First-person perspective role-playing games are almost as old as the personal computer. Wire frames and simplistic monsters created an intriguing game. However, back in those days these types of games were difficult to play. It was complex as complex could be. Manuals were more than 70 pages of thickness that was necessary to play well. I honestly do not know how early PC gamers were able to play most of them. Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven serves as a bridge between old-school PC gaming and modern accessible PC games.
The plot behind Might and Magic VI is simple: Demons are slowly taking over the realm. In fact, they’ve conquered the area where your heroes are from. Other troubles are taking place as well. Insane headhunters, crazed monks, economic troubles and death cults are slowly popping up everywhere. Plus, Queen Catherine went to take care of her homeland, and contact with her has been lost. (That is another story in and of itself.) And some people are claiming that the royal family no longer has any right to rule the land. So what is the cause behind these troubles?
Gameplay in Might and Magic VI could be considered a traditional RPG. You create four heroes from six different classes: knights, archers, druids, paladins, clerics and sorcerers. You also get to place 50 points of bonus status points wherever you like: might (brawn), intelligence (needed for sorcery magic), personality (needed for clerical spells), endurance, accuracy, speed and luck. Plus, each character can learn various skills, including combat and magical abilities, with the exception of the knight. He cannot learn magic whatsoever. In order to improve a skill, a character first must have skill points. Skill points are gained either through gaining levels or by finding ultra rare horseshoes. On top of that, characters can become experts and even masters of these skills, increasing their potency. So here’s the question: Do you improve skills that they already use well, or do you focus on other skills in an attempt to balance them out? What you choose might make things easier in the short term for a long time, or it might just make things a bit harder overall for some time. And that’s one of the great joys of this game: Character development is not set in stone.
Furthermore, it is easy to get into situations that you shouldn’t be in — at least, not for the skill level of your party. There are a lot of places that are not meant for beginning adventurers. Might and Magic VI likes to throw legions upon legions of enemies at your characters. They can easily destroy your party in exploration mode. The only way to have a fighting chance is to go into turn-based mode. Movement stops, and it gives you unlimited time to choose what actions are necessary. You literally point and click on the actions you want. If you want to use the archer’s bow, then choose an enemy who is far away. Or click the cleric’s mace and choose an enemy who is close. Spells are easily accessible, and most of them require a target. So do you heal, cast a spell to buff your characters, try to obliterate the enemy or decide to duck tail?
It can be overwhelming to have destroyed a few dozen monsters, have no magic power left, be close to the reaper’s door and then have a few stragglers left at full health. Thus, Might and Magic VI is not an easy game to get into. But what makes it a joy is to take that party and see how far you can go. Exploration expeditions abound! There is this massive sandbox waiting for you. Every nook and cranny is open. Sure, the quests are not as diverse as some games are today. But it is fun. And Might and Magic VI is one of the few games that I can and will play happily for hours.
Anyway, your characters move around a pseudo 3-D world. The thing is, all the different structures in the game will rotate around the camera. Characters look highly pixilated and have one main attack animation per character. Spells are flashy for their time in gaming history but look underwhelming by today’s standards. And it ticks me off a bit that attacks are not seen, such as sword slashes. But there is some brightness to this. Character screens, spell lists, quest lists and notes are cleanly laid out. An automap is constantly present. The backgrounds and portraits are downright gorgeous. Thus, there is this constant clash between old-school aesthetics and timeless looks. Some people will be able to stand this. Others will not.
Sound wise, everything is a mixed bag. There is some light synthesizer music playing while you explore the world. Battles start with a brief horn fare. But other than that, the background music is just ambience: The grunts of the monsters and the screams of your characters (“HEALER!” “Someone heal me!”) Plus, there is a tiny bit of voice acting. This mostly consists of a welcome of some sort as your characters enter buildings. It is there to give the world a bit of charm.
Overall, there are many things Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven does well. The game has awesome exploration and character customization and is highly playable even by today’s standards. And then there is how it looks. The heavy pixilation shows how far graphics have come in 10 years. So why play Might and Magic VI? Simple: It’s just fun. There is so much to do and different play styles available that gamers can play this game for years. So pick this game up! Whether you buy it off a friend or Good Old Games for $10, you’re setting yourself up for a massive adventure. That’s nothing to shake an enchanted sword at.