Might and Magic Heroes 6 (since when is this series not called Heroes of Might and Magic?) was released last Thursday, and over the weekend I spent a good deal of time with it, including a multi-player game along with a bunch of campaign maps. I’ve written about the beta before, but I want to put together a more complete piece now, especially given the changes between the full release and the beta.
Heroes 6 is, by far, the most polished game at release the series has ever seen. To say that everything (so far) works might not sound like a huge compliment, but if you have ever played a Heroes game before, you know what I’m talking about. The decision to push the release back, along with holding an extensive beta, worked out great. It runs without a hitch at the highest settings, so far I’ve not heard anything weird or off with the sound or voice work, and multiplayer connected and was smooth from start to finish. Hell the game even reloads quickly.
The graphics and sound are AAA caliber. The game maps look amazing, the units have great animations, and even the voice work is above average overall. There are also nice options to speed things up, such as fast battle animations, no zoom-in camera, or just letting the game auto-battle combat for you, with the option to replay the battle if you don’t like the results.
The game also has a lot of other ‘stuff’ going on outside of any one map/game. First you have your dynasty rank, which is an account-level… account that has its own XP bar. As you go up in ranks, you open up more stuff at the in-game store. In this store you can buy fluff stuff like titles, character portraits, and dynasty traits. You get store points by completing achievements, which for the most part is the usual “kill 1000 monsters”, “finish combat in one round” stuff. It’s cute, and just more things to unlock as you play. If you are someone who loves the gotta-catch-em-all aspect, Heroes does a nice job here.
Similar to your dynasty rank, but with more in-game impact, are the new dynasty weapons. These are artifacts that can also level up (think LotRO), and with each level more stats/abilities become available. The weapons are tied to your account, so you can give them to any hero (there are some requirements for using them) in any game. You can disable dynasty weapons in multiplayer. They are found while you play the campaign, which is pretty interesting. Also during the campaign, your main hero keeps artifacts that are part of a set from one map to the other, giving the campaign a little more ‘carry-over’ and gives you incentive to fully explore each map. IMO these are all nice additions to the Heroes formula. They don’t dominate the game, or completely change the feel, but rather bring the series into 2011. Best of all they don’t feel out of place or forced, nor do they imbalance the game.
Gameplay is both classic Heroes while also feeling fresh thanks to some of the changes. While not all of the units are totally new, they all play a little differently and have their own unique aspects. For instance, all factions have a low-tier archer unit that you have to protect and that does decent damage at range. But the Orc faction’s unit, the goblin, has a trap ability that can be placed and stops movement if it’s crossed, while the Undead skeleton has an AoE slow. Add in the racial ability of the undead (raise units back up), or the Orc’s (hit harder/move faster), and the two units, while similar, do indeed play differently. Multiply this by the total number of units, the different hero abilities/items/spells, and the strategy aspect of Heroes 6 is pretty deep. There is also plenty of room for expansion in terms of new factions, which I’m sure Ubisoft and the devs will take advantage of in the future.
The campaign, from what I’ve seen so far, is solid. The two intro missions set the stage for each factions 4-mission/map story, and there is a final (locked) campaign that I’m guessing concludes the whole thing. I’ve beaten three of the four undead maps so far, and each one has been entertaining and progressed the story nicely. The pacing is very noticeable, with a good blend of “just playing Heroes” and story/movie breaks at key moments. There are also interesting ‘one off’ battles, which can feature special conditions or units, and require you to change up your strategy.
As has always been the case, Heroes is certainly not a casual game in many ways. The campaign maps take hours to complete (you can of course save along the way), as do multiplayer games. The one multiplayer map I’ve played so far, a three-way game with a buddy and comp AI, took us about 4 hours start-to-finish, and that’s with most battles being resolved with the auto-calc feature. We had a great time, but this is not a pickup-and-play type of game.
If you have played and enjoyed pervious Heroes games, I can’t imagine you will be disappointed with Heroes 6. I’d also recommend the game to anyone looking for a strategy fix that has some time/patience. While the game has 2011-era features, at its core it’s an old-school game. It’s deep, it takes time, and (for me) its ultimately very rewarding.