The game takes place in the world of VARN (Vehicular Astropod Research Nacelle) with a large scale map containing 20 overland squares and a large number of dungeons and cities. The game begins like many fantasy RPG computer games where you run around a lot killing things and taking their stuff. However a science fiction element slowly rears its head as the adventure (and plot) are revealed.
Like the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game of the time there is a small selection of classes to pick from:
- Knight - These are your basic fighter types.
- Cleric - Fighters with a limited weapon selection who can cast healing spells.
- Robbers - Basic thief.
- Sorcerers - Can you say Magic-Users?
- Archers - These are fighters that can always use ranged weapons. they also gain access to Sorcerer spells at higher levels.
- Paladins - These are fighters who gain cleric magic at higher levels. Unlike their Dungeons and Dragons counterparts they are not restricted by alignment.
Your party will consist of up to six characters. Taking one of each class is a no-brainer. Alignment and sex are also chosen but have very little effect on gameplay. There are some quests where alignment is a factor and one particular city likes to punish males!
The game came with a small map of the outside world that is surrounded by a lettered grid. Locations in game are often represented by a mixed letter and number notation. For example, the town of Portsmith is located in overland square B3 at coordinates x3,y3. All maps are on a 16x16 square grid. This helped make mapping in the game very easy.
Walking around the world was accomplished using the keyboard in a quasi-3D way. At the time this was very much the wave of the future in RPG gaming but it is obviously dated compared to what we have today. Most RPG games now follow in the footsteps of the Baldur's Gate series of games with their isometric top-down view of the action. It's more realistic that way and allows for tactical deployment of your characters but, there is still a lot of fun to be had playing the old school games on the PC.
An important thing to know about this game is that whenever you gain a level you also age a year. There are ways to regain your youth and you will be using them at some point.
As an interesting aside, back when I first played this game on the C64 something strange happened. I do not know if it was a glitch or not but our party achieved a lot of experience points in battles before we took the time to train them (lacked the funds). We did not pay attention to the age of the characters and we found our highest level character dieing in his sleep after every rest! He had attained such a high level that he was very old and could no longer live because of that.
We did restore his youth but we never were able to max out the levels of our characters. Unlike Pool of Radiance, where you lose some of your bonus XP when you level up, Might and Magic does not stop you from gaining extra XP or cap the amount of levels you can gain at one sitting. When you add in the monetary cost of gaining a new level we were always broke. We did not lose many fights due to our high levels but we never had any money!
Might and Magic was ahead of its time in so many ways. For one thing the game was a sandbox. Might and Magic did not force the player to do all of the quests in order. You could think of it as the GTA of its time in that respect. Yes, the quests were there but you could just as easily spend your time wandering the wilderness killing things!
Might and Magic holds a special place in my heart. It was released two years before the SSI AD&D games and was in close competition with the Bard's Tale series of games. I think Might and Magic put some pressure on Interplay to improve on the Bard's Tale series and that is a good thing.
Might and Magic was produced during the golden age of CRPG's. It is a far cry from the graphical love fests you find today but it has very satisfying game play and it is a game all gamers should at least try. Yeah, I know the graphics are crap compared to today and that you have to use a DOS emulator to get it to work on your current machine (these things were built to run in 640K on an 8088 processor) but if you did not live through this era of gaming you really need to play some of the gems to get a feel for just how far we have come (and how far we need to go in other areas).
You can download the game from here though you will likely need to use DOSBox to get it to work properly.
images courtesy of Best Old Games