Review by magicman (2019-08-12)
Might and Magic: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum came later than its counterparts in Wizardry and The Bard's Tale and thus had those shoulders to stand on. It shares with both first-person party-focused exploration and turn-based combat. With Wizardry it shares a sandbox approach to CRPG gaming, except instead of limiting exploration to a single dungeon, Might and Magic provides a huge world with outdoor, town, and dungeon environments. The stylized illustrated poster map that came with the game (and all subsequent titles in the series, even the lamentable Might and Magic IX) adds to the immersion as it echoes another predecessor, the Ultima series.
The story is almost nonexistent – you create characters (almost as many as you want) from a selection of standard fantasy races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Half-Orc) and professions (Knight, Paladin, Archer, Cleric, Sorcerer, Robber), select 6 of them for your party (hint: there are six different classes), and the game just starts. No intro, no tutorial, no training, just six level-1 characters armed with clubs outside the Inn in the starting town of Sorpigal.
The only place that actually establishes the goal of the game is the back text of the game box, but even that boils down to “Find the Inner Sanctum because… treasure?” This was pretty common fare at the time; story took a back seat to sandbox exploration in games like this, and the focus really is to explore and improve your characters through questing and combat.
The graphics seem minimal, but this game was designed on the 8-bit Apple II platform, which had a 4-color High-Resolution graphics mode available to its 64K models, and that set the standard for ports to other platforms, including MS-DOS which supports CGA, EGA, Hercules, and Tandy 1000 graphics. There are no animated scenes or characters, and combat mode is a plain text screen, but there's enough detail to differentiate town walls from dungeon walls, dense forest from light forest, glacier and mountain, desert and ocean. There is no ground or sky texture, which is the missing element that does the most to date the game's aesthetic.
Likewise dating the game is the lack of sound effects. Gameplay is accompanied only by the sound of the keyboard as you navigate the world or launch your attacks.
On the plus side, as a purely turn-based game with static graphics there's no need to employ slow-down techniques to run it on modern hardware.
Discovering the “secret” of the Inner Sanctum is the goal of the game, but it's the journey that really matters. There are 5 towns, each with a dungeon, 20 outdoor areas, and several castles and caves to explore. Every map is a 16x16 grid (that equals 256 squares per map, another sign of the game's 8-bit heritage) which makes mapping (which you have to do by hand, as there's no auto-map – the game originally came with a pad of graph paper for this purpose) straightforward and predictable.
There are quests in the game, granted by nobles you may find ensconced in their castles, but the main activity is exploration and combat. Combat is managed on a text-only screen. Characters and enemies act in initiative order (affected by their Speed attribute) and commands are given and carried out. Only a few characters are in “hand-to-hand” combat range in each battle (unless the enemy “infiltrates the ranks”) but your spell casters and archers can still contribute from the rear. Frustratingly, the enemy often has a lot more space in its “front rank,” sometimes most or all of them. Some spells (like the powerful Fireball) are only useful against enemies outside “hand-to-hand” range, so this limits the opportunity to use them. After a battle, you may find a chest of treasure. Like in Wizardry, it is probably trapped.
Might and Magic may not be the best of the first generation of CRPGs (which I loosely define as those originating on 8-bit platforms) and it doesn't have the polish of its immediate sequel, but it's a surprisingly epic game with a game loop that is as frustrating as it is rewarding, which is expected from a game of this era. Seeing the origins of the Might and Magic franchise is fun, as it's a series that went on to be not just a “me-too” CRPG but a genre-defining and envelope-pushing franchise.
Review by NetDanzr (2006-06-10)
Might and Magic was created by a small group of people, led by Jon Van Caneghem in 1987, as the first game of the highly acclaimed New World Computing. The story behind releasing the game sounds almost like a fairy tale. After Might and Magic was finished, Jon Van Caneghem approached numerous publishers, only to be rejected time and time again. He decided to publish the game himself, from his apartment, and it turned to be a surprise hit, selling 5,000 copies the first month. After that, he managed to land a sweet deal with Activision, which enabled New World Computing to remain the publisher, and Activision only handled the logistics.
The game itself is a first-person role-playing game, which started one of the most successful game franchises ever. The ninth part (if you don't count a highly acclaimed fan game) is scheduled to be released soon. The game stirred some controversy between RPG fans, many of which saw it as too action-oriented. In fact, Might and Magic is not nearly as hardcore as the Wizardry games, but not as weak an RPG as the Ultima series. I consider it to be the perfect mix of hardcore RPG gaming, action and adventure.
In this game, you will form a party of up to six adventurers, roam the world, fulfill quests and strive to figure out the secret of the Inner Sanctum. Well, you will not know of the existence of the Inner Sanctum, but you will learn soon enough. The game offers four races, six character professions, a few dozen spells, five cities and six castles, numerous dungeons and a ton of different items. In addition, the game has offered some aspects you don't see often anymore. The most important aspect, that greatly increased the replay value, was that you could leave your characters in an inn and recruit others. This way, you could work out a dozen or more characters and use their appropriate combination for each quest.
The combat was similar to that in the Wizardry games. It was turn-based, with you assigning the appropriate action to each of your characters. The only problem here was to memorize the numerical combination of each spell, but after a few hours of playing, you were able to distribute the assignments in a couple of seconds. A nice perk here was that you could identify each monster and act accordingly to its attack type and/or resistances.
The main strength of the game, however, was its size. Somebody has once told me that there are over 15,000 squares in this game you can step on, and I am quite willing to believe it. This, of course, affected the time you needed to finish the game. Without any help, it could take over 200 hours to finish the game, and even with help it took well over 100 hours (in a hardcore mode, where I tried to finish it as quickly as possible, it took me about 50 hours, but I left lots of areas unexplored).
There were a few other nice additions to this game. In the realm of combat, you could use missile weapons, so that the second and third ranks of your characters could get their share of kills. In addition, the number of creatures you were engaging in hand-to-hand combat was dependent on the location and their size; in a narrow corridor only one or two creatures could engage you, etc. This was true for your party members as well. In addition, the enemy often changed its ranks, moving injured creatures out of harm's way and replacing them with the hand-to-hand combat specialists.
Outside of battle, there were two great novel aspects: spell requirements and dungeon design. Some spells required the use of certain crystals. Thus, you had to be careful when to cast them, which added a much-needed strategic element into a role-playing game. The dungeons were quite unique, always representing their location. Dusk was a desert town and looked like one, Algary was a swamp town and looked like one, etc. Even monsters in these towns were always adequate to their environments.
The game, of course, was not perfect. Maybe the main problem of the game is an extremely steep learning curve. The level-up requirements doubled with each level, only to plateau at level 11. You encountered monsters in the supposedly save towns, and the abundance of traps made your life miserable even without monsters. Even worse was the fact that you didn't know what to do: clues were sparse, quests lacked logic and riddles hard and deadly. It is no wonder that you had to spend the first 50 hours only to build up your party to have fun, and this is the time when most people got frustrated and left the game unfinished.
Overall, however, this game was one of the best RPGs of its time, and I highly recommend you download and play it. It is still one of my favorite games.
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. He played a minor role in developing this game, credited only with graphics and manual illustrations (which are, well, not the best I have seen). However, this game has helped him to launch a great career. Working only on two more games (MM2 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 .