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.
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!
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...
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.
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.
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.