Sunday, September 18, 2011

Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra

Hudson Soft / New World Computing
Super CD-ROM

Might and Magic III is no dawdler or word mincer. It immediately grants you notice that it'll be giving you a difficult time: the city in which you begin your quest is not inhabited by harmless, bumbling townsfolk but by vicious sludge beasts and rat monsters. You'll hack your way beyond the village walls only to find yourself choosing between destinations where you'll be as unwelcome as you were in the vermin pit you just exited. From scheming kings to self-serving mercenaries, even the non-bestial denizens of Terra want nothing to do with you, save for the instances when you can aid them in their own pursuits of wealth and power. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are sure to set in when you play M&M3. It's a good thing, then, that the adventure is so rewarding that the player inevitably ends up just fine with experiencing those feelings.

Before you can reap any rewards, however, you'll have to come to terms with the enormity of the task you're given here. The islands of Terra constitute a realm that's both gigantic and extremely mysterious. You're granted the freedom to explore said realm in any way that your strength and wit will allow you; there is no predetermined sequence of events that the game holds your hand through. There are so many missions to undertake, labyrinths to delve into, riddles to solve, and creatures to slay that some players will conclude almost at once that the challenge of M&M3 is daunting and overwhelming to the extent that the game is nigh inaccessible. That these players will miss out on the intense encounters and fascinating surprises that come with accepting said challenge is truly a shame.

But I can understand why some might find the game to be utterly perplexing. Options are aplenty even before one embarks on one's quest, as simply determining the covey of characters who'll make up the featured fellowship demands study of the strengths and weaknesses of various classes and races. A solid group of pre-set would-be world savers is available for those unwilling to head-scratch their way through notes on proficiencies, but know now that taking the time to make sound early decisions can pay dividends in matters of convenience down the road.

Whatever the complexion of the party you put together, outfitting your selected warriors is sure to prove enjoyable. There are dozens upon dozens of items that can be purchased or discovered throughout the lands of Terra. Though continually having to bring up and wade through equipment-management menus can prove irritating, there's a great deal of fun to be had swapping weapons and trinkets amongst the heroes and developing a band of fearsome monster slayers. The wide variety of enchanted articles that can be acquired via thorough exploration makes each foray into a treasure-stocked dungeon seem like a worthwhile endeavor.

Registers of obtainable skills and spells match the equipment list in length. Nothing is simply handed over to you, however. Accept the challenge issued by warrior-eradicating villains to earn membership to guilds that sell spell scrolls. Pay to be mentored in the ways of the arts by those who are most proficient in them. Avoid melee scrums with titans capable of obliterating your hard-earned weaponry. And don't forget that your own soldiers are hardly emotionless; they themselves can succumb to heartbreak. Even leveling up, a typically simple matter, calls for trips to village training grounds.

Bear in mind that these affairs are all peripheral. Dungeons comprise the true meat of the adventure, the heart and soul of the game itself. Terra's dreaded labyrinths are horrible places that frequently present you with abstract riddles to solve and dire choices to make.

But it's the incredibly powerful creatures that inhabit these places that make even M&M veterans quiver and proceed with great trepidation. The dark, dank corridors are ruled by cyclopes, liches, minotaurs, and other frightful, nearly indomitable monstrosities.

You'll be ripped to shreds in some fights, but combat will remain interesting and exciting no matter how many beatings you endure. Your party can spot approaching creatures from a distance and launch missile and magical attacks as soon as a threat is detected. Of course, their opponents can respond in kind.

This element of chasmal war-waging adds to the intensity of certain encounters. At times, you'll find yourself desperately hurling everything you've got at a hard-charging beast in the hopes that you can eliminate the mighty abomination before it reaches you.

Count on the abomination being animated and well drawn, and count on being treated to detailed, appealing visuals throughout every stage of your quest. The music, with its powerful, throbbing drums, is also excellent.

Enjoy the aesthetics. Bask in the glory that comes with achieving notoriety for jobs well done, with killing creatures thought to be unbeatable. Nothing comes easily in this kingdom. Overcome all obstacles and you'll truly be deserving of the title of Champion that the game bestows upon you.

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