Might & Magic: World of Xeen is actually an adventure composed of two distinct games: Might & Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen (1992) and Might & Magic V: Darkside of Xeen (1993). Played separately, these games are typical Might & Magic games, but when both are installed in your computer they combine into a continuous experience.
Xeen is a flat, square-shaped world, and on each game you explore one side of the planet – first defeating the infamous Lord Xeen on the Light Side, then battling his master, Sheltem, on the Darkside. Magical pyramids spread through the land allow you to travel between both sides, exploring each at your own pace. Furthermore, World of Xeen adds a new batch of quests, requiring you to face challenges across all of Xeen to reach the game’s true ending.
World of Xeen is the ultimate 2D game of the series before the move to 3D in Might & Magic VI and beyond. It was also the last game that New World Computing published independently before being acquired by The 3DO Company. As a game developer, I find the games like Xeen at the cusp of a transition to be particularly interesting.
Xeen’s production values show that New World Computing wanted a grand game. The art is lush and detailed, the world is massive by any standard, there were voiced cut scenes not often seen, and the fact that the two entire games combined together to form a complete game set it apart from any other RPG.
Gameplay-wise, World of Xeen is a direct descendant of prior Might & Magic games and borrows many mechanics, particularly from the third game. You create a party of six characters of various classes and races. You have a standard selection of weapon users, spell slingers, and hybrid classes that can use heavy gear and spells. Your race choice gives you some benefits and penalties in the short term. Advancement comes from gaining new levels, as well as acquiring skills to help you in your adventures, such as Path-finding, Swimming and Linguistics. Items created by combining base types with random attributes also adds to character power.
Power inflation is the hallmark of the Might & Magic games, and you see it clearly here. Your party starts out weak, but magical items and temporary buffs to statistics, hit points, or magic points can make any party orders of magnitude more powerful. While this seems silly, it allows for the player’s knowledge to give advantages that simply grinding levels could not. This power inflation also makes it so that the adjustments you got from your starting character choices have less of an impact at the end game.
Movement and fighting are the usual grid- and turn-based affairs of first-person RPGs at the time. Characters with ranged weapons and spell casters can fire at enemies approaching from a distance; but be warned, enemies can do the same. Knowing how to move and not expose yourself to attacks can be the difference between victory and defeat.
The land in each game is large, with 24 map locations each of which are 16×16 squares. On top of all this explorable area, there are ten towns, castles, and dozens of dungeons to explore. Progressing across the map often requires your characters to cast certain spells or to learn special skills mentioned previously.
There are plenty of exotic places to visit. The gorgeous physical maps included with the games show a wide variety of biomes: huge deserts, lava lakes, dense forests and frozen expanses. In addition, there are fantastical places where you can levitate over clouds and walk along roads in the sky. The game feels like a heroic sword-and-sorcery story, with different elements thrown together in a hodge-podge of fun. The important part is the adventure, not necessarily any thematic or logical consistent with the “real world”.
The puzzles are particularly interesting, as they tend to rely on knowledge outside the game and can be daunting to non-English speakers.
For example, one dungeon has you solving a crossword puzzle using clues. The sheer number of puzzles makes the game challenging more than just hacking up monsters and taking loot. Of course, those playing the game now can just look up a handy FAQ to get past the tricky parts.
As mentioned before, the game also had cutscenes as part of a larger story. The story continues with standard fantasy tropes that blend with slowly revealed sci-fi elements – another hallmark of the Might & Magic series. As the player approaches the end of the game, the true plot becomes revealed: the events of the game are the conclusion of a grand fight that spanned all the prior games in the series.
In all, World of Xeen is a game that includes practically everything. If you look hard, you can probably even find a kitchen sink somewhere. But, because of its immense scope and place in history, the game stands as a landmark RPG for good reason. Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green