Technological spike in the mid-’90s kick-started a wave of prophecies predicting a fusion of videogames and cinema. A fresh breath of future was in the air: FMV-games and emergence of realistic graphics fueled futuristic fantasies about highly interactive movies ought to bring eternal joy and happiness to our long-suffering world. Alas, the reality is the most ferocious party pooper: it turned out, that it is really difficult to balance interactivity with cinematography. You have to prioritize. As a result, games with a high focus in cinematography were severely lacking in their interactivity, thus falling between the chairs of two mediums: failing to compete with movies (because of their still immature cinematography and incomparable budgets) as well as with other games (because of their primitive gameplay).
Cyberia was one of the first games that learned that truth the hard way.
Battleborn’s story is short and tragic. Released by Gearbox just a couple of weeks before Blizzard’s Overwatch, this hero shooter fell in a deadly whirlpool of unflattering comparisons despite being a pretty different game. In public consciousness those two games became counterparts and Randy Pitchford’s attempts to emphasize differences between them fell in vain. Ironically though, Battleborn’s weaknesses lay also in its differences from Overwatch, not just in similarities. In the light of the latest news about Battleborn shutting its servers in January 2021, I just had to look back at it. For it is not only for successful games to be remembered: flops also deserve their place in history.
I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds. On the one hand, I’ve enjoyed it overall: it has some good writing and beautiful bright-colored aesthetic. On the other hand, there was a constant feeling of déjà vu throughout my play-through. Rarely it was a warm nostalgic breeze: most of the time it was a suffocating swelter of banality. In the first half-hour of the game The Outer Worlds had reminded me of Bioshock with its retro-stylistic propaganda posters, of Borderlands with its crazy space colony frontier atmosphere, of Douglas Adams’ books with its over the top satire, and expectedly Fallout: New Vegas with its… well, everything else. New Vegas’ spirit is omnipresent in The Outer Worlds and it is not a good thing, as it seems to be. The reason is, that Fallout: New Vegas is, in fact, a much better game.
Might & Magic series entered the new millennium with a limp. The Day of the Destroyer, the eighth installation of the series, has shown severe signs of stagnation and was met rather coldly by the public, which expected a rise to a new quality level from the beloved franchise. Furthermore, the Heroes series were also walking in circles, being caught in a loop of trying to stretch further the massive success of Heroes of Might & Magic III. Considering the tough financial situation of Might & Magic’s publisher 3DO, the next game just had to be successful. So much was at the stake, that New World Computing’s two separate teams had been working simultaneously on both of franchises.
Again I will start an article with a spoiler alert: it all ended pretty bad.
First five games of glorious Might & Magic franchise have received all the love and praise they deserved. But in the mid-’90s the developers New World Computing decided to put the series on hiatus. Sheltem’s story has ended on an epic note and all the roleplaying juices seemed to dry out. Might & Magic became strategic: Heroes of Might & Magic has been released in 1995, bearing a strong trail of King’s Bounty (another NWC successful game released in 1990) and became the world’s most loved turned-based mind boggler almost instantly. But that’s the story for another time.
Might & Magic returned in 1998, after the years of constant technological advancements as well as an RPG evolution as a genre. It would be a grave mistake to not keep those environmental changes in mind, and NWC had to put their hand on the pulse of time. I am going to spoil you the ending: the return of Might & Magic into the roleplaying genre was phenomenal.
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Behold that fabulous world of roleplaying games! Rich and beautiful it floats through the vast space of escapist entertainment, enchanting the hearts and empowering the minds. There are three pillars this world is based upon (or lies on the backs of three elephants, for the Pratchett fans here) — Ultima, Wizardry and Might & Magic. Each of them had an overwhelming influence on the shape, feel, and direction, which the genre of CRPG has taken, while forming itself.
Onto the youngest one of the elephants (or pillars, if you’ve never read Discworld, oh, poor soul) I’ve decided to turn my retro-gaze here. Join me in remembering the wonderful worlds of Might & Magic and reminding once again the pure joy of virtual roleplaying escapism.
Oh, some major spoilers ahead, so be warned.