Since I did not touch the game until its full release, this review is based entirely on my first-hand experience with the game, written by someone who is unaware of what may or may not have been changed, addressed or promised during the early access.
GAME CHOICES & MECHANICS:
- The game offers four traditional fantasy races to choose from when making characters; humans, dwarves, elves and orcs, each race offering three specific starting classes to choose from, as well as a varying setup of skills.
- The skills are fairly familiar to M&M players, with a few new additions in X, like for example Primordial Magic, Arcane Discipline, and Warfare. Some notable skills have disappeared as well; as there is no Alchemy, Identify Item, Learning, Merchant or Repair Item skill, as well as a few other examples.
- Gameplay-wise it has some important changes from previous M&Ms. You follow a tile-style map when moving around! For those familiar with pen and paper Role Playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, think of it as the 5x5 hex-grid system (which the M&M X map looks like).
- Combat is more strictly turn-based. This means a monster will have to wait for its turn before attacking you (or you it), as each of your characters in turn takes their actions. Explained more thoroughly in my personal opinion.
- The Night/Day cycle is much quicker, especially outside of towns.
- Levelling up skills and attributes and what improvements it will grant you is 'tooltiped' by mouse-over, and the different character panels are somewhat easier to use.
MY PERSONAL OPINION
The game looks good. It has that M&M feeling to it, in a modern sense where lighting effects and shades are more modern than in older versions, yet it's not meant to look "outright realistic", and both NPCs and world objects look the way they 'always have' in the series.
The new and more strict turn-based system of combat also has its advances, in that you can take your time to plan your next and most optimal move with each character. It also means you can plan ahead of the monster's next attack, and since you can rearrange the order of your character's easily, you can put your heavy cannons to go first, after which, depending on whether they dealt enough damage or finished something off, your supporters can cast the appropriate buffs before the next turn begins.
Then again, nothing prevented you from pausing the game to think ahead in previous versions, just saying.. Yes, the stricter turn-based system can sometimes slow the gameplay down. You can still hold down a button to have all your characters repeatedly fire their arrows at whatever you're fighting, but you cannot move while doing so. Even if you didn't have to move, if three of your characters are just firing arrows away with their mana emptied, but the fourth being the one doing something different, you will have to stop and click a different number (taskbar being the traditional 1-9) for that particular character.
Personally, I like the old style where you manually set a spell and a non-spell attack and just blasted away, even if that is a less cost-efficient approach. Back then everything happened simultaneously as well, both your attacks and the monsters', each with their own cooldowns. I have yet to notice my characters using anything powerful enough to make them "lose their next turn due to recharging", or anything similar.
Because of the tile-style movement, you are less likely of getting lost, you wont get stuck in the environment, and it's easier to figure out where to go in some cases. It does limit your movement somewhat, though, and calling this "an exciting open world" is a stretch. Yes, you can SEE the world, but the tiles will tell you where you can and cannot go. In other words, forget scaling up those hills in an angle to skip some travelling, or nudging your way down a tall mountain to get to the bottom quicker. No tile = not an option! (I wonder if a Fly spell exists in this game)
The plus side of the tile system is that travelling between key points takes (much) less time than before, and it certainly is a game focused around combat and action, rather than sightseeing and flower-picking (..fond memories of my alchemist scaling the M&M7 mountains to pick those rare flowers for potions.. anyway.)
When in combat, the tile-system to me is less enjoyable than the good old free movement. You are LOCKED in combat. I.e. if you want to move somewhere, you have to wait for your turn. You can move one tile, then whatever you are fighting will either attack, or move after you, and then you can move again. This means no party kiting and killing that tough giant with their crude bows.
Overall the game to me falls into the pitfall of so many other games these days. It's a good and tried-and-true model that instead of being kept that way is slimmed down to make for faster, easier (to me in most cases less enjoyable) gameplay. Instead of feeling like a mighty hero who comes up with clever schemes to defeat your mighty adversaries, I feel like I'm being stripped of some of my powers and choices by the game simply telling me "sorry, we can not let you do that". No crafting potions? No repairing my own items?
Finding your way because of the tile-system is nice at times, but it also strips me of going exactly where I want to go. Yes, you can most times choose option a, b or c to do first, but even if you choose c, you usually have to come back and do a and b in any order after before moving on to d.
For example, in M&M 7 you could pretty much walk to the tougher zones in the game as soon as you got off the starting island, and although you pretty much couldn't kill anything there (crude bows kiting comes to mind along with a heartful chuckle, though), you could still try to roam around for chests, pick those before mentioned flowers, followed by running for your life to leave the place as you just noticed one of the giants had gotten on your trail.
I want to like M&M X more than I do (that said I do enjoy it, albeit mostly for nostalgic reasons). On the plus-side the nostalgia from playing an M&M game made me want to revisit M&M 7 again, a game which I can also play while I'm offline, or while the rest of the world is offline too, for that matter. As long as my computer has power at least.
If you're a hardcore M&M fan, I would still recommend picking it up for the nostalgia. It's not a "bad game", despite giving it some harsh critique, it's just a well-made game that doesn't appeal to me in the old-fashioned M&M way, with a few too many things changed or altered (the combat + tile-style being my main drawbacks here. Adding that I am well-aware this was never meant to be a "typical M&M clone"!) The fact M&M is one of my all-time favourite series also means I set the bar quite high, if it sounds like most of the review is negatively charged.
So.. Would I recommend this game? The short answer is, it depends who is asking.
To a seasoned M&M player; yes, but to someone not familiar with the M&M series; probably not, as the gameplay is rather outdated.
If you know very little about the M&M series, but like old-style type of games, I'd recommend passing on this one, and instead picking up Might&Magic VII: For Blood and Honor from GOG (for only 6$!), and, baring in mind old graphics are what they are, you will have a more fleshed out game with a lot more depth to it than this one.
However, if you're only in it for the turn-based combat that M&M X focuses on, pass - there are better and more modern turn-based games out there today. :)
..Then again, it could be I'm just a masochistic hero who enjoys the pain and suffering of spending twice as much time on travelling from point a to point b, only to realise I went into the wrong cave and suddenly faced monsters ten times my level...