by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Never bored (cntd)
Much of this freshness comes from the beautifully crafted creatures that the game is rich. Both artwork and animations are top-notch and while there is some overlap between a number of the faction’s unit types in terms of attacks and defensive moves, this rarely notices due to the wide diversity in their animations. Watching a Griffin dive towards an enemy stack is a very satisfying experience, as is seeing your elite archers driving an arrow through a number of stacks at once, doing damage to each as it passes through. Of course not all archers are born elite. The base archer doesn’t have the ability to attack multiple stacks that are lined up but can only attack a single arrow. But the elite archer in this example will do damage to your own units as well should they be in the way. There is a good bit of strategy involved too, as Haven’s faction ability is making a stack immune to any form of damage which is a good way to keep a single unit of your own from harm and still being able to shoot that arrow. The other faction’s abilities do different things like heal or protect stacks but no matter which faction you play, their ability can only be used when the meter has filled up by death and sorrow on the battlefield.
Units attack in a predetermined order which is based on a readiness rating. Visiting special locations on the campaign map can increase unit readiness, as can hero attributes and certain spells. When a stack is ready to go, you can make them wait for a short while which will put them further down the attack chain. Doing so might mean they will take damage before they are up again but there are numerous strategic reasons to make them wait, such as using healing skills which are often best done at the end of a turn.
The way you want it
While the makeup of the creatures of each faction is set in stone, heroes are blank slates and can be upgraded and honed into either a fearsome warrior (might) or a frightening mage (magic). Well, perhaps not quite blank as your hero starts with an affinity towards either magic or might. It’s entirely possible to shape a hero with warrior affinity into a respectable mage - or vice versa - but heroes really do come into their own when you stick to their original affinity.
When distributing experience points across either might or magic related skills, you will have a wide array of options to choose from. Some of the more satisfying spells focus on destruction, throwing boulders of ice at a target, or dropping a fiery Armageddon on a group of targets. These are not necessarily the most powerful spells, or even the most satisfying. Cleverly using healing and protective spells in a difficult battle and walking out of it with almost your entire army intact can be very gratifying indeed. On the might side, the roster of options includes increased mobility, more powerful arrows and an extra attack for the first unit that takes out the last creature in an enemy stack.
Heroes VI is polished to perfection in every possible way and features many small but nevertheless significant improvements that modernize the original formula. To speed up the pace, resource gathering buildings are now tied to a specific area. Controlling the fort or castle in that area entitles you to whatever they produce, effectively removing the need to recapture them every time an enemy hero takes it from you. Another innovation is that the - possible - outcome of each battle is calculated prior to going to the combat stage. You can accept this outcome, or play manually to throw your own tactical prowess into the mix.
More polish is found in map design. The artistry, variety and care found in the environments and individual objects are at times simply breathtaking. Every map is unique in its layout and discovering everything that it has to offer feels like going on an adventure. To keep players from being overwhelmed by a much stronger AI army, many maps have sections that are closed off until you are sufficiently powerful to break through a creature blockade or until you fulfill a quest triggering the opening of a gate. That’s not to say the game is easy though. Underestimate your enemy once and your time on the map will be cut short for sure and especially the period just after unlocking a new area can be pivotal for your success.
It is, really, it is
There is so much more to tell about Heroes VI but despite my best efforts, it is almost impossible to convey just how much it feels like a heroes game. Play it, but beware, the campaign will take you weeks to complete even if every minute is spent in enjoyment.
Ask me the question in the opening paragraph today, I will answer that Heroes III had a good run but it is no longer the best Heroes game ever made, this is. Might & Magic: Heroes VI takes the original concept, masterfully refines it to new heights without losing sight of what made its predecessors such great games. In doing so, it honors the Heroes franchise every step of the way.
Very much a Heroes game, best of the series.
Don’t forget to feed yourself every now and then.