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Video Game / Dark Messiah of Might and Magic
aka: Dark Messiah

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Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is a first person Action RPG by Arkane Studios set in the Might and Magic universe. It is in a few ways a bit of Spiritual Successor to Arkane's previous work Arx Fatalis (Itself one of Ultima Underworld, though Dark Messiah has little relation to either of the UU games.). It takes place in Ashan, the same world as the Heroes of Might and Magic V reboot.

The game stars Sareth, a young student of a mage called "Phenrig" trained in both magic and martial arts. After a short training mission where a magic crystal is acquired, Phenrig sends Sareth "half a world away" to locate an artifact known as the "Skull of Shadows" — the crystal being a key to the Skull — with the help of fellow wizard Menelag and his apprentice/niece Leanna. Before Sareth leaves, a woman called "Xana" is fused to his spirit by Phenrig to advise him and provide running commentary.

Combat can be best described seeing the world through the eyes of a Combat Pragmatist. The game is built on Valve Software's Source engine and it makes full use of the engine's physics component. Objects in the world of appropriate size can be picked up and thrown at foes to disrupt them, while strong blows, or the game's dedicated "kick attack", can knock enemies around (this is particularly pronounced with Goblins and Undead due to their lack of bulk), pushing them into traps, bottomless pits or each other. Magic is similarly more than a rocket launcher. Spells allow you to freeze the ground, throw big things around with telekinesis, light your enemies on fire and be a general badass. The environment is often littered with cliffs, barrels, oil pots and spike racks, and the player is given incentive to take advantage of these factors. Enemies are both strong and plentiful and there is no EXP rewarded for killing them, only completing objectives. The player must use everything in their arsenal and all the fun things in the environment to survive fights, especially on higher difficulties.

Arkane Studios was announced to be working on another "immersive first person RPG" in 2009 before their acquisition by Bethesda Softworks, which has since been revealed to be Dishonored.

Provides examples of:

  • All Webbed Up: Spider lairs in Dark Messiah have loads of webbed corpses.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • The Orcs aren't evil, just territorial, and have every good reason to keep you from taking the Skull Of Shadows.
    • Arantir is honestly trying to stop the prophesy from being fulfilled. Which, if you opt to do and release your demonic father, ends up making him the lesser evil.
  • Anti Anti Christ/The Antichrist: Sareth, depending on your choice.
  • Anti-Grinding: Grinding is made completely impossible: XP is awarded only for advancing in the story.
  • Arrows on Fire: If you hold down the attack button to keep your bow drawn, you can set the arrow alight using fires in-game, such as torches. This allows you to deal fire damage and/or set barrels of oil on fire.
  • Artificial Stupidity: The AI doesn't recognize that walking through a burning puddle of oil is a bad idea.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The inferno spell does tremendous damage to a foe standing right in front of you, and blinds you while it is being cast so that you can't see if the foe has stepped back out of the fire. With practice this needn't be a problem however.
  • Back Stab: You can pull off stealth kills once you raise your Sneak skill high enough. Useless Useful Stealth is averted here, this technique works on the Final Boss.
  • Benevolent Architecture: The game features a mechanic where kicking enemies into spikes causes instant death; why the enemies set up racks of spikes in their homes or gardens is never explained.
  • Betty and Veronica: The game presents you with two strongly contrasted female companions in the form of the blonde, goody-two-shoes mage Leanna and the dark-haired, sultry, and Obviously Evil Xana.
  • Beware My Stinger Tail: In your demon form, your charged attack strikes at an enemy with your tail.
  • Big "NO!": Performed by Leanna, if you choose to release your dad.
  • Blade Lock: You can enter a "contest of might" with an opponent where your weapons lock together and you push against each other.
  • Boring, but Practical: Bows are more effective at long range than any spell except lightning, can be fired while remaining stealthy, typically have abundant ammo, and can become very lethal when upgraded. Their downsides over magic is that they'll only ever hit one enemy at a time and aren't going to knock any enemies over, unlike Fireball or Telekinesis. The Archer class in Multiplayer is the most standard to any player with First-Person Shooter experience and has few gimmicks, but is quite effective at dealing ranged damage.
  • Cap: You can only hold 20 of an item at once. This really only becomes an issue with food rations (which all food becomes when picked up) and mana potions for non-pure mages.
  • Character Class: Averted, the game uses a point buy system for abilities. Played straight in the multiplayer though.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Xana, as every other succubus in the series, frequently suggests that Sareth betray his allies, even when they are technically on her side. She will even betray the Demon Sovereign if Sareth chooses to leave his father sealed. Perhaps surprisingly she stays entirely loyal to you throughout the game, even going out of her way to save and revive you when you are killed midway into the game.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Sareth frequently uses his environment to his advantage. This is actually ideal due to a number of factors: for starters, you don't gain EXP from killing enemies, so disposing of them in the quickest way possible is ideal. Secondly, even early on enemies deal a LOT of damage and can block your attacks frequently, making it difficult to win in a straight up fight. Lastly, the game's numerous systems make it easy for a skilled player to dispose of enemies however one wishes, as enemies take lots of damage from falling, being hit with heavy objects, and so on.
  • Critical Hit Class: A player specializing in the Might skill tree can buy two upgrades to their Critical Hit chance. Several weapons such as the, Naga Silk Swords, also increase Crit chance.
  • Dance of Romance: Sareth has a dream where he dances with Leanna in the moonlight as romantic music plays. However, it soon turns to a nightmare.
  • Dark Messiah: Averted. The "Dark Messiah" is not a Messianic Archetype with morally questionable goals, but a demon/human hybrid that will free the demons from their prison; he is not a dark saviour, he is the saviour of the dark. Potentially, anyway.
  • Deconstruction: In a similar vein to Bioshock a year later, a deconstruction of But Thou Must!. You're initially given the impression that you're trying to stop Arantir from enacting an evil plan, but it's revealed halfway through the game that YOU are the Dark Messiah, and that your Affably Evil dad wants you to take up the mantle as the saviour of demonkind, and that you've been set up the entire game by Xana and your teacher to fulfill your destiny. Unfortunately, the plot twist is telegraphed fairly blatantly and loses most of its impact as a result.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Sareth eventually starts responding to Xana's "advice" this way.
    • Xana also has her moments, mostly where Leanna is concerned.
      Leanna: [having pulled Sareth aside to talk] You saved us all. You saved… me.
      Xana: I feel nauseous, wake me when it's over.
  • Devious Daggers: In multiplayer the sneaky 'Assassin' class is the only one that lets the player use daggers. In single player daggers are also associated with stealthy tactics thanks to their exclusive ability to backstab unaware enemies.
  • Draco Lich: The final boss is a Spectral Dragon that Arantir summons to deal with you.
  • Demonic Possession: A benevolent version is used by Xana when you are Impaled with Extreme Prejudice.
  • Dual Wielding: All daggers come in pairs.
  • Duel Boss: The Orc leader Aratrok challenges you to one on the stipulation that you don't use magic. If you don't follow the rules, you will have to face his 4 henchmen along with him, but given that Aratrok is already insanely powerful (one of the few foes that can survive a finisher on normal) with no traps around, it's in your best interest to do so unless you are a pure-mage and can't win the fight normally. To be fair, the way the game works, any character can take advantage of the physics engine.
  • Elemental Powers: The game places heavy emphasis on this, with the three different enemy types (undead, Orcs, and humans) each being weak to a different element (holy, lightning, and fire, respectively). Interestingly, undead are weak to both holy and fire, and striking a ghoul with the Infinity +1 Sword holy weapon lights them on fire.
  • Emergency Transformation: After you are impaled on a spike, Xana saves you by Demonic Possession, turning you into a demon.
  • Escort Mission: Leanna is subject to a few, but thankfully she 1: has her health on screen, 2: can be told to stay put, 3: heals herself (and you!), 4: Isn't an awful fighter in most of them, and the one she is outclassed in you've killed most of the enemies before starting the escort.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • For a certain definition of "love". Xana is a sociopathic succubus, but her arguable sole redeeming trait is her undying loyalty towards you in spite of her snarking.
    • Your father is a more straightforward example. You'd expect him to be an uncaring demonic monster who sees you as a pawn in his schemes, but he actually respects you and wants to connect with the son that he didn't have the chance to be with in his formative years.
  • Evil Feels Good: So Xana promises. Sareth seems to agree if you use his Superpowered Evil Side much.
  • Fake Kill Scare: Leanna appears to be killed by Arantir. However, you get the chance to rescue her from his lair later in the game.
  • Fighter, Mage, Thief: The game's three skill trees basically boil down to this. The game encourages you mix and match, however, as certain abilities are quite handy regardless of your build, such as the ability to pick locks.
  • Flynning: Sareth's wild flailings bear almost no resemblance whatsosever to actual bladeplay if Flurry of Blows is the player's primary way of attacking.
  • Funny Background Event: When you arrive on the orc island you find two soldiers, one dead one badly wounded. Leanna and the mage Taergon will talk to the wounded one, who offers some information about the island. Meanwhile, the other mage accompanying you quietly walks over to the corpse and pokes it with his staff. Yup, he's dead.
  • Gameplay Ally Immortality: Averted. Allied soldiers and mages rarely fight alongside you, and when they do they only have about as much health as the basic enemy Mooks. When Leanna follows you around as a partner, she only has slightly more health than a basic Mook and dies all too easily if she gets mobbed by two or three enemies at once.
  • Godiva Hair: Xana, in demon form.
  • Good Parents: Sareth's demon-lord father is actually pretty good to his son, assuming that you don't decide to rebind him into his prison. A bit like Darth Vader and Luke, without the dueling.
  • Goomba Stomp: Though it doesn't come up much, the player can damage enemies just by landing on them.
  • Guide Dang It!: The game never tells you that, if you want to find every secret in one playthrough, you need both the Telekinesis spell and Burglary skill.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Lampshaded by the Final Boss, who wonders who will win the duel: a twenty-year-old Magic Knight or someone who trained for centuries. In all fairness though,this is more a case of inverted Cutscene Incompetence since at this point he has literally curbstomped you in every encounter so far, even killed you by levitating you onto a shrine, impaling you. One could argue he was exhausted from raising an undead dragon and performing his banishing ritual.
  • Harmless Freezing: Zapping an enemy with the Ice spell will simply leave them an immobile block of ice for a bit. You can kick them over and deal damage to them, but after a few seconds they'll defrost.
  • Hero Antagonist: If you opt to be evil, then Arantir ends up as this as he's trying to prevent the calamity that you're intending to bring about.
  • Horned Humanoid: Xana's demon form has six horns on her head.
  • I Can Rule Alone: By sticking with Xana the entire game, Sareth has the option of leaving his father trapped in Sheogh so he can rule Ashan with the Skull's power.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: "I do this for the sake of Ashan." — said by Arantir while he is killing Sareth.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Sareth is thrown into a spike by Arantir in the middle of the game, piercing him clean through the torso.
  • Incredibly Durable Enemies: Killing enemies with normal attacks is very impractical for much of the game. Until the player unlocks the expensive damage upgrades in the combat skill trees, even the most basic Black Guard will block all quick attacks and can survive about a dozen power strikes. Enemies durability encourages the player to use environmental hazards and execution attacks to deal with them for much of the game.
  • Infinity -1 Sword: The Earthfire sword. You'll only obtain the game's Infinity +1 Sword at the very end of the penultimate level, and only if you're going for the good ending. Conversely, an observant player who scours the game for secrets can wield the Earthfire sword shortly before the midgame starts, just before you run into a bunch of enemies who take extra damage from fire.
  • Infinity +1 Sword:
    • The Dragonbone weapons. Not only do they utterly destroy undead foes (the main enemies by the endgame) but the Dragons have been kind enough to supply you with one weapon of each type, so that you get an upgrade no matter what your specialization is.
    • Light Elemental weapons are the most powerful in the game (and also have the added benefit of doing extra damage to undead, the most common enemy type encountered), but since your character is a half-demon hybrid who's also carrying around a demoness in his head, you can't actually use them until the last chapter where you can purify yourself at the temple of the world's Crystal Dragon Jesus, who also is good enough to provide you with a Light Elemental weapon, in case you didn't manage to find any before.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Averted. Naga silkswords look just like katanas, and while they are good swords, there are better ones.
  • Kicked Across The Room: A key gameplay mechanic. Your ability to kick enemies off of ledges into spikey objects or off of cliffs can make for a much simpler and easier way to fight your enemies than using weapons or magic. If you're paying close attention, you may notice that your kicks are context-sensitive; kick a person when there's nothing to knock him into/off of, and he'll just stumble back a bit. Kick a person when they're in close proximity to a deathtrap, and they'll fly back up to ten feet into whatever trap that happens to be behind them.
  • Kill It with Fire: Enemies die quickly once they've been set on fire. There are multiple convenient fires to kick enemies into and even more oil jars which will create a small puddle that can be ignited with any attack that generates flame, including the multiple flaming weapons.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: In single player the player can take just about anything that isn't bolted down and no one really cares. Perhaps this apathy towards plundering is understandable when exploring forgotten wastelands but it's pretty egregious during the brief interlude in Stone Helm where the player can clear out all the food in a crowded tavern without anyone caring.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: The main advantage of wielding a sword in single-player is the ability to use a shield alongside it. Shields will block all arrows and weapon strikes so long as the player is holding the block button, but will break when hit too many times. Fortunately basic shields are very numerous and special shields are usually quite durable. In multiplayer the Warrior class uses his shield in much the same way, although it will never break. The Warrior can also buy an ability that allows his shield to reflect incoming magical projectiles so long as the Warrior is crouching with his shield up.
  • Magic Knight: Actively encouraged and an explicit ability of Sareth in the manual. Melee skills are bloody cheap to purchase and the skill that makes a pure-mage build really viable is only purchasable really late into the game (that being mana regeneration, something that costs a whopping 25 skill points and even more to lead up to it in the skill tree). The same is true of pure fighters. It is very easy to run out of healing until you have the late-game hitpoint regeneration power, but the heal spell is very cheap and mana does regenerate. As a result, alternating between the two is necessary to survive. One of the reasons why the Elements port is so disliked is that this factor of gameplay was removed entirely, forcing you into being either a fighter, mage, or thief. This, as a result, turns an already challenging game into an absolute nightmare on higher difficulties.
  • Magic Skirt: Leanna has one of the shadowy variety. Blatantly obvious in the opening to chapter 5 where she sits in-front of you and you see right down it.
  • Mauve Shirt: Duncan, the surviving guard from the orc attack on the temple reappears a few times and his cousin is an important character in the final level. Duncan is pretty much doomed to die after telling you about said cousin, as he has low health and there are a few enemies he will rush. You can save him with major effort, but his AI was not programmed for the possibility, and runs around in circles afterwards.
  • Mission Control: Xana, with the odd variation in that she's inside you.
  • Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: The further you get, the more blatantly evil Xana gets.
  • Multiple Endings: With little variation in-between each. There are four ending cinematics depending on whether you cleanse Sareth of his demonic heritage, and whether you imprison or release Sareth's father. Leanna can be killed at several points (whether by your hand, by accident, or left for dead in the lair of a Giant Spider), but she will eventually attack you if you try to play both sides.
  • Multi-Melee Master: Sareth can fight with swords, staves, or daggers. And of course, his mighty boot.
    • Swords are most plentiful and the most powerful weapon of the game is one. They can be paired with a shield.
    • Staves do less damage, but provide better defense when blocking and provide a higher chance of knocking an opponent down and are therefore often useful when mobbed by enemies.
    • Daggers always come in pairs. They do the least damage, but are the only weapons that can be used for stealth kills and a fleeing or stunned enemy can be taken down with a one-hit ranged kill by throwing the dagger.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Phenrig describes fairly mundane things with absolutely delicious quantities of ham.
  • Neck Lift: Orcs can do this to you if you aren't careful, lifting up Sareth and then hurling him backwards a good distance away. If you're unlucky enough to have a particularly high dropoff behind you when this happens, well...
  • Nightmare Sequence: There are two dream sequences that turn to nightmares — one where you dance with Leanna and then stab her while Arantir watches, and one when you remember your first meeting with Xana in a different way, with her shoving you down and looking demonic. Depending on whether you betray Leanna later, the dancing dream can also be foreshadowing.
  • Nintendo Hard: Even on normal, enemies deal a surprisingly large amount of damage. It's very easy to run out of healing potions if you don't act smart either, and even the dedicated healing spell can only be used so often. As a result, playing smart and efficiently is the way to go.
  • No-Gear Level: Sareth's horse is startled away at the start of chapter 1, taking everything he found in the prologue with it. Given you get far more than what you found in the prologue (which is a short sword, 2 health potions and maybe a bow) before you have any use for it and Sareth kept the plot coupon on his person, this just makes the intro a bit more cinematic. A strange example occurs in chapter 7, where you can't even use your spells (which are treated as inventory items by the game, complete with taking up space) until you get your stuff back, nor can you pick up any items (they are stored in your taken backpack, and you still can't even hold one in your hands). Thankfully both enemies you meet before getting your stuff back are conveniently in front of a fire and bottomless pit and you can still kick, plus you just got access to a "demon form" ability that doesn't need weapons.
  • No Kill like Overkill: The Adrenaline mechanic gifts you a powerful One-Hit Kill upon dealing enough damage to your enemies. For melee weapons, this equates to a brutal dismemberment or beatdown, and for spells they often evolve into much more powerful versions of their original effects. An example would be Weaken, which normally just slows an enemy and makes them weaker, being able to permanently shrink an opponent when used with Adrenaline.
  • Obviously Evil:
  • One-Hit Kill: In the single-player dagger backstabs, adrenaline attacks, and executions on fallen foes are all one hit kills against typical enemies. In multiplayer the Assassin class can still backstab for a an instant kill while the Warrior class gets two unlockable one hit kill special attacks: the shield charge and leaping slash. Unfortunately the Warrior's one hit kills are Awesome, but Impractical due to being extremely obvious and easy to avoid, as well as draining the Warrior's stamina bar.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: They're the result of combining human and demon blood, for one, and have a red skin colour instead of green (despite the page image). They're a mixture of Tolkien and Blizzard orcs, as they look rather unattractive and are fairly aggressive towards humans, which they also eat, but they're also intelligent despite their use of Hulk Speak and have a strong sense of honour and friendship with each other.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Arantir is very fond of telling Sareth how pathetic he is.
  • The Reveal: After you acquire the skull you've been seeking for the whole game, your Evil Overlord demonic father reveals himself to you and explains how you were his Unwitting Pawn. That said, if you'd been paying attention to the cutscenes and Xana's dialogue or even just read the manual, you probably saw this coming.
  • Romantic Fusion: Xana and the protagonist are linked together magically early in the story, and the bond between them manifests as her voice broadcasting in his thoughts, and many of her demonic powers being usable by him. Given that Xana is a Succubus, their connection is given very sexual connotations, with Xana submissively promising to fulfill his every desire.
  • Same Character, But Different: Retroactively with Heroes of Might and Magic VI, which was made after Dark Messiah but takes place four centuries before it. In HOMMVI, Xana is very much an Anti-Villain Noble Demon; she's sweet, honest, level-headed, and loyal, and her biography even notes that she's pretty close to being the Inferno faction's Token Good Teammate. It looks like after 400 years in Hell, by the time Dark Messiah takes place her personality has corrupted into the more typical seductive and evil succubus personality.
  • Screw Destiny: If you choose so, you can spit on the millennium-old prophecy and seal Sheogh pernamently, be it from good intentions, or so that you don't have to share Ashan with anyone.
  • Shielded Core Boss: The Final Boss. It's Arantir, who summons a skeletal dragon to fight you and remains invulnerable as long as it lives. After defeating it, he's open for a few seconds after which he summons it again.
  • Ship Level: One area is a ship you need to clear of enemies so you can use it for transport.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Master Thief's armor you can acquire towards the end of the game is embossed with a "G", a reference to Garrett from the Thief series (which the game's stealth gameplay strongly resembles), and must be reached with use of rope arrows, one of the signature tricks of the Thief games.
    • The Superior Naga Silksword bears a striking resemblance to Connor's sword from Highlander.
    • Goblins sometimes shout "Float like Goblin! Sting like bee!" while they attack you.
  • Spiritual Successor: As mentioned above Dark Messiah is one to Arx Fatalis (indeed, a few file names, primarily basic weapons, use "arx"). Additionally, Dark Messiah borrows the "marked secrets" system of early First Person Shooters, complete with the ability to find more powerful than standard weapons/armor early, while missed equipment is sitting out in the open a few levels down the line.
  • Stripperific:
    • While Leanna's outfit isn't the worst example out there, it is still effectively the "wizard robe" armor minus the pants, 3/4s of the mantle and the sleeves.
    • Xana doesn't wear much either. And her true form doesn't wear anything at all.
  • Squishy Wizard: Let's just say that if you choose to play an all-mage build then make sure you can quickly reach the heal spell.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: After The Reveal, Sareth can take on a demonic form, courtesy of Xana. In this mode, you cannot cast spells or use special abilities, but you can drain an enemy's health to restore your own.
  • These Hands Have Killed: In the dancing dream, after Sareth stabs Leanna, he looks at his hands in horror.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Sareth is the Dark Messiah.
  • Trick Boss: The whole game builds up to a final fight with Arantir at the end of the game. He's stronger than any other mages you've fought, but is still a relatively average opponent. Then he shields himself and summons an undead dragon to serve as the real Final Boss.
  • Unwinnable: Your health doesn't regenerate, and healing items are both finite and relatively scarce. Even worse, the basic healing potions only restore a portion of your health, and the special items that restore you to full health are very rare and usually only found in secret areas. As a result, if you do poorly in the first few levels, it's quite possible to end up in a situation where you don't have enough health to make it past the next area, and the healing items nearby aren't enough to help you get through. However, after the first few chapters you acquire an ally who will heal you to full health after every battle, and then a ring that (very slowly) regenerates your health over time. There's also an upgrade that causes your health to regenerate, but you won't be able to purchase it until very late in the game.
    • Averted if the player takes the time to explore the levels, as Full Health Potions and Magic Mushrooms can be found early on, both of which fully restore the player's health. The Magic Mushrooms also fully restore the player's mana.
  • Useless Useful Stealth: The Assassin class in multiplayer is notoriously underpowered due to how useless his allegedly stealthy abilities are. He can 'play dead' but the animation for doing so is so ridiculously obvious no one will be fooled, especially since actually dead opponents get Ragdoll Physics. He can disguise as the other team but his footstep sound will still give away his real team (normal sound for Human, squishy for Undead). His conspicuous Visible Invisibility is only slightly useful stealth ability he gets and that's just because it prevents enemies from seeing your health bar, making it slightly less obvious what an easy target you are. By contrast the other melee class, the Warrior, has simple, straightforward abilities but is far more useful than the gimmicky Assassin, who verges on a Joke Character.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Put it this way... hacking the limbs off of your enemies is the least imaginative thing you can do. To put it another way, it sure is convenient how the game starts placing throwable, fragile jars of oil around the levels just as you start getting access to fire spells.
  • Villain Protagonist: Potentially, depending on the ending you go for.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Though it is really hard to agree with him given he murders and imprisons civilians while laying waste to everything in his path, Arantir is out to stop you from fulfilling the prophecy and seal Sheogh forever while he's at it, which is a good-ish thing.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Phenrig disappears from the plot after the tutorial, despite being Sareth's foster father and implicitly being aligned to demons.
  • Wreaking Havok: The primary function of telekinesis and kicking.
  • Zerg Rush: This is the signature tactic of goblins, who are the weakest humanoid enemies but usually the most numerous.
  • Zombie Puke Attack: All of the zombies in the game can do this, inflicting poison damage, much to the player's annoyance.

Alternative Title(s): Dark Messiah