Title: Might and Magic: World of Xeen
Developer: New World Computing
Publisher: New World Computing
Date Published: 1992 (Clouds of Xeen), 1993 (Darkside of Xeen), 1994 (World of Xeen CD-ROM)
Platforms: PC, Macintosh

Introduction

Might and Magic: World of Xeen is a computer RPG made from the combination of Might and Magic IV: Clouds of Xeen and Might and Magic V: Darkside of Xeen. This unusual union includes free movement between the two games' worlds, and new plot elements and tasks that bridge both games' settings. As part of the Might and Magic series, it is a party-based RPG with first-person, pseudo-3D graphics.

Plot and Setting

Clouds of Xeen, like all Might and Magic games to that point, took place on a square, flat world with clearly defined edges. (Outer space is clearly visible from the edge of the world.) Naturally, being flat, the world should have two sides, which was acknowledged by New World Computing with the release of Darkside of Xeen. Darkside, as the name implies, takes place on the opposite side of Xeen from the action of Clouds. It is a tougher, more grotesque world where it is considerably more difficult to survive. Transport between the two sides is accomplished by activating corresponding pyramids scattered over the maps of the two sides.

On the Clouds side, your main quest consists of rescuing the king's advisor, Crodo, finding the fabled Sixth Mirror, and defeating the sinister Lord Xeen, who at the outset of the game is masquerading as King Burlock's son Roland. On the Darkside, the party must return Queen Kalindra's castle to the sensible world, free the Dragon Pharoah, and defeat the sinister Alamar to restore them to power. These are fairly standard RPG plot elements, but the combined world has a third main quest whose conclusion explains and completes the plots of the first five Might and Magic games, and the mystery of the flat, self-contained worlds on which they occur. (Further games in the Might and Magic series occur on an ordinary spherical planet)

Gameplay

World of Xeen's gameplay is centred on quests. Any task the party may need to complete over the course of the game is expressed as a quest, most of which are of the form "Get something and bring it back" or of the form "Kill something, then come back and tell me". Progress is made by completing quests and thus earning experience points, which are needed in copious quantities to gain levels.

The actual interaction with the world consists of exploring a spacious overworld map, numerous dungeons, and several cities; doing battle with whatever enemies you may find; and searching everywhere for treasure. Since movement is tile-based not continuous, it is possible to map out the world by visiting every square, which is helpfully tracked for you by the game's automap system.

Combat is very much hack-and-slash, with many battles consisting solely of attacking over and over until the battle ends. Battle locks the party in place, so the careful maneuvering of the true-3D Might and Magic games is missing. The difficulty, as always in hack-and-slash games, comes in the sheer quantity of enemies, though combat is restricted to three active enemies at a time (giving your party of six considerable numerical advantage). Ranged weapons are also available, allowing the party to strike at enemies on the world map before they move into direct melee combat. The enemies are varied, and differ in appearance and characteristics between the two sides of the world.

The treasure found falls into five categories: weapons, armour, accessories, miscellaneous items, and cash. The first three categories form the characters' equipment, and come in a dizzying array of types with an even more dizzying array of modifiers. This is made all the more difficult in that the only way to determine the effect of an item, even the most ordinary ones, is to visit a blacksmith and have it identified. Finding the meaning of the numerous adjectives applied to the equipment could be considered an interesting challenge, but having to figure out how much stronger a long sword is than a short sword is a bit artificial and annoying. Miscellaneous items include wands, potions, orbs, etc. that are enchanted to provide various spell effects, and cash simply comes in improbably large amounts.

The Party

Your party consists of six characters that can be chosen from both genders, five races, and nine classes. The gender of a character is irrelevant from a gameplay perspective, and the race has small effects generally only important right at the start of the game, so effectively the only character creation task is to choose the classes of the six characters. The default party has two spellcasters, two hybrid fighter/spellcasters, a thief, and a non-magical fighter; this is a good combination and is the one I've used to play through the game.

Advancing your party takes considerable effort. Increasing the characters' level takes large amounts of experience points; by level 15 the increment is on the order of 750,000 experience points. For reference, most basic quests give 50,000 experience points, larger quests give 500,000 experience points, and fighting, well, you do a lot of it but quests make up the bulk of the earned experience. Once a character has enough experience points to gain a level, you must visit a 'trainer' to advance. Each trainer in the world has a maximum level, so as you advance you must find more and more advanced trainers. Clouds has a limit of level 22, but the limit of the Darkside trainers is a staggering level 250.

Darkside is designed for parties that have already completed Clouds; the beginning of Darkside is as difficult as the midgame in Clouds. As such, it is generally recommended to concentrate on the Clouds side until the main quest of Clouds is complete.

Control

World of Xeen has two fully complete interfaces; a keyboard interface and a point-and-click mouse interface. Both of these interfaces can be used to perform any action in the game, but many actions are cumbersome in one of these, if not both. For example, movement is best accomplished using the keyboard, and spellcasting, complicated in any case, is downright arcane when done with the keyboard. (To get my healer to cast a recovery spell on one of my fighters, the series of keystrokes would be 'C', 'F5', 'N', '6', 'Enter', 'C', 'F3'; though this is all done with onscreen prompts it remains rather cumbersome.)

Given that all things are turn-based, however, the interface complexity is not as problematic as it might be. Nevertheless, the interfaces for examining character characteristics, inventories, and spell lists suffers from too many 'layers' and a lack of inline information. This, of course, was all typical in 1992, though World of Xeen's contemporary Ultima VII provided a much more streamlined experience. Luckily, NWC learned how to clean things up in the interim and Might and Magic VI fixes most of Xeen's interface niggles.

Graphics and Sound

World of Xeen's gameworld is realized in tile-based pseudo-3D graphics, viewed from a first-person perspective. Sprites are used to depict any items in the world beside the ground, the sky, and walls; this extends to mountains, forests, and other interesting terrain, as well as items, buildings, and monsters. Any (friendly) people you might meet are found in tents, huts, or other free-standing dwellings, never out on the street. You can, in fact, assume that anything that moves is an enemy and thus can be shot at. The graphics are cartoonish, especially the character portraits that are lined up at the bottom of the screen and change in silly-looking ways to indicate the character's status. Nevertheless, they fit the setting and are generally well-done considering the resolution limitations of 1992-era PCs.

The soundtrack consists of three components: a General MIDI music track, incidental sound effects, and, on the CD edition, full voice for all in-game dialogue. The music is cheesy and repetitive, but it still adds to the mood of the game and doesn't get on your nerves. Sound effects are loud and somewhat crude (figuratively and literally; the city guard on the Darkside says "Fuck off" if you don't have a pass to that city), including both incidental sound effects and some short speech clips. The full voice is handled somewhat oddly, increasing the difficulty of retrogaming, as each voice sample is set up as a Red Book CD audio track on the CD rather than as a sample, requiring the use of the original CD (which the CD version will not function without).

Running on Modern Systems

World of Xeen is natively a DOS game, so it has some difficulty running on modern PCs. Not using any odd memory drivers, it runs fairly well under Windows 95/98 DOS windows, but it does not run very well under Windows NT's DOS subsystem (including XP). Thus, emulation becomes necessary. Due to the use of CD-Audio and the odd CD recognition code that requires, DOSBox has trouble running it; the most recent versions will run World of Xeen, but only under Windows due to the differences in DOSBox's CD drivers. Dosemu appears to work, but Xeen under Dosemu suffers from frequent, annoying crashes. Of course, if your system is fast enough, a full system emulator like Bochs or QEMU could be used to run it, along with a real DOS install. Finally, there is always the possibility of running it on an old PC purpose-built to run old softare.

Conclusion

World of Xeen is an enjoyable old-school computer RPG. If decade-old graphics, sound, and gameplay are not a barrier, it can be a long and engaging play. Some of the tasks are monotonous, but others are not; over they course of the game you rebuild a ruin, map out a large world, become ridiculously wealthy, and, of course, save both sides of the world and bring them together in a more perfect union at the end. If you are at all a fan of hack-and-slash RPGs, look no further than this classic of the genre.


(CC)
This writeup is copyright 2005 by me and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.5/ .

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