The Patient Gamer

Abandoned: Might and Magic Book One

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As soon as the Might and Magic series came up in the RPG project, I was anxious about where to start. Book One, after all, was released in 1986 - still in the very early stages of the video game industry. It didn’t really pioneer anything new - the 1st person graphics had been done before in The Bard’s Tale, there was a pile of prior RPGs like Ultima and Wizardry, and it was pretty inferior compared to its contemporaries like the Legend of Zelda, and Dragon Quest.

But I was also intrigued in the idea of playing a “graph paper RPG” - MM:1 is a game that requires the player to have a sheet of graph paper next to them when they’re playing. The game world is split up into several 16x16 grids, and the graph paper is used to draw a map of each grid. I’d played the evolution of these types of RPGs - like the Dragonlance Gold Box games - but I’d never played one of the originals. And Might and Magic clearly spawned a massive lineage of games.

And so I dug an old notebook out of a bin, filled with graph paper and about 3/4 full of notes and doodles from a Trig class in college. Then I settled down in front of my computer and opened the game. I chose not to use the built-in characters, as it seemed more fun to create my own.

Character creation was interesting from the standpoint that it’s a topic that’s evolved so much in RPGs. Modern day RPGs generally have “stats” that work together with a random number generator to figure out how much damage is done and whether a hit is successful, etc. In modern games, most of this functionality is hidden from the user. You know you do more damage when you level up, but you don’t necessarily know why. But MM:1 was released in an era when RPGs were just computerized versions of table-top RPGs. In order to create a character, you actually “roll” your character stats, randomly generating your ability scores. Once you get a set of stats you like, you can assign the character a name and a class.

Once the game started, the game play was much what I expected - a more primitive version of the Gold Box games. The battle process was a significant step back, however. To begin with, the battles were often completely random, meaning it’s easy to blunder into a fight with creatures that you have no hope of defeating. Furthermore, MM:1 only gives you a list of the monsters you’re fighting and provides only limited positioning. It removes a dynamic from battles that really would have made them more interesting and allow the player to use some strategy that would allow them to win battles they otherwise wouldn’t.

Mapping was everything I hoped it would be. Each grid space gives you a first person view where you can see the walls and spaces around you, and you can use that information to draw a map. Mapping is so important to the game that mages have a “Location” spell that provides the player with the current map number, and the coordinates of the grid square that they occupy on that map. Mapping isn’t just something that you have to do in order to play, it’s actually built into the mechanics of the game.

On that note, spell casting is infuriating. Back when storage was at a premium, it was often impossible to put in-game help into a game. In this case, that also includes spell lists. That means that whenever you want to cast a spell, you need to open up the game manual, peruse the list of spells for your character class, then enter in a level and spell number. For instance, to cast Magic Missle as a mage, you'd need to type C-1-4 on your turn: [C]ast, Level [1], Spell Number [4].

MM:1 is definitely a game I was happy I checked out – but it’s not a game I was interested in playing all the way through. As I’ve talked about with other games, this is a game that a player could easily put hours into. When it was released, it was a decent game to spend that much time on. Now, however, there’s just not enough there to make it worthwhile.

If you’re interested in a neat slice of RPG history, you should check it out. You’d have to be a serious fan of these types of games to be able to complete it.

Mission: FAILED.

Roosky’s rating: 2.5/5

At the time of writing, Might and Magic: Book One is available as part of the Might and Magic 6-pack on GOG for $9.99. The best sale price to date was $2.99.

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