Might & Magic: Heroes VI Fan Preview
With the release of Heroes of Might and Magic VI just around the corner, the time has come to take a good look at its beginnings, evolution and current state. The series carries a heavy legacy, with a loyal yet demanding community following its steps, something that Ubisoft was thankfully well aware when they started working on the new title. Amongst their first plans of action was to invite a number of iconic fans, community leaders or fans of considerable contribution to help them with their task, be it in offering feedback, suggestions, or keeping in touch with the pulse of the community. I was one of those fortunate fans and having witnessed the team's effort first hand, here are some thoughts on the game.
Where the goal of the previous installment was to demonstrate that Ubisoft and Nival could provide a solid, classic HOMM experience, developer Black Hole was allowed to be more ambitious. To see the game with a fresh outlook and review what worked and what not, keeping a healthy balance between new and old. Understandably, the results were mixed.
There were a number of decisions that received criticism, the most vocal of which being the reduction of rare resources, the town screens being windowed, interface lacking in aesthetics and a lack of random map generator or simultaneous turns. Unfortunately, we were not called upon early enough to advise against the resource reduction, however, the rest are in a much better fate than one would think. Irina Kassina, the community developer, has confirmed that town screens and interface are on their improve list -though not their top priorities and thus not feasible in time for the release. Likewise, Erwan Le Breton the game's producer has confirmed that random map generator and simultaneous turns will be added as soon as possible, perhaps in a patch. As much as I dislike the notion, the latter two have always been expansion additions so I cannot really complain. All things considered, Ubisoft has proven to listen to the fans and if the recent release delay and extended beta phase are any indication, they are not planning on delivering a rushed product. Worth noting that part of the reason for the delay was to incorporate a better AI, which I personally found much needed.
With that out of the way, here come the good parts! And Heroes 6 has plenty of worthwhile additions and improvements over its predecessor, this cannot be denied. Despite its success, Heroes 5 was not without its issues - including a highly abusable and sluggish early game, battle outcome largely tied to chance, hero build being more decisive than your tactical skill, first turn slaughters being a very real possibility, certain factions dominating in early or late game, a non user-friendly editor, poor campaigns, even worse AI, poor optimization and problematic camera rotation. Heroes 6 is free of those issues.
From an RPG point of view, heroes can again be might or magic, male or female, with proper models, thank goodness. The advanced classes are back, tied to the promising reputation system depending on whether you follow the path of blood or tears. Your skills/abilities are manually picked, giving you better control over your hero development and will not burden you with useless prerequisites - though you may miss the Heroes 5 skill trees for that same reason, some consider the Heroes 6 implementation flat in comparison.
The gameplay is smoother with less micromanagement and the factions, while fewer, are more diverse. The new unit tier system promotes synergy and with units having more abilities than ever and combat depth is greatly enriched. The battlefield comes in more sizes and shapes, with special locations occasionally appearing (like a rally flag that temporarily increases the luck and morale of nearby units or a visible trap that slows movement) and the possibility of special conditions in a fight. Black Hole created a vast array of beautiful combat arenas and the duel mode is greatly improved. The game's graphics and animations are nothing short of stunning and richly detailed, which I may not consider a must in a strategy game but it certainly sweetens the deal.
The sorely missed text boxes are back, heroes and artifacts feature detailed descriptions and there will be a solid map editor right from the release. The music is lovely as always, with Paul Romero and Rob King adding some nostalgic remixes from previous titles. Marzhin, a huge Might & Magic fan and the gifted creator of the Legends of the Ancients custom campaigns and Dark Messiah map was hired as the lead level designer which reflects upon the tons of older game references and easter eggs. After all, Heroes 6 coincides with the 25th anniversary of Might & Magic and surprises are to be expected. Campaigns are more mature, avoiding the typical everyone vs demons scenario and instead focus more on the characters and their decisions. They are all connected in the overall plot, can be played in any order, feature a boss battle per two missions and unlock a final campaign upon their completion.
At some point people were concerned that following Ubisoft's recent trend, Heroes 6 would get a DRM system. What we got was the conflux, a system that rewards customers for playing online instead. It offers some lovely features, including an online profile with your achievements and stats, goodies to unlock such as avatars or hero traits, dynasty weapons to equip, a hero creation tool, a skype chat addon, customizable widgets and so on. They are fun to have but not required to play nor do they give an advantage in multiplayer as you can always disable dynasty bonuses during game creation. As an additional benefit it can support fan generated content by keeping track of the latest map/mod submissions and of course provide a direct link with the communities.
I think it is clear that a lot of care has been put into the game and even though a better budget and less risky decisions would have served it better, it is a solid game in its own right and a worthy addition to the series. It is missing some content but nothing that cannot be amended, the potential is there. I believe that we are on to something and I have high hopes for the future of the franchise.