Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor Review

My impression of last year's Might and Magic VI was that it was a decent game with some serious flaws. And when I heard that many of these flaws were being addressed for Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor, I was hopeful that the sequel would be a drastic improvement over its predecessor. Unfortunately, in spite of a number of nice small touches, MM7 retains too many of the basic problems of MM6 for the changes to be much of an improvement.

In MM7, your party starts out as contestants in a scavenger hunt, where the prize is the title to Castle Harmondale and rule of the surrounding lands. After completing the scavenger hunt -- which also doubles as a training session for gamers new to the series and a quick way to build your party up a bit -- you will find that the lands of Harmondale come with some strings attached. Among other things, you will get caught up in a war between neighboring human and elven territories. Later, you will be forced to take sides in a larger conflict of good versus evil throughout the lands of Erathia, in a story that eventually picks up in part on the ending of MM6.

MM7 basically uses the same interface and rules as its predecessor. The main game window gives you a first-person view of the world, and a number of automaps and autonotes are available from icons along the side of the screen. Combat takes place in either real time or turn-based mode, and the turn-based combat now includes a movement phase, unlike in MM6. Hotkeys allow you to attack or cast a single "quickspell", or you can attack enemies by clicking on them directly in the view window.

As far as your party goes, you can build four characters by selecting any one of four races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, or Goblin) and nine character classes (such as Knight, Monk, Cleric, or Sorcerer). Each class has its own particular strengths and weaknesses: in addition to the usual hit point and spell point differences, each class can only learn a certain set of skills -- and therefore, each can use only a limited number of items and spells. As a further refinement to the MM6 skill system, characters can advance to the highest levels of only a few of the skills available to them.

MM7 does offer 3D accelerator support for slightly smoother textures and lighting effects, although a software-rendered graphics mode is still available. Both modes still use the sometimes-chunky sprites from MM6 for NPC's and monsters, however, and I was personally unable to test the accelerator card due to hardware incompatibilities. The software graphics were functional, but not very pleasant to look at, and reports are that the hardware graphics are not a substantial improvement.

Other minor enhancements include more skills, additional character classes and races, and better spells. The automap now provides location names, but you can't add your own notes. More cut-scenes appear in the middle of the game, and for events not covered in animation, an automatic text "history" help fills out the story. Dungeons tend to be smaller, and both dungeons and outdoor spaces have fewer monsters, so there's much less of the painfully long combat from MM6.

All of these changes help MM7 to improve upon its predecessor somewhat, but they leave the most serious flaws untouched. MM7 still has a lot of combat compared to many role-playing games, and you'd think that with a heavy combat focus and the second use of the engine, the developers could have made an interesting combat system.

For the most part, though, enemy AI is fairly bad. Opponents often get stuck in corners and let you attack them without fighting back. Many don't even bother to chase your party when you attack. And for those that do, it's too easy to do a lot of damage with bows and arrows while retreating. While there are occasional tough opponents, weak AI made a lot of the combat nothing but tedious.

And although the story progresses more consistently throughout the game, too many of the quests are generic "find and retrieve the lost item" quests that don't even relate to or affect the basic plot. Even many of the promotion quests, which you need to complete to get more hit and spell points and better skills for your characters, feel detached from the story. NPC's rarely interact with your party in any meaningful conversation.

MM7's skill system, which borrows heavily from MM6, is still too cumbersome. To promote your characters to the highest skill ranks, you not only have to spend the skill points, but you have to seek out one of a few trainers per skill scattered around Erathia. MM7 has more levels and more skills than its predecessor, and it also provides teleport spells only later in the game, so there's even more walking required build your party this time around. A few centralized training locations could have cut down substantially on all of this wandering.

There are some other minor problems with the interface carried over from MM6 that make the game a little more frustrating. Potions can contain as many as 8 different ingredients, and you have to combine those ingredients manually for every potion. Repairing and identifying items often involves moving items between characters, instead of allowing the most-skilled character to automatically use his/her skill.

MM7 is still a playable game, with a few notable features, like very good 2D art, a nice range of spells, and the interesting option to play on the "dark" side at the end of the game. It's even a fun, if not overly deep, game at times. But there are too many dry spells of poor monster AI and overly generic quests, and too many interface problems, for me to recommend MM7 too highly. For people who liked MM6 or even found the earlier game just slightly flawed, MM7 may still be worth a look.

-- Jason Strautman