By Damian Cavanagh
In the gaming world, if you are not a sports title or an extremely popular first-person shooter franchise, it’s very difficult to keep churning out games and keep the punters interested. Ubisoft and Black Hole have beaten the odds and done just this, but they were smart about it: they listened to the fans. The sixth in a game series that began in 1995, complete with a name shuffle, Might & Magic Heroes VI is a fine example of turn based strategy gaming, resulting from months of interactions with Might and Magic faithful and turning the ship around, back towards the play of Heroes III and IV.
Gameplay is based around players building castles/towns, collecting resources and building armies; standard strategy stuff. When your main character ventures out into the world, battles against creatures and other armies take place on a grid and are turn-based. The positioning of a player's troop can have an effect on attacks and retaliation. This can really work to your advantage and minimise the casualties of war. Larger troops take up more than one grid square and when you factor in obstacles that appear on the battle grid a well thought out strategy can defeat an all guns blazing-type attack any day of the week.
Building your character throughout the game (either single or multi) has become a little more complex than it was in preceding games. Spells were acquired through Magic Guilds built in your towns and skills were randomly awarded when reaching a level marker, but that has now been changed. There’s no more luck involved as to what you will achieve, everything is your own choice. Each time your character advances another level you earn an ability point Ability Point, which you can choose to spend on abilities or spells. The skill tree where you make this selection from is initially extremely overwhelming, with its extensive selection. It pays to take some time to become familiar with what’s available to you. The equipment layout for you character lacks the visual appeal that it once had; making it hard to decipher which item goes where. Heroes VI brings out your ‘shoulder angels’ as well, letting you decide which path to take in certain situations: The Path of Blood and the Path of Tears. It’s the good/bad path application that has become a popular function in games. Another perk is that certain armour sets provide extra stats for your character. The more you collect the more bonuses are applied to your character, although it is extremely hard to collect every piece of a set.
The storyline for the single player campaign is well written and plays out well, involving all of the available factions. It should be familiar to those who have experience in Might & Magic, but those who are new shouldn’t have any trouble following the characters and picking up the storyline. There are some great twists and turns which keep the game and story fresh. The best part of the single player campaign is the ability to re-do a battle that you have lost... and you will lose. To be successful you have to find the medium between waiting and building your army or getting out there before your enemy builds a bigger one. This is also handy if you use the auto-combat feature. I believe that more often than not, a blind man could be more successful than the auto combat option as it quite often sends your troops to their death instead of playing strategically/defensively. You will gain achievements throughout the game, which aren’t truly necessary, but will gain you bonuses through your Uplay account, including playable characters, avatars and wallpapers.
Even though the system requirements for Heroes VI aren’t very high at all and the game doesn’t require a super-duper, kick arse graphics card, the environments in Heroes VI are quite lovely. Not only that, but the creatures are well detailed, as displayed in the Collector’s Edition art book. During battle, if you leave them alone long enough, your army will begin their own little animations. I swear I saw crossbowmen using their crossbows like pogo sticks. The different factions, Haven, Sanctuary, Stronghold, Inferno, Necropolis and Dungeon, are well represented with a variety of interesting characters with different abilities, including hand to hand soldiers, archers and magic users.
Heroes VI Complete includes the three additions to the original release: "Pirates of the Savage Seas," starring popular Heroes character Crag Hack; "Danse Macabre," starring another long time character in the Necromancer Sandro and the 2013 release" Shades of Darkness," revolving around Raelag and the Dark Elves, who first appeared in Heroes V. These combined bring eleven campaigns to conquer and complete, producing many hours of gaming. Put that together with multiplayer hot seat and online game play and one would be hard pressed to find better value for money.
If for some reason fans of the series have been waiting to purchase Might and Magic: Heroes VI, now is the time to do it, with all expansions included. Newcomers should be suitably impressed too. There has been a great improvement on its predecessor and that is due to the creators listening to what the fans had to say. Even though the game play can seem to drag sometimes with the grind of building armies, it's the end result and the thrill of victory that will satisfy the medieval leader in us all, either against the PC or against friends. Yes, it has some downfalls, but they are so minor that the positives really shine through.