Posted elsewhere in 2010, since I revisited this game recently, I feel the need to post this here.
Dark Messiah could have been an excellent (though still extremely linear) game. For one, the game's combat is probably one of the best uses of melee combat in a FPS, with excellent hit detection (but still not perfect) and combat that puts lots of importance in good use of the environment. It works for a bit, but then after a while something simply feels off and it does get boring if this isn't the first game you have ever played.
The game gives the illusion of having varied way of playing through it. The warrior, mage, and assassin archetypes are all present with the addition of archery. Now these "classes" aren't static in anyway as you don't pick who you want to be at the start of the game. Instead you are awarded character points for completing objectives with which you are able to allocate to three different character traits: combat, magic, and "other" (which consists of stealth skills, stamina and mana boosts, etc). Because there are a finite number of character points available, you will need to place these points in each category with care, as being a generalist in this game will simply make it much harder. However, the care needed to put points in some categories is further increased due to the simple fact that many of the skills and the ways of approaching this game are simply a waste of time (in that they are useless) or are completely un-entertaining.
An excellent example is in the "stealth" route of character creation. For one, the game is far too linear for implementing any real semblance of "stealth" game-play, and the only real use for stealth is for scoring one-hit kills on unsuspecting enemies (which are great, because after playing "through" this game many times, sometimes it is nice to be able to avoid a drawn out confrontation). The problem is, there are very few hiding places and opportunities to use stealth, because even if there are shadows to hide in the place usually is very narrow hallway. If you have some space to maneuver, the places are usually very well lit and makes it hard to sneak anyway. In all, putting any points in this skill is an utter waste simply due to map design.
Archery, like stealth, is also unsatisfying and character points are best spent elsewhere. Unless when used in conjunction with stealth, arrows do very little damage, and you will only be able to get in two, maybe three, shots in before the opponent is in your face before you need to switch to a weapon with the ability to block with. Sounds easy, but switching weapons requires a lengthy withdraw from sheath animation and by the time you pull your weapon out you already lost lots of health in the mean time. Granted, this danger could be avoided if you pull out your weapon earlier, but that would sacrifice the ability to fire more than once… so in the end, really, there is no need for archery in this game unless certain things were tweaked.
The tweaks about to be mentioned would also benefit melee combat as well, as using a sword/staff/daggers (why are daggers in fantasy games always in pairs?!) because combat in this manner also suffers from issues.
Weapon damage in this game is too flawed. Quick strikes simply do no damage at all, now it does make sense they are weaker than power strikes, but hacking an enemy in the face should at least some effect. As a result, there is no reason to quick strikes, and you'll mainly rely on strong strikes and kicks, neither of which do any real damage either. This simply makes the game an especially grating experience on harder difficulties as you receive far more damage from attacks but still inflict very little unless you use power strikes, but being extremely slow, you'll get hit many times before you can strike yourself. This could have been easily remedied with a sidestep or back dash system of inputting a direction twice and quickly hopping in the direction at the cost of a fair portion of your stamina. You know, spice up the combat, something this game needs. This is where more flaws come in, the power attacks only come in two or so animations in a game with pretty precise hit detection this is an awful combination.
The weapon swings in a set path, and with it the camera jolts with the swing, the result: you have very strange attack animations, with limited functionality in battle as the swing arc is a such a strange plane it will often miss your intended target. It is really hard to accurately portray this, but if you were to pick up a staff (the "crowd control weapon") and use it's power attack, you'll see first hand by what is meant by attacks being unresponsive. What could have remedied this would be a simple directional input plus attack button scheme which would result in a different kind of attack. Step to the side for a sweeping attack, forward for a power overhead strike, back for a stab attack; you know to spice up combat and do it in a logical and intuitive manner.
Blocking is yet another sterile facet of combat. It is always the same animation, and it is uninteresting to perform (though in dispensable). What could have been done to make it far better is incorporate better animations, maybe more depth to it (like needing to block directional attacks) and adding the ability to actually parry attacks. How that would work would be simple (and intuitive) like the directional attack idea: direction plus block button when timed versus an attack would bat away an enemy attack allowing for you counter attack with your weapon or kick. I believe this feature and the directional attacks had they been included in this game, Dark Messiah's combat would have been epic, but alas, innovation isn't attempted nearly often enough.
Kicks are a great tool and are probably one of the highlights of the game. They allow you to clear paths, kick enemies off ledges or into spikes and fires, and break through an opponent's guard. But since swinging your weapon is either too weak or too slow, so the last example is, for the most part, pointless. In fact, the combat outside of kicking, combat is so ineffective and stale, you are better off playing through just blocking with your weapon and kicking your enemy to their death. Once again, here is another transition that leads to yet another flaw of the game.
The combat is so boring, and the developer seemed to notice this as well, that the game is over reliant on using environments to kill the opponents. So much so you will find spiky wall thingies everywhere for some strange reason. It gets ridiculous. Luckily, many of these spiky wall thingies happen to be in some of the more interesting maps (albeit linear) in a FPS to date. The Orc fortress and cliff side houses being the high point (stupid pun intended), and offer a great many ways and places to kick enemies off of ledges.
The last way to play the game is with magic, and compared to all the other ways you can play this game, it is the most effective. But no all is well as not all spells are made equal and the only ones worth using is the basic fire bolt, lightning bolt, heal (if you don't have enough food rations or health potions), and maybe charm (though never really necessary unless you are being mobbed by many ghouls or during that duel sequence with a Orc clan leader). The trap spells (and most of the others), are kinda useful, but they're nothing but a fancy way to waste mana and character points.
Continued in comments.