Kick me in the pants, Dark Messiah of Might & Magic is ten years old. That’s ten years since Arkane released their first-person fantasy game about kicking men (or orcs) in the pants. And about slicking the ground with ice using magic, then watching men (or orcs) slip on it and fall off cliffs. Or about being knocked down yourself and being able to see your pants, because it was a rare-at-the-time first-person game in which you had a body.
It was good, except for the bits that weren’t, and in its creative slapstick murder there lies some of the roots of Dishonored. We’ve gathered a few thoughts below.
Graham: I know that the Might & Magic universe has its fans, but I know nothing about it. You may as well be the Dark Messiah of Slides & Kicking, for all I care, because that’s all I did in the game. And by “game” I mean “demo”, because Dark Messiah had perhaps my favourite demo of any game ever.
I suspect the developers regret it, but the reason it’s my favourite is because it was possible to bring up the console for the Source-powered game and type in commands to unlock abilities and weapons that were otherwise meant to be reserved for much later in the game. I therefore spent hours and hours in the single level demo mucking about with toys I wasn’t supposed to have, and all the toys were used in the service of making orcs fall down.
There was a long, narrow cliff path, so I’d ice that right up and kite a bunch of orcs into it, then laugh as they slipped, bumped into one another and tumbled into the abyss, one by one.
There was a small cave, the walls covered in spikes and a log suspended in a swing near the ceiling, waiting to be cut down. So I’d ice the floor right up and kite a bunch of orcs into it, then guffaw as they slipped, bumped into one another and fell on their bottoms.
Physics in games – by which I mean, men falling over in games – still felt like new territory in 2006, and Dark Messiah was its silly king. Silly King of Slides & Kicking, I’d call it.
I never bought or played the full game.
John: I never got so far into Dark Messiah, and I really regret that. I remember buying it when it came out, and being really snowed under with work, and it always got pushed back. But in the times I played, I had a marvelous time, mostly kicking things into spikes. What a game it was for kicking things into spikes. It felt more natural, more improvisational, than games that try to do similarly now, less worried about carefully setting up ideal moments, and more happy for you to let loose and see what madness ensues. And now I really want to go back to play it, but I’m scared it’ll be too dated.
Adam: Dark Messiah isn’t just Dishonored for idiots, but that’s one of the many brilliant things that it definitely is. Created by Arkane before they created Dunwall and their own world of violent stealth shenanigans, Dark Messiah is a first-person fantasy game all about kicking people and monsters in the face, and hoping that the force of your boot sends them flying off a cliff or into a spike.
As Graham mentions above, physics in games is really the art of watching things fall over, whether those things are buildings, people or cars. Carmageddon was the first game that really made me stop and think about physics, and I was mainly thinking how cool it was when a car flipped onto its roof and squidged through a crowd of pedestrians, or cartwheeled end over end down a street, losing bits and pieces every time it crunched into the tarmac.
Dark Messiah was like Carmageddon but with all of the tedious bastards that had ever cluttered up an RPG or big ol’ fantasy novel instead of cars and pedestrians. Finally, I could run up to them and push them, flailing, into nothingness.
Dishonored 2 looks like it’ll let you partake in some of that same fun, but it probably wants you to try and use all kinds of fancy powers, weaponry and vertical mobility to fancify the process. That’s great and I genuinely think it might be one of my favourite games of the year if it pulls off what it’s attempting. Sometimes I don’t want Dishonored though; sometimes I want Dishonored for idiots.
Alice: The joy of Dark Messiah is that it’s so clearly egging you on to dick about yet still lets you feel cheeky and subversive for messing about. My first time I started out playing as a sneaky archer, plinging arrows from the shadows as everyone knows you are Supposed To in fantasy games, but… stuff that. Charge into rooms roaring, cutting chandeliers, knocking down precariously-balanced loads, icing dangerous ledges, kicking men down pits, kicking men down stairs, kicking men into spikes, kicking everything all the time. But it’s key that Dark Messiah gives the option to play ‘properly’ – without that choice, I think I’d find it quite boring and silly. I don’t get along too well with mandatory wackiness, as seen in most modern physics-based games.
Dark Messiah may well have been better if other approaches were more viable (and less boring) but Dishonored got a lot closer to that. Dishonored 2 looks to be doing even better on that front, giving stealthy players more fun options, but sadly none of them are the power to ice floors and make people fall on their bum. Dynamic pratfalls are surely the greatest video game power.