Serving as the spiritual successor to 2002's Arx Fatalis; Arkane's newest venture ascends sword-play for all eternity...

User Rating: 8.5 | Dark Messiah of Might and Magic PC
"Ten centuries shall the fortress stand; walls of spirit, wrapped in walls of fire. And horned lords shall bow their heads to one not yet born of the darkest Sire.
One century of blood and strife; the moon shall darken and none know why,
The resting place at last is found of the Seventh who soared so high.
Last daughter of a forlorn line, shall guide him into history."
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"Beneath the crypts prophecies clash; the war of ancient enemies."...
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And so with naught but the forlorn mutterings of a yet all-knowing doomsday-narrator; the tale of "The Dark Messiah of Might and Magic" begins.

Just under ten years prior to the new decade of electronic-gaming [2010], France-based game-development team "Arkane Studios" embarked on the ambitious quest to create the "ultimate" tribute to the highly successful 1980's first-person role-playing-game "Ultima Underworld"; instead they ended up creating something that was - at the time - considered more or less to be both revolutionary and old-school alike.

Released in the closing months of 2002 [around a year prior to Bethesda Softwork's critically acclaimed first-person action-RPG "Morrowind"], Arx Fatalis was well received for it's contextually dark story, vast world and superior sense of both atmosphere and survivalism alike.

For many years the studio went dark, and it was only in 2006 when the spiritual successor finally rolled out of Akane's rusty portcullis. Marketed as a complete reboot of the acclaimed classic role-playing-game franchise "Might and Magic", Dark Messiah held much promise both technically, visually and combatively [literally]; despite the overwhelming hype still surrounding the fourth installment of Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series.

With sights set on the heavens, a charted course through hell and a distinctive eye for the evil in mankind, we must ask ourselves first if the inevitable death-toll is truly worth it.
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Setting players behind the brooding eyes of soon-to-be-graduating wizard's apprentice "Sarreth", players find themselves literally thrown into the world of Ashen without much back-story or leads to go on; with the blatant objectives to travel to the "City of Stonehelm", have dinner with the local arch-wizard not to mention his alluring niece and to ultimately "find the Skull of Shadows [for reasons yet unknown]"...and maybe kill some people along the way, players have their hands full none-the-less.

Dark Messiah is careful not to over-focus on personalizing the meager cast and sacrifice the chance of going heavy on the action; unfortunately this aspect backfires by making most everyone feel one-sided, flat and ultimately stereotyped by their blinded morality[s]. In turn, Dark Messiah fails to form any sort of attachment to either the characters or the world alike; therefore negating any form of allure for hardcore role-playing fans hoping for a similar experience to previous installments of the "Might and Magic" franchise.

On the brightside, players will feel a deep sense of control over the way in which they progress through both the in-depth skill-tree system and the odd morality choice here and there.

While in-the-end Dark Messiah's story is perhaps it's weakest point, players who enjoy seeking ultimately evil-goals through the means of brute-force alone, may enjoy what Arkane has to offer this time around.
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While Dark Messiah is clearly a medieval-action game at first-glance, the core-gameplay mechanics are highly reminiscent of many modern first-person-shooters; and this "mask of fantasy paint" theory becomes more and more evident as the game progresses.

Upon first gaining skill-points to spend on new abilities, players are encouraged to choose their path as either a stealth-based character, a magician, an agile ronin or else anything in-between these non-linear skill-trees.

Stealth-based characters are encouraged to use stealth to get by as much as possible; as skill-points are awarded not for killing a greater number of foes as they are rather given out for getting through a level unscathed. Tools such as ropes [leading to some intense platforming-action], lockpicks and knives offer a generally immersive, if seemingly shallow [from a stand-alone perspective] sneak-fest experience. In contrarity by-and-large, magic-based characters must take advantage of their environment to fully reap the benefits out of being in-touch with their sixth-sense; some spells allow players to hurl opponents/objects around a room or into a fire, while others cause them to slip and freeze on ice, and when all is said and done it's clear that the developers aimed to allow players to progress in whatever way they wished with no catch what-so-ever.

That said, sword-play is where Dark Messiah truly aims to [and does] ultimately excel. "Direction-of-attack" is completely decided upon by the direction in which players are moving during the time in which they swing their melee weapon. Additionally, there is a heavy emphasis on "powered-attacks"; a feature that more-or-less becomes a necessity during the more difficult levels towards the end. While potentially simple-sounding to the ear, Dark Messiah's gameplay-direction elevates sword-play to an entirely new level of limb-severing goodness, that is bound to hit the spot with anyone drawn to authentic medieval combat.

Semi-conclusively, perhaps the second strongest point of Dark-Messiah's distinctly "free-form" gameplay-system may be found in opponent AI and reaction. Each any every black-knight, orc and necromancer behaves differently during combat, and players must adapt their fighting style during conflict lest they wish to "meet their dragon".

In all finality - faults and numerous glitches aside [thanks to recent patches straight from the Arkane] - Dark Messiah offers up one of the most robust and well rounded gameplay-systems to this day in an action-RPG. Sporting both great sword-play and intriguing stealth-gameplay alike, the possibilities for replay are nearly endless; Dark Messiah has attempted and succeeded in reseting such an important bar within the many vistas of electronic-gaming as we know it.
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Utilizing a customized version of Valve Software's very own Source Engine - known most commonly for it's use on the highly praised 2004 first-person-shooter Half-Life 2 - Dark Messiah is artistically apealling in "nearly" every way. Characters are lively and intricate, environments are rich with detail and vibrant in color while animations are seamless as well as realistic. On top of such welcome eye-candy, lies an in-depth physics engine; allowing players to destroy their environment, or use it to their advantage when the need arises.

Perhaps the only area in which Dark Messiah suffers visually, is a blurry texture here and there; not to mention the lengthy loading screens that come as a side-effect of such attention-to-detail[s], of which there are many.

Additonally, Dark Messiah boasts a film-worthy score of fantastically generic, yet somehow epic in scale orchestral segments; it does the job, coming across as under-used at it's very worst.
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Perhaps one of the most solid, yet ignorable features of Dark Messiah comes in the form of it's multiplayer action. Serving up to 32 players on two separate teams at once, players are given the chance to either defend or invade a gigantic-map for ultimate control until one side has completely decimated the other, lest the time runs out before-hand. Additionally, there's a mode called "Colosseum", which allows for a duel-style betting-match on individual players in front of a live audience. It's nothing special, but for anyone with a strong taste for competitive sword-play, it's a dream come true.

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Dark Messiah may not be the best in it's league, yet what it aims to do, it does - for the most part - generally well. Featuring a lengthy campaign with many replay-beckoning features to be fully-explored, some of the best medieval-combat to date on "any" platform and a truly amusing AI system in the best form of the word; Dark Messiah hits the mark for the most part.
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If you can ignore the bugs, disappointingly bland storyline and ultimately shallow role-playing-elements, you'll be in for one Dark, Messianic and Magic experience.
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