Ubisoft Dark Messiah of Might and Magic review
Touting itself as a halfway point between the first-person shooter and role-playing genres, Dark Messiah delivers some of the most visceral and brutal action ever seen on the PC.
Arkane Studios has used Valve's Source engine, which powered the impressive Half-Life 2, to create a stunning Tolkien-esque fantasy world steeped in beauty, detail and bucketfuls of gore.
Who you are and what you're doing in this world is barely relevant; what matters is the sheer thrill of Dark Messiah's combat. Several weapons are available, from daggers and longbows to staffs and swords, each of which favours a different playing style. While few games manage to convey a proper sense of weighty melee combat from a first-person viewpoint, Dark Messiah seems to have nailed it with ease. Swords connect with sparks and clashes, opponents dodge and parry, and special attacks allow you to swipe heads clean off in a flurry of blood and cinematic slow-motion effects.
The RPG side comes into play through the character development system, in which skill points earned during levels can be spent on skills in certain areas of expertise, helping your character to become a wizard, assassin or warrior. The path of a wizard, for example, features spells such as telekinesis, enabling you to pick up and throw distant objects, and ice, which allows you to freeze enemies and also cover the ground with ice and cause foes to slip lethally (and comically) into racks of spikes.
Dark Messiah's levels follow a linear path for the most part, but Arkane Studios has designed them in such a way as to aid combat and create a more varied experience. You can break wooden supports to bring barrels toppling down on enemies or kick foes into racks of spikes. Each game presents new ways of bringing death to whatever orc, human or goblin is in your way.
While the ability to lure enemies into these traps is one of the game's greatest strengths, opportunities to do so are often far too clearly signposted. The racks of spikes are abundant enough to detract from their initial appeal, and unnaturally positioned objects such as teetering barrels and chandeliers make it feel as if the game is holding your hand throughout.
Despite the patronising nature of Dark Messiah's level design, it is a fantastic and graphically impressive action adventure with a dash of RPG thrown in for good measure. The gore levels are high, however; the squeamish may want to sit this one out.