First Look: Might & Magic Heroes Online

Might & Magic Heroes Online will mark the next iteration of a beloved fantasy series dating to the nineties. We have a first look at MMHO gameplay and combat and share some early thoughts on the game's brand fidelity at gamescom 2012.

MMHO screenshot

If the MMO theme for most of this year's events season was
MMOFPSs, gamescom's theme was browser-based MMORPGs of a quality that we've
never seen before, and we've seen plenty of good attempts over the
years. Ubisoft alone is featuring three high quality browser-based MMOs
featuring major IPs that require no downloads or plugins and, according
to the developers from Dusseldorf's Blue Byte studio, push Flash like it's
never been pushed before. We took href="">a
look at Anno Online
yesterday and praised the developers for achieving no-compromises, true-to-brand
gameplay in a browser. And we could say the same for style="font-style: italic;">Might &
Magic Heroes Online, Ubisoft's upcoming attempt at taking their
flagship medieval fantasy IP online.

Using at least four of the iconic factions of the series
(Haven, Stronghold, Necropolis, and Inferno... I didn't spot any
Sanctuary units) and the same world, Ashan, players will have the
ability to play as co-op and join combat together. Blue Byte promised
many of the community characteristics of MMOs: join guilds, interact in
towns, and fight together in dungeons and raids. But online community
centers on combat, and MMHO has quite a legacy to live up to.

MMHO screenshot
MMHO screenshot

Traditionally, Heroes of Might and Magic are known for the
iconic use of tabletop grid-style turn-based battles that the player is
dropped into (Final Fantasy style, but with more units and tactical
options), from the exploration- and quest-driven campaign map (which is
not turn-based, as in previous iterations of the series). MMHO stays
true to these battles, albeit without the square grid of MM Heroes VI
in favor of the hex grid used earlier in the series. As importantly,
battle maps respect the geometry and features of the campaign map,
which leads to some interesting tactical options. One battle saw our
hero battle a giant demonic boss mob, and his minions on a bridge.
Realizing the danger in attacking a choke point, the Blue Byte presenter
spawned a skeleton across the chasm (a classic Necropolis maneuver) to
deal with ranged units while his foot soldiers dealt with boss. He noted
that players can mix and match faction units, so your Haven hero can in
fact parachute a skeleton in behind enemy lines.

Had his forces been defeated, the hero (who stands outside the
grid, just like in classic MM play) would have had to beat a hasty
retreat. The presenter explained that this was exactly the case with
his first attempt at this boss, but he'd spent literally hours
gathering gold in the north to hire more and better minions and
equipping them to aid in the fight. As it was, he lost one minor
minion, which was easily revived with a little gold. Speaking of which,
gold, items, and artifacts come as battle and quest rewards, of course,
but may also be found lying out in the open, which really can make
exploration and working through side quests worthwhile.

A second battle featured an even bigger boss mob, Urtakh, one
of the scripted encounters in MMHO. The presenter noted that battles
can have their own special win and lose conditions - not all are a
battle to the death. Urtakh, for example, slowly approaches the player
and, unless the player deals with all of his minions before he arrives,
he'll take and deal extra damage.

MMHO screenshot
MMHO screenshot

Graphically, Blue Byte touts the game as Triple A, and it was
hard to fault that description. In addition to flicker-free framerates
- a true rarity Blue Byte had to expose the browser title bar for us to
believe that we were in fact playing in a browser, and that's no small
praise. The presenter's Haven character traveled to Blackened Falls on
the edge of Inferno territory just for a change of scenery, and the
palette was indeed much brighter than the Necropolis lands we'd been
adventuring through and exhibited just as much fine detail and vertical

Blue Byte wasn't ready to talk about the potential
complexities of creating an online TBS; things like what happens in
co-op combat when your friend steps away from the computer or even the
existence of PvP in the game, but there's little doubt that Might
& Magic TBS fans perhaps a little disenchanted with MM Heroes
VI's rough edges won't have too long to wait for an online and
brand-authentic iteration of their beloved series, with a tentative
launch set for Q4 2012.

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