Few game titles have as long a history as the Might and Magic series by New World Computing, which is currently on its 8th incarnation -- with 9 due to be released in 2002. The purpose of this document is to disperse information on the history of Might and Magic games, as well as the state of the series today.

What is notably not covered in this document is the Heroes of Might and Magic series, nor is the Legends or Crusaders games. I deemed these games sufficiently different from the original Might and Magic line to warrant their own documentation.

Might and Magic I: Secret of the Inner Sanctum

Released in 1986, the Secret of the Inner Sanctum was one of the first quasi-3D adventure games to hit the market. Appearing on the PC, Macintosh, and Commodore platforms, this game featured sprawling, undefined, unrestricted adventure and introduced the character system to which the series would adhere for its entire lifetime.

The system itself is classic Dungeons and Dragons. You control up to six characters at a time, each of which can be from any of six classes, being: Knight, Paladin, Archer, Cleric, Sorcerer, or Robber. These characters are strictly differentiated from each other by skills.. i.e. the knight gains bonus attacks, but cannot learn magic. The stat system is standard fantasy fare, with old favorites like Strength and Wisdom playing prominent roles in the general effectiveness of the characters.

The game itself is quite odd in that the instruction manual provides little to no information about what the player is supposed to actually do in the game. The obvious short-term goals are killing monsters and exploring... but the game never provides direction beyond ‘Find the Inner Sanctum’. This adds to the already sheer learning curve of the game, making it rather difficult to gauge progress. The manual provides several sheets of dot-paper for making maps -- clearly intended to be the optimal mode of navigation.

In addition to this, the game’s one goal is next to impossible without a convienently-sold ‘Adventurer’s Handbook’, which boils down to a very detailed walkthrough. Without this book, the game is totally incomprehensible and directionless in a way that my seven-year-old self found oddly appealing. The game closes with an area entitled ‘Gates to Another World’, which clearly points to a coming sequel, cleverly titled...

Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World

On the surface, this 1988 sequel appears to be the exact same game as the original, but there are several subtle details that should be noted, foremost of which is the people at New World decided that the player really needed a sky above his head and ground on which to walk. The original Might and Magic had only walls, giving all its locations the same open, drifting feel, but in the second edition the MM universe took on a more Earthly atmosphere.

Two new classes were introduced: the barbarian (a hit-point warrior) and the ninja (hybrid fighter-robber), as well a system in which your standard six-person party could be expanded to eight with the addition of ‘hirelings’ -- additional pre-made characters that are encountered across the world and will fight with you for gold. Following MM2, the hireling system vanished, surfacing only weakly in MM6 and 7.

The monsters received a similar boost in MM2. In the previous game, the total number of opponents you could face in a single encounter was capped at 20... but in MM2, they added an ‘and some more..’ line at the bottom of the standard monster listing. This ‘more..’ line could represent anything from 1 to 255 additional creatures, which can make for truly epic battles.

Another addition was the concept of ‘Secondary Skills’ -- special abilities that each character could learn up to two of. These skills boosted attributes or granted special abilities (such as swimming or mountain climbing) and generally lent themselves to creating more flexible characters.

MM2 improved greatly on the plotlessness of the earlier game by introducing.. well.. plot. While much less involved than in successive games, MM2 offered clear waypoints (at least compared to the original) on the way to the end of the game.

MM2 also included an odd feature that allowed MM1 players to transport their characters (victorious or not) to the new world. Even stranger is that this was eventually explained plausibly.. but not until MM5.

Might and Magic III: The Isles of Terra

MM3 (1991) marks a huge step in the evolution of the Might and Magic series. In terms of characters and their creation, the game is exactly identical to MM2, but the world itself underwent a major overhaul, in that the 3D engine that drove the game was completely redone to account for the presence of mobile, visible monsters in the game world and the accurate inclusion of ranged combat.

In brief, the older two MM games handled combat as a random roll taken every time the player moved his party. This roll varied from place to place, and there were set encounters, but in essence every step was the possibility of a random fight, which took place on a separate Combat Screen reminiscent of an pen and paper games. In MM3, this combat screen was done away with and all battle resolved itself in the main game world. This eliminated the randomness of encounters, which each monster in every area being purposely set.

This did wonders for the game in terms of playablity. No longer were all areas essentially the same -- differing only by the color of the walls or season of the trees. Areas now had personality based on the monsters that inhabited them. Encounters could be planned for, and as such player advancement could also be judged. This made for a much softened learning curve, vastly improving the game as a whole.

In addition to this, a quest system was introduced, in which the focus of the game shifted from exploration and leveling to the completion of a succession of harder and harder tasks, eventually cumulating with the end of the game. This system remains the heart of the Might and Magic playstyle, and has been seen in every following title.

Since hirelings were removed for this game, party size was limited to six characters.

Might and Magic IV: The Clouds of Xeen

MM4 was a direct outgrowth of the progress made with the Isles of Terra. The world was made much prettier, and the quests really became the soul of the game. No real changes were made to the combat system, nor to the character selections. The secondary skill list was expanded and the spell lists were tweaked, but otherwise this game is a larger clone of MM3. This isn’t particularly surprising, given their release dates. The Isles of Terra emerged in 1991, and Clouds of Xeen was released just a year afterwards, in 1992.

An interesting note is the addition of two new character classes -- the Ranger (a hybrid paladin-archer) and the Druid (a hybrid cleric-sorcerer). These two classes gained the abilities of both their parent classes, but their powers were limited at high levels. For instance, the Druid could learn both Cleric and Sorcerer spells, but the most powerful of them (and thus the most useful) were beyond them.

Might and Magic V: The Darkside of Xeen

This is, in my opinion, the most interesting title of all the Might and Magic games. Since the Secret of the Inner Sanctum, all the MM games have consisted of a regular square map, divided into equal square areas, and overall suggesting a perfectly square world. The Darkside of Xeen takes place on the flipside of one of those square worlds (namely, from MM4) and includes a feature not seen since MM2 -- the ability to transport characters between worlds. This becomes essential to the plot development of this game and the previous one.

With the exception of new monsters and new graphics, MM5 is exactly the same as MM4. This is essential, since this game (which emerged in 1994, two years after MM4) was meant to be played as a true sequel to the Clouds of Xeen. Unlike the relationship between MM1 and MM2, where characters could be transferred forward, but not backward, the two Xeen games were made to be played simultaneously. If both games were installed on a single hard drive, they melded seamlessly into ‘The World of Xeen’, which unlocked several areas oddly inaccessible in the Clouds of Xeen and the Darkside of Xeen, and allows the completion of an ultimate quest -- which, spookily enough, explains the plots of the previous games perfectly and integrates them into a coherent whole.

No. It really is creepy. Jon van Caneghem (NWC exec) had it planned the whole time. I was, and still am, amazed.

Might and Magic: The Swords of Xeen

This game is not an official New WorldComputing title, but rather a fan-made game comprised of the graphic sets from the Xeen games. In a classy move all around, van Caneghem gave a group of fans the actual Xeen-era engine (which was then retired) and told them to make their own adventure. The result was the Swords of Xeen, which is everything the Darkside of Xeen was, but with a new story, maps, and plot. This game was eventually packaged with compilation sets of Might and Magic games and distributed to the general public.

Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven

This game marked another major step in the evolution of the Might and Magic series. As mentioned earlier, the previous games existed in a world of quasi-3D, in which the players moved about on a grid rigged to appear three-dimensional, but was really quite two-dimensional and every locationcould be precisely expressed with a pair of coordinates.

In the Mandate of Heaven, a new graphics engine was introduced, making the game really and truly 3D. The player and his party could move smoothly to any point on the map, climb up slopes, into gullies, and fly. This is important not only because it introduced the Flying Meteor-Dropping Sorcerer of Death, but because it brought the game into the modern era, in which sadly enough the World of Xeen was not.

Combat was also overhauled in this edition. In the previous three Might and Magic games (5, 4, and 3) combat was turn-based. In each turn, each player could attack (in order determined by Speed) or the party could move one square. In the Mandate of Heaven, movement was freed of the grid-based system, and as such combat had to change as well.

Often featuring battles against 25 or more graphical, on-screen, free-moving, spell-throwing, arrow-dodging monsters, NWC had to give something to the player to make up for the tremendous advantage in control the AI had. They allowed the player to pause the action at any time (by mashing the spacebar) and plunging the system into turn-based mode, reminiscent of previous titles. In this mode, characters once again have a single attack per turn, or the option of moving a set distance in any direction. This slowed battles down greatly, allowing the player to intelligently control his characters and making the game generally playable.

In addition to this, a new character creation system was adopted, along with a new skill system. In creation, the player was previously dependent on rolls of simulated dice to assign stats to a prospective party-member. In MM6, the player was instead given a set number of points to assign to stats, greatly easing character creation.

Skills were also redone. In previous games, skills came down to the inherent abilities of each class -- either the Knight bashes harder or the Cleric casts more powerful spells. In the Mandate of Heaven, each class has a range of skills that they may (or may not) learn, and upon leveling they are given a set number of ‘training points’ which they may spend to increase these skills. Obviously, important skills are increased more often than the unimportant ones, but this leads to a tremendous increase in the diversity of characters that can be played and the unique feel conveyed by each party.

Each skill has three levels, ranging from novice to master. At each increasing level the skill has additional effects (for example, the Water Magic Mastery increases the duration or damage caused by all water magic spells) and are generally much more powerful. Each level new level is attained by both seeking out the correct teacher and by meeting his requirements (usually by achieving X level in the skill). Attaining these ranks are major waypoints in the development of characters, as they represent a huge boost in power.

One final improvement included with this game was the addition of Promotion Quests. These are class-specific quests that, when completed, changed the title of the character (Knight changes to a Champion, for example) and bestows several benefits, such as access to higher realms of specialization or massive hit point and magic point boosts.

A downside to this game is that they cut party size yet again -- this time to four characters. This isn’t as devastating as it might seem, as they also cut the availible classes to six (removing the Barbarian, Ninja, Robber, and Ranger). This, at least to me, was very dissapointing and seemed at best a step backward for the series.

Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor

MM7 is, in essence, the same game as MM6, but set in another world. The graphics were slightly improved, but the gameplay remained exactly the same. The only new addition was that different races could be chosen at creation for your characters. In MM6, the only available race was Human, which did not play well with traditional Might and Magic gamers. In practice, the races made little difference in anything but the very early game, but their inclusion should be noted.

Thankfully, party size was upped again -- to five, the first odd number. Continuing with the odd theme, they added three new classes: the Thief, the Monk, and the Ranger. Lord be praised.

Might and Magic VIII: Day of the Destroyer

This game was released in 2000 to much criticism, mainly because its makers at New World Computing chose to use the same engine that powered the Mandate of Heaven -- now quite dated. Many people accused NWC for failure to improve upon the series, not only because the engine had not changed since MM6, but because the quest system had not changed since MM3. While the system itself wasn’t anything to complain about, the gaming world expected at least some evolution in 9 years of development.

In appearance and gameplay, MM8 is the same as MM7, which is the same as MM6. Character development was turned on its head, however, as in addition to the usual human characters, several new monster classes were introduced as playable characters. For example, players could create a Troll or recruit a Dragon. There was no such thing as a Troll Knight or a Dragon Robber, as there was in humanoid races. In these cases, the race is the class, complete with their own sets of skills and limitations. At this point an almost infinite number of different parties could be created, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Though..

One new thing introduced in MM8 was the GrandMaster skill level -- a skill level above and beyond the previous maximum ‘Master’. Each class/race typically had only one or two skills in their set in which they were able to attain GrandMasterhood, meaning that in the highest levels of the game, each party was limited in which what skills they could become the best of the best in. This, more than anything else, was what needed to be taken into account in character creation, and added another interesting layer to the game.

Might and Magic IX

MM9, long-awaited and long-coming, is due to be released sometime in 2002. Little is known about the title, except that it will use the LithTech engine and is promised to be a marked improvement on the previous games. As of this writing, no details are known as to the nature of these improvements, and only time will tell if they really do effect the series in a positive way.

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