Review: Might and Magic Heroes VIBy Miodrag Kovačević | October 21, 2011 | Reviews | 1 comment | Share
Even if I had devoted every instant of my free time to Might and Magic Heroes VI since its release, I wouldn’t have gotten through everything it has to offer. It is a massive game, like every Heroes title. I give this as a fair disclaimer to readers: my time spent with the game goes into the double digits and yet I can’t say I’ve seen it all. Another disclaimer I’m sure people are interested in is my familiarity with the franchise. As I mentioned in my first impressions article, I’ve played Heroes of Might and Magic III for months at times, I gave up on Heroes IV and I was never captivated by Heroes V the same way I was by the “Golden Age” of the franchise. I tried to poke everything I thought relevant and ask myself “Why did they add, change or remove this?” Sometimes, I got a reasonable answer, other times I remained flabbergasted.
I was never a fan of Heroes’ campaigns, mythology or folklore. I know the plot of Shadow of Death, but that’s about it. My fun lay in playing skirmish to no end. Yet, after trying that with the latest installment, I felt overwhelmed by all the changes. I wasn’t sure how things worked, so I thought to myself that the best course of action would be playing the tutorial campaign. The story is set in the same world as Heroes V, but before its events. It follows the Duke of Griffin and his five children. It all starts rather low key, but quickly descends into typical medieval soap opera.
I did not mind this, however. It seemed fitting for a game about warfare to have such melodrama and cheesy voice acting. I wasn’t put off, nor was I particularly captivated by the happenings the game tried to portray. I was a fan of the actual missions, though. After playing the first two missions of the Necropolis campaign, I had a clear idea of what was in store for me. You see, it’s not a simple matter of just saving or conquering something; as you progress through the map, new sidequests will emerge, your main quest will change and the story will progress significantly. All this will happen within one map and it feels more like you are questing in an area of a fantasy MMO, rather than a strategy game.
The pace is nice and you don’t have access to everything right away. The game is more fond of making you earn and then learn to use new types of units before it will unlock more options for your hero and your towns. It is, even beyond the tutorial campaign, a very good way to familiarize yourself with each faction.
If you were a fan of the franchise and were reading up on this newest iteration, then you’ve likely already heard the three biggest changes: there are only 5 factions, there is no town screen, there are only four resources. I’ll wait for your mind to recover from the utter shock of this revelation. Done? Good.
Despite the raised flags regarding these decisions, I am left wondering why everyone is causing such a ruckus over them. I am slightly miffed about the lack of factions compared to older titles (including the lack of Dungeon), but the ones up for grabs at least get the job done and offer enough variety. The units also work together far better, so rather than being rewarded only by positive morale for having units of a single faction, the units complement each other very well. I had only noticed this after playing duel mode with Sanctuary (Water Samurai, to put it simply), but with the proper hero abilities and smart use of units, you had an army that worked better than anything I’ve seen in Heroes III. Not “better” in the sense of power, but rather like a well-oiled clockwork machine.
As far as resources and town screens go, I consider the former a good change and the latter a trivial one. A universal “precious” resource in addition to wood, ore and gold is far smoother from a gameplay standpoint, which seems to have been the general goal with Heroes VI: focus on the gameplay. While there is a slight delight in seeing that a Black Dragon appropriately requires sulfur to recruit, having so many resources was a gameplay mess.
The town screen, though? I loved the town screens in the previous games and am slightly surprised that they turned it into a window with tabs. Like with the sulfur example, there was this mood that the cities set. It was something you built and saw evolve. It provided a sense of grandeur. On the other hand, the current version is more to the point. It’s obvious that the developers didn’t want you spending time in towns more than was necessary. Want to buy all available units? There’s a button for that. Want to recruit heroes or go to the marketplace? The tabs are down there. Construction also has a tab. It’s very streamlined and after getting used to it, you’ll notice the time saved compared to previous titles.
On the other hand, the whole streamlining did come with its drawbacks. The most notable one being that it took me forever to figure out which unit did what. You see, in Heroes III, right click on a unit listed all its abilities under the stats in plain white text. That’s not the case here. In Heroes VI, all special abilities are icon based and you have to hover your cursor over said icons and wait for the text overlay to pop up. You would assume that over time, you’d learn to tell the icons apart and know right away who did what. This would be true if the abilities were universal, but only a handful of them are. Most are unique to one or two units, so you’ll spend a good deal of combat waiting for text to pop up.
Another pretty big change are areas of influence on the world map. Each area has its fort, most of which are unclaimed at first and can be converted to your faction for a price (a good time to mention that you can also convert cities to your faction if you desire). Now, if a fort is unclaimed, you can take over mines normally. However, if your opponent claims a fort and a mine in its area of influence, you cannot take over the mine short of camping with your hero there. In short, if you own the area by owning the fort, you also own all the mines in that area as long as the guards are eliminated. As towns act as forts for their own area, this means you won’t have heroes flagging your mines and running away, wasting your time just to go out in order to reclaim it. On the other hand, the strategy still exists thanks to two abilities you can learn. You can either plunder a mine, taking three days worth of income and denying your opponent of them, or sabotage a mine and deny anyone any income from it for a whole week. It works pretty well in practice and doesn’t force you to spread your army thin.
Speaking of armies, unit preservation is now of utmost importance. It’s not a matter of whether you win or lose, but a matter of winning with as few losses as possible. Units are expensive and harder to come by, so you can easily find yourself losing the game even if you win a key battle. If only because you won’t be able to surmount what’s ahead of you short of retreating and building up your army again (if you have that luxury). This, of course, makes healing spells vital. So vital, that overhealing a unit will result in resurrecting any fallen soldiers from the stack you applied your heal on. Obviously, this will result in units with such abilities to be an important part of your army, but the way it usually plays out is extremely annoying. For example, Haven has Sisters, priests who can heal up to two times in battle. If there’s a stack of, say, 60 Sisters, you’ll likely find yourself killing some Crossbowmen only to have them resurrected by the Sisters. On the other hand, if you focus your attacks on the Sisters, they’ll just heal themselves. This all means that you will either have to hit them with enough force to kill the majority of the stack and diminish their healing capabilities, or you’re bound to write off two of your attacks to being nullified by healing. And let’s not get into scenarios where you’ll encounter two stacks of healers… Is it useful given the importance of keeping your units alive? It is, but it’s also annoying beyond comprehension.
Of Might and Magic
Whenever your hero gains a level, they also gain a single ability point, which they are free to invest in either Might or Magic abilities. Each type is divided into sub-categories and each sub-category is divided into three tiers, for which access is based on your hero’s level. If they are Might, they can access all tiers of the Might trees and two tiers of all Magic trees (vice-versa for Magic heroes).
Might is based more on passive bonuses, war cries and generally “practical” things like diplomacy, creature growth and pathfinding. Magic deals with the efficiency and ability to cast spells. This means that, yes, you no longer learn spells in Mage Guilds, but have to invest an ability point for them. Obviously, the amount of spells you can learn has been drastically decreased, but most of them are incorporated in some form or another. Instead of having both Curse and Weakness which scale based on your magic school expertise, they can now be learned as Weakness and Mass Weakness. There is no Bless spell, but you can learn a war cry called Heroism and Mass Heroism. There is no Town Portal in the typical sense, but rather, you have to build a structure in your town which acts as one. Don’t worry, there’s still Implosion at least.
In addition to this, there’s also a minor morality system called “Path of Blood and Tears”. You gain points for each by using specific abilities or casting specific spells, or by actions like pursuing or letting enemies flee. You can only follow one path, even if you gain points for both, and each path has two levels. The only thing that gaining a level in Blood or Tears does is alter your character’s appearance and give them one special ability per level. Blood abilities are generally damaging or “violent”, while Tears are usually debuffs and passive abilities.
Another new hero-related mechanic is a special gauge which fills up under certain circumstances. Haven’s gauge fills up when morale is high, while Sanctuary’s is filled up whenever you hit an enemy who wasn’t damaged on your current turn. When they are high enough, you can use them in combat. The effects are generally short, but helpful and also scale based on your hero’s level. The Sanctuary one, named Honour, boosts the might and magic defense of all your units for one turn on its first level, but also boosts their maximum health on its second level.
Uplay, Conflux, Dynasties and General Gripes
Heroes VI integrates two systems into it: Uplay and Conflux. Uplay is your typial publisher-owned network. You can make your profile, post your status and whatnot. It only impacts the game with U-points, Uplay’s universal currency which you use to buy specific DLC for any of Ubisoft’s game on any platform, as long as you own it and have it bound to your account. I am guessing this is neat for people who own multiple Ubisoft games, but it was irrelevant to my own game sessions.
The Conflux is the whole system under which Heroes VI operates. It handles chat, friend lists, Skype, news and the Dynasty system. Before I get on to the whole Dynasty thing, I’d like to note that the one function I did use from Conflux, which was the chat system, worked as intended. Now, here’s where things get iffy, to put it mildly. There are Dynasty seals which you use as currency to buy things in the game’s Altar of Wishes. Most of them are cosmetic and boil down to profile portraits and titles. I say most because you can also buy Dynasty Weapons and Dynasty Traits. Dynasty Traits are probably best compared to Call of Duty perk equipping. You have trait slots which you can unlock more of later on and put specific traits you bought into them. They aren’t necessarily overpowered, but they give a noteworthy edge, like starting with 5 more Ore and Wood or increasing Core Creature growth by 3. Some are more circumstantial, like gaining +15 Destiny for your next battle whenever you find an artifact.
The Dynasty weapons are artifacts which gain their own experience. Much like how your Player Level (not hero level) is raised whenever you gain experience in the game, the same applies to the Dynasty weapons. The higher the weapon, the more abilities it grants to its wielder. Thankfully, both of these can be turned off in multiplayer games and are actually off by default.
Now, here’s where I apply my Palm of Might to my Face of Magic. You see, all this Dynasty stuff is available only while you are connected to the Conflux, which, of course, means you have to be connected to the Internet. The Dynasty weapons are unlockable in the single-player campaign as well, so that means that if you, like me, initially started playing the game in offline mode, you’ll get told something along the lines of “Congratulations, you have unlocked This Weapon, but you can’t use it because you’re not connected to the Conflux”. And this wasn’t just “some weapon”, my character was given a magical family heirloom which probably held some emotional significance at least. Yes, even if it is miniscule, you are still denied some singleplayer content if you have the bad luck of playing without an Internet connection. Although that would be the least of your worries.
Before I get to the really big issue, there is one particular instance where playing offline is actually useful. If you’re playing in offline mode and want to play a skirmish map, you just choose the map, the faction and one of two pre-made heroes for each. If you’re playing in online mode and want a quick skirmish, you have to first create your own hero for the faction you want to play before you can choose a faction. The default ones are gone for some reason. I cannot stress how utterly counter-productive this is, as you are expected to be able to choose a proper specialty for a faction you aren’t familiar with. If it’s a magic hero, then there’s a really big chance of you choosing the wrong specialty.
But all this pales in comparison to the dreaded UbiDRM which is, of course, included here as well. As hinted at earlier, there are two modes: online and offline. You can pretty much consider the two separate entities for all purposes. Why? First off, the saves are separate. What is saved in offline mode cannot be used in online mode and vice-versa. Online mode offers the advantage of cloud saves, but you’re at a disadvantage because your slots are limited to 10 (auto-saves thankfully excluded). Here’s the kicker. Out of curiosity, I decided to check what would happen if my Internet was disabled while playing a single-player skirmish game while connected to the Conflux, since my own connection is pretty stable and rarely dies on me. So, modem is off, I click “next turn” and the game notifies me that because I am no longer connected, I am being sent to the main menu. Let me emphasize that: I was removed from a single-player session because my Internet was dead. And since the saves for online and offline are separate, I couldn’t continue my previous game in offline mode. Not only that, but when I restored my connection and reconnected to the Conflux without exiting the game, it got stuck in limbo and required I restart it before playing again. So, if I expect my Internet do die or just not work for whatever reason, I’ll have to play in offline mode from the start, which, in turn, means I cannot use the Dynasty weapons I’ve been oh-so-diligently been levelling up. And if I’m playing the campaign? Any progress made offline will not be applicable when I am online again. How is any of this ok?
So, Heroes III or Heroes VI? I am happy to say that it depends, actually. Heroes VI is an improvement gameplay-wise, even with the Dynasty and healing silliness. If you’re looking for gameplay in the vein of Heroes III, then I believe you will likely enjoy Heroes VI. On the other hand, Heroes III is vastly superior in regards to presentation. Heroes VI catches the essence of the atmosphere, but doesn’t reach the scale. This is due to a few things. The town screen, the greater number of resources (which, as I’ve said before, contribute to atmosphere, but detract from gameplay) and the music. Heroes VI has a very good soundtrack, but it doesn’t reach the majestic brilliance of Heroes III.
Heroes VI has a lot of little issues I haven’t mentioned, because it would turn into a pretty long, but irrelevant list. I don’t like how it sometimes takes longer to load. I don’t like that it doesn’t tell me how many stacks, not just the type of enemies a mob has on the world map. I don’t like that in single-player, when using tactics, I can’t see the world mobs before I click accept, but for some reason, when playing online, I can unless they’re an opposing hero’s army. It’s mostly little things which, when piled up, start being annoying, but on their own have little impact.
If you’re looking for the atmosphere and scope, go back to Heroes III. If you’re looking for improved gameplay, Heroes VI will have you covered
If you’re looking for the atmosphere and scope, go back to Heroes III. If you’re looking for improved gameplay, Heroes VI will have you covered, even if it’s rather low-key on presentation. However, even if I am giving a recommendation for the game, I can not, in clear conscience, give a recommendation for the product. The whole way the Conflux and Dynasty systems are integrated, despite some obvious well-working features, feel like sugar-coating DRM. When the pros are weighed against the cons, the cons feel more substantial. Yes, I didn’t have a problem, because my Internet didn’t die. But it could have. I could go broke tomorrow and be without Internet for a month. My ISP could have technical issues. Maybe I’d have to move somewhere where installing a working Internet connection isn’t immediate. A great deal of things could easily happen, and do happen to many players on a regular basis. If staying online constantly isn’t an issue for you, then ignore my criticism and raise the score below by 1. It’s a shame, because it’s a great game I can’t recommend you buy.
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