Right, now that you’re up to speed with the behaviour of a Heroes of Might and Magic game, and you know the purpose of the Conrflux, let’s dive into this 25th anniversary edition of the game to see if it's any good.
For the sake of starting somewhere, you play as the Griffin dynasty, who must fight against a resurrected archangel general that wishes to dominate the world. Duke Slava is the head of the family, tutored by his Necromancer Aunt Sveltana. These two, and Slava’s five children, are the main heroes of the campaign.
This means you’ll be playing as the Haven (feudal human, or near enough) and Sanctuary (Samurai sea-monsters) factions quite a bit. You’ll mainly fight the Inferno (demon), Necropolis (undead) and Stronghold (barbarian) factions.
This is your hero. Fear his vacant stare
Thankfully, the story doesn’t matter. It’s merely a pre-amble and low-polygon cut-scene to explain why you’re now on map_08, faction=haven, dynasty_trait=0 (offline), victory condition=6. Now go and conquer everything!
This is a blessing, as it means you can skip the awful voice-acting. Not only is the script laughable and clichéd, but the emphasis is all over the place. At one point we were looting the ancient Griffin family crypt and our orc companion was amazed: ‘Humans have so many artefacts, can bury them with dead?’ However, the last part was delivered more like a child asking to get into the biscuit tin. How hard, can it be to get the delivery at least roughly right?
Of course, nothing was said when the heir of Griffin just helped himself to said artefacts from the ancient tombs of his ancestors – this is a game with strong RPG leanings, after all.
Partially, Heroes games are about mastering the complexity of the traits and spells. In this respect, Heroes VI is exactly what you would expect – there's a huge amount of spells and traits that grant subtle perks in all sorts of areas. As expected, comparing the perks is almost wilfully tricky, meaning you have to remember a huge amount of potential bonuses when levelling up your character.
That was fine seven years ago, and maybe even five, but today it’s just annoying – it’s not so much a strategy element as a memory task. What's more, the over-fancy interface doesn’t help when navigating the large menus either.
Hide behind scenery, or use it to block quad-square creatures from mauling your missile troops
Then there’s the fighting, which felt ponderously slow even though we increased the Unit Movement Speed to Benny Hill levels. There are the overly-long animations of whips flailing or crossbows being brought up, the (admittedly skippable) cut-scenes for critical attacks, and the wait at the end while everyone celebrates before you get back on with the game.
Modern turn-based strategy games (Blood Bowl, to name one) don’t usually suffer from the same kind of stilted pondering – it’s not a failing of the genre.
In addition to this, the game's strategy element isn’t nearly nuanced enough. Hiding behind the sparse scenery is meant to give a defensive bonus, but in reality its only use is to block large four-square creatures from just walking past your melee troops to maul your ranged units. Seeing enemy units walk straight past yours, and even disengage from combat, with no penalty seems archaic to the point of absurdity. It also means that your missile troops get mauled, and there’s little you can do about it.
We were also exasperated to see that every fight must be fought: there’s no auto-resolve. Only when attacking a small band of creatures with a huge army can you avoid a tediously drawn-out fight by allowing them to run away (or possibly join you), but we had to play far too many fights that we were obviously going to win easily.
From what we’ve seen, Might and Magic: Heroes VI is way off the pace by modern standards. It might religiously stick to the Heroes formula, and that might be exactly the aim of a game that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the series, but that’s not enough. The strategy is delivered by the smoke and mirrors of having many options but no easy way to compare them, while the combat is currently slow and tedious.
Might and Magic: Heroes VI is published by Ubisoft and will be released on PC on 9 September 2011.