This coming Tuesday, Black Hole Entertainment and Ubisoft will celebrate 25 years of Might and Magic by releasing Might and Magic: Heroes 6 (MMH6). Being new to the series, I must admit I was a bit lost. And so I played on for hours on end… incorrectly. I lost many Heroes and built all of the wrong things in my town. On my failed first date, I decided to do a little research. (Yes, there is a tutorial. But I’m extremely impatient and tend to read only the bolded text.)
MMH6 is a prequel that is set 400 years prior to the events of Might and Magic: Heroes V. It’s the story of the Griffin dynasty when they were still dukes of the Holy Empire. Despite what the MMH6 hype machine says, even though they sat five people in a room to write out this bad boy, the goal is still the same: build it, save it, destroy it and rule it. Maybe that’s not quite the tagline for the strategy here, but that’s the feeling I got from it. My approach to this game, well more the genre as a whole, is a bit rusty.
The last turn-based strategy I had played was Civilization V, so I went at MMH6 just trying to build the biggest army I could. I had started as a Haven faction, which is made up of human knights, priests, and mythical creatures like griffins and angels. They all have a golden hue to their appearance, which does a good job of emphasizing their good nature. My first battle encounter was against a Stronghold faction; as always, Orcs are a colorful creature and can dish out a sweet amount of damage.
I won the battle but suddenly I was bored by my Haven troops. The storyline with the Haven faction was swiftly ended by another Haven army that had a way bigger troop count than mine did. I wasn’t blindsided by his arrival as there was a cutscene where I had words with him, but I thought that maybe I could just talk it out. Nope, that did not happen and he killed me. I also forgot to buy the building that allows me to resurrect my heroes (army leaders) and put troops armies into production.
As far as I was concerned, the story with Haven had come to close. It was time to start anew. I found that I wasn’t terribly overwhelmed by this loss; much like with losses in Civ V, where you curse the leaders of China and Japan and why the damned Americans wouldn’t go to war with you, this was different. I wanted another shot, there was no rage, I felt an inspiration that only a child knows after learning to ride a bike. What are you game? How could this be?
Infatuated, I moved onto the multiplayer. Here I was able to create my Dynasty player. With all the factions to choose from, each with their own unique style, I ultimately picked the demon faction referred to as the Inferno. I love fire. I had more fun with the Inferno faction, even as I continued to play incorrectly. Fire helps a little but in MMH6, when you’re losing, you’re losing. It took me awhile to realize that I needed to create multiple Heroes with balanced armies in order to conquer and sustain my land. I dabbled in a Free-for-All in the Tree of Plenty scenario. The story behind the Tree of Plenty set the stage for the action: a long time ago, two dragons fought and spread their blood across the land and afterwards a tree grew to which gifts and offerings were left by worshipers. Now war has erupted in the land and it’s a race to see who can claim the treasure under the tree. Dragons, war, race for treasure: sold.
Another player had set up the match and customized it to their liking. One of the setups that shouldn’t be allowed in the game is the ability to set the battle speed up to its maximum setting, which in turn affects the animations for all units. Believe me, the result is that everything looks absolutely ridiculous. The animations for the creatures look great, but when sped up to 300% it all looks comical. For the duration of the map until, the other two players disconnected, any battle I was in had me laughing hysterically and targeting all the wrong creatures.
With MMH6, some new features have been added to the classic franchise, the most important of which being the Conflux. The Conflux brings a social element to the multiplayer in Heroes VI. Players who sign in through their UPlay account will be able to keep a dynasty of Heroes, with skill classes, weapons, and achievements to brag to the rest of the players online. Also, you will be able to connect with others through chat channels to discuss maps, tips and tricks (and the inevitable spam.) Scared of an online system set in place by Ubisoft? There’s no need to fret as the Conflux is an optional feature. Luckily, it’s not in your face since you have to actively open it in order to use it.
Town screens and four rare resources have gone by the wayside since Might and Magic: Heroes V. In the town screens you could watch your town being built and see each structure, much like the zoom function in Sim City or Civilization (for those new to the series but familiar with others). The rare resources have been replaced by Blood crystals and the town screen showcases a beautiful landscape of your town’s main building.
As far as developing your Hero goes, you will have many options. You’ll have to be smart with your choices though. I wasn’t as I went all fire bolts with my abilities but ignored all possible defensive options. After you choose whether your Hero errs to the side of Might or Magic (Might heroes are tougher, Magic use more spells), you will be able to define your champion’s characteristics. Each starting decision affects your hero as he gains experience through battle and one-time-use items. There is a new morality system set in place, Blood and Tears, which is pretty simple. Blood heroes are more aggressive and don’t take any bull (plus way cooler, more intimidating costumes); Tears-aligned heroes are more passive and try to use words more.
(Standing on the X is your Hero, as he watches the army engage…)
MMH6 also offers a bit of the old as Black Hole Entertainment has included the classic multiplayer map, Broken Alliance, from Heroes II. The game also borrows other things, but only for your listening pleasure. Musical themes from Heroes III and Heroes V can be heard mixed in with the new orchestrated music.
Since the first beta phase started, the Ubisoft forum team has been collecting feedback and answering all grievances with patches. Loading Phase II of the beta you can see that there has been four major patches to correct the wrongs in the game. Originally, this game was slated for September but the release has been smartly delayed until now to get things pitch perfect.
Many of the changes to MMH6 have been made to streamline the game for new users. The overall presentation of the game is gorgeous. Black Hole may have caused a little ruckus by removing some things and spreading the options across multiple tabs, but I enjoyed these changes. Normally, I stay away from turn-based strategy games because I get confused and wind up in a panic before inevitably removing the game from my existence. But MMH6 seems to have changed the game for better.
From the last installment, the upgrades in character and game design are stellar. When moving the camera in you don’t lose any detail; instead you gain an incredible amount of intricacy where you can see stitching in character’s costumes or cracks on rocks in the battlefield. The game is pretty, real purtty – I started to drool and get anime eyes over it, even on the menu screen. While I still have a lot to learn in this game, I certainly won’t mind putting the hours into it.
It’s been a late night and a great date. Yes, it started off a little shaky, but after the appetizers I was back in it. And to be honest, I’m ready to marry this game. I enjoyed the many hours I poured into MMH6, even when my strategy was awful and I lost all of my fortune. It was like playing an RTS that didn’t feel like an RTS; rarely has the genre had my “Wow!” meter on high. After a much needed break, I thought that Civ V would be the last game that’s taken days away from me; but alas I have found another, truer, love.
There’s a demo available on Steam or FilePlanet if you want to give a try before falling in love. If you want something new, and you’re ready to take its hand to have and to hold though, the game releases quite soon. Might and Magic: Heroes VI releases Tuesday, October 11th digitally and in stores for $49.99.