Released in February 2007, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is a fantasy take on the action genre from French developer Ubisoft Annecy. Built using Valve's Source engine, the game features an advanced physics system that gives magic and materials believable properties, and there are often a variety of different solutions to any given problem in the game. Reactions to the game on the PC were mixed, but an Xbox 360 version was always in the offing, and today that conversion was officially confirmed at Ubisoft's 2007 "Ubidays" preview event. We attended the event in Paris, and we were able to get a first play of the game as well as talk to the developers to see what they have planned for the conversion.
The single-player portion of Dark Messiah on the Xbox 360 will remain largely the same as the PC original. Ubisoft claims to have added in around two hours of brand-new material, while also ironing out the many bugs that were reported in the PC original. The new content consists of ideas that Arkane didn't have the time to include in the original, and it's interspersed throughout different parts of the game. The developer promises that players of the original will spot differences in the beginning and middle portions of the game, although the overall story will remain the same between the two versions. The developer also claims to have fixed some 800 bugs from the PC version during its move to the Xbox 360, and thanks to another eight months of development time, they hope that the only downloadable content that's issued for the game comes in the form of expansions, and not patches.
As with any game that moves from the PC to a console, the control scheme for Dark Messiah has received an overhaul to accommodate the move from mouse and keyboard to gamepad. The right trigger is now used to attack while the left trigger defends, and pulling both together performs a kicking action that can be used to knock down barriers or perform a follow-up attack. Moving and looking has been mapped to the left and right analog sticks, but the inventory system has been adapted to use both the directional pad and face buttons. The weapons and magic are mapped to different directions on the directional pad, and once you choose from the main categories, you can pick suboptions by using the face buttons.. For example, to choose between a sword and a bow and arrow, you have to hold right on the directional pad while pressing Y or B. It takes some getting used to in the heat of battle, but Ubisoft says the system is not yet finalised and could end up changing in the finished game.
While the representatives at Ubisoft were slightly reluctant to let journalists play this single-player build, we pleaded to be allowed to sample the full demo that was on show at Ubidays 2007. Although short, it let us get a feel for combat against soldiers, spiders, and skeletons, as well as see the advanced physics of the Source engine in action. The first obstacle in the demo was a bridge that collapses as you try to cross it, but fortunately you have a bow that can fire arrow ropes in your arsenal. Aiming a couple of these arrows at the bar suspended over the bridge, you can fire a succession of ropes that you can then swing from to make it to the other side. All of the same physics-based attacks from the PC game also promise to make their way to the 360 version, so you'll still be able to use ice magic close to the edge of a cliff and then kick an enemy onto it to send them sliding off.
Our demo consisted mostly of combat interspersed with a series of minor puzzles. After taking out a couple of spiders with our trusty sword, we moved on to fight human enemies in the form of warriors. The human enemies are fairly intelligent, circling around you during swordfights and retreating when hurt, but they didn't pose too much of a challenge in the demo. As you battle your way into a dungeon, you meet a character who you need to free from a prison cell, but the only thing you must do is find the key to unlock the cell. From here, the skeleton characters posed a little bit more of a challenge in combat, but again they were nothing too taxing, and it seems like Arkane has certainly made this introduction more welcoming for console gamers. For example, the auto-aim system makes it easy to land sword strikes and bow-and-arrow shots even though you're using a control pad.
While the single-player game remains largely unchanged in this conversion, Ubisoft is passionate about totally revamping the multiplayer elements. The developer is very vocal about its own disappointment in the original multiplayer game, and they are keen to address the many weaknesses that have been leveled at it by the community. All of the maps have been totally revamped, with the size of each one adapted to cope with the maximum 12-player limit for Xbox Live. The team at Ubisoft believes that the classes were not properly balanced, so adjustments have been made to make all of the different characters useful in different situations. However, despite all these changes, the popular campaign mode will be returning, where each consecutive map is chosen depending on the outcome of the previous match.
Ubisoft is aiming to release two demos for Dark Messiah onto Xbox Live over the summer to drum up support for the game in the run up to its September 2007 release. At this stage, the game wasn't optimized for the Xbox 360's triple-core processor, so the graphics engine and frame rate will improve in the final release. Hopefully, the additions and fixes to the single-player game will improve upon what was accomplished in the PC original, while the revamped multiplayer game will appeal to the millions of people who currently battle over Xbox Live. From what we've seen, the game looks to be shaping up nicely, and we'll be sure to have more on Dark Messiah Might and Magic: Elements in the run up to the game's release in September.