The Might & Magic franchise is one of the most prolific computer game series we can think of, with a whole host of games now available covering almost every conceivable genre from turn-based strategy to role-playing. But apart from the unremarkable third person action-adventure game "Crusaders of Might & Magic", the franchise has stayed firmly entrenched in its old school 2D ways, from the sprites and tiles of the "Heroes" strategy games to the goofy looking bitmap monsters of the "Might & Magic" role-playing titles.
Now all of that is about to change though, as 3DO and New World Computing take advantage of their licensing deal with Monolith to bring the Might & Magic world to life in 3D with the latest version of the Lithtech engine. The result is a fantasy first person shooter set in a colourful world of lumbering monsters and spectacular spells.
No less than 70 creatures are being modelled, some brand new and some old favourites from previous Might & Magic games, many of them appearing in 3D for the first time. Skeleton warriors, towering dragons and minotaurs all feature prominently. Results appear a little mixed at this early stage, with some of the models looking rather blocky and ungainly, but the texturing is already top notch with bright, detailed skins.
The environments in which you face these creatures are quietly impressive as well, taking full advantage of the Lithtech engine's ability to handle wide open spaces. Settings vary from dungeons and caves to pyramids, vast snow-covered castles, and even a Gladiator style Roman arena. The real highlights though are the spell effects, with fireballs glowing and scattering particles as they fly through the air, and lightning bolts bouncing off walls as they careen through a map.
Although the game does include a single player mode, much of the attention is being focused on the multiplayer features, with a built-in GameSpy browser and support for up to sixteen players to fight it out in a wide variety of deathmatch and teamplay modes as good battles evil.
As well as basic capture the flag type games there are also Counter-Strike style objective-based modes which can involve rescuing hostages (in the form of a princess) or escorting a VIP (or in this case, a king). It's all very reminiscent of games like Team Fortress, but with that added Might & Magic fantasy twist, complete with a range of neutral monsters for both sides to deal with.
It's not just Unreal Tournament in tights though, as the game also features lightweight role-playing elements. There are six classes to choose from - sorceress, druid, archer, cleric, crusader and warrior - each with their own unique range of weapons and spells to wield. These will improve as you gain experience, although your abilities won't be carried over from one game to the next; this is no persistent world role-playing game.
It's certainly an interesting idea, although we will have to wait a few more months yet before we know for sure how it has turned out. Fantasy shooters have not had a great history, with Daikatana proving disappointing to say the least, and even the enjoyable Heretic and Hexen series not performing as well in the shops as they might have done if they had featured cyborgs and rocket launchers rather than elves and fireballs.
3DO are hoping that Legends will bring a whole new audience to the Might & Magic franchise though, as well as attracting some of the hardcore fans who have being following the various series over the last decade. With a little more work they could just be on to a winner.