I’ve amassed an arsenal of weapons that would make any medieval fantasy army jealous. Shiny daggers, magic staffs, elven bows, orcish cleavers – my inventory is full to bursting. But the weapon I’ve used the most in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is somewhat less flashy: my right shoe.
It’s a first-person action game with role-playing elements. Or maybe it’s a kicking simulator, and a brilliant one at that. At its core it’s a game about booting baddies into spikes, into open fires, and off the tops of tall buildings to land with a crunch and a spray of red on the stones below.
You press F to kick, although I do it so much that I’ve bound it to my middle mouse button. Providing you’re close enough to something that your target can fall into, or off of, they’ll immediately ragdoll. For example, if you’re facing an enemy who is standing in front of a fire pit a kick will see them fly into the flames.
Every combat arena is designed to let you use your feet as much as possible. Whether you’re in town squares or ancient temples there are spike traps everywhere you look, waiting to pierce any enemies you kick their way. Flimsy planks hold up platforms of barrels and crates, and a quick kick will splinter them and send the debris tumbling down on the guards below, who are all too eager to get in the way.
It doesn’t even try to be subtle about its love of kicking. More than an hour into the game I climb a ladder onto a rooftop. Ahead of me is a guard looking down into an empty square. It’s perhaps a 50ft drop. Just in case I hadn’t got the hint the game flashes up with a tool tip – “Don’t forget you can kick your enemies off high ledges.” Thanks. For. That.
But I’m okay with the lack of elegance, because sticking the boot in never gets old. Enemies soar off of my foot as if blasted from a cannon, bouncing of walls, clattering through wooden crates and into other enemies. Few games can offer such a satisfying gimmick.
Combat turns into an an absurd puzzle that’s less about parrying blows and landing counters and more about lining enemies up with ledges. I spend half my time gradually kicking enemies into place before landing the final blow to send them flying off. It’s always worth the effort.
The janky physics are the icing on the shoe-shaped cake. Kick an enemy at the right angle and the floor might collapse beneath them, sending them tumbling through onto barrels below. Enemies often get stuck on each other or on the environments, twitching perpetually as their ‘get up’ animation loops. Not very polished, perhaps, but it’s fun to see how much chaos your foot can create.
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic’s fluid melee combat was way ahead of its time, and it’s still worth playing today (you can get it for less than a fiver on Steam). But the reason I’ve returned to it through the years is not its sword and shield battles – it’s for the thrill of punting a goblin in the face.