What can Dark Messiah: Elements possibly offer us spoilt medieval fantasy gamers that we haven’t seen or done before? In all honesty: not much. At best, Elements is an enjoyable swords-‘n-spells scrapper, and at worst, it’s a dumbed-down Elder Scrolls, minus the constantly inventive free-roaming and incredible depth.
Here, you play as a young acolyte called Sareth, who has recently completed his tutelage under the powerful wizard Phenrig. With a busty sorceress called Xana hidden inside his mind, Sareth is sent to the city of Stonehelm to deliver a crystal to another wizard called Menelag. It’s the kind of mad fantasy nonsense that’s meant to make Tolkien fans weak in the knees, but because it’s so stuffed full of cliches, excruciating acting, and the worst medieval sound bites we’ve ever heard, Dark Messiah will no doubt bore hardcore Hobbit-followers stiff.
The first few levels certainly don’t paint a bright future for the whole adventure. The start is peppered with lengthy loading screens (accompanied by some of the worst scripting we’ve ever seen in a game), poor tutorials and a gauntletful of super-confusing scenarios. Matters are made worse by the fact that compared to the slew of stunning games we were bombarded with at the end of 2007, Dark Messiah is ugly.
Deeper into the game, things start to brighten up, and not just because you escape the dreary dark castle that serves as your surroundings for the introductory stages. Smashing enemies in the face with your weapon of choice is incredibly gratifying, and the variety of attacks and abilities provided by each class means that there’s plenty of potential for bashing through the game a second or even third time. The downside to this class system, however, is that you can only use weapons and magic appropriate to your character - so the Assassin for example, can’t use the Wizard’s staff or even the Archer’s bow or Warrior’s sword and shield.
On the plus side, though, as you level up and gain more abilities this gives you the chance to get more creative with your killing. The Wizard class gains spells to incinerate, trap, and freeze; the Archer gains better accuracy; the Assassin better concealment and so on. You’ll also learn to use environment kills such as pulling down walls and kicking people off ledges to dispatch opponents and this keeps things interesting as the painfully linear levels tick by.
Sadly, for every satisfying kill there’s a frustrating piece of sloppy design just waiting to ruin your fun. Enemy AI is wildly inconsistent. Foes have the cunning to spot you shuffling in the shadows from fifty yards, but once you’re one-on-one, they’ll happily line up and let you boot them into a fire or set of spikes. It’s as if the developer is desperate for you to use its (admittedly great) environment kills at all costs. Then there’s the raft of tiny annoyances that pile up to chip away at any joy built up from cleverly slicing through packs of orcs. Doors open awkwardly towards you, enemy vocals are constantly repeated, and the sexually provocative one-liners Xana comes out with as you navigate each level will make you genuinely embarrassed to be playing.
Ultimately it’s out-dated and out-gunned, so Elements feels like a failure on 360. It may have been a hit on PC two years ago, but since then gaming has moved forward, leaving us wishing for a true sequel to Dark Messiah rather than this half-arsed port.
Feb 12, 2008