Might and Magic II was a huge improvement over the first game of the series. The Graphics were pushed to their limits, the gameplay enhanced by a new skill and NPC system and the world even bigger than in the original game. It took me over three months of intense gaming to finish this one; something that can be compared only to later Might and Magic and Wizardry series. I keep playing the game until today. While I rarely finish it, I still enjoy the early stages of character buildup.
The game takes place in the world of CRON. People are vanishing and monsters appearing. Chaos is spreading. There are rumors that the elementals have broken loose from the elemental planes and will bring death and destruction upon the world. These elementals were banished ages ago through the use of a powerful crystal; now it is up to you to find the truth behind these rumors and save the world. Before I go any further, let me say a few worlds about the plot: you have four elemental planes, access to which is restricted by a powerful crystal. Does that remind you of something? How about conjuring a powerful crystal that opened the four elemental planes in Might and Magic 8, in order to release the elementals that were then supposed to destroy the world? This is the beauty of the Might and Magic series: the world of Might and Magic is incredibly consistent, which shows in these two games, released 12 years apart.
When you first start the game, you will be pleasantly surprised with two things. First, the game offers you to load the characters from the previous game, a feature that is, sadly, no longer an option in the newer Might and Magic games. Then, you will notice the much-improved graphics. While still in a 16-color mode, the graphics were pushed to their limits - textures have a certain depth, you can observe the change of day and night and monsters look much more life-like. Soon, you will notice that the sound has improved as well, offering even music after certain actions, such as winning the battle.
As the game progresses, you will notice the new improvements. First, there are two new character classes, Ninja and Barbarian. Ninja is a battle version of the Robber with one special feature: an automatic attempt to assassinate an enemy with the first attack. The Barbarian is the primary skull-bashing character. While stronger and with more hit points than the Knight, the Barbarian can use only light armor and cannot use swords. This character is great in the beginning game, but later becomes a little weak. As for other character traits, race, gender and alignment, these remained the same.
The next thing you surely notice is character skills. Each character may have two skills, such as arms mastery, cartography, mountain climbing and more. Some are necessary for finishing the game. For example, you need to have a Crusader to get quests. Others increase the character's abilities. For example, Soldier will have an increased Endurance. Yet other simply help you with the gameplay. Here, I would like to point out the Cartographer skill - it will unlock the automap feature, which is a welcome change from the previous game, where you had to map everything painstakingly on graph paper.
As the game progresses even further, you will become aware that you can hire NPCs (Non-player characters). Unlike many other games, here you will have total control of these characters; you will be able to assign their positions within the party and direct them during combat.
You will also notice small changes in the gameplay. Maybe the most important change is that you will not be as clueless as in the previous game. While the game is by no means linear, you will be guided with quests and hints most of the time, so there will be almost always things to do. You will experience other changes as well. For example, you will be able to travel in time. In addition, you will not learn all the spells automatically with gaining levels; you'll have to buy them from the temple. The spell system has been greatly enhanced, adding more spells. I'd like to point out Wizard Eye, the most basic spell of the later Might and Magic games, which reveals a small map of your surroundings. In this game, the spell is fairly high level, but it's a start?
All these changes amount to one significant difference between this game and the previous one. Might and Magic II has a much lower learning curve. You will not die as frequently and you will gain experience faster and in a much more smooth fashion. The time it will take you to increase one level will remain roughly constant throughout the first part of the game, until the experience requirements level off and level gaining will be much faster. This basically eliminates the frustration you'd experience with Might and Magic I, where the player spent the first month of playing to build up the characters.
I don't have much to say about the negative aspects of the game. Maybe only that it still uses the old engine, which leaves it a little limited. The graphics, while superb, suffer most from these limitations. The monsters still appear from thin air in front of you. You don't have a level cap (it's been reported that the maximum level is 255; that's not true - later levels simply don't show up due to programming limitations, but you'll get more hit and spell points). This lack of a level cap may render the end game way too easy for patient players. Lastly, there is still that six-item limit per character. Due to the fact that the game features many more various items, this limit can get really annoying.
Overall, however, Might and Magic II is a very fine game. It does not over anything new, but it greatly improves on the existing game. While the game smells of a little too much routine from time to time, it is more than worth the download time. I highly recommend it to every RPG player.
About the authors
Jon Van Caneghem. The designer and programmer of this game has remained with his brainchild until this day. Might and Magic I was his first game, followed by Might and Magic II, then by a rare deviance from the MM universe - Tunnels and Trolls. While he was credited with many other New World Computing games, he also created King's Bounty, Heroes of Might and Magic and all other spin-offs of the title. In his recent interviews, however, he seemed to be a little disenchanted at where 3DO, which acquired New World Computing, is taking the Might and Magic interface, citing too much action and too few riddles in his latest titles. Combined with rumors that he is not being credited on the latest title, it is not unlikely that he'd quit the Might and Magic universe in the future.
Vincent DeQuattro. Thankfully, he did not create the illustrations for the manual this time (they were created on a much more professional basis by Ken Mayfield), but he is still credited as the Art Coordinator. Working only on two more games (MM1 and King's Bounty), he is now the Technical Director at ILM and credited in movies like Star Wars: Episode I, Mortal Kombat, The Perfect Storm, Pearl Harbor and Star Wars: Episode II. This is another example how computer gaming can make you rich and famous .
Mark Caldwell. Credited with programming and manual design, Mark Caldwell launched his gaming career with this game. He later cooperated on almost all New World Computing games and Might and Magic games after New World was acquired by 3DO. While much of the Might and Magic fame got stuck to Jon Van Caneghem, Mark Caldwell contributed a great deal to the franchise's success. He still keeps contributing as the General Manager of the New World Computing division and a Vice President of the 3DO Corporation.
Ironically, the game will complain about too little memory if you actually have too much of it free. Try loading some resident drivers in such a case (Dosbox users: type 'loadfix' before running the game).