Might and Magic: Combat

Combat mode in Might and Magic differs from that in Wizardry in a couple of important respects. For one thing, you don’t set the actions of all your characters at the same time and then watch them play out: instead, actions are immediately executed when chosen, a much easier and more intuitive way of going about things. The Wizardry model inevitably resulted in wasted spells, cast at monsters that had already been killed.

Also significant: no stacks. Each enemy is an individual, and can be targeted individually. Monsters still come in groups, though — an encounter might involve four clerics and six ghouls, for example, but they’re listed as ten creatures, not two stacks. The result can be daunting: it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when the list of monsters takes up three times as many lines on the screen as your party, even though the real consequence of listing them like that is a hard limit, and a rather small one, on the number of individual monsters you can face at a time. I don’t know of any other Wizardry-like RPG that takes this approach — certainly The Bard’s Tale stacks its monsters — so it’s a little ironic to note where the license ultimately went, with stacks containing creatures by the hundred in the Heroes of Might and Magic games.

Now, other games use monster stacks as spell targets, giving you a middle ground between spells that affect one creature and spells that affect all creatures. Lacking stacks, Might and Magic instead takes as its middle ground spells that affect a specific number of monsters, starting with one individual that you select and proceeding down the list from there. This can cross what would otherwise be stack boundaries, but sometimes it’s limited by whether the targets are in melee range or not (that is, whether they’re in what I’ve called the “front row”). Of particular interest is a pair of third-level direct damage spells, Lightning Bolt and Fireball. They have the same mana cost and do the same amount of damage (barring elemental resistance), but Fireball affects five targets and Lightning Bolt only three. The drawback of Fireball is that you can’t use it safely on front-row targets. The manual makes it sound like you can’t use it on the front row at all, and there are certainly other spells like that, which simply fail if given an invalid target. But I know from experience that it is possible to fireball the front row — it just has the consequence that your party is caught in the blast as well. At any rate, the consequnce is that I tend to use Lightning Bolt a lot more, but possibly only because I’ve mainly been exploring the outdoors; Fireball is more useful underground, where the front row tends to be smaller.

The whole concept of front/back row is pretty important in combat. There are a lot of monsters that only have melee attacks. If you can disable the entire front row (say, with a Sleep spell), you can often pick off the ones waiting in the rear in relative safety. But this tactic has become less viable as I’ve gotten further into the game, because (a) most monsters at my level can resist Sleep, (b) more of the powerful monsters have ranged attacks and/or spells, and (c) some monsters are capable of pushing ahead in line when they want to. I don’t know quite what the deal is with point c — maybe all monsters can do this, maybe it only fails when the guy they want to push aside is immobilized for some reason. You can do the same thing with the party, although repositioning a character uses up their action for that round. Early on, I frequently swapped hurt characters to the back row in the middle of combat this way. But this is another thing that’s become less useful over time, as the fighter-types got better armor and the back-row spellcasters didn’t.

1 Comment so far

  1. Lucian Smith on 29 Jan 2010

    As someone who joined the franchise at Might and Magic IV (And HOMM II), this is a fascinating look back to the origin of the series. I’ll say for the record that while HOMM did indeed go the hundreds-of-unstacked-monsters route, M&M itself never did–and in fact, the whole front row/back row thing is missing; monsters are just placed on the map and either come at you (if they only have melee attacks) or try to circle around you (if they have distance attacks). (The way they circle is hard-coded into the individual monster–Sara and I would dub them ‘right-going Zax’ and ‘left-going Zax’.)

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