Preview: Might and Magic: Heroes VI

Heroes of Might and Magic, or HOMM, has a long history. Originally spun off from the Might and Magic series by New World Computing, it's since been developed by 3DO and Nival Interactive - who developed HOMM5, released in 2006.

NameMight and Magic: Heroes VI
Games Info:Developer: Black Home Entertainment; Publisher: Ubisoft
Test Platform:PC

Heroes of Might and Magic, or HOMM, has a long history. Originally spun off from the Might and Magic series by New World Computing, it’s since been developed by 3DO and Nival Interactive – who developed HOMM5, released in 2006.

The franchise, owned by Ubisoft, has been a longstanding exemplar of turn-based strategy games based on heroes and resource acquisition.

Black Hole Productions has taken on the newest in the Heroes of Might and Magic series, Might and Magic: Heroes VI. With it’s slightly adjusted name you may wonder whether the format has changed, but the developers and PR still call it HOMM for short, so you can rest assured that little has changed to the base mechanic underlying the game.

The premise is simple: you start out as a single hero, with a quest and a few troops. You gain quests along the way and gameplay follows a set pattern of defeating monsters and rival heroes, collecting loot, capturing mines and siegeing castles. Along the way, you also get to buy troops and allied heroes, develop and strengthen your castles, and choose abilities, skills and spells as you level up.

It’s set in the land of Ashan, where a number of factions battle each other, sometimes ally with each other and occasionally marry each other between instalments. Slava, a Haven faction duke, has fallen afoul of a plot involving demons and a fallen angel, and his five children – each of a different faction – must bring the world back together. As with each game of the series, there is a fresh set of intrigue, and while you can play through maps for each faction, the initial cutscene sets you up to play as the “Haven” faction with Slava discovering the corruption at the heart of his own faction.

The first map in each campaign starting point walks you through all the elements of the game. It’s just as well, because there’s a lot to grasp, even though the basics are quite straightforward.

For those who have played before, there’s a good deal that is reminiscent of HOMM 3, and much that’s similar to HOMM 5, but the resource management has been revamped. More than ever, gold is the primary resource for you to gather, but instead of seven total resource types, there are now just four – wood, gold, ore and crystal. This coincides with the elimination of the magic guild. Magic spells are instead learned as skills.

Now, instead of a simple choice between a couple of skill options that your hero has to select the moment they level up, you can save skill points and apply specialisations when you’re ready. This comes in handy if you suddenly discover a major castle siege in the finale, and you need to max your catapult skills, boost your ranged weapons damage and poison the castle well. The skill points apply across spells you can learn, passive skills and active skills. The new tree system for skilling up takes a little getting used to, but keeps many of the old skill types and feels very much in keeping with previous instalments despite the new approach.

One final area that alters is the way mines are handled. Where previously you could sneak into a hero’s domain and steal his or her gold mine away, you now have to capture the city that owns a mine to make it yours. You can, however occupy the mine to retain it as long as you’re guarding it. You can also invest in skills that let you halt mine production for your rivals for up to a week.

One nice addition is the ability to convert forts and castles to your own faction. This costs a good deal, and loses high level buildings in the switchover, but it makes recruiting creatures for battle considerably more straightforward. However, having said that, there’s now an option to recruit all creatures at any single castle. While this is nice, in some ways, it makes balancing troops across your entire kingdom more of a juggling act than previously.

During gameplay, I found the pacing and strategy required very similar to that of HOMM4 and HOMM5. It’s easy to lose three or four hours at a time without noticing, and the beta version campaign and scenario maps alone lasted close to 50 hours. While the battle mechanics have altered slightly, there’s little that won’t be easily mastered by anyone who has played previous instalments in the series. As a long time player, I found it engaging, and with enough difference from previous versions that I could rethink some of my longstanding tactics.

One of the main issues I had was that, for a strong single-player title, Ubisoft’s insistence that you be online all the time really doesn’t add much. You can communicate through “orbs” on the maps, to share insights with other players, which is handy, but beyond that, synching save games with the cloud just means that you can’t play offline – something I would have loved to be able to do on long-haul flights or while staying with the rellies.

Overall, it’s a welcome addition, after 5 years, to the HOMM franchise. Those who are already fans will get many hours of play from it, and it provides an easy-to-start entry point for anyone new to the franchise.

It’s helped satisfy my megalomania for more than 50 hours so far, and I suspect it will be on high rotation once the full version releases on October 14 and I can get my hands on all the campaign maps.

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Tags Ubisoftheroes vi: might and magicnival interactivegaminggamesmight and magic: heroes vi3doheroes vinew world computing

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Zara Baxter

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