In 1997, the traditional PC RPG genre was in a slump. It had been two years since Ultima VIII, five since Wizardry VII, and four since Might and Magic V. The Gold Box series was history, and the only RPG of note on the charts was the action/roleplaying hybrid Diablo. However, there would soon be a revitalisation of the genre, began with two important games. One was Fallout, released in late 1997, and the other, released in April 1998, was Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven (MM6). While Fallout revisited Wasteland's post-nuclear future, MM6 returned to the traditional swords and sorcery setting. MM6 is played in a true 3D world using the same first-person perspective as earlier Might and Magic games. This was essentially unprecedented for a traditional hack and slash RPG.
Hack-n-slash is the appropriate term, as well. The wide-open 3D world permitted battles with literal hordes of enemies, as opposed to the three-at-a-time limitation of World of Xeen (the previous Might and Magic game) The gameplay is entirely quest-based, and you must find and complete most of them in order to become strong enough for the final boss. Character-wise, your party of four adventurers is a complete blank slate throughout the whole game, with no development at all after the opening animation. The plot of the game is also fairly pedestrian, with a simple 'demons from another world are invading; stop them" premise. The end-game, in another of Might and Magic's conventions, brings in weird science-fiction elements such as advanced computers and energy weapons which always seem out of place.
Despite these flaws, the gameplay itself is long and engaging. Despite the endless dungeon crawling, the dungeons and their resident monsters are varied enough in form and difficulty that it does not rapidly become monotonous. Character advancement is rapid, and by the end of the game you will have trained so much that the party members are all minor gods. The magic system is relatively simple, with seven schools of magic in which you can buy spells. Each spell's effectiveness is then proportional to your character's level in that school. The world of Enroth is very large and consists of twelve separate areas laid out in a grid. You must journey to the various cities of Enroth to earn skills, buy spells, and find quests.
If it were released today, Might and Magic VI would undoubtedly sink without a trace. The lack of any major story as well as the hack-and-slash orientation of the game would put off both gamers and critics alike. The bar has been raised, so to speak. New World Computing is painfully aware of this, as Might and Magic VII, Might and Magic VIII, and Might and Magic IX are essentially the same game in updated packaging. However, in 1998, MM6 was pivotal in the return of the RPG genre to prominence in the PC gaming world. In that, it was successful in living up to its tagline, "Witness the Rebirth of a Legend".
This writeup is copyright 2002 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/ .