Five years have passed since the last full release in the Heroes of Might and Magic series, although some may have found a potential fix in the well-received DS spin-off Clash of Heroes (also released later on XBLA and PSN). For the latest entry, imaginatively titled Might and Magic: Heroes VI, publisher Ubisoft has passed development onto Hungarian developer Black Hole Entertainment, who has kept the classic feel of the Heroes series while still managing to include welcome innovations.
"Black Hole Entertainment has kept the classic feel of the Heroes series while still managing to include welcome innovations."
As is standard for a Heroes of Might and Magic game, players select a faction and take command of that faction's titular Heroes, each Hero accompanied by their own personal army. The factions available include the returning Haven (human), Inferno (demon), Necropolis (undead), and Stronghold (orc) factions. A new fifth entry comes in the form of Sanctuary, featuring the aquatic Naga with a very Asian mythological inspiration. Each faction has their own strengths and weaknesses, so players will need to adapt their tactics to get the most out of each faction. One example of a specific strength and weakness comes from the Haven faction, which is strong at melee fighting and healing magic, but weaker when it comes to ranged attacks.
Veterans of previous Heroes games will find that Heroes VI fits in well with the rest of the series. Players use their Heroes to defeat threatening monsters and search for areas of importance, such as resource nodes. Soon enough players run into enemy factions, and are required to capture the enemies' towns and defeat their Heroes in order to claim the map and emerge victorious. Some fairly substantial changes have been made, however. Heroes, for example, may now warp between any of their faction's towns instantly. Zones of control are another addition, which give towns control over all resource points within range, and require players to seize a town before being able to make use of its surrounding harvest points. The changes not only remove tedium but also certain tactics that were previously available to players by forcing them into a proper battle. A third new mechanic gives players the option to switch a captured town from producing its previous faction's units to producing the player's faction's units. This should help players keep armies consistent and prevent the complications that arise from having units of different factions within one army.
The turn-based system for battles looks very similar to that of Heroes of Might and Magic V. Opposing forces, made from stacks of units in varying sizes, face each other on a grid-based map. Each stack gets their own place in the initiative bar and has their own individual abilities, such as melee attacks, ranged attacks, casting spells, or healing. While the stronger, more expensive units can turn the tide of battle by themselves, weaker units can use their advantage in numbers to good effect. Heroes can use boosting abilities, spells, or attacks at any time, but only once per turn. One of the bigger additions to the game comes in the form of boss battles: missions consisting of a single battle against a particularly tough foe. Each campaign is expected to have both a mini-boss and a final boss. These battles should hopefully provide each campaign with a fitting climax and and test the player's mastery of the battle system. Multiplayer maps will also be available, although most of the details so far announced concentrate on the single-player campaign.
Might and Magic: Heroes VI returns players to the world of Ashan. This is the same setting used in Ubisoft's other Might and Magic games, with Heroes VI set four hundred years before Heroes of Might and Magic V. Following the story of a rather complicated generation in the Giffin family, the single-player game is split into three parts: a prologue/tutorial, the faction campaigns (each headed by one of five Giffin siblings), and an epilogue. These faction campaigns can be played in any order, while the epilogue can go down two potential paths depending on where the player finishes up on the new reputation system. It remains to be seen whether the story successfully blends the individual faction campaigns into one epic tale, but the premise is an interesting one. The writing team also seems clear in their ideas and influences, promising a lot of intrigue and scheming.
The reputation system focuses on a player's style rather than simple good and evil alignments, with the 'Path of Dragon Blood' reserved for proactive, aggressive players and the 'Path of Dragon Tears' for those of a reactive and defensive style. There are many opportunities to influence the reputation throughout the game. As one example, players can choose to either hunt down a scattering enemy force or let them flee, and this decision will affect their reputation one way or the other. Reputation meters are viewable on-screen, allowing players to keep track of how far along either path they are. Separate meters are used for each path, so it is entirely possible for players to maximize both meters and be permitted to experience both epilogues, although there aren't many details about how this is handled by the story. The new Chamber of Judgement building also provides players with a number of quests that can be used to help increase reputation in the desired direction.
Unsurprisingly the game has taken a significant step up from Heroes V in the graphics department. The units, cities and scenery have nice detail and smooth animations, and the cities visually transform as they get upgraded. Visuals have moved somewhat away from the cartoonish style from earlier in the series, but without making too much of an attempt to go down the line of total realism. The result is that the scenery remains vibrant and full of character, with important locations still easy to spot. Musically Might and Magic: Heroes VI continues the traditions of Heroes games, and players can expect to hear a lot of reprisals and rearrangements of tracks from throughout the history of the series.
Black Hole Entertainment appears to have successfully managed to tread the fine line between sticking to a series' stalwart principles and adding innovation and fresh ideas for Heroes VI. Fans of the series should certainly have something to look forward to and have confidence that the game has a very competent caretaker. Might and Magic: Heroes VI is currently due to be released exclusively for PC on September 8, 2011.