There's an extensive, five-page history of New World Computing's core Might and Magic series over at Hardcore Gaming 101, which should prove to be an excellent introduction to the franchise if you weren't lucky enough to have cut your teeth on the RPG series. Because this sort of thing brings back so many fond memories, I can't help but go for some generous quoting:
Might and Magic Book II plays identically to the first game in almost every respect. The stat and class mechanics are identical, and characters from the predecessor can be imported to this one. However, there are some advantages for creating a new party. First, the game introduces two new classes. The first is the Assassin, able to perform sneak attacks for critical hit damage, in addition to having thief abilities and the ability to use oriental weapon types. The other new class is the Barbarian, who is only able to use light armor, but can use any weapon and is more capable in combat than a regular Knight. Additionally, the player is able to shuffle the character's stats around during character generation, which was a common house rule in D&D during the 1st edition era.
Might and Magic Book II introduces a new skill system, with characters able to learn various skills such as Cartography (allowing map-making), Pickpocket (a boost to thievery) and so on. This is similar to the AD&D 2nd Edition Non-Weapon Proficiency system, though there are some differences. For example, each character is limited to a maximum of two skills. Some of the spells have also been adjusted. The Blind spell, which only had an effect on one creature, now has been changed to Apparition, and can effect up to 10 enemies. The game also introduces the concept of a hireling, an AI controlled character that will fight alongside the party, but must be paid by the players. This concept was familiar to pen&paper RPGers, but at this point had not been introduced to computer RPGs yet.
The first three games in the Might and Magic series improved immensely on their antecedes in various way. Might and Magic I took the Wizardry-style RPG and put it in a gigantic massive world, while retaining the first person perspective. Book Two improved the graphics and sound. The third game made the deaths of monsters persistent and added a quest log to make it easier to remember what you were doing, as well as an expanded character inventory. Clouds of Xeen finally perfects the series' gameplay mechanics in a fashion that really makes everything click.
The story follows our standard party of adventurers, as they seek to destroy the evil lord Xeen, who rules over the land of Xeen. In order to do this, they need to seek allies and find the "Sword of Xeen Slaying" in the ruins of fortress Newcastle. The story also differs a bit from earlier games. The series always tended to go into the territory of the classic D&D adventure "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" by introducing some odd science fiction elements, with the series villain, Sheltem, being an extraterrestrial criminal, and the implication that the medieval fantasy worlds of the series actually used to be giant space ships. That said, very little was done with this in the early games, and were those elements to be removed, it would all be your standard â€œFind The Evil Wizard And Kill Himâ€ plot. Acknowledging this, Clouds of Xeen thus drops the science fiction elements almost entirely.
Many of the storied western RPG franchises went out not with a bang, but with a wimper. Thus is the case with the Might & Magic series - or at least its numbered installments. Might and Magic IX is both the final numbered installment in the series and the final true Might and Magic game of any kind to be developed by New World Computing. It's also notable as the first core game in the series not to be designed by series creator Jon Van Caneghem. The director this time was Timothy Lang.
The game is as the first game in the series to have an engine developed by another company. Specifically, it uses Monolith's LithTech Talon engine (which was also used in No One Lives Forever & Aliens Vs. Predator 2). It's likewise one of the last games to be released by 3DO before it went bankrupt, and it's also notable for the incomplete state of its release, with numerous crippling bugs which New World Computing were not able to patch before closing their doors. Ultimately, fans of the game were forced to fix the numerous bugs on their own through a couple of fan-made patches.
Might and Magic IX's story brings the game to a more grounded tone than the epic quests from the various sequels to the original game. No longer is the player's party of heroes seeking to stop global annihilation. Instead, they have to perform various quests for six rulers, in order to get them to unite against the impending threat of conquest by a Genghis Khan-esque warlord. Also, the setting has been moved from the world of Enroth (home of Might and Magic VI-VIII, as well as the earlier Heroes of Might and Magic games) to the world of Axeoth, after Enroth was destroyed in Heroes of Might and Magic IV. It's also much more humorous than earlier titles in the series, though the jokes are not necessarily clever. One side quest has the player going into the "Beet-hoven" of a writer named Wolfgang Van, in order to retrieve the manuscript for his masterwork, "My Everybody Beloved".