Might and Magic: Swords of Xeen

Developer/Publisher:  New World Computing
Year Released:  1995

Review by Clint Mullins (January, 1996)
I spent some time searching for this game after seeing messages about it on the internet Role-Playing Game newsgroup. Eventually I discovered it was on a CD entitled "Might and Magic Trilogy" for the bargain price of $50 here in Australia. It appears that a group of fans were given the Might and Magic engine by New World Computing to produce their own adventure.

As far as I can judge Swords of Xeen is bigger than Darkside, the last of the Might and Magic titles, but is only mentioned on the box as an extra scenario. The CD includes Might and Magic 3 (Isles of Terra), 4 (Clouds of Xeen) and 5 ( Darkside of Xeen). I own these adventures anyway but I still purchased the combination CD as it is excellent value for a good collection of role playing games. The comments I make about gameplay in this review of Swords apply to the other three adventures as well.

You don't need a Pentium
These games will run on very low spec systems. The box suggests they will even run on a 286 with 2 meg of ram.(4 meg recommended). I have recently upgraded to a Pentium but I used to run this series very well on a 486 SX25. This will, however, make it obvious that these games are not 360 degree SVGA interactive movie epics ... but then again so what? They are beautifully constructed and amazingly addictive. I've been playing Swords while Stonekeep, Thunderscape and Crusader, No Remorse have been waiting patiently for some attention.

The World of Xeen is in deep trouble again and it falls on your shoulders once more to come to the rescue. You command a party of six adventurers. You start with a default party but I suggest you drop them off at the nearest inn and create your own. Character creation is a simple affair but you can spend a long time trying to get those roles just right. As usual you will need fighters, spellcasters and thieves. I found that fighting types who can cast spells such as paladins are a real advantage instead of barbarians or knights. Pick at least one sorcerer, one cleric and one thief. You will need them. You can create both male and female classes of different races.

Combat is turn based with a suitably useful interface from which you can attack, change equipment, use special objects, cast spells or run away. There is a vast amount of special armours, weapons, charms, medallions and special quest objects. You are given many mini-quests which are recorded in your journal and quest objects go to a special menu so that you cannot accidentally throw them at some big, hairy ogre.

No frills ... but lots of thrills
The graphics are very two dimensional and the animation is rather dated but they are colourful and have a cartoon like quality. The main game window is approximately one third of the screen. Sound too, is quite basic but functional. When approaching the cities you may encounter a full screen graphic of a guard who sounds very much like Arnie in Terminator 2. Be warned ... if you are not carrying a pass he will tell you to leave with a VERY strong expletive.

The gameplay, however, is what counts and I have always enjoyed these games. Certain areas of the game are just too hard at lower experience levels, but you will quickly discover which and there always seems to be somewhere else to explore. There are magic wells scattered liberally throughout the game world where you can get temporarily increased powers. This involves quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing as you replenish your skills. There is also a very useful spell that enables you to teleport to the spot where you first set it. The spell's name is "Lloyd's Beacon". In Swords you are prevented from returning to the city of Hart early in the game ... if you cast this spell in the city before leaving you will not regret it later.

Navigation and skills
Auto mapping is a good old fashioned top down affair with coordinates to help you find your way around. There is also a spell that will reveal areas you have not yet visited. This is very useful! Another nice touch is that even though you have the experience points you do not go up a level until you can find a trainer. He wants money too, no free rides here, and he may not have the skills to train you past a certain level.

The puzzles in the game are quite varied from riddles and anagrams to secret doors and levers. None would be too taxing for regular role-players but would be a challenge nevertheless. The emphasis is balanced nicely between combat, puzzles and exploration. Compared with the previous games about half the monsters are new. One series of monsters are morphs and change to another form when you hit them, I thought this was a interesting idea.

A Mighty game package
All the games in this package install to your hard drive and will not play off the CD. Clouds and Darkside (4 and 5) can be installed together to make a mighty World of Xeen. If you have the space I suggest you do this as there are more subquests AND you can flit between the two worlds gaining experience as you go.

If you enjoyed the Might and Magic series you will enjoy Swords of Xeen. If anything, I think it may be slightly tougher than the rest of the series and the puzzles a little more devious. It was, after all, written by a group of gamers. I'm not sure if it is available anywhere else except the trilogy CD, but 4 good games at such a price is great value. On the other hand, if you want something in a similar vein but more up to date checkout Anvil of Dawn by the same company. It is brilliant (but that's another story). rating:  

Copyright © Clint Mullins 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Swords of Xeen is on the Might and Magic Trilogy 286, 2MB RAM (4MB recommended), 15 MB hard drive space, CD-ROM, DOS 5.0, VGA