A beta for the new Heroes of Might and Magic game came out last week. As one of the people who preordered the title a looong time ago I got one of the codes. Now having had about a week to slog through the content with a fine toothed comb it would be cool to share my musing with you ungrateful cunts in another blog for a demo (see Deus Ex: HR)
Fair warning, this is mostly aimed at people who are at least familiar with the Heroes of Might and Magic series. The reason for this is 2fold, first of all it’s really damn hard to judge the sixth entry into this very unique series without referring constantly to the previous games. Secondly: If on the other hand you are just looking for a solid Turn Based Strategy in a fantasy setting HoMM6 will provide plenty of hours of content and in a relatively competition free market of this type of game it’s worth picking up.
Overall gameplay changes: bad/good/ugly?
Let’s do some heavy lifting first: if HoMM4 was a big (and disliked) departure from the core of the series, HoMM5 was a somewhat return to the roots albeit with interesting mechanics changes. Most of the people who like Heroes of Might and Magic games tend to agree that HoMM3 was the pinnacle of the series and 4 kind of an abomination with feelings on 5 being mixed. Personally I really enjoyed 5.
(if the above paragraph didn’t make any sense to you it’s a good indicator to stop reading now)
HoMM6 is basically taking the engine and other basics from 5 and trying to build on that. However in general it seems that the people who are trying to build and improve on the last game are stumbling in the dark a fair deal. That’s not to say that everything is bad it just feels kind of directionless like a blindfolded drunk dude at a party throwing darts. Darts might actually still land on the board. Enough bad analogies time to describe the main changes themselves. (keep Heroes 5 as a jumping off point):
- The big one is how the mines and towns function. Basically now each town or outpost (kind of like a town without an actual town) has a territory of influence or control around it. This territory seems to be predefined by the map. It’s not spherical or uniform or anything like that, just a set amount of “land” that “belongs” to that particular town. All mines that are on that zone of control will always belong to the player that controls the town. Not at the start mind you, you still have to get rid of the neutral creatures guarding the mines/objects but once you flag them they are now considered to belong to the zone of control and start working. If another player comes around and simply tries to flag the mines they will immediately revert to the player who controls the town in that zone. As soon as you capture the town that controls the area ALL the mines instantly be become yours. Mines in territories that are still uncaptured/neutral basically function like mines in previous games, simply belonging to the player who tagged them last. (there are a couple of hero skills that do affect controlled mines like sabotaging them for a few turns or turning them for a few turn to your side). Whether this change is good or bad is really still to be decided imho. On one hand it makes towns more important and prevent mine harassment with low level heroes , saves a bunch of time, on the other it can take away some for the strategic depth . At this point I say may because of the previously mentioned hero skills. This is a very profound change on how the map functions, hence why I mentioned it first. (there are also now only 3 types of resources besides gold: wood/stone/crystal)
- Another biggie is the Hero stats/skills/progression (plus a mention of creatures stats). There are several factors at play here. Firstly the system of attack/defence/spell-power has been modified at the core. Now there are 4 main stats might attack/defence and magic attack/defence. The way they function is that both these stats affect your creature’s attributes, all creatures have both might and magic defence that protect against those types of attacks respectively and the might/magic defence of the hero affects both respectively. Likewise creatures also have might/magic attack but 90% of the time a particular creature only has either might or magic (with a few exceptions). For example a knights will have a 10-15 might damage base per unit, and a fucked up wizard will have say a 15-20 magic attack. In effect magic oriented heroes will have better functioning units that use magic as main attack and will also be better protected from magic units and enemy spells. Likewise for might. Now there are 2 secondary stats that are partially derived from the main 4 mentioned above: hero damage based on might attack/defence; and mana pool based on magic attack/defence. I say partially derived because they can be affected and modified separately by stat boost buildings and artefacts. Hero damage is used for their basic attack. To be perfectly honest I kind of like this revamped system (currently bugs and balance issues prevent it from seeming any good, but otherwise it is sound) There are other hero stat changes like mana/luck/leadership being a bit renamed and now using much bigger numbers but these are insignificant, they still function similarly enough with only a few tweaks. Currently the most divisive hero change (looking at the official forums) is the levelling up of heroes. It is no longer partially random. Right from the start you see all the skills that a particular hero type can learn and you are free to select any of them you want (obviously with some levels and pre-requisite limitations) The downside is that all heroes basically have the exact same skills with the only difference being might heroes not getting last tier of magic skills and visa versa, plus races have one magic school they can’t learn. The argument stems from the fact that without randomness players will quickly find cookie cutter specs and everyone will always use the exact same “best” set of skills, essentially making this similar to WoW’s talent system. Thus making the game boring and repetitive much faster. On the other hand some people hate the randomness in skills of previous games and prefer to always be able to decide what skills to take. The last hero mechanic added in 6 is the “alignment” path tears/blood of Asha, basically depending on skills your hero uses and decision he makes in campaign or action done on map those meters fill up and you can unlock a couple of extra abilities. In theory this is nice for a campaign but when testing out the MP map the speed at which you sway one way and another is too slow to matter. Whew … SHIT forgot to mention there spells are now learned as skills, no more magic guilds, oh hey look a segway into the next change
- The last what I would consider “major” change in game mechanics is unity population growth and recruitment plus town portals. Unlike in previous games where each town has it’s own population growth now the weekly creatures are aggregated in your common recruit pool. So in effect you can hire your entire weekly population in any town of your choice. With the only restriction being that to recruit the said creatures in that town the town needs to have the creature building present (likewise for upgraded creatures) . But if you do have a goblin hut in your barbarian tent city then you can hire all the goblins that were produced that week in all your barbarian tent cities. While I’m not a huge fan of the change I can’t yet put a nail in the coffin and say this shit be bad. Another change that goes hand in hand with the above is that now each town has 2 types of town portal buildings. The first one allows any hero for a token amount of mana and no movement cost to teleport to any other town you own. The second building allows any hero to teleport to this town (if it’s closest) from anywhere. The two changes in conjunction together seem to make troop movements completely trivial and if I might say so less strategic.
- In terms of the combat it’s pretty much unchanged from Heroes 5 with the exception of ditching the initiative system that was introduced in 5 that was very dynamic and allowed high initiative creatures to act more frequenbtly then lower ones. Initiative has basically gone back to how it used to work in 3, only determining the order of unit action in the single cycle. This is kind of a shame for me since I preferred the HoMM5 system of initiative.
- Finally the game seems to be trying to add persistence to heroes and gear. I’ll elaborate. In the main menu you have an option to view your “dynasty” which consists of any number of heroes you either play through the campaign or create yourself in the dynasty menu. They are not related to each other or anything it’s basically your collection of heroes. Then there are also dynasty weapons. These are persistent weapons that will level up over time, over the course of many maps as they take quite a bit of experience, one of these weapons can be selected to be equipped by one of your dynasty heroes. Then there are dynasty bonuses that function exactly like map starting bonuses in previous iterations. DON’T PANIC. The cool part about this feature is that it is an optional toggle to use during a MP and standalone maps, (which is turned off by default by the way) so if you do not want to use this persistence you can safely play with everyone starting heroes on equal ground. Toggle it on and your selected hero starts with the chosen dynasty weapon. Another nice little thingie I noticed is that dynasty weapons actually change your heroes paper-doll , they appear on basically all the heroes models both on the overland map and in combat, it’s kinda neat.
- There are no more 7 tiers of units. There are still 7 different types of units for each faction tho. But now they are separated into 3 categories: core/elite/champion. Core being your standard fodder and champion your 1 strongest unit. The units of the same category are relatively of the same strength. It’s not really a huge difference all in all, just a slightly different way to categorise your dudes, but I felt it should be mentioned lest I get crucified.
So far I am hesitant to judge if the above fundamental gameplay changes compared to HoMM5 are necessarily bad or good.
- Is FUBAR.
For those unfamiliar with the term FUBAR stands for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. Balance is a very important part of the series and of TBS geanre in general. If the game is unbalanced then the MP community that keeps the name and the franchise going and relevant will show a middle finger to the product. It’s one of the many reasons why HoMM3 is still considered to be the best in the series. The current state of balance of Heroes 6 in the beta is better imagined as a gang fight: one dude came in barehanded, another is an athlete with a knife or a heavy chain, a third dude brought a gun and the fourth dude came to the gang fight with an assault rifle. And this is not even considering the immense amount of bugs and broken shit in the beta. If we included the bugs in that gang fight analogy then one dude would be a defenceless 5 yeard old and another one rode in on a friggin tank.
I’m only going to mention some of the balance issues here, otherwise I will never finish writing this damn blog:
- Heal spells have been all basically made into Ressurect spells in terms of how they function, healing and all forms of regeneration and HP restoration now resurrect fallen units if they heal over top’s unit max HP. Kicker comes in that 3 of the 5 factions have units with healing abilities in their basic unit line up, and as the stack increases healing increases, way surpassing the healing your hero can do even if he has appropriate skills. This also allows said faction to “creep” and clear neutral stack with 0 losses by rolling their faces on the keyboard. The other 2 factions Inferno and Stronghold are screwed.
- Core units (see above) are way way way stronger then the respective elite and champion creatures when stack sizes are taken into account. They are by far the most powerful force in the army and in the numbers that they are usually produced just crush stronger creatures.
- Heroes level up too slowly after reaching level 5. Their progress basically grinds to a complete halt. In the MP map in the demo for example you will be lucky to reach level 8-9 without using instant level up “trees” . Treasure chest completely stop mattering after the above mentioned threshold as just one of the side-effects.
- The magic heroes who would like to use damaging spells are pretty much useless after 1-2 weeks. As their damage barely scales and becomes insignificant compared to army size and damage output of creature stacks.
- Racial skills of heroes are also wildly unbalanced, Necromancers basically have a permanent Raise Dead skills that persists outside of combat and can be done in addition to creature skill resurrection and hero regeneration/vampirism spell. While say the Stronghold racial is a complete joke only raising initiative of your creatures for one round at basic level.
- Pretty much the entire skill system is out of whack, with some skills being super useful bordering on overpowered with other giving you barely noticeable effects.
- Heaven creatures for example are basically perfection in raw form. Their core creatures form what in an MMO would be a holy trinity with a tank unit that takes damage and reduces it when next to other units, a healer that can also dish it out, and a ranged dps unit. While all their elite and champion units can completely ignore castle walls, griffins can fly over, champions can use a “phase ability” to run through walls, light elementals just blink through and return and angels also fly over. Siege, what siege?
- And so on and so forth…
Also do keep in mind the above are just the balance issues that are not because of demo bugs or glitches.
Other stuff worth talking about
Graphically the game looks really good. It’s a fairly decent improvement on HoMM5 as should be expected. One thing that deserves a special mention are hero and unit designs. Almost all of them look superb and have really cool styles. It’s an improvement not just in the polygon count and shader use but in overall design aesthetics. I think this is the first time in the series when harpies and goblins don’t manage to look like shit. Almost all units manage to look kind of badass. That’s not to say there are not some exceptions to this Cyclops look kind of shit.
Town screens – there are currently numerous petitions and complains on the main message boards to completely overhaul the current town screens in the beta. And with good reason, the town screens were always a hallmark of the series showing off your town and all the building that have been built in all their glory. What is currently in the beta is seems pathetic, probably even worse then what was in HoMM4. The town screen is now just another interface window. No creature dwellings inns or markets show up when build. Only the city upgrade itself, walls and a couple of special buildings get added when build. Thankfully it seems that there has already been official word that the devs are working on redoing the town screens, altho verification of this is hard to come by.
Ubisoft DRM and online bulshittery is present here in all it’s glory. If you remember the Settlers 7 Quick Look posted by GB crew some time ago, they are pretty much forcing something similar here.
Closing statements your honour
HoMM6 seems to have generated plenty of negative reaction from the series fanbase, but also some positive thoughts and feedback. In its current state it might rival Heroes 4 for shittyness. However if the monumental amount of bugs are fixed, town screens overhauled and balance issues addressed it might become a decent entry into the franchise on par with Heroes 5
The punch line here is that the release of the game is 2 month away. And with the amount of stuff that needs fixing it’s hard to see everything being taken care of by that time.
So concludes my madness.