Might and Magic III (1991)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I think Dungeons & Dragons’ influence in videogames was split between encouraging players to live out stories (a la Zork) and between embracing Gygax’s already computer-like rules systems. Thanks to the limits of technology, the latter dominated videogames for a very long time. Might and Magic III is a game (that I happen to still own) that seems emblematic of that school of thought.

Might and Magic III came out in 1991 and it seems like a pretty cutting edge game of the time. Full color VGA graphics, hours of play, elaborate puzzles and weird monsters (like the cow-worshipping Cult of Moo!). It’s systems, from abilities to magic, are very much modelled on Dungeons & Dragons. I played the crap out of it, for sure (Though, can we talk about that dude on the cover who I presume is series villain Sheltem? He looks like an unholy combination of Simon & Garfunkle).

But taken in the context of D&D, Might and Magic III is a nice looking, but fundamentally primitive bauble. 1991 would see TSR’s release of Dark Sun, its most ambitiously conceptual campaign setting yet, where the focus was on atmosphere and politics – two things largely outside a computer roleplaying game’s reach. Might and Magic is about stopping a terribly powerful villain from…destroying stuff. The game is long on killing and short on anything approaching character interaction. Or character development, outside of ever-increasing stats. The world itself is a flat construct, created by the villain.

All that is fine, but it feels more in line with the tournament style modules that dominated early first edition D&D circa 1978. And it would take another seven years before narrative started to catch up to mechanics in RPG videogames.

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