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Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements Review

Brian_Rowe By:
PLAYERS 1- 32 
DEVELOPER Ubisoft Annecy 
M What do these ratings mean?

Consoles are for idiots.

Why do some developers persist in believing that a console makes me less of a gamer? Is it the lack of a keyboard? I have buttons, and ten fingers of manipulation. Is it the lack of a mouse? They’re called analog sticks, and I dual-wield. Put a controller in my hands and I can hold my ground against the most hardened of the QWERTY crowd. I don’t want Shirley Temple versions of real games. I want them served straight up in a dirty glass.

click to enlargeDark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements is a port of the similarly titled PC game from 2006. It tells the same story of a young protégé, Sareth, fighting through a realm of swords and sorcery to keep the Skull of Shadows from evil hands. Vicious orcs, treacherous goblins, and heretical necromancers still terrorize the kingdom of Ashan in their quests for power. Even the first-person melee battles remain intact. Elements is the same game with a few concessions for us... simple folk.

The first step is choosing one of four classes – warrior, archer, mage, or assassin. They are the self-explanatory staples of fantasy RPGs, and each class automatically gets stronger and more deadly with their assigned weapons through experience points. In the PC version of Dark Messiah, players get to mold a raw character’s abilities, stats, and weapon skills as they saw fit, in an action game that was straightforward to begin with. Elements reduces that gameplay to the equivalent of Gauntlet in HD.

Many players will (gladly) never know what they’re missing, but the problem permeates every orifice of Elements. Even the gorgeous settings are plundered of their worth. From dark alleyways to labyrinthine ruins and a spectacular cliff-side village, Elements has some solid level designs with just enough nooks and crannies to keep adventurers on their toes. Attic windows, secret tunnels, and interactive environmental hazards are meant to give players choices in battle, but they weren’t designed around pre-built classes.

The assassin is supposed to creep through the shadows and backstab his targets or silently cut the rope suspending a heavy crate. He has the thinnest skin of the bunch and his only other attack is a dainty dagger-slap. Even if he quietly removes one guard from a room, what is he supposed to do about the other five alerted by the screams? The shielded warrior can take them on, but without a ranged weapon or the ability to hide, he might as well be toting glowsticks for the archers of the next section to aim at. What we have here is an issue of balance.

click to enlargeThe archer and mage are the only way to go. Each can suck up fair amounts of damage and deal it right back. They also have the benefit of range, assuming you’re fine with unswitchable, standard, Y-axis aiming. I am not. It makes me feel like I’m in a righty-loosey red-means-go bizarro-world. How, after all these years, do you not incorporate the most basic control option in all of gaming? If the rest of Elements is any indication, it’s due to a complete lack of quality control.

I could inundate you with tales of vital objects disappearing, level-ending enemies failing to appear, and an A.I. that fluctuates between omniscience and fetal stupidity. Perhaps you would like to hear how I fell through ankle-deep water and drowned... during a cut-scene. Instead, I’ll emphasize a glitch that deserves its own paragraph of infamy. I want someone at Ubisoft to read this and know just how much anguish I endured.

I had to find Lord Menelag’s manor after entering the gates of Stonehelm. I sauntered through the courtyard, entered a pub, and inexplicably failed my objective. On the second try, I skipped the pub and went through the left alleyway. Failure. I took the middle path, the right path, and even stood perfectly still. Failure times three. After twelve tries I sprinted towards a gate and saw the words “Objective Complete.” I paused, saved, resumed play, and… failure. With only two seconds between the save and instant death, I had to restart the entire game.

Why did I put up with such atrocious affronts to gaming standards? Besides my self-flagellatory obligation to Game Revolution, no game fulfilled my fantasies of becoming a medieval swashbuckler quite like Elements. After dispatching one guard in a fatal decapitation, I pitched his partner down the stairs with a swift kick to the gut. I dove from the banister to the floor below. Guards entered the room from both sides. An arrow made quick work of the first. I grabbed a chair from the floor, chucked it at the other guard’s head, and watched him reel back into the fireplace. I was dashing, courageous, and making my life much harder than it needed to be.

As flamboyant as combat can be, most fights are easily won with simple block-attack combos. You can hurl objects and kick enemies into hazards, but it all wastes stamina that you might need for a coup de grace or a sprinting retreat. The difficulty curve is almost too perfectly matched with the hero’s progression, so the legions of orcs in later levels don’t present any more of challenge than the guards of the first level. In summary, I have yet to die from anything other than glitches and falls.

click to enlargeAs for the Xbox 360’s exclusive content, much of it comes in the form of three short sections hacked into the main game. In the middle of a fierce battle on a plank-lined cliff, I was teleported to a serene temple filled with effortless, lever-based puzzles. Instead of working it between the earlier chapters, Ubisoft completely destroyed the flow of the game. The new levels hold some awesome armaments, but all those do is make combat vastly less demanding.

The multiplayer deathmatches received an overhaul too, but they’re dishearteningly basic and displaced from the main game. The fun parts of combat, like throwing objects, kicking, stamina, and even the simple act of crouching have been removed. All that’s left is strafing in circles while you hack and cast away your opponent’s disproportionately massive life bar.

All Ubisoft had to do was port over the PC version as-is, and they could have had a decent addition to the 360 library. The graphics would have been decent, the level designs interesting, the combat system passable. Instead, they tried catering to the specific needs of console gamers (whatever those might be) and left us with a glitchy, watered-down jumble.
D+ Revolution report card
  • Interesting level designs
  • Excellent combat system
  • ...that's utterly wasted.
  • Unbalanced classes
  • Unforgivably glitchy
  • 12 freakin' restarts!
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