Updated Tue, Nov 08, 2011 by Stow
When I heard that the latest Heroes of Might and Magic game was changing the title and a ton of classic features, I was wary. I can’t steal my opponent’s resource mines without taking his town first? Only three tiers of creatures instead of the typical 7+? Obviously they must have dumbed it down to the point of generic fantasy strategy, and made it not worthy of the HOMM title!
The more I play this though, the more I realize the basic game changes are a great step forward for the series. They reduce micromanagement, they increase your strategic options, and the sixth game in the series is better off for it... even if it is the same thing in the end.
If you’re new to the series, this is actually a good game to get into it with. There’s a tutorial campaign that will teach you all of the critical and new topics of the game, and it’s not a complete snooze for veterans. You’ve got three difficulty settings as well, and the going can be very rough early on in each of the campaigns on normal until you get some stats and spells under your belt.
You control one or more heroes of a faction in a turn based strategy style, with an overview map to view towns, treasures, and resources. When the battle breaks out , it turns into a grid-based tactical game, where the unit ‘stacks’ position themselves and take turns slugging it out with or without hero support. As you build up a town, you unlock more creatures, upgrades for said creatures, fortifications, and unique buildings.
Neutral camps still scale as time goes on. What was once a pack or horde might eventually grow to become a full legion of hundreds strong.
Unique buildings for the factions aren’t new by any means, but there’s a pair of new features that make them truly interesting now. Each faction now has four but you can only build two per town. The limit on them has increased the power of them however, with some having global effects for all heroes, and one of the Inferno unique causes a massive firestorm on all enemy units every turn when the town is sieged. Your decision for the unique structures often determines the role of the town.
The other feature is that you can now convert towns and forts of other factions to your own once you conquer them! This is nothing short of huge, and while very costly, all non-unique buildings switch over to the respective production buildings and generic buildings for your faction when you do this. This leads to much larger armies much faster, and when you add in the fact that your recruits are automatically pooled between towns and can be picked up from any town that you arrive at, games are both faster and require less heroes to act as caravans to ferry troops and pick up resources that your army of doom can’t be troubled to touch.
When battles break out, heroes no longer have to play by the initiative rules. Any time an allied unit has its turn, you can make your one hero attack or spell. Additionally, each faction has a unique gauge that charges as your units dish it out and take it. This gauge can be used to activate a power that will typically change the flow of battle—making a stack of troops invincible, resurrecting the dead, or calling in reinforcements for instance. These can be activated by heroes and they don’t consume the action of the hero, so it’s possible for winning battles to turn sour or vice versa very quickly.
The game story is told over the course of several campaigns, and these campaigns take a damn long time to play out. There are tons of small fry on each map to deal with, and while AI-run auto combat is an option, it’s inefficient. In the previous games you had the option to automatically resolve combat instantly and move on—not an option here, though. You can speed up movement and resolve combat quicker, but you still have to think and click it all out. Since games are often won or lost in the first ~20 minutes of combat losses in multiplayer, it’s not so bad… but in single player? It gets tiresome to keep executing the same tactics over and over again against the fairly braindead AI.
The interface works quite well. You can jump between towns quickly, recruit all in a few clicks, and quickly pull up detail on buffs, debuffs, and statistics. There are a few problems like not being able to select the enemy hero in a siege and some tooltip woes, but the game doesn’t actively go against you like a lot of other strategy titles lately. Just don’t expect a masterpiece of storytelling and you’ll enjoy the singleplayer through in-game cutscenes and getting absurdly powerful heroes and items thrown in your lap.
We’ve got a lot to look at in this game, and the majority of it is good. Some environments, such as the flaming underground of Inferno, look absolutely marvelous, where as the dying lands of Necropolis somehow manage to look bland and lifeless, and yes they’re undead, but the graphics for them shouldn’t totally devoid of life!
Critical strikes will switch to a more cinematic camera and have completely different animations. Even the most basic units have badass critical strikes, like these ranged skeletons.
Cutscenes are all told in game, and most barely get a dialog box. The opening cinematic is glorious though, and the special attention to animations during combat is fantastic. Units don’t just slap each other, even the most basic units do it with style. Vampire Lords, for instance, when told to defend take their swords and draw a shadowy line in the sand—which is perfect, seeing as they have a skill that makes the next direct attack against them fail and counter for full damage after it.