It is a testament to its strength that the Might and Magic name has persevered over 25 years and three different companies while still retaining a loyal following. The core Might and Magic games, of which there were 9, were traditional RPGs. In 1995, 3DO published the first Heroes of Might and Magic game before going out of business when Ubisoft took the reins and expanded the series to include the first-person Dark Messiah of Might and Magic and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, a puzzle RPG.
Might and Magic: Heroes VI takes place 400 years before the Heroes of Might and Magic V (yes, they changed the name slightly for this installment). The tutorial campaign introduces us to Slava, Duke of Griffin and his friendship with the Orc leader Kraal. Over the four hours or so that you will spend in the tutorial, you will gradually learn about combat, non-combat movement on the adventure map, artifacts and dynasty weapons and resource management.
Once the tutorial is over, you’ll have the option to choose from five different campaigns that each follow a different faction connected one of Slava’s children. Each faction has access to different units and buildings, but all require a combination of three common resources (ore, wood and gold) and rare crystals. By controlling a town, you will also be able to utilize mines and mills that generate weekly yields.
Time is an important factor in Might and Magic. Your movement across the adventure map is limited each day and you’ll want to consider your travel carefully. Enemies placed across the map and enemy heroes that are bound by the same movement restrictions as your character grow stronger as time goes on. Waiting until the next week to recruit more troops for your army is not a simple decision. Not only do you need to consider your forces, but also each week in the Ashan calendar is different, with many conferring bonuses (my personal favorite: Week of the Raving Rabbids). Additionally, there are some buildings across the map that can be visited once a week to add temporary stat bonuses.
When you do enter combat, the screen changes to a grid with the attacking force on the left and the defending force on the right. Open field battles and siege battles function similarly, with sieges adding fortifications for defenders and a catapult that targets the walls for attackers. Your troops are represented in stacks, of which there can be seven. You can split large stacks to give yourself more turns (and more targets) for the AI. When damage is dealt, it is applied in order. The “first” soldier in a stack takes as much damage as possible. If it kills him/her, then the damage rolls over to the next, and so on. If you have a healer, the damage works in reverse, possibly resurrecting dead troops.
You will always know the turn order thanks to a display at the bottom left of the screen and the game is great about letting you know how much damage an attack is likely to do. Additionally, you can nudge odds in your favor by using your hero’s abilities. Once per turn, your hero, who sits on the sidelines, can attack or use an ability. Additionally, your hero may be able to trigger a powerful, upgradeable Faction Ability that might protect a stack from all damage, summon demons or raise undead forces. The requirements to fill the meter vary, but all make sense and align with the “flavor” of each faction.
Might and Magic: Heroes VI introduces a new Reputation mechanic that is not unlike morality systems we’ve seen in other games. Leaning one way or the other will make a small sampling of aligned powers available and certain powers more potent. Reputation is earned through interactions with allies and enemies alike. Choosing to let overpowered enemies flee will set you on the path of Tears, while pursuing and murdering them will swing you toward Blood. There are different reputation bonuses for each faction, also, which helps add to the customization.
It’s a good idea to take a look at the enormous skill tree, which is divided first into Might and Magic before branching out into five sub-trees each. Although there are seven schools of magic, each faction only has access to five. There are dozens of abilities, and you can choose a new one each time you level up. Some give you access to temporary buffs for one or all of your stacks, increase the damage your hero does in combat, give you a tactical advantage or benefit your town production and troop recruitment.
In addition to your character’s stats, he or she can wield a Dynasty Weapon that levels up independently. At each of the five levels, the weapon becomes more powerful, giving stat bonuses or new abilities. The beauty of this is all of your single-player dynasty progress covers all of your campaign, single-player skirmishes and multiplayer. You have an overarching “Conflux” profile and Dynasty level that is the accumulation of all experience you’ve earned. There is even a Demon’s Souls type messaging system at specific points in the campaign. In skirmishes and multiplayer, you select one of the pre-made heroes or one that you have created yourself with a faction, specialization and dynasty weapon of your choosing. Dynasty Traits also help tailor characters and they, along with player portraits and new Dynasty Weapons, can be purchased from the Altar of Wishes with tokens earned easily by playing. As you increase your Dynasty level, you’ll have access to more powerful weapons and traits.
If you’ve never played a strategy game from the Might and Magic series, you will want to start off on Easy. There’s a lot to learn and, if you aren’t careful in combat, you can find yourself hung up easily at the end of the first tutorial campaign mission. Not only is the AI aggressive, but the game defies some standard strategy design elements. For instance, while the game rightly targets your ranged and healing characters, it’s nearly impossible to put up a wall to protect them. Opposing figures can slip through on the diagonals and march right up to your poorly defended stacks. This also restricts ranged characters from firing. You get used to having enemy creatures in your face, but it happens far more frequently than other turn-based strategy games.
The game is beautiful, especially at the highest settings. The landscapes are quite attractive and the animations are fluid, giving each creature type its own personality. From the noble Griffin warriors to the maniacs and hellhounds that fill out the demon ranks, every faction has its own personality. Unfortunately, not everything holds up to the new 3D adventure map and battle graphics. The town management screen no longer has the large, 3D flybys of that Heroes of Might and Magic V offered. It’s a little thing, but one that fans of the series will notice.
The music and sound of the game are superb, with the sweeping score continuing to impress with every new track. Paul Anthony Romero has been with the series for a very long time and his familiarity with the setting, character dynamics, relationship and game play are shown with perfect connection between what we see and what we hear. The music ranges from epic and intense to subtle and solemn. This isn’t just great game music. It’s great music; period.
Might and Magic: Heroes VI extends the tradition of complex strategy with infinite replayability that the series is known for. It is the perfect blend of RPG and turn-based strategy, giving players that like a personal relationship with the characters as well as those that simply enjoy sending nameless masses to their death something to love. There is a lot for new players to take in, but those that put in the time will find that there is nothing else quite like Might and Magic.
Review copy provided by publisher.