Ported from the PC, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic surfaces under the subtitle Elements on the Xbox 360. Gamers who have missed out on this action RPG will now get a chance to explore the dark world of Ashan as the protagonist Sareth.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is a worthy project to port over to the console world considering its favorable reception on the PC last year. The genre of action role-playing games has been on fire as of late with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion reinventing open world RPGs and Mass Effect bringing science fiction to another level on the Xbox 360 last Christmas. The future looks promising for Elements turn on the Xbox 360, but something has gone terribly wrong in the cauldron brewing the console port.
Before I get onto the part of the review where I revile what went wrong, let’s start off with a little bit of background of what Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements is all about. The storyline puts you in control of the arrogant warrior Sareth who follows the guidance of the Wizard Phening. Like most adventures when things are going like they are planned turmoil hits and the characters world is thrown into disarray. This happens after you retrieve an invaluable Shantiri Crystal guarded by a monstrous spider. You then and deliver the crystal to the Wizard Menelang in the town of Stonehelm. In Stonehelm the activities pick up as you defeat a giant Cyclops and hunt down evil necromancers leading to nightmarish dreams and new beginnings. In comparison to other role-playing games set in this time period it’s the standard stuff, done right. It’s too bad the gameplay in-between can’t hold the glue together merging the storyline with a positive gaming experience.
Combat is handled in the first-person perspective which leads to the normal hang-ups with visibility issues, this is nothing uncommon. Beyond common weapons like swords, magic attacks and bows you can alternatively use your legs by kicking. Using the kick attack also acts as a push sending your opponent backwards. Exploiting the environment, you will likely smile when you send your first set of guards into dangerous spots like fires or conveniently placed wall racks of spikes, but after you do this twenty times it starts to become dull. This feature is innovative and overused taking away the natural feeling a good chunk of the game. A good portion of the fighting sequences feel scripted even though they aren’t. Enemies will usually be standing like next to a items or spots that can kill them, like they are waiting for you to walk up and kick them into a bed of spikes, or right on the edge of a cliff. They even like to hang out underneath structures that can be collapsed on them causing death. Fighting at times feels fun, it’s too bad the developer ruins any chase of realism by abusing this mechanic.
Adding the problem of the shallow combat is are control issues. The controls are mapped to feeling instinctive with the right and left triggers handling attacking and defending while the face buttons handle your inventory and other commands, and the D-Pad controls a quick access to items which is a blessing. That’s the good, now here is the bad... Dark Messiah feels sluggish and controls the same in and out of combat. Moving around Sareth feels like his feet are stuck in mud which only gets worse when he gets into fights and has to worry about horrible animation getting in the way. Dark Messiah feels horribly like four or five year old game which doesn’t hold up well to the standards that we are getting used to in the next-generation of gaming. Since a majority of Dark Messiah is focused on combat this doesn’t helps the games cause. Even with a game that suffered from questionable combat mechanics like Two Worlds didn't put all its eggs in one basket. Within Dark Messiah that’s all you really have, and when that fails, everything does.
The role-playing element comes into play in Elements with experience points that are given to your character after winning battles or completing objectives. The experience points can be used to enhance your character with skills that fall into three categories combat, miscellaneous and magic. Upgrades usually come in the form of more powerful attacks, new spells both offensive and defensive and other general skills such as like stealth. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of depth here and customization is limited. Even when characters have become more powerful the basic rules of combat still apply even as you progress in the game. If you’re a close ranged fighter you will quickly start to dismember your enemies with hefty blows marching strait into battle. If you’re a long ranged fighter you learn to be craftier as you eliminate your enemies.
Progression through Dark Messiah is a linear event that breaks the game into chapters. After playing over a hundred hours in Oblivion reverting to a similar game really feels like a backwards step. Luckily I favoured the plot line in Messiah even though it wasn’t highly original, and the games pacing had enough mildly interesting events that happen to help motive you to push ahead. It’s all the other things that want to hold the player back from enjoying the story including the sluggish combat, brain dead A.I. and constant loading screens. It’s a shame the main aspect of the Messiah, the gameplay isn’t as inviting as the magic casting, lady chasing storyline.
Taking the action online you will have two modes, a class-based mode with standard games including death matches and a game where you have to holding control points. The other mode is an arena styled game for one on one battles with a live audience. If the combat system was more worked out and didn’t feel so dated, I believe the multiplayer might have been something special. I liked the idea behind the arena and pitting the living against the undead, it’s just too bad I can’t seem to find my groove crossing swords online. Like many things in Dark Messiah, you can see it working; but it never reaches that point.
Built on the Half-Life 2 Source Engine this PC port has taken a hit in the graphics. The quality really seems to be taken back almost to the original Xbox days. The textures, animation, a modelling is a step behind along with the light effects that don’t showcase any of the cool effects we’ve seen in countless other games. It could the Source engine be the culprit for so many other things going wrong within Dark Messiah? If not 100% true, it is a good possibility. Following up the graphics are a similar case in the audio. The voice work is simply cheesy, and not the good cheese that we like in that B-Movie way. Sareth and the whole gang seem casted out of a time capsule in a land when they had no emotion. The only real redeeming quality in the audio is the musical score which fits the content nicely, its too bad the obtuse sound effects wouldn’t keep clashing with the musical melody.
In translation from the PC it seems the evil porting gremlins have infected another PC-console port leaving gamers with experience that makes Dark Messiah really hard to love. Even if you are a gamer who enjoys medieval lore, first person melee combat and all things magic, Elements is a little hard to embrace. The main reason why Dark Messiah fails on the Xbox 360 is the choppy gameplay, dated graphics, and underwhelming multiplayer. A year is a long time to wait with a jealous heart only to be let down when the adventure starts. Putting my expectations aside, Dark Messiah can be enjoyed with a little effort; it is unfortunate as a whole that the experience comes up second rate.
Gameplay:5, Graphics:5, Sound:5.5, Innovation:6, Mojo: 5 Final: 5.3 / 10