a cut but I want it fixed!” can surely attest. The lines said during combat can be pretty useful sometimes, as characters have specific lines for when they're hit but don't take any damage because a spell absorbed it all, which makes it easier to keep track of exactly what's going on without having to constantly refer to the combat log. If you have any secret detection ability active (whether via spell or hireling) a character will also speak up when near one, which alleviates the need to scrutinise every single wall looking for them. Unfortunately the secret detection line, the most important sound effect in the game, is a barely-audible whisper and essentially forces you to play with sound effects on and at a high-enough volume, something none of the previous games ever required. The biggest audio disappointment is the music, which was always an important factor in setting mood (at least since MM3). The tunes composed by Paul Romero and Rob King for MM6-8 are fondly remembered as integral to the Might and Magic experience. Outside of cutscenes, MMXL has only a handful of musical pieces that play, usually during combat and special encounters, and all of them are thoroughly forgettable. Elsewhere the game plays oddly silent compared to its predecessors, particularly its direct inspirations MM3-5.

The inventory system is quite different from anything seen before. MM1-5 all had a text-based inventory system (though MM3-5 added icons as well as mouse support). MM6-8 introduced the paperdolls that are so beloved by the fans and are so closely associated with the series, along with differently-sized items that each took a different amount of space (the so-called “inventory tetris”, seen most famously in Diablo). The new system bears some superficial resemblance to that of MM6-8 but differs on several significant points. Instead of having individual inventory space for each character as in all the previous games, MMXL pools them all together into one space (which can be extended by using the packhorse as one of the hirelings). All items now take up a single slot each, and potions and scrolls of the same type stack (if there's a limit you will not encounter it in normal gameplay). Due to budget constraints MMXL sadly dropped the paperdolls. Instead, each character is represented with various equipment slots when you select them (much like in the Dark Sun games). There are some nice shortcuts in the system that cut down on the clicking required, especially when switching items between characters. All in all, I miss the paperdolls, but otherwise the inventory system is the simplest and most ergonomic in the entire series.


Being on a small budget must have also been the reason Limbic decided to build the game using Unity. Unfortunately this brought about some problems with game performance and stability, though most are relatively minor and were fixed by the patch. There have also been some reports of nasty quest-breaking bugs appearing under specific circumstances, some even breaking the main quest, but these had workarounds and were again purportedly fixed by the patch. One very irritating glitch can happen with the in-game clock, whereby the display of the day of the week will freeze until you save and restore. Since one of the quests requires that you pray at the shrines of the dragons on specific days, saving and restoring frequently is a must to know for sure what in-game day you're on. There have also been complaints about drastic drops in frame rate, especially outdoors, but while I have occasionally seen those, they only last seconds while the game loads data, and they were never bad enough to ruin the gameplay. The game's real performance issue is with loading times. The loading times for dungeons and cities are acceptable, but the overworld takes a full minute to load. This isn't a problem while exploring the outdoors, but trips back and forth between dungeons and cities end up taking several minutes, most of them spent staring at the loading screen. The long load times also make fixing the glitch with the game clock much more irritating. Players will soon learn to despise that spinning stone wheel, and will hate it even more because there is no way to not see it while the game loads. Yes, this is 2014 and we're playing a game that doesn't support multi-tasking - switching away from the game to browse tranny porn the Codex will halt the loading. What makes this particularly puzzling is that not much hard drive activity appears to be happening during those minute-long load times. I'm willing to blame this poor performance on Unity itself rather than on Limbic, but whatever the case, it does end up detracting from the experience. That said, it speaks to the game's quality that this is probably the most serious issue with it.


What a character

Party creation follows the usual M&M standards, though once again with some small changes. Every game in the series so far (except arguably MM8, since you did not create a full party at the start there) allowed you to skip the process and go with a standard pre-generated party, and MMXL is no exception. Unlike the other games however, the pre-generated party in MMXL is optimal on paper but not in practice. Might and Magic's pre-generated parties were never the most powerful, but with the exception of MM3 (where no one in the pre-generated party could cast the essential Walk on Water spell) and WOX (where the Ranger was sub-optimal), they were always the most well balanced and gave you a party that could cover as many roles and skills as possible. The pre-generated party in MMXL feels much more gimped by comparison, lacking even a dedicated healer. Of course you don't have to use this party and can instead choose to create your own from scratch. One great addition in MMXL is the ability to let the game generate a party completely randomly for you, and then just rolling (ho ho) with what you get. In a series where half the fun comes from making up themed and oddly-gimped parties and somehow making them work, this option is genius. Why roll with All-Knights, or All-Liches, or even All-Rangers (if you were feeling particularly masochistic back in MM7) when you can just let the game decide for you what unlikely class combination you should be stuck with? This option should really be filed under the “why didn't anyone think of that sooner?” category, and I hope to see it return in future M&M games.


The manual party creation itself is a pretty simple process, with a system that borrows elements from several of the previous games in the series. MM1-5 all used the same system, where you pick race, class and gender, roll attributes, and get going. MM6 removed races and changed the way attribute distribution worked, instead giving you a pool of points to distribute on top of base attributes that were determined by class. MM7 used the same system but reintroduced races, which changed the base attributes. MM8 was an interesting departure that completely eliminated the distinction between race and class: vampire, troll and minotaur weren't "races", but instead were treated as normal classes alongside the more usual knight, cleric and sorcerer. MMXL uses a new system which is mostly based on MM7's, but carries over some of this race/class handling. You pick one of four races (human, elf, dwarf, orc), and each race has access to its own three unique classes, such that the Ranger can only be an elf, and the Barbarian has to be an orc. This isn't really that limiting in practice, since the previous games always had each class map to one race that was most optimal for it, and there was never really a reason to pick more outlandish race/class combinations. The layout of the three classes within each race seems to borrow from the Heroes of Might and Magic series, with a "Might class" and a "Magic class", as well a hybrid class which is usually range-specialised. The net result is a total of 12 classes to choose from, more than any of the previous games. Each class is distinctive enough to allow for a lot of flexibility and a lot of variation when building parties, which is always welcome in M&M and was always one of the foremost reasons to replay the games. Another feature returning from MM6-8 is that each class has a specific promotion quest associated with it. Completing the promotion quest is required to unlock Grandmaster specialisation for that class.

The attribute system has been completely redone. Might is the only attribute that is unchanged in both name and effect (increases physical damage). Magic is completely new (oddly enough); previously, spell power was measured by either level alone (MM1-5) or in combination with skill (MM6-8). In MMXL spell power is completely detached from level, and Magic is instead used in addition to skill. Increasing your spells' effectiveness now requires more active investment. Perception mostly works like the old Accuracy, increasing attack value (ie, to-hit chance) and ranged effectiveness. Destiny is another new attribute and factors into the chance to inflict critical hits, which are extremely important for both Might and Magic characters. Vitality works exactly like Endurance. Spirit merges together the old Intellect and Personality into a class-independent attribute that increases the mana pool. Speed and Luck are both gone. Although the absence of Luck is not that noticeable since its effect was always subtle, the lack of Speed does change the way combat plays out.

In a throwback to WOX the game features two difficulties, Adventurer and Warrior. Although the difference was pretty minor in WOX (neither mode was terribly hard), in MMXL Warrior difficulty increases many variables that work against the player, including enemy health and damage as well as the cost of items, skill trainers, spells and just about everything else you have to pay for. Adventurer difficulty is by no means an easymode though; although it is certainly easier than Warrior in the early game, it will still offer enough of a challenge, especially for those new to blobbers, or if you go with an intentionally gimped party (or with the random party generator). Regardless of mode, the game gets easier later on as you gain access to more abilities and better items, and even with the increased costs of Warrior you'll eventually be swimming in gold.

As usual, party progression is measured by XP gains from both combat and quests. With enough XP characters level up, gaining a small increase in health and mana, and some skill points to distribute. Unlike MM6-8, where skill point awards increased with higher levels, in MMXL you always gain three skill points. For the first time ever in M&M, level-ups also award four attribute points that you can distribute as you see fit, probably to compensate for the removal of the black potions (which increased attributes substantially, especially in MM7-8). This does make levelling up something to look forward to even more than usual, and also puts more customisation into the player's hands, especially with the way the new attribute system works. Instead of hoping to find an attribute enhancer, you can see how each character is faring and where his weaknesses are and increase the attributes accordingly. Unfortunately, one of the most enduring elements of M&M, having to go back to town and train to level up, is now gone. Although it was not a defining feature of the series, it was still one that was ubiquitous, and its removal does change the gameplay dynamic, since having to decide whether to push ahead in a dungeon or return to town was always a fun choice to make, especially in MM6 where each individual dungeon was the size of a small planet. With a progression dynamic like that in MM6 or WOX, where your characters end up at levels of over a hundred and usually train multiple levels at a time, this omission would have been problematic. However, MMXL is focused on lower-level adventuring, and thorough players will end the game with their party's levels in the early 30s, so the absence of trainers doesn't hurt the game much (though I still wish they had been kept).

Frequent trips back to town are still required in order to train for new skill tiers. The skill system is similar but not exactly identical to that of MM6-8, where each class had a specific combination of skills that it either started with or could be learned later by visiting novice skill trainers. The skill progression in those games worked as follows: you were awarded skill points at level up (with more points being awarded at the higher levels) and these could be invested to raise a skill, with more points being required to raise a skill the higher the current level of that skill. At specific skill levels, a skill could be trained to a new tier, which usually increased the benefits awarded by that skill. Skills were broadly divided into weapon skills, magic skills, and miscellaneous skills, the latter of which included both combat-enhancing skills as well as non-combat skills like Repair, Identify, and other utility skills. In MM6 there were no additional limits on skill training and as long as a class could learn a skill it could train it all the way to the highest tier. MM7-8 introduced further limitations, so that class not only dictated what skills could be learned but also how far each skill could be trained.

MMXL uses this system as a basis, with the same tiers of advancement (Novice, Expert, Master and Grandmaster) and the requirement for finding the specific skill trainers to advance to a new tier, but otherwise makes several significant changes. First, utility skills are all gone. Weapon and magic skills are mostly unchanged, but all miscellaneous skills (such as Arcane Discipline, Mysticism or Endurance) are combat-related. Second, you no longer learn the Novice skill level by finding a trainer; instead simply spending a point in a skill the class has access to but hasn't learned yet activates the skill and allows further advancement. Third, as mentioned earlier, you no longer gain more skill points at higher levels; the amount is fixed and you always get 3 points. Fourth, raising a skill now only requires a single skill point. These two changes effectively cancel each other out, and skill progression isn't much different from the previous games in this respect. The fifth change, although seemingly minor, has more serious ramifications. As before, putting enough points into a skill to reach a threshold value allows you to train a new tier, but whereas in MM6-8 you could put as many points as you wanted above the threshold without training to its associated tier, in MMXL the threshold also acts as a gate; until you train that tier, you cannot invest any more points into the skill. This makes finding and reaching trainers a much higher priority than before, since your skill level (and therefore your character's proficiency in a particular role) is completely frozen until then, not just slowed down. This also means that there is a rigid cap for each skill: once you reach the highest tier that a particular class can reach for a skill (whether this is Expert or Grandmaster), you cannot improve this skill anymore. I admit I am not very fond of this change, since once you max out all the skills you need/want for a particular build, skill points become virtually useless. This never happened in MM6-8, since even after reaching Grandmaster in whatever skill, you could still keep pumping points into it to make it even more effective. Of course the increasing cost of improving the skill meant that the points could be better used to improve a less-useful lower-level skill, since raising the latter would be cheaper, but in either case skill points never lost their value.


Weapon skills and miscellaneous skills are pretty straightforward, but magic deserves more than a cursory glance, as does the spellcasting system in general. The system evolved over the NWC games, but they all stuck to certain conventions. MM1-5 all had two separate types of magic (they weren't called Self and Elemental, but the idea was already there), one for Clerics and one for Sorcerers. MM3 briefly added a third type for Druids, but that didn't last and in WOX they simply got access to the lower-tier Cleric and Sorcerer spells. Hybrid classes had full access to the spells of their respective type, though they were obviously not as good at it as the pure casters. The skill system introduced in MM6-8 shook things up a bit by splitting each type of magic into schools, with one skill associated to each (three Self schools for Cleric, four Elemental schools for Sorcerer). The schools still came as "package deals", with classes receiving access to all Self schools at once and/or all Elemental schools at once, so spells were still distinctly either Sorcerer or Cleric spells. MMXL makes fundamental changes to this design. For the first time ever, each magic school is completely independent of the other and the Self/Elemental grouping is completely gone. Although it's a radical departure from tradition, this de-grouping allows for much more interesting combinations of magic skills and a lot more variety in which class has access to which spells. As a result there is no pure Cleric or pure Sorcerer anymore; although the Runepriest and the Freemage seem to correspond at first, one quickly notices that it is the Runepriest and not the Freemage that can reach Fire Grandmaster, and neither class can reach Water Grandmaster. In all games except MM3 having one of each pure caster guaranteed access to all spells, but this is no longer the case here. Although not all schools are equally useful, each one houses at least one spell that is either extremely useful or borderline required, and most have a nice balance of offensive, buff/heal and utility spells. The distribution of the different schools among the classes is now a lot more varied, since even Might classes now have access to some spellcasting (with the exception of the Barbarian - some traditions can never be broken). More importantly, hybrid classes can now reach Grandmaster in select schools - for example, the Crusader and Light magic. The overall effect of this is two-fold: you can no longer have a master-of-all party using just two casters as in the previous games, and using a hybrid to complement the magical abilities of your primary spellcasters is now much more useful. For example, the default party uses the Ranger and the Freemage as healers (Earth and Light Mastery, respectively), and after a rough start this works quite nicely, certainly better than a Paladin/Sorcerer ever would in MM7. I'm a stickler for protocol when it comes to M&M, but in this particular case I'm glad Limbic were bold enough to make changes that manage to be more interesting and complex, especially since the new magic system synergises so well with the new class system.

Writing and setting

Story and writing were never a strong point in M&M. This was always a series about exploring strange locales and slaughtering their inhabitants en masse, not about emotionally engaging deep romantic intrigues. The story in individual games serves as nothing more than a framing device to let you loose on the world. MMXL seems to simultaneously stick to this formula and want to change it at the same time. There is a story here, twists occur on a regular basis, several actors on both sides have plans within plans within plans, and in short there's enough material here for a Frank Herbert intrigue... which the game never really bothers doing much with. The story can be completely ignored if you so wish, and although you do need to progress through the main line clicking through the cutscenes and reveals straight to the next quest in the chain, it works well enough. I admit I barely paid attention to the intrigue, to the point that when some guy from early on was revealed to have a major role (complete with exclamation marks!!) my only reaction was, “Who?” Of course this isn't a bad thing, this being M&M, but it does feel like a bit of a shame that Limbic would put so much effort into story in a game where it doesn't really matter and where most players are unlikely to care. Otherwise, the writing is pretty solid, not particularly memorable but then again it isn't required to be. Quests run the usual gamut, including of course the ubiquitous rats in the cellar spiders in the well (hilariously enough some journalists actually complained about that one). As in MM6-8, many NPCs will chat about various topics that flesh out the narrative. New to the series, and taking a page out of modern gaming, you will find books all across the world that when picked up add an entry into the world encyclopedia, presumably fleshing out the setting further. I never bother reading these, and I didn't here either.


Although story in the individual NWC games was never more than a pretext, the series built up an overarching mythos that criss-crossed several plotlines between the DOS and Windows games as well as the HOMM series. What made the old setting more enticing is that there was never an official timeline or an overall infodump explaining everything; rather, each game gave away little tidbits of information that by themselves didn't amount to much, but that could be combined like puzzle pieces to form the image of a very unique setting. When Ubisoft created Ashan for HOMM5 they dropped this aspect from the get-go, instead creating a wealth of cosmological information and a rigid timeline for the planet. As a result there's no puzzle to put together, no sense of wonder as you discover ancient devices that refer to a conflict whose significance won't become apparent until four games later. Everything there is to know about the world and the cosmology is already known and available to the player through the omniscient narrator. This does have the advantage of consistency - the Bracada Desert no longer randomly turns into snow-capped mountains. Ashan itself is a well constructed setting, and while it's mostly typical high-magic heroic fantasy (complete with Angels, Demons and all that jazz) it does manage to be more unique and engaging than the generic fantasy settings seen in most contemporary RPGs, and as it becomes more fleshed out with each game it does grow on you and develop its own charm. Although die-hard NWC fans will still complain about the lack of Blaster Rifles and Iron Wizards, they will be delighted to find out that, although Ubisoft have been adding small inconsequential easter eggs relating to the old setting since the beginning, Limbic have taken it a step further. The references are still there, the most obvious being Crag Hack and town names like Seahaven and Sorpigal, but then an early questgiver mentions having visited “the other Sorpigals”, and another later on describes seeing flat planets moving through space under their own power – a blatant description of the nacelles where MM1-5 all took place. These could be just throwaway references, but the speculation is that Limbic are not-so-subtly placing the entire Ashan setting within the old NWC cosmology. Whether Ubisoft goes along with that remains to be seen, but even if they don't it doesn't really matter – the setting is good enough as it is for what the game aims for.

Hack and slash

Despite combat always being a secondary focus in M&M compared to exploration, all the games feature plenty of it. MM6 is well known for throwing hundreds of enemies at you in each area or dungeon, but most people forget that MM2 did this in individual fights. The series avoided getting bogged down with too much fighting by making combat a quick and simple affair. Even in MM1-2, which had the most involved combat system, fights rarely took more than a couple of minutes, and in MM3-8 you could mow down hordes of enemies with relative ease, at least once you were powerful enough. This had the advantage of making problems with the combat system easy to overlook, since they never really got in the way of the games' main focus on exploration.

With MMXL, Limbic decided to make combat more tactical by borrowing elements of the Wizardry series. This seems like a match made in heaven: the best of M&M and the best of Wizardry all in one game. MM6-8 used both a real-time and a turn-based system that could be toggled at will, but MMXL reverts to a pure turn-based system like MM1-5 and introduces several conceptual improvements. Melee characters no longer just hit a single Attack button on autopilot, since the new Warfare skill opens up several special attacks that allow interrupting enemy casters, bypassing enemy blocks, and other useful situational abilities. Likewise many offensive spells don't just hit enemies for massive damage, but instead push them back, root them to prevent them from moving, reduce their attacks, and so on. Some of these effects were already there in previous games, but due to the quick and simple nature of combat they were never really required. In contrast, enemies in MMXL hit hard and are not afraid to use their own special abilities against you, often to devastating effect if you're unprepared, so the large number of ways to deal with them is quite welcome. Certainly Limbic have succeeded in making the most involved combat system in the series, but as the system becomes more complex and the focus shifts more towards combat, flaws in it become harder to ignore. The combat system in MMXL is good overall, but it suffers from a number of flaws and design decisions that hinder the experience. This was a lot of worse in the initial release, where bows were so weak compared to melee or magic so as to make ranged combat worthless and completely throw out class balance. Fortunately the patch made bows much more viable, so there's no point in further elaborating on that particular balance problem.

The biggest paradigm shift compared to the older games is that the increase in enemy power and the reliance on so many special abilities makes MMXL much more slow-paced. The typical M&M formula was to throw a lot of enemies at you, which were pushovers individually but would eventually wear down your resources. MMXL prefers to have fewer enemies that hit harder, have more health and take longer to dispatch. Just like Wizardry, the challenge is then in surviving individual fights, not in managing your resources for an extended excursion that would involve a large number of fights. I was not very fond of the game abandoning the typical fast pace of the series and replacing it with one from a complete different series, but the real problem is that, despite the additions and improvements to the character and combat systems, MMXL doesn't support the variety of options that Wizardry had and that made that series' combat more tactical and interesting. Instead combat is made harder using much more artificial means: HP bloat, spawning reinforcements midfight (DA2 sends its best), extremely high block rates for enemies, and on top of that an insanely unbalanced critical hit system. Some of these things don't even make combat more challenging, but just more boring. For instance, some enemies hit very hard and spells have expensive mana costs early on, but the game literally showers you with health and mana potions. This can effectively turn many encounters into an exercise in casting the same defensive spells over and over as you slowly whittle away an enemy's health, all the while chugging potion after potion. The most glaring example early on is the HP bloat on the spider queen - it simply makes it a boring, long, easy fight. The elimination of Speed also makes fights a little more samey; except in specific, scripted encounters, your party always goes first, and you can change the order in which they do so at will. This seems to remove a tactical layer from combat, an odd choice considering all the other changes pushing in the opposite direction.

All the previous M&M games had a positioning system that dictated which characters could attack and which could be hit, to various extents. MM1-2 implemented the system fully, with a front row and back row for both your party and the opposition; back row characters could not use or be hit by melee weapons (except in ambushes, where everyone was considered front row) while front row characters could not use ranged weapons (except for the Archer). MM3-8 simplified this tremendously; although there was no clear-cut distinction between front and back row, the game still ranked your party members as more or less likely to be hit depending on how their portraits were arranged (from left to right, respectively). MMXL removes the system entirely and makes it so that all party members have an equal chance of being hit. The problem here is that MM3-8 didn't need a proper positioning system because combat was simpler and easier, while MMXL absolutely requires something to prevent it from devolving into a random clusterfuck where your squishiest PCs get hit and you have no way of preventing it. The obvious solution would've been to simply reintroduce a positioning system, even one as simple as in MM3-8 (though, with the higher combat difficulty, the one from MM1-2 would've been even better).

Instead MMXL takes advantage of the Warfare skill to introduce a mechanic that could have come straight out of World of Warcraft: taunts (OK, so Limbic were actually inspired by the console-exclusive Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land, which predates WoW). Some of the classes such as the Defender and the Crusader can act as “tanks” (how I hate that terminology), taunting enemies into attacking them instead of your casters. Said tanks come with high health, high resistances and a chance to block incoming attacks, which makes them perfectly suited for soaking damage, and they frequently end up as the sole surviving members of your party... which is really not a good reason to have them. Taunts are little more than a bandage applied to an open-wound; the problem is still there, you just bypass it. It creates further complications because special encounters would suddenly become trivial if your tank could spam-taunt a boss while your healer keeps him up and everyone else beats the living daylights out of the poor thing. The "obvious solution" was to bandage the bandage and add a Boss buff that makes certain enemies (not all of them bosses) immune to taunts, which of course takes us back to square one.


This pattern unfortunately extends to many spells and abilities that the party has and that would make the game too easy if they were allowed indiscriminate use. Skullcracker, also from Warfare, mirrors the problem with the taunt, by silencing spellcasters in the current round. Of course, this would trivialise mage boss encounters, so naturally the Boss buff makes them immune to it. Worse, the game sometimes cheats and makes some non-boss enemies immune to taunt or Skullcracker, with no warning or any real reason why this should be so. The UI often even lies in such cases; the “silenced” icon appears on the enemy, yet they still cast whatever spells they want. In the continuing series of bandagings of the bandaged bandage, one of the most useful spells in the entire game is Celestial Armor. This quickly becomes the be-all-end-all of the majority of the game's fights, because it absorbs a large amount of damage directed at the party and is really the only way your weaker PCs can survive enemies that can both one-shot them and are immune to mitigating abilities. Of course this makes Celestial Armor the de facto most overpowered spell in the game and capable of trivialising any encounter... and so it is silently and quietly bypassed by some of the bosses.

This is the major problem (one that didn't exist in the previous games in the series) with the way combat is designed: the game introduces a lot of elements that should make the combat more tactical but instead could make it too easy, then purposefully disables them in the situations where they would be most useful. When the games does allow you to use your full arsenal it can be extremely easy, but when it doesn't, it effectively forces you to ignore so many of the resources that it had previously given you. If Limbic truly thought these abilities were overpowered, why give them to us in the first place? Why not make Celestial Armour less powerful, instead of just quietly bypassing it in some fights? Instead of disabling the taunt, why not re-introduce a proper positioning system? Neither would make the game easier overall, but in both cases difficulty would be more consistent. As it is, the binary design makes the same fight either excessively hard or trivially easy depending on whether you use (or even have!) the hard counters.

Another very glaring example is stuns and paralysis; these are nasty status effects, much more so than in the NWC games. Not only do they put the target PC out of action until cured, but the stunned PC doesn't receive XP at the end of the battle, and his share doesn't get redistributed to the other party members (as it did in some of the old games when a party member died). That XP is lost forever, a pretty serious concern in a game with a fixed amount of XP gains available. Worse, paralysis can be removed with a spell, but stun cannot, and you simply have to wait it out (and its duration is more random than anything, despite supposedly depending on Vitality). Later in the game you'll run into ambushes with multiple enemies that can stun/paralyse, and they all strike first due to the ambush mechanics; it's not unusual to start these fights with 3 party members out of action, with the last one following shortly into a total party death. This would seem like an insurmountable problem...unless you have the Fire spell Burning Determination, which makes you completely immune to stun and paralysis. Once again, there is no middle ground in difficulty. MM7-8 had this problem to a lesser extent with the Protection from Magic spell, which at Grandmaster made the party immune to instant-death spells, but in those games these attacks were much more rare and having the protection was simply a matter of convenience, not something that completely changed combat balance.


Speaking of ambushes, these are another potentially good idea that gets rammed down your throat until you get sick and tired of it. MM3-6 used them sparingly and effectively, occasionally spawning tough enemies behind you just when you thought you'd gotten away with nabbing a quest item. Even MM1, where by their very nature every encounter was an ambush, spiced things up a bit by making some ambushes work in your favour, granting your party attack bonuses. Unfortunately MMXL decided to take the Doom 3 approach and turn the majority of encounters into monsters spawning out of thin air. This over-reliance gets old very fast and makes ranged attacks much less useful than they could be. This was much more serious in the initial release, where ranged weapons dealt pitiful damage to begin with, but even with the patch balancing things out, spending precious skill points on bows when you can only use them effectively in half the encounters seems like a waste, especially with a class like the Ranger, where you could pump Dagger to Grandmaster instead and mop the floor with just about every enemy you face. The ambushes also exacerbate the game's problems with one-shot mechanics and protection spells. Playing naturally, once you hit an ambush you would try to survive it with what you have, and if you failed you would reload, prepare for it and try again. With MMXL, enemies always strike first when they ambush, and if you don't have any protection spells up it's not entirely uncommon to start your first round with one or two party members dead. Why try to salvage this and then run back to town to raise the dead PC(s) when you can just sit through a minute of loading, cast Celestial Armor and Burning Rush, then walk into the ambush and laugh maniacally as you slaughter the now-trivial opposition? Instead of pushing for more natural gameplay, the ambushes simply encourage metagaming and devaluate attack spells and ranged weapons.

All in all, the combat system's complexity is one of the best things about the game, but the actual design often doesn't support the complexity that they've tried to build into it. Instead of balancing player and enemy abilities around each other, Limbic made certain abilities on both sides too powerful, and as a result many special encounters end up playing like a glorified version of rock-paper-scissors. With all that said, and although I have gone on at length about the problems with the combat, it must be stressed that these are not endemic to all encounters, and while the flaws are serious they do not fundamentally break the game. Ironically, the encounters that come out the best and are the most fun are usually the ones that aren't ambushes and where none of the random immunities apply. Instead, the challenge in these comes from managing your resources to defeat numerically overwhelming odds – exactly like the older games, except the enemies are now deadlier and you have a more varied array of abilities to deal with them. Couple this with the harsh XP penalty, which encourages completing fights with everyone conscious, and you do end up with some of the most enjoyable combat encounters in the series, and certainly the most tactical since MM1-2. Although these battles stand in contrast to the gimmicky, more irritating ones, they do indicate that Limbic is on the right track, especially since the patch has already fixed some of the balance issues. If they can tone down the overpowered abilities on both sides, the ambushes and the potion-guzzling mini-game, the next game really might end up with the uncontestedly best combat system in M&M.

Dude, Where's My Exploration?

The one area where M&M always shone over its competition was exploration. When JVC started the series, no other first-person CRPG had made its focus to create a world where combat and dungeon crawling were secondary to exploring the outside world and discovering what secrets and wonders lay in its remote corners. Even in later years, other games built overworlds that were frequently little more than dungeons with tree textures and a skybox in place of a ceiling, whereas M&M kept pushing for more natural outdoors, first by introducing exploration skills (swimming, mountaineering, pathfinding) and later on by taking advantage of 3D engines to allow complete, unrestricted roaming in the outdoors. Every tile in MM1-5 and every foot of terrain in MM6-8 could be stepped on and could contain a chest with a neat item in it, a spell that your caster could use, a quest giver or objective, or something of interest. No river or mountain was ever an obstacle with the right skill or spell. If there is one element that defines and is essential to the M&M experience, it is this unrestricted freedom of exploration.


Unfortunately, if there's one area where MMXL disappoints as an M&M game, it's in its outdoor exploration. With Limbic's announcement that the game was based off WoX, it wasn't unreasonable to expect that the overworld would draw heavily from that game in its exploration. Instead, the overworld ends up being exactly what the series has always avoided: a dungeon with a skybox and more colourful textures. Parts of it try to avoid this design and offer a more freeform approach, with large expanses of unobstructed terrain extending in all directions, but while sufficiently large these areas still feel empty, with encounters or other points of interest being dozens of tiles apart. Contrast with MM1-5, where the entire length of an area was 16 tiles but they were packed with special events. Trees have suddenly become impenetrable barriers and small streams a few feet wide are now as impassable as solid stone walls (“I mean, this ain't exactly the Mississipi!”). The game does try to reintroduce some exploration elements from the tile-based M&Ms. The outdoor skills from MM2-5 are now called Blessings and are bestowed on the party by completing certain steps in the main quest, allowing you to either open up passages in the underbrush, walk through water, or reach mountainous heights. Unfortunately these Blessings end up feeling more like keys unlocking doors: underbrushes are strategically located to prevent opening up the rest of the overworld too soon, only a few bodies of water can be walked across which are used to block off self-contained areas or provide shortcuts, and the new mountaineering ability fares the worst, acting simply as a teleporter to otherwise-inaccessible self-contained mini-dungeons. Even with Malassa's Blessing (ie swimming) you still can't cross a small stream. The overall impression is more of mapping a very large maze than of exploring an overworld. Combined with the automap showing such a tiny fraction of the world around you, this makes long-distance navigation and backtracking unnecessarily frustrating.


The overworld design is exacerbated by the linearity of the main quest. This is another departure from the rest of the series, where you had a number of overarching objectives (most of which weren't even given to you directly; finding the main quest was itself one of the main goals in MM1-3) but were free to tackle them in any order you chose. In MMXL the main quest is a strictly linear chain that must be completed in order. This itself wouldn't be a problem if almost every step of the main quest didn't act as a gate for opening up further areas to reach. This kind of design was used sparingly in some of the other games, but even MM7, which was by far the worst NWC game when it came to gating, isn't anywhere nearly as bad about it as MMXL. The game prevents you from leaving Sorpigal until you complete the town quest, which is fair enough, but unlike every previous game even after that it only opens up a fraction of the overworld. For example, there's an arbitrarily blocked chokepoint (in this case, a guard on a bridge) that prevents you from accessing the rest of the overworld until Act 1 is completed. Karthal, the game's largest city, is likewise closed off until late into Act 3. To make matters worse, a large number of trainers (including all ten of the Expert trainers) are gated behind the Act 1 choke point, and although most Expert-level spells are available early on, for some inexplicable reason the Expert Water spells cannot be accessed until Karthal. This gating of early-game abilities behind late-game checkpoints completely changes the series' usual progression dynamics. The NWC games always encouraged you to do side quests to prepare your party for tackling the main quest, but the design in MMXL instead encourages rushing through the main line as early as possible, since so many useful abilities are locked away from you until then. This kind of linear design is not exactly a hallmark of open world exploration.

That said, if the overworld is disappointing compared to the best that M&M has offered, it's actually not bad when compared to other games that have used a similar dungeon-like design for their outdoors, such as Lands of Lore. The world is quite large and as a dungeon it is very well designed, with many points of interest and a respectable number of actual dungeons to find (some very small, some much more involved). In the best M&M tradition, the landscape is dotted with shrines and fountains that cast beneficial spells on the party, restore health and mana or cure ailments. The Obelisks make a return from MM6-8, and once again finding all of them and following their instructions leads you to a pretty good reward. MMXL thankfully retains the complete lack of level-scaling so dear to the series, and aside from the previously-mentioned choke points there is nothing preventing you from wandering into an area that is too tough for your current level, and finding out the hard way that this is not where you should be heading next. Coming back a few levels later to soundly trash what used to be an impossible encounter is as satisfying as ever.


Dungeon design is quite good and on par with anything from MM1-5. What's really great is the sheer variety in terms of size and difficulty, and puzzle/combat balance. The Dangerous Caves are tiny one-room dungeons featuring a single fight against a single enemy, usually quite tough, and the first few are definitely not meant to be beaten at the level you encounter them. Of course the strength of M&M is that, if you do manage to defeat them early on, you will be rewarded with suitably powerful items (and anyone who regularly beats the Emerald Isle dragon in MM7 will, I am sure, have no trouble with these – cheesy exploits have always been party of the series' charm). The shipwrecks are likewise quite small, but other dungeons can be vast, multi-level affairs. In a departure from tradition, dungeons are no longer necessarily a linear affair, where you go in and get everything done in one visit. A couple of them in particular (Lost City and Elemental Forge) will require repeat visits, as different parts of the dungeon can be a lot more difficult than others. This is a welcome change, and having to make a note of something and come back later, even within one dungeon, provides an immediate incentive to build up a stronger party. Every single dungeon is associated with a quest, typically either the main quest or a promotion quest. In most cases you can visit the dungeon and sometimes even get the objective of the quest without yet being on that quest. Annoyingly, there are no Honorary promotions as there were in MM6-8, so promotion quests for classes you do not have in your party cannot be completed even though the dungeon is accessible. This can lead to irritating situations where an NPC asks for an object, which you go all over the world putting together, and then the NPC refuses to acknowledge you have it, without any indication that this is a promotion quest for a class you do not have.


Another tradition that MMXL proudly maintains is spicing up combat with a healthy dose of puzzles. The most common ones are chests that require answering a riddle to open. These start off fairly straightforward and become a little less obvious later on, though they're not as clever or involved as those of say Betrayal at Krondor. The spatial logic puzzles are more interesting - most of these appear in the Mysterious Crypts, the non-combat counterpart to the Dangerous Caves. These also start pretty simple, but some are quite a bit more involved and may even require getting out that good old notepad to figure out the solution. Some of my favourites hark back to MM1 and the magic square: no clue is given when you walk in, and even figuring out what the puzzle actually is requires some trial and error and noting what changes every time. One entire dungeon, the Tower of Enigma, does not have a single combat encounter and consists entirely of solving such puzzles to open up the stairs to the next level, a loving reminder of the Dragon Pharaoh's Pyramid in WoX.

The rewards for exploration, both outdoors and in dungeons, are XP and better items. MMXL borrows the itemisation system from MM6-8, using base items and appending a prefix and/or a suffix to their names, each of which adds different abilities to the item. These range from increasing an attribute or a skill, to adding a set amount of magical damage, to inflicting status effects on enemies. The numerical values on items stay within a small range, which makes it seem like you are only getting very small upgrades when you find higher quality items, but this is deceptive. Multipliers from attributes and skills mean that upgrading to a new weapon that does 5 more damage is actually very significant, even moreso at higher levels when you have invested a lot of points into Might and the weapon skill. The prefixes and suffixes, however, are completely unbalanced. Additional magic damage doesn't get boosted by attributes or skills, so a weapon that does +10 Dark damage will only ever do just that. Compare to something like Relentless, which gives you one full extra attack, effectively doubling your damage with the weapon (and when said weapon does 300-600 to begin with, that's a pretty big boost). The status effect suffixes are similarly powerful, especially Stun; although the chance to stun is pretty low (around 7%), a dual-wielding Dagger Grandmaster with two stunning weapons has six attempts at stunning each round, and these can not-so-rarely result in stunlocking an opponent into oblivion. By comparison, a fixed +10 magical damage that may even get resisted, or +3 to a skill you may not even be using, seems pretty negligible.

Although most items in MM6-8 were randomly generated, there were a number of more powerful fixed items that could be found. Artifacts gave very high attribute and skill boosts, while Relics were quite unique in that they coupled the boosts with significant penalties in other attributes. MMXL reintroduces a variant on the Artifacts from the older games, though confusingly they are called Relics here despite not having any penalties associated with them. One great new feature is that Relics now level up with your character when used, so although a Relic may seem very underwhelming when you first find it, as it gains its own levels (up to 4) it also unlocks additional boosts as well as special abilities, some quite powerful like mana drain, health leech, stun, and so on. This expanded concept of Relics works quite well and Limbic should be praised for once again making a change that improves on an established M&M mechanic. My only gripe here is with the placement of the Relics. They're usually found in the the Dangerous Caves and Mysterious Crypts mentioned previously, and some of these crypt puzzles are just too simple, which makes it trivially easy to get powerful relics very early on. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the 2-handed mace relic is in the last dungeon, a couple of hours before the grand finale, and at a point where you are committed to the endgame with no way to access the overworld until you're done. Having the relics, especially the weapons, placed closer to the midgame or late-midgame would've been preferable.


Although the dungeons in MMXL are generally of high quality, the endgame dungeon has some problems. The M&M series was never particularly famous for its strong endgame dungeons, with MM1 and MM3 probably featuring the best ones. The endgame usually feels like something hastily thrown together to give some sense of conclusion, the most notable offender being MM6, which offered a rather boring and forgettable final dungeon in a game notorious for its sprawling and superb dungeon design. In an attempt to do something different, MMXL features a series of long dungeon crawls, but while the Tomb of Terror is fairly well designed, it is followed by two back-to-back dungeons with no interesting features or puzzles (though thankfully they are nowhere near as horrible as Square Lake Cavern from MM2). This culminates in the end boss, which in keeping with the spirit of (most of) the series is not a simple Kill Foozle type of encounter, but instead involves playing a tedious game of hide and seek as you fight the boss's minions and gather the pieces of the Deus Ex Machina that allows you to defeat him. The worst thing about this sequence is that, on my first attempt, something bugged out and kept me in combat mode, which made using the device impossible and forced a reload. The ending uses Fallout-like slides to indicate the consequence of the choices you made in certain quests throughout the game, a first for M&M and a very nice touch. So far only a handful of quests seem to have any effect, but it would be great to see this expanded on in a sequel.

The Might and Magic Legacy is Alive and Well

In summary, MMXL does not quite live up to the expectations that I had when reading everything that was released by Limbic about the game, as well as the Codex previews. Perhaps no game could have lived up to the expectations one builds after 12 years of waiting for the next entry in a beloved series, an entry that no one ever expected would see the light of day. The game departs from the M&M formula where it matters the most, the overworld exploration. Additionally, it has quite a few flaws in its combat system. But it also preserves and improves core M&M tenets. The character system, the dungeons, the puzzles, the Relics, and yes, even many aspects of exploration have been lovingly recreated to please fans of the series, but also improved - something that the old series excelled at doing in almost every new iteration. Despite its flaws, the game's combat can be a lot of fun and it is certainly the most serious attempt at tactics that the series has attempted in a very long time. What matters is that none of the game's flaws are serious enough to warrant depriving oneself from the pleasure of playing it. After all, the Codex's favourite games are all flawed gems. We have always preferred games that try for challenging and tactical combat and for meaningful non-linear exploration, to ones that give up and go for typical modern formulae and restrictive cinematic experiences. MMXL certainly tries very hard, and it often succeeds. Even the exploration, despite being such a departure from what M&M did best, is excellent if divorced from the series' expectations and taken on its own terms.

The final verdict should be obvious by now: MMXL is a must-buy and a must-play. Limbic did a superlative job in bringing together many beloved elements from the series, improving where they could and not dumbing down where it matters. The flaws are immaterial in the grand scheme of things; Limbic have proven they can make a real (and good!) M&M game, and they have certainly proven that they can make an excellent turn-based tile-based blobber with all the joyful gameplay elements that entails. All Ubisoft needs to see is that there is a market for this kind of game, no matter how niche. MMXL may not be the best M&M game to date, but it's more than good enough, and if Limbic can iron out the flaws in the combat system and improve exploration and other aspects, then MMXI will really be something special. I'm certainly looking forward to it.

Sceptic would like to thank Darth Roxor, Crooked Bee, Grunker, felipepepe, Zed and Infinitron for editing and helpful suggestions.

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