1998 – Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven

After a five year hiatus, New World Computing returns to Might and Magic, leaving behind the flat world of Xeen to bring the series to the three-dimensional continent of Enroth, home to the first two Heroes of Might & Magic games.

A radically different game, Might & Magic VI eschews the 2D, grid-based world of its predecessors in favor of a more modern 3D free-roaming world. Similar to early FPS titles like Doom, the engine renders 3D environments and 2D enemy sprites.

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The game is primarily played in real-time and features a day-night cycle, with an in-game minute passing every two seconds. Actions such as travel, rest and training advance the clock by hours or days at a time, and the game’s shops, stables and ships abide by a rigid schedule: most businesses close overnight, and travel services only run their routes on specific days of the week. Your party will need to occasionally stop to rest and eat; they’ll press on if you let them, but their condition will deteriorate over time, leading to exhaustion and even death! In spite of this, managing time in-game isn’t difficult, and adds to a sense of immersion.

Combat in Might & Magic VI is a hybrid between real-time and turn-based gameplay, and generally takes place against dozens of enemies at a time. Real-time combat can be hectic, but exciting: a player might often find themselves running backward, evading incoming projectiles while pumping spells and arrows into the advancing horde.

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At any time, pressing Enter toggles a turn-based mode, leading to a more tactical experience. While turn-based mode is switched on, the party may not move, but the player has time to make more deliberate choices during combat. A player might find themselves gravitating to either real-time or turn-based combat, or mixing them: both modes have their advantages, and are viable in most situations.

Your party consists of four human adventurers, who can specialize in one of six different classes. M&M VI introduced the now classic formula of seeking trainers to improve your skills, with the skill masters being hidden in obscure places. Characters are free to master any skill their class have access to, and can learn any spell in their available spell schools.

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However, there are a significant number of spells which don’t scale well into the late game, or simply don’t work at all! Later M&M games fix these issues, but place more limits on which spells a class can learn, and which skills they can master. As a result, character classes in this game are less specialized and more homogeneous than in its sequels, but the player has more freedom to develop them as they see fit.

The balance tends to favor spellcasting classes, due in part to the raw power of Light and Dark magic and the sheer utility of Water and Air. Physical classes quickly drop off in power, but their survivability can save the party, and they tend to have more points to spend on non-combat skills like Repair.

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Your party will start out feeling rather weak, but will ramp up steadily in power as you play. It can be very satisfying to return to an area that once gave you trouble, and cut a swath of destruction through it!

Might & Magic VI takes place after the events of Heroes of Might & Magic II, but it does not follow a completely linear narrative – it is quite open-ended in its structure. While the starting town of New Sorpigal has a useful assortment of low-level quests and dungeons, most regions are accessible from the very beginning of the game, and many quests, even within the main quest line, can be completed in any order.

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Dungeons are typically sizeable in scope and overflowing with enemies, and range from unremarkable caves and sewers to lavish ruins and high-tech control centers. The world itself is quite large, with about 15 large outdoor regions and over 30 dungeons. Locales include the snowy mountains of White Cap, the haunted Mire of the Damned, and Dragonsand, a desert unsurprisingly full of dragons.

There are plenty of ways to get around: regions can be reached either on foot or via ships or stables, which can quickly move a player between towns. A party with an advanced spellcaster has additional conveniences: for instance, a Water master can save beacons to warp to at a later time, or instantly teleport the party to certain cities. Air magic’s Fly spell is my personal favorite: your party gains the power to soar freely through the air, raining death onto any unsuspecting enemies below.

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The new M&M engine and gameplay style would be used in two more games, Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor (1998) and Might and Magic VIII: Day of the Destroyer (2000). But while they add polish to the engine, they don’t match M&M VI’s nearly 100 hours of gameplay, meaty dungeon crawls and emphasis on free-form exploration.

For these reasons and more, Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven may well be one of the best computer RPGs of its time. dhamster

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