Dark Messiah of Might And Magic: Elements
It’s admirable when games go out of their way to break the mould. So many of them are shoveled out each week, grasping for dollars in an all-out advertising war. How many WWII shooters have their been in the past decade? More than the number of countries involved in that conflict, I’m sure. Dark Messiah was originally released on the PC in 2006, and was a decidedly unusual first-person shooter. Instead of bullets, lasers, and familiar setpieces, Dark Messiah plunged gamers into the world of the Might and Magic series head-first. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was unique, and certainly enjoyable. If anything, it was something different, which in and of its own made it a worthwhile experience. Elements is a console port of Dark Messiah, warts and all; clearly the game didn’t catch on well enough to spawn a genre. Unfortunately, the issues that plagued the original version are all the more apparent two years on, and the overall experience is certainly rocky. Still, for 360 owners looking for something a little different, Elements is worth a glance.
“In this particular instance, the fogey is forcing you to nab the Shantiri Crystal – or, as he refers to it, the Shantiri Crysssstal.”Dark Messiah is a slightly dark, completely cheesy foray into Lord of the Rings territory. The main character is the accomplice of a creepy wizard who sends him around the globe hunting for objects with ominous names. In this particular instance, the fogey is forcing you to nab the Shantiri Crystal – or, as he refers to it, the Shantiri Crysssstal. There are rumors of the resurrection of the Dark Messiah, and the foreshadowing is subtle enough that I’m sure you can predict the plot twist by reading the title of the game. The story is about as interesting as The Eye of Argon, insofar that it’s an atrociously written excuse for the character to kick some serious ass. Luckily, Elements is a video game, so the ass-kicking will be playable and awesome.
The combat in Elements is surprisingly robust. There are four classes to choose from: Assassin, Warrior, Mage, and Archer (if you feel like blowing 400MSpoints there are more available on Xbox Live). Each class uses a different type of weapon and has different starting statistics. The one thing that each class has in common is the ability to kick. Legs are rarely used at all in first-person games, let alone used as weapons. It’s the shining feature in the game, and combined with the Source-engine physics, creates opportunities for hilarity at every corner. Granted, combat in Elements may take no skill, but it sure is satisfying to punt an orc in the butt and watch him fall off of a cliff, horrid voice acting and all. Upper body attacks consist of swords, knives, axes, and bows, as well as some magic. Any weapon encountered in the game can be picked up, which is a brilliant feature, until you realize that all first-person shooters let you do that, and that it’s just easier to distinguish between guns than swords. Then it just seems nice. As the game funnels you through linear environments, the charm of being a high-fantasy action game begins to wear off. Elements relies so heavily on tired shooter gameplay that the setting soon becomes irrelevant, and soon players will feel as if they’re playing a game of Medal of Honor that only allows melee attacks. It’s entertaining, but derivative, and the game soon grates on the nerves.
“The Source engine is capable of cranking out some fairly attractive graphics these days, but it’s starting to age, and Elements is far from the prettiest game to use the engine.”It doesn’t help that the graphics, which were already fairly outdated when the PC version was released, are unchanged since Dark Messiah. The Source engine is capable of cranking out some fairly attractive graphics these days, but it’s starting to age, and Elements is far from the prettiest game to use the engine. Items like ropes and plants are simple two-dimensional sprites, and most textures are blurry and pixelated. The lighting is the sole impressive piece of work in the game; everything is bathed in an eye-pleasing soft glow. The sound also follows this pattern of grating annoyance laced with moments of brilliance. The voice acting, by and large, is laughable, and most of the time there is no music. However, the music that does play is very well produced. There is also one character that is generally entertaining: Xana, a sort of medieval equivalent of Halo‘s Cortana. As well as delivering her lines in a fairly amusing faux-sexual manner, her writing is also pretty funny at times. She doesn’t make up for the rest of the dreck in the game, but her voice is a welcome addition to the game’s dull audiovisual makeup.
No generic corridor shooter would be complete without a generic multiplayer mode, and Dark Messiah is no exception. The game’s Xbox Live mode is a class-based team affair, pitting two groups of players at each other on maps littered with spawn points to capture. It’s a bit like Star Wars: Battlefront, but without the epic sense of scale. In my experience with the game, I was only able to get into a few full matches – either there are server issues, or nobody is playing. Aside from this mode, there is very little replay value in Elements – there are four starter classes to play through the campaign with, but playing through with each class would require an immense tolerance for the level of mediocrity present in 90% of the game.
In the end, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic: Elements is an interesting experiment in genre-bending. Unfortunately, the process wasn’t handled with enough care for the result to be anything more than an interesting interlude in between sessions of Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3. If you’re absolutely dying to get medieval on someone’s ass, Elements may be your only option. Just don’t expect it to be a great one.