2018-10-05: Might & Magic: Book One revisited
Almost two years ago I wrote about my first completion of Might & Magic: Book One. It'd been my first completion of a first person dungeon crawler after years of finding the genre to be impossible to get rolling in. I'd mapped the towns and a few zones of overworld before getting lost in the aimlessness of it all and looked at a walkthrough. I then followed that walkthrough for the rest of the game; not exactly a respectable finish. However, it got me started in the genre, and since then I've kept going.
In the past two years I've finished Might & Magic Book One, Arcana, Shining in the Darkness, all four Deep Dungeons, two Etrian Odysseys, Swords & Serpents, Phantasy Star, Sword of Vermilion, Dark Spire, and probably some others I forgot to list. In that time I learned how these games work, found I enjoyed them, learned how to effectively navigate, map, and exploit them. Also in that time I forgot fairly large chunks of M&M1 and figured maybe now I could take another crack at it without the benefit of the spoilers I relied on last time. And so I fired up DOSbox again.
There were several lessons I learned from last time that I was wise enough to enshrine in my prior write-up. First: "D&D good" stats were not sufficient in things like Accuracy, Speed, and Endurance. I sunk more time into rolling, aiming for 16s in practically everything. This would prove invaluable in the first few levels, where you don't really have access to combat magic worth a darn and are forced to rely on swinging clubs at the enemies. Second, the first priority for a new party should be to get to level 5 with all due haste, as that's when you gain several tools to actually start the game with. Even with these things in mind, the intro was a slog yet again. Fortunately it was not nearly as much of a slog as the first time as I also remembered things like the Bag of Garbage, and the stat fountain.
Having done it a second time, I can definitely reaffirm: the game begins at level 5. I'll also add a rider though that the game also begins when you get to Dusk. Once again, the two happened simultaneously, thanks to the large experience boost from turning in the Vellum Scroll quest. Dusk provides some solid armor that could last through endgame if you're unlucky finding anything else. On the plus side, whereas just getting through the Sorpigal dungeon took four hours last time, this time it took one. I was out and exploring the world within 90 minutes; I mostly thank the focus on stats for this, to be honest.
I don't know if I became more patient since 2016, or I just knew the deal going in this time, but I found being let out into the world without direction to be far more enjoyable this time. I mapped everything: the entire overworld specifically. I found every dungeon, I believe I found every overworld event (actually I'm realizing now I never went back to the desert once I had Etheralize to investigate the solid square near Dusk, oops!). I explored every castle, found every gold and silver message, every prisoner. Toward the end my completionism waned a bit and I left some of the later dungeons with less than 100% completion, but I don't believe I missed much.
Funnily enough, without following the walkthrough and its recommendations to grind around Erliquin until level X, then Wyverns until Y, and so on, I ran into an entirely different set of problems finishing the game this time. Namely: getting utterly blown up any time I tried to explore a new area. This started soon after the Enchanted Forest Stronghold and the Ruby Whistle and persisted throughout the game: most of the dungeons have a varying range of difficulties wherein one fight I have the firm upper hand and the next the enemies go first and blow me away before I even get to act. I eventually learned that this variance came in the form of what were intended to be dungeon bosses and foreshadowed encounters, but usually the warning is not all that clear. For example: I managed to bumble into one such dead-on-turn-zero encounter in the Portsmith dungeon by wandering into the back door of a Demon Convention. Only after dying and reloading did I find the sign on the other door warning me of such!
The combat difficulty came to a head when I finally headed toward Castle Doom. I'd explored approximately two thirds of the world, completed several dungeons, done most of the Lord's quests and was level 9 or so. The A-1 and A-2 regions however were still quite difficult, and Doom itself more so. I wiped several times, losing tens of thousands of experience each time, before finally chipping my way through to both explore the main body of the castle, and find King Alimar in the secret inner area. It was only after this that I pieced together two things that would have been a major help in this struggling middle leg of the game: the existence of the Dragadune fountain, and the existence of the forced encounters around Algary that give 3000 and 7000 experience respectively. A little late, and not really a major revelation that suddenly made a bad game good, but I wish I would have known about both sooner.
Part of my "Streaming six hours a day" push to finish may have burned me out a little after Doom. The next two evenings I mapped the rest of the world, and then pushed to finish. This resulted in not exploring all of Doom, the Volcano, or practically any of the Building of Gold. I regret this a bit and still consider loading it up to finish my maps. I also, as a result, completely missed the Gold Interleave and had to look up myself what the decoding solution was after I'd finished the game. A shame, I literally stood on the tile that led to it, but never checked its walls.
I was sure I'd need to be level 13 to finish, due to the existence of the Astral Spell, but in my exploration of E-3 I found the Diamond Door and realized Astral Spell only eliminates the need to Fly to E-3 and Teleport twice. It's not really all that required. As a result, I entered the Soul Maze and eventually the Astral Plane at 11. As I headed into the Astral Plane, my chat lamented at how long I'd be stuck here since I decided not to use my old maps-- but it really didn't take me all that long to figure it out. 20 minutes maybe? The endgame reward shot me to level 14, which is entirely irrelevant unless I plan to explore the few places I missed.
In the aftermath of my 2nd playthrough, I regret spoiling myself the first time. I think being blind wouldn't have added that much more playtime to my playthrough, but would have increased my enjoyment of finding the solutions immensely. I may have not known where to go to use the Gold Key, but that would have been a problem that solved itself via the full exploration I did of the overworld anyway.
As a test, I ported my party into Might & Magic: Book Two. It seems my entire party got set to level 7, with 20 in every stat. It amuses me in a way because I'd guess the devs determined the grind from 1 to 5 or 7 or so was a drudgery as well, and allow you to skip it by importing your party. This will give me a running start in getting into the world of CRON when I start the playthrough of the sequel. That'll probably be soon; I actually am unfamiliar with Book Two, so maybe I'll get to see how wrong I am about being able to finish one of these games unspoiled.