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Might & Magic II (Apple II) artwork

Might & Magic II (Apple II) review

"Might and Magic II overcompensates wildly for its predecessor's insane difficulty, and the poetry even scans and rhymes. With more organized and rewarding side quests, you won't notice how stupid the two new character classes are. The formula remains intact: FPRPG, five towns, several castles with quests, dungeons that may or may not be relevant, and all manner of weird nooks that give items or raise attributes--temporarily or permanently. While it's not appreciably bigger than the original, MM2..."

Might and Magic II overcompensates wildly for its predecessor's insane difficulty, and the poetry even scans and rhymes. With more organized and rewarding side quests, you won't notice how stupid the two new character classes are. The formula remains intact: FPRPG, five towns, several castles with quests, dungeons that may or may not be relevant, and all manner of weird nooks that give items or raise attributes--temporarily or permanently. While it's not appreciably bigger than the original, MM2 has more to do and it's better organize and much more forgiving in combat. It even looks better!

With your obligatory central starting town and four others in each corner of the map, MM2 establishes how its main puzzles will work. Each town corresponds to an element, and a quest for one element has parallels with the other three. Portals between the towns are available for a modest fee, though the Keep Atlantium Beautiful committee's is one way--dumping you back at Middlegate.

Character improvement is not hard even if you look to map every square--and for a fee of ten gold, auto-mapping helps. Each character gets two skills, which can help them cut through mountains or forests or even bump up their stats. Even character creation is easy, as you can swap statistics for a candidate to get what you want. Combat's usually a breeze, too, as you can hold control-a for the easy ones, and everyone gangs up on the lead enemy. You can even flee most of the time, too.

Traveling through each town, there'll be dungeons, and even some NPCs that can fill the last two of eight slots. These guys, paid when the party rests (and there are ways around THAT) are occasionally handy and fun to find. They're generally hostages, and the tougher the enemy, the better the companion. The first NPCs under the Middlegate dungeon can be rescued by jump spells (2 squares forward) and no combat. Later, Bozorc the Orc and 110 of his underlings guard Red Duke and Dead Eye. Parties that ate the right entree at the town tavern may find other NPCs--or, on other squares, get attacked by vengeful--if weak--monsters.

MM2 also offers an interesting spell-gaining system where, at odd levels, spellcasters gain new spell levels. However, they usually just get the lame ones. Temples and Mage guilds sell the middling ones, but tough monster fights in odd corners guard the toughest ones. The best spell costs ten years of each party member's life--it allows a sorcerer to improve an item from +1 to +2, and so forth. Thankfully, there's a clerical spell to reverse aging. Other spells include Lloyd's Beacon, which lets you establish a place to return. An Archer, who gets some sorcerer spells, can team with a Sorcerer to teleport between safe and dangerous places as needed. Holy Word destroys all undead enemies. Kill-em-all spells can even wipe out the "+38 goblins" beyond the ten monsters shown in combat, as long as enemies start off getting killed.

Many quests from the castles are based on the map that comes with the game; swords will be hidden in the map, and big monsters are rather more obvious. And best of all, there's always more than one way to find the clues for a quest. While MM1 put an obscure, cryptic clue on one side of the world for a quest on the other, MM2 generally has a clue in a tavern or dungeon and another on the outside. The interleaf quests also are more compact; there'll be nine messages that seem to be gibberish, scattered in a 20x20 area. Putting them in top to bottom order lets you read words above to below, but of course, cryptologists can figure the order without the final clue. Similarly, the symmetry of the quests should make it obvious that finding the Air Talon means there's a Fire Talon and so forth.

Most creative, though, are the class-specific quests. There are seven, with robbers able to assist anyone. So only knights and robbers may fight the Dread Knight. Many classes have a fight, and the right magic items make each one easy. Every party member needs to complete a quest to win the game, but if you don't have a ninja, you don't need to win the ninja quest. Here the game's pretty sure you'll need a cleric and sorcerer, so these two are the hardest. Sorcerers must work through mathematical riddles in two different castles or be slowed by encounters, then rescue the wizards Ybmug and Yekop. Clerics must rescue Corak's Soul, which requires finding several items elsewhere and crushing some undead monsters. Each quest also gives the characters five million experience points, so anyone figuring a quick way through can avoid a lot of drudgery.

Eventually the elemental-themed puzzles come together, and the party gains access to a time machine, and they find King Kalohn's Orb in a swamp dungeon. Finding this and outsmarting the game requires clever problem solving even after finding the items to wrest it free--basically, the party can't teleport out or use the exits while they have the orb. Other earlier puzzles for powerful items hint at the solution. Here, at the end, the game goes off the rails a bit--the party goes back in time to help King Kalohn win the fight he lost, and once they solve quests to make them "worthy," bam--off they go to the final cavern, where a cryptological puzzle awaits: solve in fifteen minutes or die!

This makes MM2, played once, a solidly exciting game. But replay it, and see why it's crazy. Castle Xabran in the year 800--a hundred years before the game--provides a bigger time paradox. The castle holds several important items needed to change history, but corridors also describe where to get all NPCs as well as Cleric and Sorcerer spells. Explanations would ruin this neat, if flawed idea. Pools two levels below castles can change gender or alignment, which is handy when finding that +31 golden ancient bow only evil characters can use. Some areas explicitly forbid a certain race or class, and they may add hit points or give neat attribute-boosting items.

Still more fun is starting quickly. But entrepreneurs may target items from town armories as investments. A party can gain temporary levels with skill potions (a bargain at 500 gold) and visit an arena with a ticket for a fixed combat. Fight difficulty/reward is based on a combination of these factors. You can hit control-a to speed through combats and presto, you make X gold! Then, for those who have already played, a teleport orb comes in handy. Locations in simple dungeons improve a party's attributes permanently by ten. Teleport out and back in, and it works again...up to 59. Cue kicking self for sorcerer's initial 20 intelligence.

Later on, in the trickier castle dungeons, you can trade five of one attribute for three of another. And any party can use the fountain outside Atlantium that improves all attributes to 100, or they can hopscotch over tough fights to reach an emergency lever in the Dragon's Dominion that gives everyone a thousand extra hit points. Running through there should allow the party to buy all spells for two million gold, two levels below a castle. A fellow called the Cuisinart may, if you're lucky, frenzy at your young party. This kills him, and survivors split twenty million experience! Just be sure the chest trap doesn't kill your party and you'll get some grossly powerful items. He's also two squares from a sector border, meaning you can exit and return, and the area resets.

All this makes the disk-swapping gold-doubling trick from MM1--necessary, with the gold-to-experience Fountain of Dragadune By level 80 the party needs 16 million gold per level, and trying the trick just rolls the gold over--16 million being 24 bits. Thus MM2's fountain is worthless. Armor class can roll its byte over pretty easily, too, making that +25 shield worse than useless and that super-magic two-handed weapon a win-win.

Yet for all the stratospheric improvement MM2 allows, I seem to stumble on odd things like simplifying the Sorcerer quest (bring a sorcerer and really good robber and hide from fights.) And it boomerangs just as viciously. Even the least risky of four player-controlled play options forces level 80+ parties into fighting 250 orcs, which is tiresome, or eight cuisinarts, which is lethal. Some monsters are immune to magic weapons, some to non-magic. If both appear in a fight, the party's probably toast. While fixed fights quickly get easy, random fights get too crazy if the party gets too good. Every enemy has special abilities like stealing all your gold, spellcasting gems or food, and some even damage statistics.

This only partially dents MM2's jokes, with Burma-Shave type sign sequences even up to the final confrontation with Sheltem in Square Lake. The most powerful NPC, Mr. Wizard, is guarded by a Queen Beetle (38 experience!) The eccentric Murray allows you to steal his gold or drink his Goofy Juice for a quick level boost--each zaps your statistics, one permanently. Each Castle lord has his own eccentricities--one stores monsters, another stashes items, and the areas below are sillier, with oddballs offering you transport to the next dungeon over, and maps that spell out clues. And if it can be a pain to swap among the five game disks--even with two disk drives--the extra attention to graphics makes for a far cheerier game, with animated cripples or blonde (yellow was RARE on the Apple) sorceresses.

MM2, by the end, breaks many rules except for the main one: BE INTERESTING. Technically, MM3 through 5 are superior. They keep the Might & Magic formula but have intricate plots, and there's no magical overnight improvement. MM2's wild excesses, though, give the series what it needs and vindicate anyone who suffered through MM1. I don't know any Apple II RPG I've replayed more than Might and Magic II. It's always fun to try to solve it quicker than last time. It's that crazy drunk game I can take for a brief fling and not feel guilty junking.


aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (December 05, 2009)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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CoarseDragon posted December 07, 2009:

Good review not completely spoiler free not I guess that's OK for a game this old. I loved this game by the way. I am pretty sure I have played through this one more than any other game. Some of random battles were a pain but outside Moon Ray really helped. And don't get me started on those Jugglers.
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aschultz posted December 08, 2009:

Ooh...the Jugglers. That's when I think MM2 was at its best. Just doing weird, low level stuff that may have been physically impossible but presented interesting puzzles. (Gosh, maybe sentences like this could've succinctified the review!)

Apparently the Apple and PC handle experience very differently, making for different games. But I do love how MM2 has some basic and clear violations of logic--and that for the most part adds to the game.

As for spoilers, I think it's only in retrospect--people find out about the Worthy quests quickly. Maybe I can get rid of the bit about King Kalohn. I'll see.
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CoarseDragon posted December 08, 2009:

Yeah, perhaps using his name was a bit to revealing but the way-back machine was cool.
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aschultz posted December 08, 2009:

I forgot about Moon Ray...that is a good spell. Low level healing and damage, which wakes your unconscious characters up and nails the enemies.

Unfortunately the really neat places below in the castle leave you in a bind. It took me forever to map out the Castle areas. It seems you really have to use the archer's shoot-and-fight capabilities, or waste an NPC slot.

I remember getting mail from other people about the 66 Devil Kings and the Mega Dragon fight if you don't give King Kalohn the orb. I really should try byte editing now that AppleWin has save states, to see if there's anything special.

MM2 is a lot of fun even though the story is a bit silly. It broke a lot of walls that more traditional or, possibly, better games did not. I consider it almost-great but it clearly tackles stuff great games don't. It's perhaps the biggest jump I've seen from one game in a series to the next.
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CoarseDragon posted December 08, 2009:

The story was a bit silly but it did lead the franchise forward to other games and into a quasi-sci-fi state, which I was Ok with. Many inside jokes puns made the game fun to play. Being able to teleport around and the most essential Lloyd's Beacon made the game a real joy for me. I guess I liked the adventure and danger they put in the game. I can not think of another where the risk/rewards were so interesting.

In the desert area (you may know about) I did find many devils and other nasties while looking for treasure. There were indeed many nasty things in the game. Don't off hand recall the orb incident you mention however. Guess I need to try that out or maybe I just forgot about it.
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sashanan posted December 09, 2009:

Apparently the Apple and PC handle experience very differently, making for different games. But I do love how MM2 has some basic and clear violations of logic--and that for the most part adds to the game.

Can't vouch for this, but I *can* confirm that the two versions I own - PC and Sega Genesis - play very differently. PC version has party formations with front row and back row characters, with the back row only able to attack with bows, and some spells not working if you're in the front row (and others only if you are). Only front row characters get struck though. Genesis has no rows and enemies just attack your characters in order, and the point of bows is pretty much lost.

Some monsters have their abilties switched around - dare I say juggled - too. It's funny the Juggler was named as a specific example as he's only annoying in the Genesis version, where he inflicts a bundle of status effects, and completely "are you freaking crazy" deadly in the PC version where a group of Jugglers starts the battle by all juggling all party members for serious damage, leaving you most likely dead before you got to do a damn thing.

M&M2 is odd, it's often fluky, the best fun is to be had in all the ways in which it can be deliciously broken, so your final conclusion that the game breaks all rules except for being interesting is dead on. I do have to wonder how many of the things you refer to in your review - things familiar to me and bringing out the nostalgic knowing smile at least twice a paragraph - are going to be comprehensible to someonw unfamiliar with the game, though. Then again, the audience for a review like this IS people like me, who even if they don't know the specific game do have a grasp of the tropes of RPGs of this era. So I may be worrying too much.
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sashanan posted December 09, 2009:

On the topic of the Orb: approaching the king without the Elemental Orb lets you witness (in text only) how the Mega Dragon kills him and then turns its attention to you. It's largely immune to your attacks although I think there are one or two spells that do cause some damage - but the little guidebook I had for the Genesis version once suggested the beast has 64000 HP. If it's possible to kill it, it's probably only through liberal cheating, and knowing M&M2 I suspect it will just give you a bundle of exp and treasure but not advance the story any so that you still cannot continue until you return to the area WITH the Orb.

I still can't believe that the only way to GET the Orb in the first place is through a trick that feels like a game exploit all the way. Just goes to show how the minds of those developers worked, and how all the other game breakers that are possible are very likely intentional.
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aschultz posted December 09, 2009:

I think the orb puzzle is fair--given that NPCs are a new feature, there's probably some way you -need- to use them.

And the Snowbeast "puzzle" is a cool one early on--the one where guards arrest you if you steal the Emerald Ring and then try to walk back to the inn. (note--an exploit allows you to take 6 NPCs and get 6 Emerald Rings, dismissing them one at a time.) Getting the orb mirrors getting the emerald ring. Although I admit, at first, I just tried to run from the Snowbeasts. Which worked too.

I probably should proofread this review and look at all the stuff that was mentioned. The stories did get better as the series went on.
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sashanan posted December 10, 2009:

Well see, this is you thinking like a programmer, I'd say (and I know all about thinking like a programmer, being one and all). An item cannot be removed from a dungeon because the exit is sealed for as long as you carry it and all relocation spells are disabled. But putting it on an NPC and dismissing him works because dismissing him is not using a spell or trying to walk through the exit, it warps them back to the nearest inn. Makes total sense from that perspective.

But for an average gamer, I'd say this should feel off. How DOES the NPC leave? It is never stated or implied by the game that in the reality of the game world, they "warp" the way they actually do in terms of programming. Realistically they'd slip out - through the exit that is sealed because they are carrying the Orb. The fact that that doesn't occur always felt to me more like a "heh, they overlooked that possibility" than a case of gameplay and story segregation. In fact, I did discover this fact (or maybe it was spoiled for me, long time ago, not sure anymore) but at the time figured it an exploit, and only learned later that it's the only solution to the puzzle.

Then again, and this is probably how it was intended, eventually it's something you'll try for lack of any better ideas.
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CoarseDragon posted December 10, 2009:

That was rather odd but then again there were so many odd things in the game that seemed normal.

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