Deep, customizable hero skill trees; tons of gameplay; lots of unit variety.
Limited building strategies; uneven difficulty; poor UI.
FOR THOSE OF YOU wondering, no, "Might and Magic Heroes" is not a typo. For the sixth installment of the venerated strategy-RPG hybrid series, Ubisoft has changed the name from "Heroes of Might and Magic" to "Might and Magic Heroes." This inexplicable rebranding is the perfect embodiment of Might and Magic Heroes VI's fatal flaw: It doesn't know what it is, or what it wants to be.
Heroes VI skews way more toward the role-playing end of the RPG-strategy spectrum—many of the management elements from previous entries have been "streamlined" out of existence. Resource management, though not entirely removed, is one such casualty, being pared down to four simple building blocks: gold, wood, ore, and crystals. This makes building towns much quicker and simpler, but unfortunately, it also makes the various factions feel much too similar to one another in their macro approach to town and kingdom growth strategy.
While easier to build, the tactical value of towns is more important than ever. In addition to providing your kingdom with troops and gold, each town has a zone of influence. Unlike previous games, where any structure could be hijacked at any point, in Heroes VI, mines and creature dwellings cannot be seized until the local town is captured. Furthermore, all of your entire kingdom's troops can be purchased from any single town or fort, cutting back on backtracking, but also completely removing the strategic value of troop and resource supply lines. This devaluation of individual structures and the increased importance of towns make exploration, once one of the pillars of the Heroes experience, feel like little more than filler between a series of grueling siege battles.
Nowhere is the linear progression of difficult battles more evident than in the game's single-player campaigns. Access to towns is limited, town growth is limited, and large areas of maps remain gated off—literally, by giant gates that only open once objectives are completed. Meanwhile, behind those gates, the insidious, cheating AI is amassing giant armies and piles of resources. And while uphill battles against an unfairly advantaged AI are practically a staple of strategy-game campaign modes, the lack of freedom and dearth of building strategies make the promise of getting hopelessly stuck a maddeningly frustrating inevitability.
That's not to say Heroes 6 is a bad game, it's not. It's just a bad strategy game. On the other hand, it's a very good tactical RPG. Hero management is more robust than ever thanks to a deep, customizable skill tree. While heroes fall into the two basic categories of Might or Magic, you're still free to spend ability points on whatever talents you choose. You can make a mighty warlord who issues powerful battle cries to empower his troops, a potent magician who can unleash devastating spells on his foes, or an all-around champion, mixing and matching Might and Magic skills to adapt to any situation. The choices are varied and satisfying, but the sheer amount of options and information can be overwhelming—especially for a first-time player.
Heroes is at its best, and its worst, during climactic siege battles.
Your army's units are equally diverse. There are five total factions—Haven, Inferno, Necropolis, Stronghold, and Sanctuary—each with seven troop types. Each troop type is upgradeable to a stronger variant, meaning there are 70 different unit types in all. Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses, including unique skills and abilities. The myriad unit skills, in conjunction with your hero's character skillset, makes for a complex, tactical experience that rewards carefully selected battle strategies. Again, there's a massive learning curve here, made all the more challenging by a UI that's both hard to navigate and lacking in vital information.
So just what kind of game is Might and Magic Heroes VI trying to be? We're still not sure. But with a less strategy-focused style that will alienate longtime series fans and a complex system that will likely intimidate newer players, it's assuredly not the seamless blend of RPG and strategy that defined the Heroes games of yore.