Dark Messiah Of Might & Magic Is Ten Years Old Today

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.

Arkane, who had previously made Arx Fatalis, later made Dishonored. Now they’re working on both Dishonored 2 and Prey. You can read about our recent hands on with Dishonored 2 here.

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50 Comments

  1. eqzitara says:

    You want to know something scarier then Dark Messiah came out 10 years ago?
    In the last 10 years Arkane has only released one game. Dishonored. It was 6 years after Messiah.
    If it didnt do as well as it did theyd probably be history.

    I know at one point they were signed up with valve to work on half life but it didnt really get far along.

    • Renevent says:

      I’m glad they are not history. While I’m not a fan of Dishonored, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic was fantastic. And they made Arx Fatalis prior to that, which to this day is one of my favorite RPG’s of all time.

      I hope they at some point get back to making games like that after people have had their fill of Dishonored!

    • Umberto Bongo says:

      They also worked on The Crossing, a Source game which got cancelled but sounded awesome.

    • skyturnedred says:

      Developers often have side projects to keep to studio alive. While developing Dishonored, Arkane worked on the multiplayer for COD: World at War, worked on Bioshock 2 and even had their hands in some iOS game.

  2. N'Al says:

    DMoMM was fantastic. Story was utter b*lls. Didn’t matter though, the gameplay was so good.

    I must’ve played through the game 3, 4 times, trying different approaches each time.

    And although it’s probably not particularly relevant around these here parts, one of these playthroughs was of the console port – avoid like the plague! It’s utterly horrible, robbing the game of most that makes it such fun to begin with.

    • Lieutenant_Scrotes says:

      I had a similar experience, enjoyed playing through the PC version multiple times back when it originally came out.

      Bought the Xbox 360 version a couple of years later, expecting to enjoy another play-through from the comfort of my couch. I can’t remember the specifics, but I stopped playing after half and hour it was that terrible.

      • jj2112 says:

        Yes, I’ve got both versions and the 360 one made me quit immediately. Now I don’t even want to play the PC version.

    • Mrice says:

      Could one of you elaborate on what was wrong with it? I never played the port.

      • N'Al says:

        For one, it made you choose a class right at the start of the game, which made character advancement far less free-form than in the PC version – no possibility to choose skills from the ‘other’ classes, so no way of having cross-class characters. They still left all the weapons and equipment for the other classes in the game, though, but since you weren’t allowed to use them they were no more than dead weight.

        In return, they included utterly pointless collectibles and two new brief levels – one, right at the start of the game, was decent enough, but another, halfway through, was completely out of place and shit.

        I’m sure there’s more I’m not remembering, but those were the worst examples.

        • jj2112 says:

          Not to mention how clunky and unispired the whole thing felt (I tried to play as a mage and those fireballs were laughable). I played the first level of the PC version and it looked better, maybe I’ll try to complete the game someday.

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    heretic says:

    I had a crush on the devil lady.

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    termit says:

    Ah, the adventures of Sir Kicksalot in the land of spikes and tight ledges and stairs and icy ground and fiery fires and flimsy guardraill. Good times indeed, thanks for reminding me of it!
    I almost feel tempted to install it again and play it as a warrior instead of the mage I used on my playthrough (btw, this is one of the few games that actually makes mages pretty badass in melee, too! a combo of the shield spell and a heavy staff: bashing heads and taking no damage ftw!)

  5. vorador says:

    Now that you mention it you can see the seed that grew into Dishonored. The ability of using the environment, traps and abilities to bait the enemy and send them to their death.

    I had fun kicking orcs over cliffs to their deaths, but i got bored of the asinine history and never finished it.

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    subdog says:

    The vampire knights near the end of the game are still the high water mark for the best first-person melee fighting ever in a video game.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      They were so good. And in clever ways, too – like the fact that they are COMPLETELY 100% silent until they actually engage you, meaning they can easily sneak up on you if you aren’t paying attention. Or the way they’re far better at figuring out where you are if you kill one of their friends than most enemies. Made playing a stealth build… interesting.

      On which note, actually – I sometimes read that people feel the game doesn’t work equally well for different ‘classes’, that the warrior is the only fun way to play or whatever. Bull. I’ve played through it… I don’t know, maybe six full times? Maybe more (I did not own all that many full games at the time, and boy did I get my money’s worth). I’ve played pure melee build, pure ranged build, pure stealth build, pure magic build and a couple that were just thrown together from whatever sounded fun. Every character archetype has a ton of cool toys to play with, the levels are well built to allow for different approaches, the stealth is GOOD, magic feels, as others have pointed out, really badass. Not everyone is going to enjoy playing every way, like I did, but whatever type of character you enjoy playing (within the confines of the game’s “kill most of the things” style, at least), the game will cater to you.

      Honestly I’m a little sad to realise that Dark Messiah is ten years old and still hasn’t been bettered in some ways. Maybe I should go play it again…

      • Det. Bullock says:

        Me too, I find utter bollocks that some people say that only the warrior is viable in this game, I completed the game the first time *as a mage* and a pure one at that (which means that you can only use your staff against the orc chief, more difficult but doable), later I did the other classes, pure stealth thief and pure warrior, and then tried various hybrids like archer mage (bow for attacks, magic for healing and protection) and stuff like that and never had a problem.
        Each approach had its sections that were easier or harder than the others.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          It’s funny. I took to keeping a staff on me even if I WASN’T playing a mage type, just for the orc chief guy. It was honestly much easier for me to kill him with that than a sword or daggers – every power attack would knock him down. Once you learned how to keep him at bay until you got him on the floor, and then repeatedly follow up when he was down, it was child’s play.

          Don’t even get me started on trying to take him as an archer, though.

  7. klops says:

    Bits that were not good? The compulsory grey and dark shitholes with zombies. bllllgggh. Otherwise pure enjoyment. Look at that icy blue sky and majestic mountains that you can kick orcs down from.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      The zombie bits were a riot, I found. The level design was mostly just “big room full of potential deathtraps waiting to accept zombie guests” repeated over and over, sure, but who doesn’t enjoy setting fire to, crushing, dismembering and otherwise inconveniencing zombies?

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      You can pretty easily skip past a lot of the zombies by using rope arrows.

  8. rahji says:

    I always played as a warrior, Charging into rooms and kicking the crap out of my enemys.
    Never realized that you can have so much fun as a mage!

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    duns4t says:

    Played for the first time a year ago and can attest that it doesn’t feel too dated for 2016.

    As someone who actually COMPLETES ~2 games per year, confirming I finished this one. It hits a storyline sweet spot of 10 hours without mucking about too much. I somehow completed my playthrough with all of the kicks but never learning how to freeze, so I can imagine the experience only gets better from what I did.

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      cpt_freakout says:

      Same here! I played it last year and I gotta say I had a total blast without having to fight the systems or being annoyed at something new games do better. Hell, I’ve been playing Vermintide with some friends lately and I often wish I had The Boot. Working as intended, I know, but I just wish it was more of a thing in melee first person games!

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        Qazinsky says:

        Was awhile since I played Vermintide, but last time I did, I played it as Markus Kruber, mace and shield, and that play style is all about pushing heaps of tiny rats around so they can’t do anything.

    • Carra says:

      I also played it last year (been on my to-play-list forever) and it holds up well. The melee combat especially still feels right.

      And, I actually finished the game! That in itself shows that it’s quite good.

  10. Podarkes says:

    When I discovered it, I played it two times in a row without even exiting a game. I even made a movie to keep in memory all that amused me so much, take a look if you are interested.

  11. Veles says:

    I played and really enjoyed the demo. I played it over and over and had much fun (even without knowing about the console command hack). However when I bought the full game on release it didn’t really do it for me. The level with the orcs and the cliffs that made up the demo was the best bit of the whole game (at least the bits I played).

    I played the game again recently and still thought the same.

    Wasn’t that taken by Dishonoured either :(

  12. Rich says:

    Scariest damn giant spiders that I can remember.

  13. rgbarton says:

    I never played dark messiah but I love this video made from it

  14. syllopsium says:

    I never bothered because it looked a little too action RPG for my liking, but having seen this I may have been very, very wrong..

    I love force throwing enemies over cliffs in Jedi Knight, this looks like fun.

    • Josh W says:

      Yeah, Jedi Knight’s a good comparison, I quite like the idea of doing that thing where you show a child the best games from every era, I think playing this shortly after Jedi knight they would take it as exactly the same kind of game.

  15. Darth Gangrel says:

    And still there’s nothing quite like it. The replay value in just the demo is absurd. Not that the whole game is full of fun bits like that, but over a whole playthrough, it has plenty of fun fights you can come back to dozens of times and still have a great time.

  16. Kowie says:

    Arx Fatalis > Dark Messiah

    DM was ok but way too short and super casual, basically a bud lite consolized follow up to Arcane’s more epic game Arx Fatalis.

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      Harlander says:

      Arx was pretty great but it was sorely lacking in kicking people into, off and through stuff as I recall.

    • Halk says:

      Yes, I’d very much prefer an Arx 2 over a Dishonored 2, but I am afraid we are not living in that era anymore.

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        Harlander says:

        Underworld Ascendant might scratch that itch a little for you, if it does well.

        • Halk says:

          One word: Unity.

          I’d love to be proven wrong though.

          • Halk says:

            I just checked out the screenshots. Man, do they look aweful. They should have outsourced the engine work to the people who created Grimrock. THAT is a good-looking and resource-friendly engine.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      As someone who’s playing through Arx right now and loving it… nah.

      Dark Messiah honestly isn’t much like Arx Fatalis. You can see the similarities that arise from being by the same studio, and both are first person and involve stealth, magic and hacking things to bits but… Arx Fatalis is an RPG, Dark Messiah is an action game. They are both similarly excellent at what they’re trying to deliver.

  17. Halk says:

    10 years? So maybe a patch making the game playable will come out in the near future?

    • Regicider 12.4% says:

      In what way is it broken?
      I just tried it on Windows 10 Anniversary Edition and it started fine and no issues during the tutorial.

      It does crash on program exit though but that’s a minor issue.
      Fix for that is listed here too: link to pcgamingwiki.com

      • Halk says:

        It was a joke referring to the fact that the original release of this game was one of the buggiest ever. Back then it took them about half a year until the release of the third (?) patch which made the game KIND OF playable.

  18. Kendrali says:

    Ironically, I felt like playing DM – ironic in that I did not realize its been 10 years – and tho the game holds up well enough. Albeit it unfortunately wont work, spent more time debugging it than playing.

  19. jayda says:

    DM was really fun. I had similar fun with Bulletstorm because of the many ways you could kill your enemies :D

  20. Regicider 12.4% says:

    I made the mistake of taking a break from my Cyrodiil binge to play Dark Messiah for a couple of evenings. After that I just couldn’t go back to the martial unarts of Oblivion.

  21. tonicer says:

    Aaaawww yeah! Dark Messiah is awesome, only on PC of course.
    (nobody should ever play anything on a console)

    No other game got such good movie like sword play. (the clashing of the blades and all that silly movie stuff)

    I study HEMA so i know a thing or two about sword usage. ;D

  22. Daller says:

    I liked the game a lot. Have to revisit it some time

  23. geldonyetich says:

    I am really kind of disappointed that the mechanics in DMoM&M didn’t become the standard in first person fantasy RPGs to come. Could you imagine if Skyrim had the same emphasis on meaningful spells, physics, and challenging swordplay? It would have been several times better. I’ll grant you that getting DMoM&M translated to considerably less kludge is a challenge, especially if Gamebryo is involved, but still…

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