The effects of change
For over a decade, I would have answered the question “Will we ever see a better Heroes game than the third in the series?” with a resounding “no”. Heroes of Might & Magic III’s gameplay was masterfully refined, its fantasy setting dark and rich and it featured a branching storyline that had the player pick a side in an epic conflict that fans had been following for years. Without a shadow of a doubt, Heroes III was the best in the series. In contrast, the rushed Heroes IV looked like Barbie’s vacation in Candy Land and spelled the end of 3DO as the franchise’s owner and developer. Ubisoft picked up the 3DO pieces and returned the series to some of its former, darker glory with the release of Heroes of Might & Magic V. I say ‘some’ for a reason though. It was a capable turn-based strategy game but didn’t feel quite the same as the early 3DO developed titles.
But things have changed. The name changed to Might & Magic: Heroes VI, the developer changed from Nival to Black Hole and the game, well, the game is fantastic.
Heroes VI tells the story of five children of the Griffin dynasty, each thrust into a role not of their choosing and each playing a part in a plot not of their making. As the story unfolds through the game’s seven different campaigns, the plot slowly unravels as pieces of the puzzle become available to each of the siblings. But beware, not all of the children are on the same side in this conflict. As befitting a good Heroes game, plot twists abound.
Fans of the series will feel right at home playing Heroes VI. The base gameplay is almost identical to that of earlier adaptations and has the player controlling a hero character in charge of conquering a map filled with towns, caves, gold mines, wood cutters, resources waiting to be picked up and much, much more. Initially, most of these locations are guarded by groups of creatures, a few friendly and willing to team up with you, but most bent on your destruction. These need to be defeated during a turn-based battle before you can gain access to whatever they are guarding.
If you have just arrived on the map, your own stack of units is rather limited. Your hero does not physically participate in combat so you will have to learn how to keep your units alive, especially during the early stages when reinforcements are a scarce commodity. New ones can be found in towns but their meager production levels need to be boosted by conquering additional towns and then upgrading them. All of this costs money, which you don’t have right from the start so there is work to be done!
Whether commanding a huge army or a small one, engaging in combat always works the same: you simply click on a band of creatures, an enemy occupied town or an opposing hero and then the game takes you to a grid-based battlefield that resembles something of a fantasy chess board. With both armies lined up on opposite sides of the map, you now have a choice to give battle orders to your units or to throw around some spiffy-looking magic to either hurt enemy units or to buff your own. Rinse and repeat until one side loses all its units to end the combat session and return to the overall map. Easy, but oh so addictive.
Each of the seven campaigns centers on a single hero who in turn is linked to one of the five different factions in the game. The Griffin’s native faction, Haven, is rather dominant throughout all the campaigns and you’ll find yourself playing for them, against them and even both for - and - against them at the same time at some point. That’s not to say the other factions are hidden away, though. The hellish Inferno, the ghostly Necropolis, the watery Sanctuary and the Orcish Stronghold factions are each featured prominently throughout the campaigns and are unique enough to offer a nice refresher of the base gameplay mechanics with every switch.
Very much a Heroes game, best of the series.
Don’t forget to feed yourself every now and then.