The Joy of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic’s kick

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.

34 Comments

  1. Bullfrog says:

    There was a mod that added a kick into Half Life 2, not as polished obviously and the game was never designed to support it but it gave us the glorious Kickboat Saga (look it up on YouTube) for which we should all be thankful.

    • Kingseeker Camargo says:

      I remember that! It was called something really bland too, like “fmod” or some such. You would never guess just how much awesome was hidden inside that name.

      It also added ironsights and some other stuff that changed the game quite a bit; but yeah, the “Gordon Kick” was a thing of beauty. Nicely animated, too.

      • Bullfrog says:

        I want to say SMod but yeah that’s the one I was thinking of.

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          Graham Smith says:

          SMOD is right. I wish it was easier to find a functioning version of that now.

  2. Abacus says:

    My enjoyment of Doom 2016 would have been astronomical if there had been a dedicated kick button…

    Actually that goes for any first person game. Even the walking sims.

    • KDR_11k says:

      Try Necrovision, that has a kick button. It also has asymmetric dual wielding (shovel and pistol? sure)

  3. Smion says:

    Mighty foot engaged. (It is indeed very joyous.)

  4. ResonanceCascade says:

    *re-installing*

  5. poliovaccine says:

    This article has inspired me to work the phrase “the icing on the shoe” into my own personal vernacular. Also, hell yes, this game was awesome.

  6. wwarnick says:

    One of my favorite games. The story wasn’t great and some of the voice acting stunk, but the combat was so fun. Even aside from the kicking, there was so much you could do, like putting ice in front of a fire and watching enemies slip into it. Or putting a line of oil at the top of a staircase, alerting the orcs at the bottom of the stairs, then lighting the oil on fire and kicking a post to let a bunch of barrels roll down the stairs (on fire) towards the orcs. Awesome game. My biggest disappointment with Dishonored was that Arcane did away with what made their combat so fun.

    • Lieutenant_Scrotes says:

      In Dishonoured 2, if you’re playing as Corvo, there is a ‘Blink Assault’ upgrade for the teleport that allows you to kick enemies (sending them flying) as you emerge from a teleport. It is extremely satisfying, especially as the scenery tends to be destructible. Gave me a strong sense of Dark Messiah nostalgia when I first unlocked it.

  7. mavrik says:

    I think one of the best moments in DMoMM was when I was running around some steep cliff path and wandered into a room full of orcs (or goblins or somesuch). I immediately “NOPE!”‘d out of it and shot an orc with the ice magic. It missed him, but hit the ground in front of him. Which then made him and other three orcs slip and slide directly off the path into the abyss. I couldn’t stop laughing for 10 minutes.

    DMoMM was full of such moments :)

  8. gwop_the_derailer says:

  9. Fadakar says:

    I bought this game at launch almost 11 years ago but I just recently finished it for the first time last year. I remember I was waiting for a new build before playing the game so I waited a month after buying it to try it out, memory leaks up the ass by chapter 2. Turned my game into a slideshow.

    I know everyone here has their own ritual as to what to run first after you upgrade your PC, after Dark Messiah, my post-upgrade ritual was to see if the memory leaks still occurred. Finally this last year I managed to not experience any leaks and I cranked that shit out as fast as I could before something could get in the way and fuck it up again.

    Game is truly a masterpiece, going through it brought me back 10 years as I sat in front of my PC as a kid using demos instead of full titles to fill my time where I spent no less than 50 hours in the demo.

    The only “shooter” since this to gain my excitement the way Dark Messiah did was Bulletstorm but I felt that it was shallow and the combat became tedious after a little. I don’t think I could ever get bored of Dark Messiah’s combat.

  10. DingDongDaddio says:

    Ahh man… this is one I’ve always wanted to play but never got around to it. Now the boot is the only thing on my mind. I’m sold.

  11. Darth Gangrel says:

    It’s one of my favorite games, because of the ability to actually treat enemies as physics objects instead of immovable blocks.

    In F.E.A.R, I used the slide kick almost all the time, since it was so fun.

    Similarly, the tactic I found most enjoyable in Deus Ex: HR was throwing heavy items at enemies, because why not mix in some over-the-top slapstick in your cyberpunk story.

  12. Flopdong says:

    I remember when this game came out, and nearly every review gave it ~6/10 score because the kick was by far the most useful move in the game. Funny how the tides have turned, and now that same feature is the games greatest strength

  13. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Didn’t you guys already run an article like this?

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      PC Gamer did a couple of years ago, you may be thinking of that.

  14. Malagate says:

    This is an article that has definitely existed on RPS before, kind of sad that over ten years later this game’s legacy is “Boot to the face, forever”.

    Whenever I think back to it now, putting aside all the day one bugs and the lack of further content from Ubisoft (there were complaints on the Ubi forums that DMoM&M PC players were beta testers for the console version), I just keep on comparing this to Arx Fatalis…sure, Dark Messiah is a fun action game, if that game play was in an RPG like Arx I’d be thrilled.

    Also I pretty much never see any articles about the Multiplayer side of Dark Messiah, that existed you know. Sure, it didn’t have the boot of death, I still think there’s something to be said for having a multiplayer mode which plays like an FPS but with swords and magic.

    I’ll never forget playing around on an empty server with my best mate, just mucking around in a mage on mage fight (lightning vs fire), when I finally get the hang of guiding fireballs and manage launch one from outside a church, bend it through a doorway, straight down a corridor and in to my mate’s face. More crazy magic games like that please.

    • haldolium says:

      The MP was pretty nice actually. Bit heavy in favoring Mages and the Crusade mode had people leaving often in between and source map loading times weren’t a great help here either. But it was great to have a more complex objective based mode instead of just simple TDM/DM and the usual “we got multiplayer” half-assed additions.

  15. kameradoktorn says:

    I bought this game a year ago, after watching a short lets play of the middle section. I didn´t know if i would like it, and I most definitely thought that it would feel aged. But I still felt I wanted to play it because it looked so nice and fluid. And… It was very much enjoyable. Amazing that games can hold the test of time so well, this game, it´s really fun. And of course, don´t mind the graphics, they´re good enough. Fluid gameplay still to this day, I recommend it very much! Shilling over and out..

  16. Lieutenant_Scrotes says:

    Worth mentioning that Dead Island: Riptide has a similarly effective skill for one of it’s characters called the ‘Big Boot’. I had a ridiculous amount of fun using it on human enemies and sending them flying off ledges etc.

    The kick in Dying Light while not as kinetic is still a lot of fun in the right circumstances.

  17. Kollega says:

    21 comment about kicking people in first-person games, and only one passing mention of Bulletstorm? For shame! Bulletstorm’s kick is up there with the greats. I mean, it doesn’t just make your enemies fly away, it puts them in slow-motion! How cool is that? And how cool is the fact that all the “personal space invader” enemies that run up to you and punch you in the face can be dealt with by elegantly kicking them into nearby giant cacti, protruding rebar, or exposed electrical wiring? It’s half the fun in the game that the melee move is so cool, powerful, useful, and easy to use. Especially when it also works great for setting up Skillshot kills, giving it tactical value beyond merely kicking away gangbangers wielding huge axes.

    • Chaz says:

      Or err Duke Nukem. Surely that lays first claim to the FPS boot in the face action.

      • Kollega says:

        That is true, but from what I know, it’s twofold. Duke Nukem infented the FPS boot kick, and Bulletstorm re-invented it. In fact, this is the reason why the Duke DLC for Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition getting phoned in is kind of a bummer. I feel that the latter game is building on the former in interesting ways (in that for Duke, the boot kick is a combat ability, while for Grayson, who needs to set up skillshot kills so that he can score points to re-arm with, and fights in a world full of environmental hazards, it’s a tactical ability).

        However, I will definitely give it to you that only one mention of Duke, and indirect one at that, in these comments is also a glaring omission.

      • DEspresso says:

        You forgot to mention the greatest detail about DukeNukem3ds Boot. You had two options: Select the Melee weapon and use the fire key to kick or use the quickkey for an instant kick while holding another weapon.

        The Beauty was they did not use the same leg. Melee used the right one and quick the left one. So the superacrobatic doublekick was born.

        Good Times.

  18. Ferno says:

    Oh my gosh I loved this game so much. It just let you have such fun with its mechanics. My favourite escapade was luring an unwitting orc to slip on ice into the secret room I’d found. Unfortunately for him the roof of the room was slowly lowering, and while I’d grabbed all the loot, he couldn’t quite fit out. I watched his angry face vanish and cackled with glee. I’m a bad person, but then, that’s in fitting with the game’s story.

  19. Someoldguy says:

    I remember being entertained by the solid 7/10 Crusaders of Might and Magic but never got this one. Looks great! I shall add it to my huge list of games I ought to play.

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    Carra says:

    I played this game for the first time a couple of years ago. And it was pretty good, even if it was already over 10 years old.

    The melee combat felt satisfying. Enough so that I actually finished the game!

  21. jeremyalexander says:

    If they reduced the power of the kick and gave your enemies a chance to block and counter throwing you back, or knocking you down, it would make a great addition to the Elder Scrolls style combat system.

  22. oceanclub says:

    I would help Kickstart a spiritual successor in a heartbeat. No other game since has combined multiple forms of combat with a Heath Robinson environment of things to drop on/spike/burn enemies with.

    P.

  23. Urthman says:

    On top of the way the environments are designed for creative combat, the levels mostly (the spider caves are a notorious nightmare) have really interesting design with lots of secret places, multiple routes, and areas that loop back on themselves in interesting ways.