Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting PC gaming days gone by. Today Chris kicks an Orc into lớn a thing, then kicks an Orc off a thing, & so on, in Dark Messiah of Might và Magic.

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Dark Messiah of Might và Magic feels lượt thích it comes from Arkane’s adolescence. Dishonored & Prey are the more mature output of the same creative sầu mind. Here is a fantasy action game with not a whole lot lớn say but an infectious enthusiasm for freewheeling violence. Intricate physics, AI và combat systems converge to create a world that is spectacularly lethal for everybody, except you. As adventuring wizard’s apprentice Sareth, you kiông chồng men & orcs with bone-shattering force into lớn spike traps và off rope bridges. You combine directional movement và mouse swings khổng lồ lop limbs with your sword just so. You emit fireballs from your palm & watch as enemies, stumbling over the flaming corpses of their comrades, catch fire too & flail và fall.

Conceived as a sequel to lớn Arkane’s debut game, the ruminative sầu dungeon RPG Arx Fatalis, Ubisoft’s money brought with it the Might và Magic licence. Yet being tied khổng lồ a relatively sedentary roleplaying series doesn’t appear to lớn have dampened Dark Messiah’s spirit at all. You get the impression that this is a journey that Arkane was on regardless, its adventure craft evolving as it meandered from Arx Fatalis’s buried ruins khổng lồ Dishonored’s blood-sliông chồng ballrooms via this strange holiday in the D&D-ish kingdoms of Ashan. It is spectacular fun; exuberantly brutal to the point of subverting the vanilla fantasy setting it occupies. It is to videogame high fantasy what John Cleese’s Lancelot was khổng lồ that wedding party in Monty Pythuôn and the Holy Grail: they tóm tắt an idiom.

Dark Messiah echoes Dishonored in the small details. Sareth & Corvo climb chains in the same way, hauling themselves upwards with a gratifying clunk-clunk-clunk that sells the physicality và athleticism of their adventures. They chop pieces off people in the same way, too: someone at Arkane sat down one day and outlined the specific way in which swords should connect with necks, the drop lớn slow motion that should occur at the precise point of impact, the whoosh & pained shout as first air then flesh splits as an opponent’s head comes không tính phí. They’re grlặng things, sometimes, these games.

Yet Dishonored has something to say with và about violence that Dark Messiah does not. Dishonored is a revenger’s tragedy: it’s about the ways in which violent conditions reproduce themselves, and it stretches khổng lồ give sầu players the freedom to lớn subvert that pattern if they choose. Its violence is a poisoned chalice left on a table for players lớn consider, consume or ignore.

This game loves murder. As soon as the tutorial finishes, it deposits you in an aremãng cầu where anonymous swordsmen rush you from the shadows forever. ‘Kiông chồng this one down the stairs!’ the game insists.

Dark Messiah’s violence is a less heady vintage. It’s a thick-bottomed flagon of whatever it was that Conan the Barbarian was drinking, intended to be knocked bachồng, smashed over somebody’s head, and replaced. This game loves murder. As soon as the tutorial finishes, it deposits you in an aremãng cầu where anonymous swordsmen rush you from the shadows forever. ‘Kichồng this one down the stairs!’ the game insists. ‘Push his mate inlớn those spikes!’ ‘Throw a box at that guy! Now hold down left mouse button và release to jam your sword through his sternum!’ Once you’ve met each of these demands the door lớn the next area opens & you can move sầu on – or you can stay, you’re told, if you’d prefer to “continue your training”. You might as well leave sầu, because every other room in the world is like this. Every castle & Orc nest is a playground of foes và invitingly sharp decor.

No matter how expert you become in Dark Messiah’s systems, it is terrified that you might forget to lớn use them. Tooltips follow you several missions deep into the campaign: don’t forget to kiông xã people off high ledges. Don’t forget that oil catches fire. Don’t forget that a stunned foe can be disarmed. Don’t forget khổng lồ cut ropes khổng lồ activate environmental traps. These messages imply the experience of the playtester who aimlessly hacked & slashed from encounter to encounter, và the horrified developers who watched them ignore all of the systems that they’d so meticulously put in place. ‘Don’t get bored’ is one of Dark Messiah’s key messages. ‘Don’t be boring’ is another.

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Like Dishonored and Prey, Dark Messiah lets you invest points in new skills as you progress. Unlượt thích those games, Dark Messiah’s narrower focus & combat-centric sandbox mean that this system is less concerned with giving you freedom to lớn set you own objectives và more about giving you lots of different ways to achieve the same goal. Its branching endings, while asking you lớn decide which broad side of ‘Dark’ and ‘Messiah’ you come down on, are not really there lớn kiểm tra your morality. They’re there khổng lồ steer you into lớn multiple playthroughs, và from there into an understanding that each step of Sareth’s quest amounts lớn a different course in Tony Hawk’s Pro Beheader. You’re being judged on style, here, so don’t just play it as Swordsman Who is Ultimately a Decent Guy. Go baông chồng as Archer That’s a Prichồng, or Ambivalent Wizard, or Guy Who Carries a Spade và Throws it at People.

Dark Messiah is also more willing to bash out the epic fantasy hits than its descendants. Castles crumbling under siege, brawls with hulking cyclopes and rồng encounters have sầu retained their impact, and there’s something comforting about the way a fortress of Orcs communicates the notion that this is a place of adventure.

It has real weaknesses too, however. While Dark Messiah’s wonderful combat has survived the aging process, its writing and art have not. The absence of Dishonored’s sense of style, and of art directors lượt thích Sébastien Mitton or Viktor Antonov, is keenly felt: Dark Messiah’s công nghệ is no longer impressive & the world of Might & Magic is not interesting enough to lớn account for the loss. Worse are its character designs, which tư vấn a plot that is as derivative sầu as it is faintly embarrassing lớn re-encounter ten years on. As Sareth you’re a Chosen, sometoàn thân running errands for loubịt wizards, performed with the intensity of actors who don’t quite know how to feel about the fact that they could be doing panto lớn instead.

Your loyalties are subsequently torn between Xamãng cầu, a mostly-naked demon lady who lives in your head (but still tries to seduce you) & Leanmãng cầu, devoted wizard’s niece & miniskirt-wearing crush next door who is very impressed with you if you rescue her from a pit full of snakes & lethally unimpressed with you if you don’t. This is the sticky and embarrassing end of Dark Messiah’s adolescent exuberance—it was the norm a decade ago but games are better than this now. A couple more years might unlochồng the camp potential in Dark Messiah’s insistence on repeating the words “The Wizard Menelag”, but it’s not quite there yet.

Also, the fantasy-medieval folk you encounter are variously American or from Bristol for no discernible reason save ‘nobody toàn thân made a creative sầu điện thoại tư vấn either way’.

If anything, these problems highlight just how successful Dark Messiah is at evoking a different kind of fantasy through its combat systems. If the fighting and adventuring were anything less than exceptional, then it would vanish into the ocean of games with ‘Might và Magic’ in the title. That hasn’t happened because no other game has come this cthất bại to letting you be Errol Flynn in a world full of Orcs. That Dark Messiah now also has value as a milestone in the growth of one of the industry’s most exceptional studtiện ích ios is a bonus, but not an accident.

Chris is the editor of PC Gamer Pro. After many years spent turning beautiful trees inkhổng lồ magazines, he now oversees our online coverage of competitive gaming & esports.