The Heroes of Might & Magic series has always been a favourite among strategy fans. After a few years absence, the world of Might & Magic is poised for a comeback with Might & Magic: Heroes VI.
One year after its announcement at Gamescom 2010, we got our hands on a preview version, and the full game is expected in a month's time. The build we've been playing is content complete, but needs some polish and cleaning up, along with the usual bug fixes.
Simplicity and tradition are the first two words that come to mind after the first mission. You will instantly feel comfortable with the game, and if you've enjoyed previous chapters expect more of the same. There has however, been a degree of modernisation, with improved graphical quality (none of the roughness found in Heroes of Might & Magic V), the presence of cut scenes and a richer storyline, full of subplots with some excellent twists, added for good measure. Yet the developers haven't taken anything for granted and streamlined certain aspects of the game.
This focus to make the game more accessible doesn't eat into the difficulty or complexity of a game that has always been known for its challenge. The first important change is the reduction from six to four kinds of resources. It makes it easier to get a handle on them all, although it's easy enough in the early stages. On the other hand, resources gained are no longer guaranteed as you need to keep control over cities in order to benefit from the resources gained from the surrounding area. Losing a city will seriously harm your economy. We expect this will be a serious point of excitement in the multiplayer.
The second major change is that there will only be one class of hero in the game. Again, this may sound overly-simplistic, but by choosing paths in the skill tree you will carve out your own kind of hero. When levelling up you will be able to choose new skills (active or passive) in the branched skill tree. You will also be able to pick "tears" (good) and "blood" (chaotic), and thus influence both stats and the course of the story. This new system replaces the guilds of old, and you no longer have to acquire new spells through specific buildings.
Contrary to what was initially announced, the game will only host five factions: Haven, Inferno, Sanctuary, Necropolis and Stronghold. They all appear well balanced, with recognisable classes of monsters and characters. Here's your tank, your ranger units, the expendable cannon fodder, and your mages.
When it comes to the battle some interesting elements generate some rather complex tactics to be employed.
First, the flow of the battle is influenced by the terrain. You can use obstacles as cover from ranged attacks and heal your units accordingly. Secondly, you will need to think of which direction to attack from. The playing field is divided into squares, and you can attack from all sides as well as diagonally. Nearby allies increase the chances of a successful attack and inflict more damage. You will be able to assess from where you stand where to inflict the most damage before committing to the action.
One final important thing to note is the fully dynamic map. You have a limited amount of moves before the end of the day, and at the end of the turn your enemies will acquire new units. You will therefore need to strike a balance between battles and exploration so that you're not outnumbered. If you overcommit to exploration you will find yourself facing impossible odds in combat, and vice versa if you ignore resources and artefacts you will have a hard time with bosses and the most powerful enemies you encounter.
After a few days of testing we're left with the feeling that this is the triumphant return of a truly great series. There is every reason to be excited about the return of a franchise that has stayed in the shadows for almost five years.
Newcomers to the series will be glad to find that it has been made somewhat more accessible, but even with these changes it remains a game that will challenge you and require a great deal of commitment. This is especially true of the multiplayer where your nerves will be put to the test.