In 1986. a small studio named New World Computing developed an interesting role-playing game for MS-DOS. Of course, we are talking about Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum. Or simply known as Might and Magic.
Widely praised for it’s great open world mechanics, the game allowed the player to free map exploration. Not only that, Might and Magic brought the possibility to choose race, gender and alignment to the character and actively incorporating it in the game mechanics.
Keep in mind that this was 8 years before the first Elder Scrolls installment. Yep, and many of you think that Morrowind or Oblivion are revolutionary for the genre. Yet, Might and Magic series is not the biggest achievement of that small New World Computing studio. Not by a long shot…
Might and Magic Rolls D20
Actually, what NWC did was to create a spinoff that was able to revolutionize another genre. The turn-based strategy genre to be precise. It is rare to see a game that is part of a well established franchise be more successful than the game which spawned it. The New World Computing was somehow able to role critical on the D20 that day and on that hot August in 1995. release Heroes of Might and Magic: A Strategic Quest.
And what a strategic quest that was. The idea was simple, you have heroes that can recruit armies and fight for towns, lands and resources. But the geniuses behind the game used elements from many other genres, adding a special character to the game which no other could emulate even today.
Heck, even the new HoMM games aren’t able to recreate the faintest feeling of the first three installments. Probably because no one from the original team still works on the series, and that makes me sad. So what made the Heroes of Might and Magic great?
Well, hard to say, but I can mention a few things. First of all, it was the relatively simple mechanics that used “easy to learn, hard to master” concept. The setting was simply awesome but that was kinda cheating. Since we were already hooked on Might and Magic to begin with. But most of all, it was the well implemented “Jack of all trades, master of none” approach.
Many of you won’t agree with this statement, but it’s actually true. Character level up system was great, but not deep, combat system was relatively simple, and so was the spell system… We can say the same thing town building, and resource managing. Still, with some magic (and might, lol) from New World Computing we got the best turn-based strategies of all time.
Above all there is something that many of us don’t remember. These were the times before the internet. Yes, it sounds like the time before electricity, but back then if you wanted to play something with your friends or family on PC, there wasn’t much you could play in co-op.
And this is where HoMM shined. Not too slow paced to make other players bored, yet complex and random enough that you can play for years and change different strategies and approaches to the game. Also, the world was visually so engaging that you could lose yourself in it for days.
On top of that, one of the best soundtracks in any game series, period. For me, there was another factor. The fact that I played HoMM with my friends instead of some console game for peasants made me feel like I made a better choice.
A One Hit Wonder?
But I don’t think those guys from NWC were just some bunch of lucky idiots who made all those great things by accident. Surely, all their project tragically failed in the end, and they were acquired by other companies. First by 3DO, than by Ubisoft.
The thing is, when you create something, pray to god that your first creation isn’t so magnificent that you cannot one up it later. That’s what happened to the guys who made Might and Magic and consequently Heroes of Might and Magic. By the third title in their respective series, the games was so much ahead of their time that NWC never caught up. Not even with creations of their own.