by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
What’s in a name
Excitement rapidly changed into puzzlement and then bewilderment at Ubisoft’s announcement that they were working on a new game in the Heroes of Might & Magic series. This wasn’t because its announcement was unexpected, but because of its name: Might & Magic: Heroes VI. I don’t know about you, but to me it sounds like ‘hitting the head on the nail’ or ‘ when flies pig’. Reading the press release, the thought even crossed my mind that some French PR person with poor knowledge of both English and the series must have really messed up writing it. As it turned out, the odd name was completely intentional. When asked, Ubisoft explained that they were planning on fully reviving the franchise, going beyond the turn-based gameplay of Heroes and branching out to one or more other genres. A new Might & Magic RPG is certainly an exciting idea but I don’t really see the need for a forced name change for HoMM, or... MMH from now on, I guess.
Might & Magic: Heroes VI takes the player back to about 400 years before Heroes of Might & Magic V and puts him into the role of one of five siblings, each hell bent on destroying every other member of the family. Ubisoft is still keeping much of the storyline to themselves but did say that a once loving royal family fell apart through treachery, thus explaining the feud between the five. Each sibling represents one of five factions. Set to return are the Haven (human), Inferno (demon) and Necropolis (death) factions. Every sibling also represents a campaign. Yep, that’s right, the game will sport 5 full campaigns, each connected to the other but playable in any which order you are interested in.
How she plays
Odd naming conventions aside, the game we saw live at Gamescom was very much a Heroes of Might & Magic... dang... Might & Magic: Heroes game. Four years have passed since Heroes of Might & Magic V and game engine technology has improved considerably since. This jump in technology translates mostly into tweaks, some small, some a little bigger.
One such change is the map size. We were shown a map called “The Wolf and the Spider” which appeared to be roughly four times the size of any map I have ever seen in any Heroes of Might & Magic game. Obviously bigger maps mean more territory to defend. Fans of the series will no doubt remember the painstaking business of reconquering resource-producing buildings from troublesome heroes wandering in far off and unprotected areas. Taking a page out of Disciples’ book, developer Black hole are populating each map with Focus Points that control all resource buildings in a given area. Control the Focus Point and you will gain the production of all buildings in the area.
Castles no longer require to be ‘entered’ in order to view and use their buildings and unit production facilities. You will still need to approach the town but can then access existing buildings or create new ones from the overall map without having to endure loading screens. Owned castles do not necessarily reflect their owner’s faction and, once owned, a Haven hero can just as easily hire Inferno units as he would units from his own faction. Upon capturing a new castle, the player is asked if he wants to convert it to his own faction or keep it as it is. Converting, however, does mean the loss of any buildings unique to the original faction.
Fighting the fight
The turn-based arena’s too have grown in size. The playable area has been increased in size while the size of individual squares has been decreased. I estimate that the result of these two actions means at least that each arena can hold at least 50% more squares than in Heroes of Might & Magic V. It’s speculative, but technically this could mean 50% larger armies as well.
The arena that you see when combat begins, may not be the same as you will be fighting on when it runs at the end. Ubisoft promises dynamic arena’s that can be changed by player and AI actions, as well as random events. A safe natural barrier may remain that until the end of the session, but may also vanish into thin air right before your very eyes, opening up your weakly armored ranged units to powerful blows from your enemy’s melee fighters. Some arena’s may actually slowly flood while playing on them, quickly making occupy-able space scarce and throwing up new natural barriers in the process.
A lot of effort has been put into creating factions that not only look unique, but also play unique. A Necropolis army, for example, is filled with relatively lightly armored units. Such an army relies on necromancy skills to get any slain individual back into action as soon as possible. A Haven army on the other hand, is composed of veritable tanks that will be expensive to recruit but hard to put out of business.
Like the old, but fresh
If the above isn’t enough to peak your interest, there is more, lots more. How about a bigger than ever skill tree for your heroes? Or faction-specific abilities that charge up as you fight an arena battle, allowing you to either use your powers multiple times with a small effect or one time with a bang? And if you are a hardcore fan and some of these changes sound somewhat frightening to you, then let me put your mind at ease: everything is done with the utmost respect to the original Heroes of Might & Magic formula. Indeed, Might & Magic: Heroes VI has so much to offer that you’d almost forget its name. Almost.