Might and Magic: Heroes VI Review
There are certain games within the industry that just keep on ploughing their own unwavering path while the world around them goes through constant change and revolution. Like steadfast farmers they manage their estate, churning out a fresh crop every season, ready for their usual customers to lap it up again. Perhaps they will develop a new enhanced engine for the harvester, or refine the field boundaries, but the general ingredients always remain the same. Just the way the fans want it. Civilisation is one such bearded cultivator, but another, perhaps less renowned, is Might and Magic: Heroes (formerly Heroes of Might and Magic) and after five fallow years of waiting, they have got another crop, their sixth, ready for us to enjoy.
Over these previous five releases the Heroes series has suffered mixed fates. The original, developed by the Might and Magic creators New World Computing, was met with considerable acclaim. The second then built on the original's triumph. This success was continued into the third which is generally regarded as the vintage crop, however the fourth offering was met with a comparatively unfavourable reception. The series then left New World Computing after the collapse of the parent company 3DO and fell into the grateful arms of publishing giants Ubisoft. However following this, the fifth release developed by Nival Interactive did not live up to expectations and was met with mixed reactions.
So, it is with some trepidation I announce that the sixth installment is an apparent return to form. While it does not quite reach the pinnacle set by Heroes of Might and Magic III it is an accomplished effort flawed only by a few, seemingly idiotic, development choices.
It is tempting when writing a review such as this to simply spew out a long list of changes and be done with it, forsaking anyone unfamiliar with the series. So, for the sake of those uninformed - a quick crash course in Heroes:
Heroes of Might and Magic games are a unique blend of fantasy role-playing, tile-turn-based strategy, exploration and resource management. While the world in which the game is set has changed over the span of the games, the armies and creatures you can control generally fit the standard fantasy model of good (humans, elves), neutral (orcs, swamp armies) and evil (demonic, undead). Leading each army are the titular heroes who gain experience, discover artifacts and grow more powerful as the game progresses.
Usually the goal of each campaign is to expand your city, reinforce your army with a huge number of units and then rid the world of the enemy's heroes and conquer their cities, however other more interesting quests do exist such as racing to be the first to discover a certain powerful treasure or capturing a lost castle.
The games are generally split into two separate sections: the world overview, where your heroes take it in turns to travels around with their band of infantry, uncovering artefacts, capturing resources to improve your city and engaging with enemies. Once a battle is initiated the game moves to a tile based battle view. Your units are placed in stacks, with numbers showing the actual amount of similar units represented by the stack. You use a combination of cunning tactics, magic and brute force to whittle down the opposition's units and defeat them.
Because of the turn based nature of the game epic multiplayer games have become a staple of the series, with hot seat battles spanning months, if not years, not uncommon. Here, and with the wealth of user maps and modifications created, that the games live on far beyond their single player aspects and are still enjoyed many moons later.
Fortunately, Might and Magic: Heroes VI does little to stray from this formula. What it does bring to the table are charismatic and detailed 3D environments, a deeper more involved plot and a dazzling array of achievements and online trophies. Unfortunately, these additions that attempt to give the series a well-deserved step up into modern gaming, at the same time bring it to its knees. However, first a quick run through of the more involved changes that have been made over the previous incarnation.
The list of factions has been reduced to five (Haven, Inferno, Necropolis, Stronghold and Sanctuary) each with seven upgradable creature types. While it is incredibly likely that we will see these increased with DLC it does seem a little underwhelming to have the number of armies available downgraded in a sequel. However, this is not a great loss. The factions present are all keenly balanced, each with very unique skills. This leads to completely different playing styles for each, more so than in any previous iteration.
Further refinements have been made to the resource system, with the available types cut to just 4 (Gold, Wood, Ore and Blood Crystals). While this may seem like quite a significant and potentially disastrous change from the original seven resources this actually this works in the game's favour. Firstly it makes the game more inviting for newer players; there are fewer times where you find yourself in that exasperating situation of not having the requisite resources for your faction's buildings. Furthermore, as crystals are generally required for the more advanced buildings, a lot of the game's skirmishes are to hold the mines that produce these resources. It creates a very interesting dynamic to the game. In addition, resource buildings can no longer be stolen simply by a hero riding past. To hold on to a mine (or any building) the player must leave his hero at its entrance or they must take control of the fortifications in that part of the map. This completely alleviates that infuriating tactic of enemies sending weak heroes to simply steal resources and then running away again.
One of the more striking changes is to the general UI and screen layout. Developers Black Hole Entertainment, along with publishers Ubisoft, clearly felt the game needed to be brought into the modern ‘windowed’ age. Screens such as the city and hero overview have been placed into windows, leaving the main screen sparse. This has a rather double edged sword effect of giving the player more room to see what is happening in the main screen, while at the same time stripping detail from the screens stuffed into windows. One of the greatest losses here is the feeling of immersion gained from watching your towns grow. If a city has a certain building built it is simply marked by a tick on the list. Instead within the city window we get to see a rather meaningless video of a town which is unchanged by any upgrades you make. It is one of the many baffling design decisions that really hinders what could have easily been something great.
The list could go on. However, perhaps most of the fun in playing a sequel comes from discovering for yourself all the minor changes made and how they effect your tactical judgements. Generally, there is definitely an argument to be made that most of the in-game refinements are for the better and improve upon the series. But, it is ludicrous design decisions beyond the game mechanics that are Might and Magic: Heroes VI undoing.
Firstly, despite the apparent option of an offline mode, this game needs to be played while connected to the Internet and the uPlay servers. This allows Ubisoft to keep track of your achievements and rewarding you with gifts such as character portraits, titles and even better artifacts for your heroes. It is pleasing to see the achievement system, now ubiquitous through the gaming world, actually having some form of in-game effect rather than just adding to the inevitable pointless sum of points. Playing offline removes these upgrades and statistics, which is not a huge loss and perhaps understandable, but what is completely incomprehensible is that it also removes your saves. So if you happen to be playing without Internet connectivity your previous saves disappear and you will have to start again with offline saves. Conversely, if you play online then games you created offline will mysteriously disappear. This should perhaps not be a huge issue in an age where the Internet spreads to the farthest reaches of the land, however tile-based games should be one of the few genres that can be played on a laptop while travelling and doing so means having to somehow balance two versions of the same game, one on and one offline. Worse, and adding insult to this injury, if you happen to lose your Internet connection while playing you will immediately be booted back to the menu screen in offline mode and unable to continue your current game. While the technical reason given for this inconvenient situation is that the games are saved onto the uPlay cloud, instead it all has the whiffy smell of tactical DRM, and while I appreciate a publisher's right to fight off piracy at every corner it should not be at the expense of a legal player's game.
Secondly, and this argument can be nullified if you are playing on any form of gaming machine, is that despite the lack of action involved in turn-based gaming Might and Magic: Heroes VI requires a surprisingly powerful set-up to run at a playable frame rate. The recent Civilisation V made the same mistake, completely neutering anyone wishing to play on a lower spec. The problem is that this genre, like a classic board game, should not be reliant on spectacular graphics and animation but rather the intricate gameplay. Stopping gamers, such as those travelling with laptops, from playing simply because their CPUs are not powerful enough is not a particularly sensible decision for this style of game.
On the other hand, those with high performance machines will enjoy some very beautiful, charming and detailed models and the animations in battle are particularly impressive if a little repetitive. The maps themselves are also far more intricate, with luscious backgrounds and interesting locations placed upon them. Unfortunately sometimes the backgrounds are so detailed that it becomes hard to distinguish between an object that is interactive or simply part of the background.
Finally, Might and Magic: Heroes VI makes the biggest drive out of any of the series to incorporate a developed plot. Set five hundreds years previous to the events in Heroes of Might and Magic V (which featured a different world from all previous versions), the story follows the rise to power of a fallen angel and the wars that erupt as a result.
Previous incarnations simply relied on rather uninteresting blocks of text that ultimately would be quickly closed so that the game could commence. In this sixth installment this is generally replaced with voice acted, in-game engine cut scenes. While it is a welcome addition, a combination of poor voice acting and awkward animations drive the player towards skipping these. This is unfortunate as the plot is surprisingly deep and interesting if you take the time to get involved with it. Also because each of the campaigns concentrates on an individual faction, as the plot progresses you can appreciate all the differing complexities and the relationships between the main characters from each side.
It really is a shame that these few problems get in the way of what is underneath a very worthwhile addition to the series. Because of the nature of the game it also has the potential to live on far beyond the scope of the campaigns as you embark on online and hot-seat mutiplayer battles. And if even that does not satisfy you Might and Magic: Heroes VI comes with a fully built in map editor, so over time there should be many fan made maps ready to download and play.
Both fans and those being introduced to the series should find a lot to enjoy, particularly the deeper complexities of the battles, which have a thoughtful learning curve. Eventually you will find yourself using each of your troops' individual skills together and combining them with spells to overcome fearsome armies (and gigantic bosses who can slaughter your units instantly) you originally thought impossible to defeat. If you are looking for a tactical challenge and are not afraid of old-school turn based strategy or a fantasy setting then this is certainly something you should be interested in.
Last updated: 23/06/2018 08:24:51