You will need:
(1) One copy of Might and Magic III (£35.99)
(2) One megabyte of memory (peeled and stoned)
(3) One (fresh) external drive plus two (lightly toasted) formatted named floppies OR one hard drive (with at least five megs free space)
Fortunately these are the sort of requirements that are unlikely to have out-budgeted serious RPG fans in the past (surely they would make a wise upgrade anyway?), so we should look at is the actual game; a straight RPG following the well-worn path trodden by the likes of Dungeon Master, Bloodwych, Black Crypt, Abandoned Places and most recently the perfectly-formed Eye of the Beholder 2.
Whether M&M III out-RPGs this current best-of--the-bunch is rather a moot point though. Consider Beholder 2 for a minute: how would you explain toa complete newcomer exactly what you have to do? Come on. Try. Practice on your teddy bear. The chances are you'd come up with something like "well, you have to walk around a maze killing people".
Asked to expand, you'd probably mention pressure-pad and lever-related puzzles, you might drop in a snippet on communicating with other characters or on spells or on the different locations, but, well, walking around a maze killing people is what it is about really. Teddy will not be impressed (although I'd be impressed to meet your talking talking teddy - Ed.) It's not just I'm knocking Beholder 2 (a great game indeed, as its 86 percent score and appropriate chart placing quite rightly show) - it's just that, from teddy's point of view, surely there should be more depth to an RPG?
Indeed there should, and as if by magic, here's Magic III - an RPG with enough depth to allow experienced gamers to dive right on in, but at the other end, shallow enough for beginners to wade in slowly, avoid getting their hair wet and take the time to double-check that they've done their trunks up tightly enough.
Perhaps at this point in the review you would be interested to know how far through the game I got. Assuming you would, let's begin. The adventure unfolds as a series of inter-related quests. As you solve them, new ones appear, pointing you in the right direction to locate more. The first was to locate Morphose, the protector of Fountain Head (your starting village), and release him from the clutches of the evil Rat Overlord.
It even feels quite realistic
Wandering around the auto-mapping village, I came across Kanion the Skull Master who, in my second quest, required five silver skulls to complete his statue. Leaving Fountain Head, I burnt down several hideaways to gain booty, experience and some extra weapons - including a flamberge (answers on a postcard) - enough to be able to take out my welcoming committee in the ancient Temple of Moo, where the skulls were lying. Back to the city, I handed over the skulls to Kanion. He gave me a password which let me pass the altars in the caverns below the village.
I trained my characters in the training grounds, created two more at the Inn, bought access to the Guild, added to my spells and even managed to take out a party of undead skeletons in the arena. A few spells later I was down the pit and into the caverns below the city, where my party had become strong enough to withstand the blows of the deadly swinging pendulums and the attack of many a killer moose-rat. I located (and killed) the Rat Overlord, and rescued Morphose and was given a new quest.
A 24-squared map consisting of 13 islands should give you an idea of how large the playing area is - all the above took place in little more than two squares, and thinking about it, I'm not sure that I'm a twelfth of the way through the adventure yet. It is also perfectly possible to sniff out other (nearish) locations to get a taste of what's to come. Although still of the 'solve puzzles in one location then move on' style, the gameplay takes place in far less tight a way than Beholder with its 'work out how to open this door or get past this pit or - ha! - you won't be able to get any further' puzzles, and that's what makes Magic more a far more realistic experience, and hence, for me, the superior game.
Size and flexibility aren't the only things Magic waves ostentatiously over the heads of its counterparts. Its control system is also a gem to use - and so, for once, is the method of combat too. Here, a quick fight option can be set (annoyingly, only after you've actually entered battle though) - choose each character's most effective method of attack, be it with weapons or by repeated casting of a certain spell. As soon as you are attacked, simply press the right-hand mouse button - the computer cycles through the characters and each one lets the enemy have it with the method you've just defined.
For the less tame enemies, you'll probably want to be more specific with your attacking moves, and so you can call up each character separately and decide to attack with a certain weapon, cast a certain spell (if you're a spellcaster), or run away as you see fit. Luckily the enemy stop as soon as any lists appear so there's none of that frantic weapon-selecting business you get in certain other RPGs I could mention.
In fact if you try to be too quick then you may face problems - the control buffer is prone to filling up, throwing you into a state of confusion whilst the Amiga tries to catch up with your button clicks or key presses - on more than one occasion the entire game even locked up on me.
Hollywood-based New World Computing have had three attempts to get things right, so they don't really deserve excess congratulations for, well, getting everything (apart from the above niggle) right, really. The graphics of the locations and the characters are excellent (the animation still isn't quite there - nine mooserats waggling their tales in perfect time just looks silly).
The biggest, deepest D&D clone
I might add here that, although using nine disks in all, this game still plays perfectly well from floppies, requiring the absolute minimum number of disk changes, although there is some hefty accessing at times. Actually, I installed part of the game on the RAM disk of my two meg machine and was able to do away with the external drive altogether, but that's just me being smug. (And terribly techie and tedious with it. - Ed)
So, all in all, what have we got? The biggest, the deepest, and the best looking D&D clone to date, that's what. There's room for improvement (artificially intelligent members of your party would be nice - not leaving you to do absolutely everything for them), but surely the next straight D&D clone to come out won't be much of a significant improvement?
What we really need is a completely new approach, something like the 3D cartoonism of Legend, the Gauntlet-style view of Ultima VI of the board-game approach of a Space Crusade.
Whether you agree, and whether you like RPGs in the first place (if you've never tried one, then you really don't know what you're missing - this would be a great one to start with) will determine how high Might and Magic III will be on your shopping list. The 'done-most-of-it-all before' feel of the otherwise (almost) flawless Magic would point me towards one of the other three (Legend, since you ask), but then again, maybe you won't agree. I look forward to finding out from your letters what you thin about it.