Review: Might and Magic: Heroes VI Is Lacking With Bugs and Ubisoft's Bad Online Strategy
At a Glance
Might and Magic: Heroes 6
The Might and Magic series' long-running strategy-RPG gameplay is still a lot of fun. Yet this fun finds itself beset by a number of glitches, a lack of real strategy, and Ubisoft's insulting online...
Before starting my review of Might and Magic: Heroes VI, I looked at my Steam profile to see how many hours I'd put into Heroes of Might and Magic: V (Ubisoft has changed the name so that all Might and Magic games open with "Might and Magic"): 203 hours. Granted, I was laid off at the time, so I could devote myself as much as I wanted to it. And I genuinely love Might and Magic. But I'm laid off now, too, and I thought, "Do I see myself spending 200 hours with Heroes VI?" The answer: "Likely not."
While Heroes VI does make some interesting changes to the 16-year-old turn-based strategy-RPG series (yes, folks, the first Heroes came out in 1995), and the game remains fun, I found some of my usual complaints with Heroes' gameplay more annoying than usual -- and that the horrible online system Ubisoft insists on using has sucked away too much of the series' charm.
For the Griffin!
Heroes VI's campaign follows the story of the Griffin dynasty, father Duke Slava and his children, who end up representing each of the game's factions, in a tale studded with fratricide and double-dealing (I think the designers had been reading too much George R.R. Martin at the time). The story also meanders weirdly through the campaigns, which you can play in any order. I appreciate Ubisoft's attempt to give the campaign more story, but I do miss the sometimes lighthearted moments experienced in the older games -- Heroes V and Heroes VI are both too melodramatic compared to the older Heroes games and King's Bounty, which I consider the best Western strategy-RPG available (please, let's not talk about the wreck that is Disciples III).
Most of the new stuff that developer Black Hole Entertainment has put into the game works (unless it's tied to Ubisoft's approach to online, but more on that later). The new Sanctuary faction is different than any other seen in the series before, blending the aesthetics of the aquatic with feudal Japan. The Kappa unit looks like a frog with a bowl of water in its head. Another looks like a wereshark, bearing a club studded with shark teeth. The first time I encountered Sanctuary units, I was genuinely surprised -- and I consider it special if a 16-year-old franchise can surprise me at this point.
The additions go beyond the appealing aesthetics of the Sanctuary. New forts create areas of influence on the map, adding a new layer of strategy; you must take these out in order to gain access to valuable resources (instead of just claiming them one by one), including buildings that give you a set amount of troops each week. Some of these forts can also provide units on their own as well. Battle maps now have obstacles that provide cover, giving your unit a bonus against ranged attacks. And as you advance through the campaign, you find "Dynasty" weapons (Dynasty being the game's online component) that you can level up. You can also earn points to purchase Dynasty abilities. The best part is that these aren't attached to your main hero; you can dish 'em out to other heroes you recruit, allowing you to give your hero units an advantage.
Cheating Stacks and Glitchy Maps
And they'll need it: players of the Heroes games have complained about the A.I. "cheating" over the years. In this case, it appears that every enemy stack gains units each week. This includes those units just hanging out on the map along with those in towns and fortifications. This caused me to almost write the game off after a long and frustrating siege during the Necropolis campaign, where I ended up fighting four heroes, stacked one after the other and with hundreds of units apiece, in order to take a town. I have no idea why the designers think this sort of gameplay is fun; it removes tactics, making many maps a set of puzzles in which you must figure out the quickest route to victory or engage in a boring slog. At some points, it feels like you can never raise an army large enough to take on these stacks of doom. After two hours of combat, I finally took that damn town. Boss battles, another new addition, are also boring punching matches, where the enemy has tens of thousands of hits points (and frequently, other units to help it).
The game's glitchiness is even worse. I frequently experienced screen tearing as my heroes traveled the map. Several times, it took more than 10 seconds for images to pop into the map...and I could move my hero even though I couldn't see it when this happened. And during one battle, I found one object marked "Obstacle 2x2" with "PLACEHOLDER" in all-caps. I can't think of any excuse for such a bug in a retail product.
Online Insult: I Am Not a Crook
The only thing that angers me more than the "PLACEHOLDER" issue above is Ubisoft's online strategy. To get the most out of the game, you must play online; you can't access your Dynasty abilities and weapons only work when the game is logged into the Internet. I find it insulting that Ubisoft doesn't give you access to some of the game's best items when you're playing offline. I feel like Ubisoft is punishing paying players in its attempts to curtail piracy, and such actions alienate me and other gamers.
It's No King's Bounty
For years, the Heroes franchise was one of, if not the most prominent, strategy-RPG series in the West. But when King's Bounty made its return in 2006, it showed how Heroes had become stale in some ways. Heroes VI has some additions, but the game just isn't as fun for me as King's Bounty, which mixes great unit variety, interesting quests, varied maps, and some silly humor (some intentional, some likely the result of poor localization). I plan on playing more Heroes VI, and if you've enjoyed past Heroes game, you're going to enjoy this one, too. But it'd be nice to see Ubisoft try more new things and ditch their lousy online strategy.