I play Modern Games (Might and Magic: Heroes VI)

Pictured: My Childhood

At the end of the day, if you had to make me nail down any given franchise as one I could talk endlessly about with no real rhyme or reason, it would have to be... Fire Emblem? Yes, oddly enough, Intelligent Systems' hardcore strategy franchise is one I would probably internet murder you for talking shit about while also having far more to say than you, despite the fact that as a fan of the series I am far too aware of the flaws of each individual game. Not far behind that however, is New World Computing's Might and Magic series, as well as its spinoff: Heroes of Might and Magic, a series of titles that are no doubt partially responsible for my tastes in hardcore CRPGs and Turn Based Strategy respectively, not to mention being the source of two of my user icons. That being said, one could make an argument for both Might and Magic properties taking a steep turn downward around the turn of the century, which of course was compounded by 3DO's dire financial situation. While I made an appeal for Heroes IV earlier this year as "An interesting game with interesting ideas that are executed reasonably well", I don't think anyone is going to be surprised that I consider Might and Magic IX to be an unfinished bland mess of a game with very few redeeming qualities other than the fact that on a basic level it's still the same kind of game as VI and VII... just done rather poorly. Then 3DO went out of business and Ubisoft bought the rights.

Pictured: Orc Kicking Simulator 2006

And so here we are... 8 years later and Video Games are in a much different place. So too is the Might and Magic series. After getting off to a shaky start with the vanilla version of Heroes V and Orc Kicking Simulator 2006, it is my opinion that the expansions for Heroes V made it a much more interesting game and helped it establish its own identity instead of just being a prettier Heroes III. Even Clash of Heroes and that F2P MMO (recently given an excellent write up by our very own party cleric, Ahoodedfigure) are probably a lot better than they have any right to be, as things that were no doubt thought up in a marketing session. That being said, we're now talking about Heroes VI, which in addition to being victim to a questionable rebranding on Ubisoft's part as well as being featured on a TNT segment only a crazy person like me would like, also perhaps makes some of the most radical changes to the "lead armies of dudes around a map and kill things in tactical fashion" formula since previous RUINED FOREVER candidate Heroes IV. Except all the changes are pretty much the exact opposite. Is it worthy of its place in the franchise? Or is it as terrible as dark corners of the internet would have you believe? Well, assuming you weren't scared away by either of these paragraphs, let me tell you!

Pictured: The game this blog is actually about

The answer is... complicated. Even after 25 hours of play, I'm still not entirely sure where I stand on certain aspects of MMH VI (Somehow, that abbreviation seems wrong to type. It's still HoMM to me dammit!). However, since I need to play through 3 more faction campaigns before finishing the main story, I figured now is as good a time as any to write down my thoughts. On it's own merits, Heroes VI is probably a pretty good strategy game, bordering on great. Ok. That was easy. In a lot of ways, it's clearly trying to be a far more strategic game than it has been in the past. You can now build your hero pretty much however you want within the restrictions of their class with none of the randomness inherent in the previous games, which is probably for the best, since in Heroes V all it took to prevent your campaign heroes from getting their ultimate skill was one bad level up. This actually works pretty well, especially in the context of a consistent profile that lets you bring your heroes into one-off skirmishes against AI or other players. There's also the concept of "Controlled Zones" where if you want to obtain the resources in a particular area, you have to capture the fort or town controlling it. Again, an interesting change that seems directed at the entirely viable tactic of using scout heroes with no purpose other than to steal opponents' mines. This, along with the increased importance of each resource (the count lowering from 7 to 4) and the way you can convert towns and forts to your factions all give the impression that Heroes VI would be a pretty great competitive multiplayer game...

Pictured: Unrelated Internet joke image.

But of course I haven't actually played any MP, so I wouldn't know. There's an extremely small 1v1 map that seems tailored for quick >1hr matches, so maybe I will have to check that out at some point with a friend over hotseat, but, like Heroes V I haven't made an earnest effort to try the Online Multiplayer. Unfortunately, I'm still using the same e-mail address that I had when Heroes V came out, and thus is still tied the exact same stupid username I used back in the far flung year of 2006, before ArbitraryWater showed up as one of the "recommended" Xbox Live profile names and I started using that for everything. Want to know what it is? Deadguy 118. If that doesn't scream "I am an underage user if my typing didn't give it away", I don't know what does. And that hearkens back even further than that, considering I remember using that name for Warcraft III and Diablo II back when I was just getting into playing games online. I must've been... 11 at that point. Wow. I am old.

Pictured: Computer. Not a very smart computer

So anyways, getting back on track, the AI in this game is not very good. Not the "Mentally Handicapped to the point of hilarity" AI of Heroes IV, but there is a certain predictability to the way that the AI acts, even moreso than Heroes III and V. They'll try to sneak up on your unguarded forts and towns, but the second you town portal to get them, they town portal away like the cowards they are. Thus, I found it pertinent to always have a hero with a decent sized army just sitting around to detract any stragglers while my main hero murders everyone else. This is even more clear in the actual battles (especially siege battles), where with the right spells and manuevering, it's easy to crush a superior force without many losses. Of course, it's also way easier to obtain reinforcements, due to the abundance of healing units and spells (seriously. Necropolis is the worst/best in this regard. Regeneration, Life Drain and their racial healing ability make dealing with their otherwise lackluster troops far more difficult) and the way you can just recruit all creatures in one lump group. This, once again, favors an aggressive player, since the AI doesn't go after your territories unless it has an abundance of superior numbers. It still does its job, but it doesn't do its job especially well. Consider me underwhelmed in that regard.

Pictured: Generic Asian Mysticism. Sans snake people, obviously.

At least the campaigns are designed in such a way as to not always immediately showcase these AI inadequacies, because the campaign missions are quite good. Unsurprisingly, the story is exceptionally dumb, but it's a testament to Ubisoft's dumb lore that I recognized callbacks to the rest of their games that also use their dumb lore. It's at least a step above Heroes V, who's campaign was tragi-comedically stupid in the way that a game developed by Russians and published by French people can only be. The missions themselves are varied and interesting enough that I want to finish the other campaigns after finishing the Inferno and Necropolis ones. It also goes without saying that the voice acting is hilariously bad. Especially in the Naga campaign, being that the Naga are the token "Generic Asian Mysticism" type race. Only with Snake People.

So I guess, the last question is: What do I think of any of this? I actually like Heroes VI. I'm not sure if it will hold a place in my heart the same way that the other games in the series do (ok, not Heroes 1. That game is lame), but it's a game that could potentially fix a lot of my misgivings in any sort of expansion. And hey, it's at least not the horrible trainwreck that Disciples III is. Ugh... oh geez. Icewind Dale II blog coming soon. Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty great too.

14 Comments
15 Comments
Posted by Video_Game_King

I didn't know that Dunsparce appeared in a Might and Magic game.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Video_Game_King: Well, I was referring to Heroes 2 Sandro and Heroes 3 Sandro, but I'm pretty sure you're just being internet facetious with that comment. So yes, Dunsparce is totally in all of the games.

Posted by Video_Game_King

I'd say that Dunsparce's presence in the HoMaM (man, what an effing weird acronym) would make me play them, but I've always been more of a Smeagle guy, when it comes to Generation 2. Besides, I still have a ton of games to complete.

Posted by Mento

MAD. STACKS.

Honestly, that was always the thing that got me with those games and a fairly dumb reason to stop following the series. I know it's just a symbolic thing, since no-one wants to try and command 700 goblins separately in a game that's really more about Catan-esque city building and resource point claiming, but it just struck me as such an inelegant combat system. I'd have preferred something more like how RTS does units, where you'd need to build the appropriate lair and then require extra time/money to make units of that type over the regular grunts. Then just keep the armies at manageable, skirmish-sized levels. Like Master of Magic.

I know I go on about Master of Magic a lot, but I'm trying to recall this fantasy TBS that had really good strategic combat alongside the city-building stuff. Lords of Magic? It's been a while since I played it, and I think it was just a demo anyway, so maybe I'm misremembering since it's apparently kind of average. What I wouldn't give to have a TBS game like that with a more in-depth X-COM style turn-based combat/exploration system. Wildly veering off topic.

Moderator
Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Mento: Really, if you like Master of Magic so much, you should just play Age of Wonders or either of its sequels, because those games take everything I like about Master of Magic without the braindead AI, wildly difficult random encounters or lolbroken imbalances. It also doesn't have stacks, since video games have to be REALISTIC AND SHOW EVERY SINGLE CREATURE BECAUSE METAPHYSICAL CONCEITS ARE FOR PUSSIES.

And having messed around with Lords of Magic a bit, allow me to tell you straight up: That game does not seem super great. The combat is actually real time with pausing, something I associate with Infinity Engine titles more than anything else. Once again, does not seem... amazing.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Let me hit you up with a dumb question that I have this vague feeling I've asked you before. I enjoyed the series up to HoMM 3 (and it should still be Heroes of..., and not this blasphemous bullshit). I didn't play IV, and I really ended up loathing V for its wildly varying difficulty and general sense of blandness. Has this one ironed out those difficulty issues? Does it feel like a proper, proper HoMM game or does it still have that fantasy generica feel that V did?

Moderator
Posted by Tennmuerti
@ArbitraryWater
Was waiting for this :)
By the way your links are broken.
 
I'm still on the fence about HoMM6 as well.
They pretty much took 5 as basis and worked from there. Which is good to me since I liked 5. But also bad because they changed some things in directions i'm sceptical about.
 
The heroes stat system of might/magic/luck/morale is straight up better I think, so good job there.
However the skill system leaves much to be desired. Yes the randomness has been removed and that is nice. But it also means that every might hero and every magic hero will have the exact same things available. And it also means that some skills will always be taken while others neglected. At least in 5 there were variations due to faction in the skill tree. Although the racial blood/tears abilities help migitate that.
 
Now I realise that the game has just come out, but on the balance side of things this game is leaing towards 4 a lot. Necropolis is insanely easy to clear a map with due to their racial. Whereas the Inferno gating racial is hardly even worth the effort untill you have an incredible amount of luck. Healing is king.
 
The overall combat system is more tame then in 5 imo. The good part is that it makes everythign more balanced. The bad is that gone are some of the most ridiculous awesome strategies that were possible in 5.
I will forever remember you triple balista with chain lightning on. And the initiative system made things way more interesting before too.
 
I was kind of negative towards the territory system during the demo, but have since come around. It's a change one can respect.
The town screens are still awfull.
 
And then there are the bugs, oh so many bugs right now. The biggest thread on the official boards.
Some are really really obvious and big too, the kind of shit that should NOT have gotten past the 2 betas.
Taunt still does nothing. Epic bow wich is supposed to reduce ranged and obstacle penalty also does nothing. Phoenixes are still broken in liek 3 different ways. Upgraded griffins special ability still does not work AT ALL (oh and hey the human campaing heroe's special skill is 15% more on dives, wooptee doo). Liches life transfusion is still broken. That's just some of the worst ones I have personally experienced.
This is seriously one of the worst cases of known bugs being completely ignored by the devs. And they delayed the game like 3 times too. Just unexcusable.
 
With a lot of bug fixes and some balance changes it could be a really good game.
 
@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

Let me hit you up with a dumb question that I have this vague feeling I've asked you before. I enjoyed the series up to HoMM 3 (and it should still be Heroes of..., and not this blasphemous bullshit). I didn't play IV, and I really ended up loathing V for its wildly varying difficulty and general sense of blandness. Has this one ironed out those difficulty issues? Does it feel like a proper, proper HoMM game or does it still have that fantasy generica feel that V did?

It's pretty much as you put it "fantasy generica" even more so then 5.
Difficulty seems normalized. But to me that makes it a bit more dull.
Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Yep. Generic Fantasy all the way. Really though, with the exception of that scrapped Forge faction in Heroes III and the late-game presence of laser guns in M&M VI and VII, was New World Computing's generic fantasy world so much better? On the plus though, the difficulty is no longer wildly inconsistent in the same way the fairly awful campaigns for Heroes V were.

@Tennmuerti: I've heard some mutterings of bugginess, but of course that just reminds me of how they had to patch Heroes V like 3 times to make it playable, changing the cursor from a horse to a unicorn in the process. They'll iron it out... eventually. Not sure how well they'll rebalance it though, considering that was a sticking point with Heroes V as well, and they didn't really get that right until Tribes of the East anyways. Links should be fixed now. Hopefully.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@ArbitraryWater: In a weird way, I kinda liked the world they created in VI-VIII. Sure, it was full of fantasy tropes and cliches, but on the whole? It was a world I really liked exploring. Never got that feeling from HoMMV.

Moderator
Posted by Tordah

Well, this sounds far more promising than I had ever dared hope for. Nothing will ever top HoMM 3, that's a fact. I bet even the developers themselves know that so there's no use hoping for that level of quality. I can appreciate that they're trying out some new things instead of rehashing old concepts, even if it doesn't always pan out that well.

I must say I'm a bit disappointed with your negative comment towards Heroes 1. It was the first Heroes game I ever played (those were the days!) and I loved every second of it. Sure, the sequels improved on the actual gameplay formula a lot, but no other entry in the series had even half as much charm and personality as Heroes 1 had. I take personal offense whenever somebody says something bad about it.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Tordah: I respect your opinion, but I beg to differ. Obviously, this opinion comes from being exposed to Heroes 1 well after my exposure to the rest of the franchise, including V. However, I find that Heroes II does everything the first game does far better, from the cartoony creature sprites (the Vampires say "BLAH" when they attack for goodness sake) to the basic mechanics, to the soundtrack itself. Also, the AI in Heroes 1 is brutal, especially in the context of the way the rest of that game plays out.

Posted by Tennmuerti
@ArbitraryWater
Found something that makes me more hopefull for 6:

Hello Heroes,

The Townscreens


We all agree on the fact that the townscreens must be revised, and although we won’t be able to change them for release, rest assured that this feature update is on the top of our priority list in our post-launch support plan.


The M&M’s team”

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Tordah: I'd go you one better and say that every Heroes game had something good about it, and that especially includes Heroes 1. I've wrangled with AW before on this, but my point is that the actual units seemed to matter more as individual stacks, and that even low-level units have more weight. It's a bit more chess-like in that respect. I feel like the farther down the road the Heroes franchise has marched, the wider the gap between top level and low level units has been.
 
I also think the creature mix for each town had more charm to them, and the battles in general, because of the smaller maps, felt less like they would take for effing ever.
 

AW, the AI is so damned important to games like this that I don't feel like I'd necessarily want to play Homm6 (yes) even though they're taking a huge leap forward by letting you pick your skills.  I'm sure there were other leaps in there somewhere...  how do you feel about the square movement and how do you feel about all the mandatory online stuff they've been talking about?
 
 
@Mento: I try not to think about the stacks anymore, but yeah that used to bother me too. I think it might make more sense if you have actual separate units if your stacks get too big, but that might push it into Fantasy General territory. 
 
As for Age of Wonders, I know that game inside out if you have any questions. I haven't played the sequels, but I've played the hell out of the first game and like it a lot. Haven't played it multiplayer yet, though-- *looks pointedly at an unassuming cloud, kicks rock, goes back to justifying existence* 
Posted by Tennmuerti

@ahoodedfigure said:

@Tordah: I'd go you one better and say that every Heroes game had something good about it, and that especially includes Heroes 1. I've wrangled with AW before on this, but my point is that the actual units seemed to matter more as individual stacks, and that even low-level units have more weight. It's a bit more chess-like in that respect. I feel like the farther down the road the Heroes franchise has marched, the wider the gap between top level and low level units has been.

They reduced this gap a lot in 6

In the beta the basic units were downright overpowered and Champions too weak. They seemed to have balanced it out now and all 3 tiers are useful

AW, the AI is so damned important to games like this that I don't feel like I'd necessarily want to play Homm6 (yes) even though they're taking a huge leap forward by letting you pick your skills. I'm sure there were other leaps in there somewhere... how do you feel about the square movement and how do you feel about all the mandatory online stuff they've been talking about?

Square movement was in 5. It's fine.

Mandatory online stuff is no biggie if you have a stable connection. But I dislike it on principle.