Return of the old school RPG part IV: Might & Magic X Legacy

I am scornfully resenting my inability to have attended this year’s PAX East convention because there were some great announcements: SuperGiant’s next game, Transistor, was shown off; The official name for the Double Fine’s Kickstarter Adventure, Broken Age, was revealed; Capcom announced they would be remaking the classic platformer Duck Tales (which elicited such nostalgia-soaked hysteria from twitter it was almost allarming); but in keeping with the spirit of this column, I want to focus on one announcement in particular: Ubisoft’s upcoming Might & Magic X Legacy.

When the title leaked a couple days prior to the official PAX announcement, I figured it would be yet another strategy game spinoff Heroes of Might and Magic — which to be fair are absolutely great games, but they’re not exactly the old school RPGs. The role playing series as been on hiatus for nearly 12 years, ever since Might & Magic 9 hit back in 2001.

Might and Magic X looks and sounds undeniably old-school.The game take place in a massive world filled with indoor and outdoor dungeons to explore, turn-based combat, and a first-person perspective the dungeon-crawling series is known for. The graphics are lush and the art distinct and charming. From the sounds of the skill system and character building, it sounds very much like a classic dungeon crawler.

What surprises me most here is that this is Ubisoft releasing the game. At a time where most publishers are looking for massive hits and sure-things, Ubisoft seems to be striking a balance. Sure, they’ve got Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, and Splinter Cell as their big, primary franchises moving them forward, but other games like ZombiU, Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, and now this Might and Magic sequel give me the impression that the company isn’t quite as averse to new ideas or niche markets as other big-name publishers. I would have expected this to have been a Kickstarter project or an indie studio before I ever would’ve guessed Ubisoft was actually taking the reins. It gives me hope that maybe things are changing, and for the better. Between this and the recent announcement that the Legend of Grimrock folks at Almost Human are working on Grimrock 2, it looks like we can add dungeon crawler to the list of resurrected RPG sub-genres along with Rogue-Likes and CRPGs.

Until our next meeting, mortals!

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The return of the old-school RPG

Oh hey look — Brendan’s talking about RPG’s again. I can’t help it, there’s just too much to be excited about these day. Thanks to things like free 2 play, indie development, and Kickstarter, the gaming industry has seen an influx of fresh, creative minds as well as the return of legendary game creators, able to finally create the worlds they’ve been wanting to for years, but that have been pushed aside in favor of the cash-cow, AAA first person shooters and action games we’ve been buried under for the past couple console generations.

Look I know: RPG’s have been around for ages and have evolved with the times to remain relevant while still providing the types of experiences people have come to expect from the genre…

…err, sort of. I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series — arguably the biggest RPG franchise of the current console generation — but it’s not really an RPG. It’s a great, great series — truly — but compared to even some of its contemporaries it’s not much of an RPG. It’s also not the only series shifting away from role playing game’s origins.

While I’m not a big fan of JRPG’s, I can’t deny that the Final Fantasy XIII series (that sounds weird) has been a major departure not only from the roots of past FF games, but from JRPGs in general. And I recently vented my frustration with Blizzard, but it’s worth noting that Diablo III, despite remaining true to much of what’s great about the Diablo series, is missing that “RPG” quality. When I say “RPG’s are coming back,” I mean the old-school, hardcore RPG’s of yore.

Ishar 3

To be fair, there’s still a fair amount of Old-School RPG DNA in some of the biggest games today. Besides the few games still adhering to the old school formulas (Dungeons of Dredmor, The Dark Spire, Etrian Odyssey series), there are several titles that appeal to those who were gaming in the 80’s/90’s, or appreciate their legacy. The Witcher 2 is a great example of a game that balances the cinematic, character-based story of games like Mass Effect, with deep combat, skill systems, and character building of true old-school RPGs; Bethesda’s games offer massive worlds filled with quests, dungeons, and NPCs to create your own story — not to mention games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim prove you can evolve character building without sacrificing depth. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an article about RPGs if I didn’t mention Dark Souls, and it’s predecessor Demon’s Souls: truly hardcore RPGs of the modern era.

But when it comes to real old-school RPGs utilizing the same design of classic titles like Wizardry and Ultima, the industry has been in a bit of a drought. There’s always been a small, cult following around a few underground niche titles, but now there are a few projects brewing that will hopefully usher in a new surge of old-school RPGs.

Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Released: April 11, 2012
Website

We reviewed this game back when it was released earlier this year. It remains one of my favorite indie games of the year. Despite middling reviews from some critics, for many gamers like myself Legend of Grimrock was a great throwback to the dungeon crawlers of the 19980’s/90’s, tweaked and modernized for more accessibility. More importantly, it set the ground work for future sequels, and opened the door for new games in the genre to flourish.

Shaker
Developer: Loot Drop
Estimated Release: January 2014
Kickstarter Page

Being developed by Tom Hall (co-founder of id Software), and Brendan Brathwaite (Wizardry, Train, Dungeons & Dragons), Shaker is currently being funded on Kickstarter. The duo started the studio Loot Drop Games, and together with a highly qualified team, are looking to create a game in the same vein as the classic CRPGs of yore a la Wizardry, Lands of Lore, Ishar, etc.. Personally speaking, this is probably one of the few currently funding Kickstarter projects I’m really, really excited about. Check out their Kickstarter page and please back it! We need more games like this.

Project Eternity
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Estimated Release Date: April 2014
Website

Obsidian games are a studio well known to any RPG fan. Recently, the company was able to fully fund a brand new party-based RPG in the vein of Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. This is another project I’m super excited for, and I’m really happy to see that they exceeded their goal and will be making this game. There is quite an impressive pedigree here, and some of the ideas being talked about remind me a lot of Planescape: Torment, one of my personal favorite games of all time. The success of this project gives me high hopes for the future of the genre.

Wasteland 2
Developer: InXile Entertainment

Estimated Release Date: Oct. 2013
Website

Before there was Fallout, there was Wasteland. In the wake of the massive success of Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, Brian Fargo decided to reboot his post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland, and launched the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. The project has been fully funded, and work is underway. Check out the video above for a small glimpse of what we can expect from this project. I never got a chance to play the original Wasteland, but as a huge fan of Fallout and Fallout 2 (games directly inspired by Wasteland) the footage has me jonesin for some top-down, post-apocalyptic roleplaying insanity.

Ultima Forever
Developer: Bioware,
Estimated Release Date: Winter 2012
Website

Speaking of well known developers, Bioware is resurrecting one of the oldest and most influencial Role Playing series with Ultima Forever. Essentially a remake of Ultima IV, this new title is going to be entirely free to play (or, as Bioware calls it “Play4Free”) and will be playable on PC, as well as iPad. According to Bioware, the game will feature many of the old mechanics of the Ultima series, while combat will be positional and action-oriented, comparing it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Definitely on my list of need-to-play games —  I mean c’mon, free Ultima!

That list almost sounds too good to be true. So many great names and developers are behind these projects, and my hopes are high. And these are just classic RPG’s; we’re also seeing the return of point and click adventure games (thanks to Tim Schaefer and Double Fine’s highly successful Kickstarter campaign), mech games (MechWarrior Online, Hawken), turn-based strategy (The Banner Saga, XCOM: Enemy Unknown), and of course Chris Robert’s return to gaming and the long-forgotten space-combat sim with Squardron 42. It’s almost too much to handle! With such bright prospects like these, it’s hard to argue we’re not in a new golden-age of videogames. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a basement to return to.

The Legend of Grimrock Review

Down, down, down you go, where you’ll stop—no one knows. In the game Legend of Grimrock you play the role of anywhere from one to four prisoners that are trying their damndest to escape this mountain prison. You start out on level One of the prison and as you progress through the game you go deeper and deeper on to level Two and Three and so on. However you’re not the only people in this dungeon, along the way you’ll find markings on walls and letters on floors as well as creatures that are there to stop you at whatever cost.

When you start the game you’re given the choice to create your own characters or let the game create a party for you to play. You can—but don’t necessarily have to — have four members in your party. However the more the merrier (unless you find a hidden Easter Egg they’ve put in there for some One on Dungeon action.) There are three classes; Fighter, Mage, and the Rogue. And there are four races for you to choose from; Human, Minotaur, Lizardman, and Insectoid. Each Race and class has their own advantages and disadvantages. Some combinations are better than others for instance a Minotaur Mage makes less sense than an Insectoid Mage; however you’d probably love to have a Minotaur Fighter. Granted you can do whatever combinations you’d like. During character creation you can add up to four Prisoners’s and give each multiple Traits, for instance the trait Daemon Ancestor says “Your Great Grandfather had fiery eyes – Resist Fire +25”. And once you’ve chosen your class and race you get to assign skill points to that class’s skill set.

As you go farther and farther down into the mountain prison, you come across more and more dangerous traps, monsters, and more difficult puzzles. If you look hard enough you’ll come across a few secrets on each level as well which can yield wonderful magic items that will be of tremendous help down the road. As you kill monsters like Giant Mushrooms, Frost Raptors, Skeletons, and Troll’s you gain experience and level up. Leveling up allows you to increase your skills to use different abilities and increase your effectiveness in combat. There are thrown weapons and melee weapons; some can reach further than others and each weapon type has specific abilities that coincide with the respective skill. For instance, Maces can ignore armor later and Swords can attack faster.  The way the characters are set up is in a two-by-two square; two members in the front and two in the back. You can change the order around by dragging each of the prisoner’s to a different spot. This allows you to place your “tanks” in the front and let your ranged characters sit in the back and take no damage. However, when a hallway has more than one runoff the side characters are vulnerable as well. A skilled player can adapt to the situation and overcome the adversity! Moving is a matter of turning, strafing, walking backward and forward with the Q, W, E, A, S, D buttons.  If a member of your prison break team dies, there are life crystals throughout the game that will allow you to bring them back to life, so if you lose one or two in a tough fight—have no fear—they’re not gone for good.

One of my favorite aspects of this game is the magic casting. So much so I decided to give it its own paragraph entirely! In most games, magic is something that’s just an innate thing that you’re able to do and you learn spells as you level up. That is not at all how it is in LoG. When you have a mage in your party they start with anywhere from 0-3 spells depending on how many points you put into the different magic schools. As you go along throughout the game however, you’ll find scrolls that show you the runes setup to cast specific spells, and in order to successfully cast the spell you have to have a certain skill level in that school of magic. When I say rune setup I mean, in order to cast spells you have to open the magic menu — whether that’s from your mages hand, staff or orb — and then a set of nine runes shows up and you have to click on the specific runes shown in the scrolls that will allow the spell to be cast. There are no preset spells that you can just click cast, you’ve got to click on the runes each time. This mechanic is wonderful, it gives some sort of old school realism where you’ve got to prepare the spell before casting it, and you’ve got to either read the scroll or have it memorized. All in all, the combat system strikes me as perfect—at least for this game style anyway.

The Legend of Grimrock is the best current dungeon crawl/puzzle game I’ve played. When Almost Human sat down to put this game together they did an outstanding job. The combat system is functional and makes complete sense for the setting and style of the game. And the story is pretty compelling, I mean if you were stuck in prison with some experienced adventurers, wouldn’t you want to escape? If you get the chance to snag this game I say go for it. Great price on Steam, for many hours of gameplay.