Dark Messiah Of Might and Magic

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a game by Arkane Studios
Platform: PC
User Rating: 9.3/10 - 3 votes
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See also: Might and Magic Games
Dark Messiah Of Might and Magic
Dark Messiah Of Might and Magic
Dark Messiah Of Might and Magic
Dark Messiah Of Might and Magic

To Be Honest, I don't really know what Errol Flynn looked like. Although I'm pretty sure he had a twirly moustache. Perhaps a jaunty green triangular hat as well. What I'm certain of however, and I'll check with my gran if any objections are raised, is that he spent a large proportion of his time waving a sword on spiral staircases, slashing ropes connected to precarious chandeliers and shouting "Aha!" after every deft manoeuvre. I mention this because, however he looked, Dark Messiah makes you feel just like Errol Flynn: it buckles swash like nobody's business.

To my knowledge however, and again grandparental advice can be gained on the matter, Flynn was never picked up by the neck by an orc, thrown into a rack of barrels and made to stare up through his prostrate legs at three screaming fantasy beasts. Nor did he pick himself up, fire an arrow at a nearby rope to release a huge weight that swung from the ceiling to knock one orc flying into a bottomless chasm, then duck underneath the weight on its return swing (just before it slammed the second orc into a brick wall), pull out a sword, turn on his internal adrenalin mode, and neatly cleave the third greenskin's head from his shoulders in a cascade of dark red blood. Tliey just didn't have the special effects budget back then.

Swash And Buckle

I namecheck Errol since Dark Messiah is about to nail, fundamentally nail, the thrill and excitement of first-person, blade-to-blade combat. Ingeniously crowbarring a vast array of ingenious weapon-specific moves into the traditional confines of the WASD set-up, blending spike- and chasm-packed environments seamlessly with combat and making full body awareness an integral feature rather than a gimmick - Dark Messiah has taken traditional hack-and-slash, poked it in a myriad of different ways and mustered up a revolution in fantasy gaming. Up until now, you'd be forgiven for a coma-level of interest in Dark Messiah. It's set in the Might & Magic universe for a start from which the likelihood of a game ever stirring the loins of this particular correspondent is on about the same level as Teddy Ruxpin or, on a hot day, the collected works of Danielle Steele. But this Source-powered physics-fest just feels so damn good I'm practically ordering you to share my new-found enthusiasm.

To convey this though, we should discuss the combat more deeply - the bit where the Errol Flynn "Ahas!" and "Take it you swines!" fit into the template. At its base level, fighting works as it does in Oblivion (left-click to swipe, right-click to block) whether you're brandishing an oaken staff, a rogue's dual dagger, a warrior's blade or any other weapon. To add tactics to the mix, meanwhile, a brief tap of WAS or D combined with a leftclick will quickly move you into different stances - a lunge perhaps, or a swiping horizontal slice across the neck. Every weapon links to a different fighting style -and the more you batter an enemy, the more tired they get and the more different combat strokes will open up to you. Enemies will get noticeably more and more fatigued, slowly dragging themselves up from the floor you've kicked them down onto for the sixth time, until they're forlornly waving their swords at you as they lay beaten on the dungeon's paving slabs - before you offer them a quick, painful smiting.

It's simple, yet ingenious stuff; given weight and grit by a bodily awareness system that truly works. When a Cyclops picks you up by the neck you might as well be rendered by the Source engine yourself - "You just feel like there's no screen between you and the character" explains Arkane CEO and creative director Raphael Colantonio, in words better than I could paraphrase when I doorstop him. "It just feels like it's yon." And as soon as you've built up enough battle frenzy to plunge your blade through the chest of a foe. kick him off the end in slow motion and watched the blood fly, or had a zombie guzzle greedily on your neck, I feel sure that you'll agree. And I haven't even started on the spells or the bows and arrows yet. They're good too.

Dark Development

For developers Arkane, this approach to combat has provided even more blood, sweat and tears than they've had to render for the game itself. "It's been a very long and pressing research and development period," claims Colantonio. "It started with just one idea: wouldn't it lie cool if we could really come up with first-person melee combat that actually works." Internally it was hard to convince even the team themselves that first-person was the way to go - they even had famed developers (that Colantonio refuses to name) crying out 'Don't do it! Just go third-person!' - but Arkane persevered.

"We started to have these very visceral moments where you nail your sword into some part of the body, and then go on to kill the bad guy in a cool way. It was great, and we wanted to put more and more emphasis on it - making it intuitive, but at the same time ensuring variety," says the Arkane main man. But as the moves, swipes and dodges piled up came trouble.

"At one |)oint we just broke it," explains Colantonio, ruefully shaking his head. "It was really a mess." Thankfully, however, freelance game development ronin for hire Randy Smith - he of Thief fame - was on hand to help out. On board to help put Arcane's abstract concepts and unique vision into a workable FPS framework, the project was soon put back on track. "He helped us build up a vocabulary for all of our concepts," Colantonio picks up again. "Parrying, dodging - all of those things. Together we nailed down more and more and he helped us sliape our ideas into something far more analytical. We really learned a lot."

Sourcey Host(Card)

But the joy of Dark Messiah isn't just in the way that blades clash in a battle of wills as you stare into the deep-set red eyeballs of your foe, or the way that you can grab an enemy from behind and satisfyingly snap their spinal column with your weighty staff. The Source-powered environment you fight in has been tooled up to provide many and varied ultra-violent climaxes to your bouts of swordicuffs. Knock out a strut from a nearby shelf and barrels can tumble on your foes; slash a rope and a lump of metal will swing down in a parabolic dive of certain death; shove a rampaging orc into a fire and he'll gambol through the dungeon like the very beacons of Gondor. What's more, the simple addition of a kick feature brings all manner of fun into the bargain - providing kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse'-style moments all over the shop, as well as the ability to boot goblins into conveniently placed beds of spikes.

But of course, you might not necessarily be playing in this 'tank' fashion. You could be sneaking through the shadows, firing off arrows hither and thither - creeping up behind sentries with dual daggers positioned at dangerous angles. You might also, if you were very close to your mother as a child, have chosen the magical route - that of fireballs, freezing, telekinesis and shrinking spells. Whichever route you choose, however, there's always a distinct whiff of the old ultra-violence attached. For every flesh hit you make, a friendly power bar increases in the bottom-left-hand comer of your screen: when this reaches its zenith then your adrenalin-fuelled battle frenzy is unleashed and, depending on which weapon or spell you're using at the time, your enemy can be beheaded, amputated, run through, pierced and flung into a wall, ignited or simply hung in the air until tossed liberally into the stratosphere. Yes it's a simple, over-used system - but my god. Dark Messiah makes it satisfying.

Made-Up Names

After all this fight froth we come to the storyline which, despite presumably being fine when played out through the game, contains a variety of silly fantasy names that makes it faintly embarrassing when put into cold, hard print. In the interest of thorough journalistic endeavour, however, I'll provide a precis. It happens in this magical place called Ashan; and there's all these demons and they're all kicking off everywhere. Through his own death a magic man called Sar-Elam works out a way of banishing them - but the place the demons are sent isn't pretty so they're rather narked. Flames, seared flesh, eternal fire, limbo, unhygienic toilet facilities: you know the picture. It's like Dudley with more lighter fluid and less comical accents.

Sixty-seven years on and a few cracks have appeared in this demon cage, however, and the skull of Sar-Elam (now monikered as the Skull Of Shadows) is due to play a prominent role in the early release of these otherworldly foreign nationals. What's more, someone improbably named Sar-Shazar has written a prophecy about a half-demon, halfhuman child being bom (the eponymous Dark Messiah), with mischief on his infant mind. What's more, what's more; said prophecy is written as a crap poem that attempts to rhyme 'history' with 'enemies', but even this hasn't put some people off taking the whole predicament very, very seriously indeed. You then, are Sareth, a man of blankslate everyman RPG status - and apprentice to the powerful wizard Phenrig. You're about to journey through forgotten temples, crypts, cliffside orc strongholds, underground cities and a particularly unpleasant necropolis - but more importantly, you're going to be able to levitate orcs into fires and watch their corpses bum.

Jam Role(Play)

Let's not forget though - this remains an RPG. You won't earn experience and skill points through the number of beasts you slay, but rather through the objectives you complete, and you'll be able to pump your stats at whim - unlocking spells, improving your stealth and engorging your strength into either a jack-of-all-trades or a play-style-specific expert The story too will show now common role-play tenets such as the ability to shift the goalposts of the story at key moments - giving you the option to ally yourself with the good or the ill without actually changing the trajectory of the story arc.

It won't all be fighting either - don't expect there to be Deus Ex-style hubs since they're not the game's focus, but there will be city levels in which you'll be able to explore, chat with NPCs and perhaps show your Thief roots (as Arkane clearly have, what with the gentle pilfering of both Randy Smith and the rope arrow from Garrett's adventures), by sneaking past guards into areas that you're not really supposed to be in. Indeed, the game's opening takes place in the free city of Stonehelm - home of the wizard Menelag and his conveniently sexy niece and assistant Leanna. The latter becomes your very own sexy assistant too, as you voyage to the orc-ridden island where the Skull Of Shadows abides - although whether or not she'll be there in an Alyx-style capacity is yet to be seen.

Clever Trevor

Of course, the closer you get to denizens of the undead or grizzled orcish warriors, the more obvious their smarts, or lack thereof, become. Minions of evil shouldn't necessarily be smart enough to watch Newsnight, but they should be able to sit through an episode of early-'90s drama Doogie Howser MD. "The cleverer enemies are able to use the same traps as the ones you can use," explains Colantonio. "If there's a monster, there's a good chance that if you're in a position where you would be hit by a trap, then he'll try to use it"

The same goes for enemies choosing to throw dungeon furniture at you, while weaker opposition like goblins will tend to work in groups - fleeing when endangered and liable to hide and ambush you. Combine these traits with the wide range of moves open to NPCs - and their different states of strength and awareness the more you batter them - and you have some melee combat that's a step above a bash on the head with a crowbar.

Then again, a focus on physics, gorgeous HDR and a buddy-engine aren't the only similarities that Dark Messiah shares with our friend Dr Freeman, what with another member of its menagerie being called a Facehugger - a tentacled beast that flies, hunts in packs and sucks out their prey's innards after coupling with their delicate nogging. Add to this menagerie a one-eyed Cyclops that shifts gigantic rocks around in his bid to search you out - then hurls them at you when he finds you - and a dragon whose head looks a little like a penis and you've got something that approaches what I might consider a good night in.

Hie essential reason that I'm stoking the old hype machine on this one though, is that when you're fighting a bad man in Dark Messiah, or even a bad orc or a bad necromancer, you always have options. It's never just a case of pulling a trigger or 'unsheathe sword, slash, slash dead'. There's dodging, blocking and parrying. There's being aware that you saw a suspiciously taut rope a few seconds ago that could come in useful. There's manoeuvring your prey into a position just near that deep pit with the spikes. There's your own developed skills, spells and abilities to boost yourself with, and there's the beautifully dynamic and violent ways tliat the opposition can fight back.

Dark Messiah just conjures up the illusion of a wholly liberating cornucopia of fantasy fighting freedom - pitting you directly as star of the show - then drowns it in blood. Ladies and gentlemen: slow-motion, violent death has finally come to the fantasy genre. Distribute your skill points wisely.

Download Dark Messiah Of Might and Magic

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

The Heroes Of Might And Magic series is widely believed to be the domain of the social recluse, the curtain-pullers and the sundodgers. It's a sentiment shared by many, including Arkane Studios, developer of Dark Messiah, the next in the Might And Magic series and the one which looks set to break the beard-shaped mould.

Armed with nothing more than the ambition to put right what so many have done wrong (and Valve's cutting-edge Source engine), Arkane is hoping to show us what Might And Magic is really about. Expect gory sword-fights, powerful spells and an endless supply of orcs, goblins and dragons to slice through. If this is beardy, then beard us up.

And For My Next Trick...

You have access to a range of spells, and fire spells can be used to set objects alight and trigger chain reactions.

Bow Down

Ranged weapons enable you to take out enemies from a distance - they also make you feel like cool archer Legolas.

Easy Does It

If loud and painful decapitations aren't your thing, you can always dispatch your foes using stealth kills.

Taste The Steel

The sword-fights feel solid and look amazing - sparks fly and blood splatters as combatants attempt to impale one another.

Lose Your Head

Arm yourself with a sharp enough blade and you can take an orc's head right off his shoulders.

Bloody Orcs

The crimson liquid of your enemies stains your weapons as you hack and slash your way through their ranks.

Set The Scene

Dark Messiah uses the Source engine to its full potential to create some simply breathtaking locales.

Know Your Enemy

Goblins tend to attack in groups: catch one on his own though and he'll scream for help and try to run away.

The Heroes Of Might And Magic series is widely believed to be the domain of the social recluse, the curtain-pullers and the sundodgers. It's a sentiment shared by many, including Arkane Studios, developer of Dark Messiah, the next in the Might And Magic series and the one which looks set to break the beard-shaped mould.

Armed with nothing more than the ambition to put right what so many have done wrong (and Valve's cutting-edge Source engine), Arkane is hoping to show us what Might And Magic is really about. Expect gory sword-fights, powerful spells and an endless supply of orcs, goblins and dragons to slice through. If this is beardy, then beard us up.

And For My Next Trick...

You have access to a range of spells, and fire spells can be used to set objects alight and trigger chain reactions.

Bow Down

Ranged weapons enable you to take out enemies from a distance - they also make you feel like cool archer Legolas.

Easy Does It

If loud and painful decapitations aren't your thing, you can always dispatch your foes using stealth kills.

Taste The Steel

The sword-fights feel solid and look amazing - sparks fly and blood splatters as combatants attempt to impale one another.

Lose Your Head

Arm yourself with a sharp enough blade and you can take an orc's head right off his shoulders.

Bloody Orcs

The crimson liquid of your enemies stains your weapons as you hack and slash your way through their ranks.

Set The Scene

Dark Messiah uses the Source engine to its full potential to create some simply breathtaking locales.

Know Your Enemy

Goblins tend to attack in groups: catch one on his own though and he'll scream for help and try to run away.

To Be Honest, I don't really know what Errol Flynn looked like. Although I'm pretty sure he had a twirly moustache. Perhaps a jaunty green triangular hat as well. What I'm certain of however, and I'll check with my gran if any objections are raised, is that he spent a large proportion of his time waving a sword on spiral staircases, slashing ropes connected to precarious chandeliers and shouting "Aha!" after every deft manoeuvre. I mention this because, however he looked, Dark Messiah makes you feel just like Errol Flynn: it buckles swash like nobody's business.

To my knowledge however, and again grandparental advice can be gained on the matter, Flynn was never picked up by the neck by an orc, thrown into a rack of barrels and made to stare up through his prostrate legs at three screaming fantasy beasts. Nor did he pick himself up, fire an arrow at a nearby rope to release a huge weight that swung from the ceiling to knock one orc flying into a bottomless chasm, then duck underneath the weight on its return swing (just before it slammed the second orc into a brick wall), pull out a sword, turn on his internal adrenalin mode, and neatly cleave the third greenskin's head from his shoulders in a cascade of dark red blood. They just didn't have the special effects budget back then.

Swash And Buckle

I namecheck Errol since Dark Messiah is about to nail, fundamentally nail, the thrill and excitement of first-person, blade-to-blade combat. Ingeniously crowbarring a vast array of ingenious weapon-specific moves into the traditional confines of the WASD set-up, blending spike- and chasm-packed environments seamlessly with combat and making full body awareness an integral feature rather than a gimmick - Dark Messiah has taken traditional hack-and-slash, poked it in a myriad of different ways and mustered up a revolution in fantasy gaming. Up until now, you'd be forgiven for a coma-level of interest in Dark Messiah. It's set in the Might & Magic universe for a start from which the likelihood of a game ever stirring the loins of this particular correspondent is on about the same level as Teddy Ruxpin or, on a hot day, the collected works of Danielle Steele. But this Source-powered physics-fest just feels so damn good I'm practically ordering you to share my new-found enthusiasm.

To convey this though, we should discuss the combat more deeply - the bit where the Errol Flynn "Ahas!" and "Take it you swines!" fit into the template. At its base level, fighting works as it does in Oblivion (left-click to swipe, right-click to block) whether you're brandishing an oaken staff, a rogue's dual dagger, a warrior's blade or any other weapon. To add tactics to the mix, meanwhile, a brief tap of WAS or D combined with a leftclick will quickly move you into different stances - a lunge perhaps, or a swiping horizontal slice across the neck. Every weapon links to a different fighting style -and the more you batter an enemy, the more tired they get and the more different combat strokes will open up to you. Enemies will get noticeably more and more fatigued, slowly dragging themselves up from the floor you've kicked them down onto for the sixth time, until they're forlornly waving their swords at you as they lay beaten on the dungeon's paving slabs - before you offer them a quick, painful smiting.

It's simple, yet ingenious stuff; given weight and grit by a bodily awareness system that truly works. When a Cyclops picks you up by the neck you might as well be rendered by the Source engine yourself - "You just feel like there's no screen between you and the character" explains Arkane CEO and creative director Raphael Colantonio, in words better than I could paraphrase when I doorstop him. "It just feels like it's yon." And as soon as you've built up enough battle frenzy to plunge your blade through the chest of a foe. kick him off the end in slow motion and watched the blood fly, or had a zombie guzzle greedily on your neck, I feel sure that you'll agree. And I haven't even started on the spells or the bows and arrows yet. They're good too.

Dark Development

For developers Arkane, this approach to combat has provided even more blood, sweat and tears than they've had to render for the game itself. "It's been a very long and pressing research and development period," claims Colantonio. "It started with just one idea: wouldn't it lie cool if we could really come up with first-person melee combat that actually works." Internally it was hard to convince even the team themselves that first-person was the way to go - they even had famed developers (that Colantonio refuses to name) crying out 'Don't do it! Just go third-person!' - but Arkane persevered.

"We started to have these very visceral moments where you nail your sword into some part of the body, and then go on to kill the bad guy in a cool way. It was great, and we wanted to put more and more emphasis on it - making it intuitive, but at the same time ensuring variety," says the Arkane main man. But as the moves, swipes and dodges piled up came trouble.

"At one point we just broke it," explains Colantonio, ruefully shaking his head. "It was really a mess." Thankfully, however, freelance game development ronin for hire Randy Smith - he of Thief fame - was on hand to help out. On board to help put Arcane's abstract concepts and unique vision into a workable FPS framework, the project was soon put back on track. "He helped us build up a vocabulary for all of our concepts," Colantonio picks up again. "Parrying, dodging - all of those things. Together we nailed down more and more and he helped us shape our ideas into something far more analytical. We really learned a lot."

Sourcey Host(Card)

But the joy of Dark Messiah isn't just in the way that blades clash in a battle of wills as you stare into the deep-set red eyeballs of your foe, or the way that you can grab an enemy from behind and satisfyingly snap their spinal column with your weighty staff. The Source-powered environment you fight in has been tooled up to provide many and varied ultra-violent climaxes to your bouts of swordicuffs. Knock out a strut from a nearby shelf and barrels can tumble on your foes; slash a rope and a lump of metal will swing down in a parabolic dive of certain death; shove a rampaging orc into a fire and he'll gambol through the dungeon like the very beacons of Gondor. What's more, the simple addition of a kick feature brings all manner of fun into the bargain - providing kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse'-style moments all over the shop, as well as the ability to boot goblins into conveniently placed beds of spikes.

But of course, you might not necessarily be playing in this 'tank' fashion. You could be sneaking through the shadows, firing off arrows hither and thither - creeping up behind sentries with dual daggers positioned at dangerous angles. You might also, if you were very close to your mother as a child, have chosen the magical route - that of fireballs, freezing, telekinesis and shrinking spells. Whichever route you choose, however, there's always a distinct whiff of the old ultra-violence attached. For every flesh hit you make, a friendly power bar increases in the bottom-left-hand comer of your screen: when this reaches its zenith then your adrenalin-fuelled battle frenzy is unleashed and, depending on which weapon or spell you're using at the time, your enemy can be beheaded, amputated, run through, pierced and flung into a wall, ignited or simply hung in the air until tossed liberally into the stratosphere. Yes it's a simple, over-used system - but my god. Dark Messiah makes it satisfying.

Made-Up Names

After all this fight froth we come to the storyline which, despite presumably being fine when played out through the game, contains a variety of silly fantasy names that makes it faintly embarrassing when put into cold, hard print. In the interest of thorough journalistic endeavour, however, I'll provide a precis. It happens in this magical place called Ashan; and there's all these demons and they're all kicking off everywhere. Through his own death a magic man called Sar-Elam works out a way of banishing them - but the place the demons are sent isn't pretty so they're rather narked. Flames, seared flesh, eternal fire, limbo, unhygienic toilet facilities: you know the picture. It's like Dudley with more lighter fluid and less comical accents.

Sixty-seven years on and a few cracks have appeared in this demon cage, however, and the skull of Sar-Elam (now monikered as the Skull Of Shadows) is due to play a prominent role in the early release of these otherworldly foreign nationals. What's more, someone improbably named Sar-Shazar has written a prophecy about a half-demon, halfhuman child being bom (the eponymous Dark Messiah), with mischief on his infant mind. What's more, what's more; said prophecy is written as a crap poem that attempts to rhyme 'history' with 'enemies', but even this hasn't put some people off taking the whole predicament very, very seriously indeed. You then, are Sareth, a man of blankslate everyman RPG status - and apprentice to the powerful wizard Phenrig. You're about to journey through forgotten temples, crypts, cliffside orc strongholds, underground cities and a particularly unpleasant necropolis - but more importantly, you're going to be able to levitate orcs into fires and watch their corpses bum.

Jam Role(Play)

Let's not forget though - this remains an RPG. You won't earn experience and skill points through the number of beasts you slay, but rather through the objectives you complete, and you'll be able to pump your stats at whim - unlocking spells, improving your stealth and engorging your strength into either a jack-of-all-trades or a play-style-specific expert The story too will show now common role-play tenets such as the ability to shift the goalposts of the story at key moments - giving you the option to ally yourself with the good or the ill without actually changing the trajectory of the story arc.

It won't all be fighting either - don't expect there to be Deus Ex-style hubs since they're not the game's focus, but there will be city levels in which you'll be able to explore, chat with NPCs and perhaps show your Thief roots (as Arkane clearly have, what with the gentle pilfering of both Randy Smith and the rope arrow from Garrett's adventures), by sneaking past guards into areas that you're not really supposed to be in. Indeed, the game's opening takes place in the free city of Stonehelm - home of the wizard Menelag and his conveniently sexy niece and assistant Leanna. The latter becomes your very own sexy assistant too, as you voyage to the orc-ridden island where the Skull Of Shadows abides - although whether or not she'll be there in an Alyx-style capacity is yet to be seen.

Clever Trevor

Of course, the closer you get to denizens of the undead or grizzled orcish warriors, the more obvious their smarts, or lack thereof, become. Minions of evil shouldn't necessarily be smart enough to watch Newsnight, but they should be able to sit through an episode of early-'90s drama Doogie Howser MD. "The cleverer enemies are able to use the same traps as the ones you can use," explains Colantonio. "If there's a monster, there's a good chance that if you're in a position where you would be hit by a trap, then he'll try to use it"

The same goes for enemies choosing to throw dungeon furniture at you, while weaker opposition like goblins will tend to work in groups - fleeing when endangered and liable to hide and ambush you. Combine these traits with the wide range of moves open to NPCs - and their different states of strength and awareness the more you batter them - and you have some melee combat that's a step above a bash on the head with a crowbar.

Then again, a focus on physics, gorgeous HDR and a buddy-engine aren't the only similarities that Dark Messiah shares with our friend Dr Freeman, what with another member of its menagerie being called a Facehugger - a tentacled beast that flies, hunts in packs and sucks out their prey's innards after coupling with their delicate nogging. Add to this menagerie a one-eyed Cyclops that shifts gigantic rocks around in his bid to search you out - then hurls them at you when he finds you - and a dragon whose head looks a little like a penis and you've got something that approaches what I might consider a good night in.

Hie essential reason that I'm stoking the old hype machine on this one though, is that when you're fighting a bad man in Dark Messiah, or even a bad orc or a bad necromancer, you always have options. It's never just a case of pulling a trigger or 'unsheathe sword, slash, slash dead'. There's dodging, blocking and parrying. There's being aware that you saw a suspiciously taut rope a few seconds ago that could come in useful. There's manoeuvring your prey into a position just near that deep pit with the spikes. There's your own developed skills, spells and abilities to boost yourself with, and there's the beautifully dynamic and violent ways that the opposition can fight back.

Dark Messiah just conjures up the illusion of a wholly liberating cornucopia of fantasy fighting freedom - pitting you directly as star of the show - then drowns it in blood. Ladies and gentlemen: slow-motion, violent death has finally come to the fantasy genre. Distribute your skill points wisely.

The moustachioed gentleman from Ubisoft with the monocle and top hat shouts: "One-point-three-million dollars!" The gasps of the auction house dissipate into a wave of shocked whispers and murmuring. That's probably exactly what happened when the Might And Magic licence bouquet was chucked into the air by 3D0 and consequently snatched by the French publisher. What happened afterwards was pretty special too, with Arkane Studios taking up the Might And Magic reins and kicking some life back into that dead RPG horse with a well-placed FPS spur.

After a recent trip to their studio in Lyon, Arkane made it clear to us what Dark Messiah is all about, and moreover what it's not all about. Obvious parallels will be drawn with recent RPG epic Oblivion, but those parallels will be misguided, looking more like tangents or right angles than parallels.

Dark Messiah belongs to the subset of genres suffixed by 'with RPG elements', in effect being a first-person adventuring game which allows you to learn new skills and powers as you progress through the game's sequential level structure. RPG tenets such as looting corpses and collecting gold, while present, simply aren't prominent, the focus instead turning to a more physical and visceral depiction of melee combat.

View To A Skill

Arkane are also pushing for emergent gameplay in Dark Messiah. There are no classes or set roles - instead, you simply play however you want to play, using the skill points you earn for completing objectives to improve your abilities in whatever area you want. Abilities range from skills like improved sneaking and telekinesis to the ability to disarm your opponents or magically shrink them. That's right, shrink them and then squish them with your foot as they run off screaming with high-pitched voices. Or you could pick up a flask of oil and chuck it at a necromancer as he charges his fireball attack, setting him and those around him on fire.

Kuju, a developer best known for Battalion Wars on GameCube, will be providing the multiplayer portion of Dark Messiah, which will involve five connected maps spanning from a human stronghold at one end to an undead stronghold at the other. Victory for either team results in the map shifting one notch towards their opponent's base and ultimate victory. With 32 players per server, massive city walls to launch volleys of arrows and magical attacks from and huge siege towers to scale and conquer those walls with, the multiplayer aspect of DM should be of significant interest to RPG and online FPS fans alike.

With a truly hands-on and open-ended attitude towards combat and level design, Dark Messiah's strengths will lie in the challenge of finding your own way of completing the various quests. That, and the sheer joy of lopping off an ore's head and seeing it arc through the air, freezing the floor and watching a bunch of goblins fall on their arses, or firing an arrow from the shadows and pinning an enemy to the wall. The choice is yours.

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