Dark Messiah of Might and Magic Exclusive Single-Player Hands-On

We went to Lyon, France, to get some of the very first hands-on time with the single-player game of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.

We've seen plenty of first-person shooters, but first-person swordfighting, backstabbing, and orc-kicking games are another matter entirely. That's where Dark Messiah of Might and Magic comes in. Dark Messiah is going to be the latest game in the Might and Magic franchise, one of the oldest in all of gaming, but it also represents an exciting new direction for the series. This action game with role-playing elements is built on the Source engine, the same one used to power Half-Life 2, and like that game, Dark Messiah promises to blend cutting-edge technology with razor-sharp gameplay. To learn more, we visited the developer, Arkane Studios, in Lyon, France, to get some of the very first hands-on time with the single-player component of Dark Messiah.

Let's cut through some of the confusion surrounding the game first. Dark Messiah isn't a traditional role-playing game, but rather it's a mission-based action game with heavy role-playing elements. In other words, you won't be roaming around collecting herbs to make potions, or anything like that. Instead, you'll work your way through the levels of Dark Messiah much like you would in any other action game. What makes Dark Messiah so promising, though, is the sheer open-ended nature of the gameplay. You can get through the game any number of ways. Aggressive players can cut their way through dozens and dozens of foes, while more-cunning players can stick to the shadows and eliminate foes quietly.

Prepare to hack, slash, kick, and stab your way through a rich fantasy world.

At Arkane, we were able to play through the tutorial, as well as some of the opening levels, which are quite different from the levels seen in the recently released single-player demo. You play as Sareth, a protégé of the wizard Phenrig, and in the tutorial you must recover a special crystal that plays a role throughout the game. In the opening levels, you must deliver that crystal to authorities in the human town of Stonehelm, but that's a task that's easier said than done, thanks to the small army of enemies that you encounter along the way.

There are no traditional character classes in Dark Messiah, as Sareth is a mix of fighter, thief, archer, and wizard. He's a jack-of-all-trades that can do it all, though to what extent he can do those things will be up to you. There is a skill tree that will let you customize Sareth to fit your playing style. For example, if you want to be a fighter, then dump the points that you earn through the game into melee combat. If you want to be more of a magic user, you can unlock more-powerful spells. The skill tree is large enough that you won't be able to unlock everything in a single game, which means that you can play the game over again and experiment with different skills and abilities.

There are four classes of weapons in Dark Messiah: swords, daggers, bows, and staves. Each class has approximately seven weapons in it, so you're looking at a total arsenal of about 30 weapons. Naturally, you'll start out with basic weapons, but you'll earn more-powerful ones as you progress, so you can start out with a regular sword but work your way up to larger, stronger versions, such as the sword of fire (guess what it does). Swords are the preferred weapon for a straight-up fight, while daggers are better for sneaking up on someone. The staff isn't quite as powerful as the sword, but it has a longer reach and is ideal for battling multiple opponents simultaneously. Then there's the bow, which is the primary ranged weapon. For protection, there's armor, which comes in various forms. Fighters will steer toward heavier armor, such as chain mail, while thieves and assassins will prefer lighter armor. Meanwhile, wizard robes will help spellcasters.

There is no weight restrictions in Dark Messiah, so you don't have to worry about juggling items, nor do you have to worry about rearranging gear in the inventory to maximize space. The inventory system is simply slot-based, and as long as you have an empty slot, you can put a single item into it, no matter how large or how heavy that item is. That's good news, because you can pick up a lot of gear during your adventures, ranging from weapons from fallen enemies to potions and even food, which can restore lost hit points.

Once you're all geared up, it's time to fight. Combat isn't just a matter of mashing down mindlessly on the mouse button. Rather, it requires more thought, especially in a sword duel. Simply tapping the mouse button in a swordfight will result in a lot of ineffective jabs against an armored opponent. What you need to do is hold the mouse button down and move the mouse in any direction to ready a power strike. There's a different power strike mapped to each of the cardinal directions, so you have some tactical choices when you attack. For instance, moving the mouse to the right will ready a two-handed side strike, while moving the mouse up will ready a downward strike. Meanwhile, holding down the right mouse button will ready your sword to parry an incoming attack. If you get into a duel against a good opponent (and we had our hands full with many of them in the game), you're going to experience the closest that we've seen to real swordfighting in a game to date.

Sword combat is cool, but so is sneaking up on opponents and stabbing them in the back.

This feeling of being in a desperate fight to the death is enhanced by other moves at your disposal. You can kick at opponents, which may knock them off balance long enough for you to give them a good swipe to the midsection. Or, if you're battling near a cliff, a kick could send them hurtling over the side. Or, if you're near a raging bonfire, a kick could send them through the flames to a burning death. Or, if there's a bed of spikes along the wall, a kick could impale your opponent on the spikes. You get the idea. If an opponent is knocked to the ground, you can execute a finishing move to plant your sword in his chest before he can get up again. Or, you can potentially disarm an opponent by knocking his weapon out of his hands and sending it flying through the air (at which point, your opponent may try to pummel you with his fists, chase his fallen weapon, or grab any weapon that is nearby).

Everybody was Swordfighting

Of course, it's so easy to get caught up in swordfighting that you might overlook the many other ways you can battle opponents in the game. Those seeking to be a bit stealthier can play as assassins. You can go around armed with dual daggers and sneak up behind opponents to plant those daggers into their backs (you can also hurl daggers into the back of fleeing enemies). Or, if you need to kill someone from a distance, you should ready a bow and take careful aim, because the game's physics engine means that arrows will arc in flight. Those who are magically inclined will steer toward the arsenal of 12 spells, many of which have all sorts of versatile uses. These include dark vision, heal, lightning, charm, freeze, flame arrow, and more. Lightning, for example, can be used to stun a foe directly, or you might direct it toward the pool of water that a foe is standing in.

You can fight straight up, sneak in the dark, cast magic, or mix your fighting styles together.

All of these combat options are enhanced by fatality moves. As you fight opponents, you'll build up adrenaline in a special meter. When the meter is full, you'll be able to execute a fatality attack, which is a bigger version of an existing attack. So if you're swordfighting, a fatality attack may mean the difference between a normal swipe of the sword and literally separating someone's head from the rest of his body (you can also take off limbs). Another type of fatality-fueled sword attack could have you plant your blade through a foe's body, and then kick the body off. If you're using the staff as a weapon, you'll spin the opponent around, use the staff to choke him from behind, and then break his neck. If you're using magic, you'll find fatality will enhance the effect spells. For example, the weaken spell will shrink an opponent (you can then punt the puny opponent across the screen), or the flame arrow will suddenly turn into a giant fireball. Fatality moves are visually cinematic, appropriately gory, and very cool.

There's so much sheer variety to the combat that each encounter feels different and challenging. In some ways, the combat reminds us a bit of Halo, as we got the feeling that you could fight the same battle multiple times and watch it unfold in wildly different ways. And the Halo comparison will be inevitable once you take into account Xana, a magical spirit that possesses Sareth's body and goes along for the ride. She's sort of like Cortana to Halo's Master Chief, as she provides internal commentary along the way, though Xana is far more caustic and possessive than Cortana ever was.

The environments that we encountered were incredibly well realized thanks to the Source engine. The Arkane team has modified the engine quite a bit to fit its needs, and the results are impressive. The game uses high dynamic range lighting, and that helps create plenty of realistic shadows to skulk around in, should you choose to do so. The streets and alleyways of Stonehelm are narrow, and you'll have plenty of opportunity to take to the rooftops and ledges to do some sneaking around. When doing so, a stealth meter appears onscreen to tell you your level of visibility, so you can use it to help get around patrolling guards. If you need to take out a guard, you should do it quietly, so that you still maintain stealth. Bodies can be dragged to dark corners to stay hidden from patrols, or, if you want, you can move a body to a more-visible area and use it as bait to draw the attention of other guards.

We're impressed by the sheer intelligence at work in the opponents of this game. The enemies we battled were smart and aware of everything around them, and they summoned help when needed, or barked instructions to one another when in a group. In a fight, enemies could skillfully dodge and parry our attacks, making each fight a challenge. We battled a variety of foes. By far the most numerous were the orcs, though we did encounter ghouls, goblins, and human opponents, as well. If you come across a necromancer, a good piece of advice is to kill him first, as necromancers may summon ghouls to battle. Or, even worse, the necromancer will reanimate the corpses of opponents that you've killed, which means that you have to deal with them all over again. The good news is that if you can take out the necromancer, then you effectively get rid of all the creatures that he controlled, because they will collapse without their master animating them.

Dark Messiah looks great, thanks to the cutting-edge Source engine.

As you can probably tell, the environment plays a critical role in Dark Messiah. And when you add the physics and the artificial intelligence, you have a lot of ways you can use the environment to your advantage. Pick up a clay pot and toss it in a dark corner to create a distraction or to draw the attention of any patrolling guards. Or, if you're desperate, pick up an object and hurl it at an attacking enemy to knock him off balance. You can cause heavy objects to fall to the ground and they will crush anyone beneath them, or kick objects at your opponents to slow them down. There are all sorts of environmental traps and dangers around the world that we saw, so you'll have no shortage of creative ways to dispatch enemies. Of course, the danger is not to fall victim to them, yourself.

We came away from the gameplay session very impressed with the dynamic nature of the combat. Dark Messiah offers an incredibly visceral experience rarely seen on the PC, and the sheer depth of the combat will likely have you coming back for more. And this is only half of the game, as publisher Ubisoft has a second development studio working on the multiplayer component of Dark Messiah. That's something that we'll cover later on, but for now, we can safely say that the single-player of Dark Messiah looks very good indeed. The game is nearing the end of development, and we can expect it to ship in October.

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Discussion

60 comments
Sniper
Sniper

It's amazing how discombobulated these previews are compared to reveiws. For example, this preview says melee combat isn't simply a matter of button mashing, while the review says combat too often involves tedious button mashing. I've read literally hundreds of previews and reviews on GameSpot, and they're all the same: Overwhelmingly positive previews, with critical and often whining, nit-picking reviews. GameSpot's treatment of the Xbox 360 version of Dark Messiah is even more appalling. That preview talks about sharp and attractive graphics, while the review stabs the game in the proverbial back by complaining about the terrible graphics. So much for taking games journalism seriously when it suffers such a huge credibilty gap.

Maximiliator
Maximiliator

WANNA HAVE !!! WANNA HAVE !!! WANNA HAVE !!! :P max

madaka
madaka

will be best maybe GAME OF THE YEAR

Flan_Man
Flan_Man

Sounds like a must have.

bioshockt
bioshockt

I WANT THIS GAME NOW!!!! BAD!

natemanxxx
natemanxxx

The demo on PC was awesome, but I was pushing my computer too far, and it took 3 hours to download/ 30 minutes to beat. Uh.....360 version? Maybe?

drack48
drack48

This game is freakin stunning! I've played the demo multiple times.. I just can't believe how good it is. Seriously. It's like Oblivion meets Condemed. The setting is incredible and the physics just kick ass. Every time I get caught up in consle hype, a computer game comes around that just reminds me that the computer is FPS king. Halo2 was around and the PC had Far Cry. 360 rolls around and they PD0..the PC gets Fear! This game looks like it could be my favorite game of the year. I'm a consle gamer at heart, but God there is just soo much hype right now for the next gen consles, and here is a true next gen game! Ultimately I'm just going where the good games are andI think i'll be fine stting out on both the WI and the PS3 launch If I have this bad boy running. The fighting is perfect! Could it translate to consoles.. I don't know, sure seems like it. I've got a: AMD64 3500 BFG7800 2gs ram And it runs like butter! Absolutely stunning.

majicebe
majicebe

A game made in France having to do with fighting and defending? Must be a fantasy game...

Bronze_D
Bronze_D

i can think of one console where this game is going to fit right in though, Wii assuming the controller for that thing works just like advertised of course. but otherwise, yeah... what's the point of porting FPS into console with no equipment to handle FPS aiming properly, gamepad??? ur going to play FPS with GAMEPAD??? hellooo??? it's a fact that without auto aiming FPS in console with gamepad is downright pitifull compared to what they could do in PC. And with auto aiming, they lose a great deal of what FPS can do. Next they'll ask us to fly a plane with a driving wheel.

Lash540
Lash540

hmm you want it to go to console O yeah sure buddy , let me just waste 1 year and alot of money just to make a port of this game to the Xbox 360 we will put the same effort we did into Counter Strike for the Xbox ; ) you see that was a joke cause CS for the Xbox Sucked really bad... aww forget it let me put it this way they wont even try they had to much trouble porting a game last time they arent going to do it again they decided to stick to what they know ... the PC

Zierfish
Zierfish

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Orfinn
Orfinn

This marvelous game have to come to 360 to! The game looks stunning, just unfair that the people with monster computers can play this, and why shouldnt it come to 360? Erning more money that way,, money...money!! C'mon Arkane, even if it takes half to 1 year to convert it to 360.

Umedha
Umedha

I Still dont know why people play FPS games on Consoles....and i never thought ill see an RTS like BFMEII come on a console aswell..but glad this is comming for PC.. On a side note..HL2 is comming on the console along with all its addons like CS Source/TF2/DoD Source with HDR..so..i think this game will hit the console as well..but i wonder how consoles will handle the physics..most of the time IQ is usually turned down in console games to keep the fps up..in the case of pc gaming ure always close to the monitor and the added tweaking makes it more enjoyable on a PC than on a console..but hey..i am not a console user..seems like a waste of money.

impymonk
impymonk

[Badmonk]played this demo on PC and loved it!!! game like this needs to come to 360 or PS3!! come on you know it makes sense!! How the hell does that make sense. Why should that "intuitively" make sense to everyone

BadMonk
BadMonk

played this demo on PC and loved it!!! game like this needs to come to 360 or PS3!! come on you know it makes sense!!

LaP
LaP

[biggerbig] Ubi Soft is in fact a french company (not a canadian company). Ubi Soft has studio in Montréal and Québec City (both in Canada) but this game is made in France.

theR34p3R
theR34p3R

Game looks nice... but ffs, cant those french learn to better speak english :S

Xx-Centurion-xX
Xx-Centurion-xX

Actually RedSaynt, Halo was alot better than games of its previous days. And it was the best FPS of its time. Obviously games like F.E.A.R and Far Cry are going to be better because it was years later. I used to like Halo, I don't anymore because of all the cheaters, but Halo was still the best FPS of it's time.

azirra
azirra

I have the demo and i played it again and again and again but its never boring or something like that. I have played the demo 30 times or something close to that and i LOVE IT!!!!!

ncaamaster
ncaamaster

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

deejaye82
deejaye82

Halo doesn't hold a candle to Goldeneye, the first true FPS for the consoles. Halo is a great game, but a lot of games paved the way for it.

BLaZe462
BLaZe462

what's with the halo comparison?

DARK_HUNT
DARK_HUNT

I agree with RedSaynt. The Halo comparisons are pointless (it was a good game but for PC FPS standards, it´s more than average) I would compare this game with Bloodlines instead, despites its bugs (that are easily solved with a few patches, it´s a great game and you can play it like an massive killing fps or a stealth all the way out). I love the source engine and the demo was a blast. I´m having really high hopes for this game, in part cause i´m a big fan of FPS and RPG games, and more importantly a fan of the long M&M franchise. Way to go Arkane.

Nuclear_Kernel
Nuclear_Kernel

The demo was short but full of promise. To play it you have to download the lastest drivers for the graphics card and audio. I liked kicking your enemies it to an neverending fall and the dinamic lighting. The bad enemies are sometimes stupid, the battles are chaotic because of the sistem and the video lags a bit in some areas unlike HL2. I played it at 1024* 768 on medium on Athlon XP 2600, 1 Gb RAM and 9600 Pro.

RedSaynt
RedSaynt

I liked the review until he compared it to Halo. Any PC gamer knows that Halo was only so-so of a FPS when compared to the games that came before. Halo was only big becuase it was the first true FPS for console players. If you want to compare this game to combat situations that play and act differen, why not pick FarCry or F.E.A.R. Nevertheless, this game looks amazing and I love the source engine, cant wait to get the full version. Bravo!!

biggerbig
biggerbig

Of course they are french ubisoft is in montreal

FragSeeker
FragSeeker

Sounds like a very good game ill have to check it out when it comes out

hivestar311
hivestar311

I've played through the demo over 10 times now, and it's still fun. This game has alot of potential.

ryokinshin6x3
ryokinshin6x3

oblivion, but with fast paced combat and multiplayer, must hav more of these games LOL

Evilrudy
Evilrudy

It would be nice if it was a mix with Oblivion and a great old sword fighting game called Blade of Darkness. B o D had a nice feature that let you cut off body parts if targeted right and end the battle soon. Dark Messiah looks very promising.

stanislavski86
stanislavski86

Well, the Demo didn't quite play as it is mentioned, but there is still time for improvement and tweaking. Looking forward to play it, but not dying for it!

GoblinOnFire
GoblinOnFire

I have never wanted a game as bad as this one. And with Source engine and real physics? yummy!

BigDaveyDogz
BigDaveyDogz

I've been waiting for a game like this to come out for a long time now! :D

danyjr
danyjr

Please do NOT compare Dark Messiah to ES4: Oblivion, they are two different genres. We don't want another Guild Wars vs. World of Warcraft here do we?

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

DEMO IT, but I doubt my laptop will run it, but still DEMO IT so I can usurp my roommate's desktop!

jwsoul
jwsoul

Demo would not work for me SOB....But i expect that such bugs will be spotted by the DEVS on release this game looks incredible...PC gamings dead i ask ya lol....

nikos11
nikos11

the game sounds fantastic

coxmartin
coxmartin

Give Me, Give Me NOW This is as bad as waiting for Christmas, it sounds that good

yaozhu
yaozhu

Loved the demo to bits. The environment is sure as hell interactive and it doesn't force the player to take an "optimum" route. I feel Ubisoft is taking a good approach with objective based rewards for the skillpoints instead of the conventional "xp per dead orc". Whiteknight1981 and djtim_3000, I think the sacrifice would be worth it (the open ended gameplay part for a better gameplay experience). There are a few fps which come to mind that boast decent melee combat, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and the Jedi Outcast/Jedi Academy games. djtim_3000, getting your hands on the demo would be doing yourself a great favour :). God bless developers who give us better toys to play with! Hopefully the game will come with a lower resolution setting for some of us whose rigs lack newer bells and whistles. Cheers!

djtim_3000
djtim_3000

I completely agree with you Whiteknight1981, i'm so for a good story, even if it means sacrificing some open ended gameplay. But then there's always a compromise and this looks promising. I've never really been into fantasy/sword games (as they've been too RPG based). But Dark Messiah should really be worth playing for some good action!! (i havnt played the demo yet)

cblamo
cblamo

I played the demo through a couple of times, (god damn source engine runs like crap on my pc) and each time there was something new to do in the combat spaces. One up for the games that offer re-playability! Take that! (F6) and that! (F6) and that! (F6) and... aww... I'm dead. ....(F6) and that!

Whiteknight1981
Whiteknight1981

I think the game will be like other FPS games in that you start in an area, accomplish a set of goals then move onto the next area. Its how you get to the finish line that is where all the openness lies. Personally, I find it refreshing. I like games to be open ended as much as the next person, but for me I find a great story to beat freedom any day of the week. And if to tell that great story a game has to be a little linear, I am all for it. But that's just me. ::waits for the torrent of nasty comments at my comment to come::

ToOkie-TOokie
ToOkie-TOokie

Can't wait to Spill some blood... waa look at that head getting bashed in with the sword, shweet. The multiplayer is gonna be fun, can't wait :>

jeffsublett
jeffsublett

you cannot compare dark messiah to oblivion they are completly different games, dark messiah seems to be an action game with a splash of RPG, and there is nothing wrong with oblivion's combat

Bansheesdie
Bansheesdie

Damn I wish I had a PC that could handle this, or that it comes to the 360.

TaiSheng
TaiSheng

I wonder if the bowman's class will be quite as action-packed? certanitly something to track