The Heroes of Might and Magic series has been rearing its head with new titles for several years now, attempting innovation and new styles many times over and sometimes succeeding, other times failing. While the fifth and fourth in the series introduced new elements and turned out to be fairly competent, veterans of the series still yearned for a return to the core mechanics of the older titles such as Heroes II and then improving upon that.
Thankfully the developers have listened to the call and have brought us a charming and nostalgic title in Might and Magic: Heroes VI, which is also its new title (well technically it's just a reversal), and it has bought more streamlined and focused mechanics to the table too, bringing it into the modern light while still retaining its hardcore roots.
Heroes VI campaign is usually where people would start off with a title such as this, and while the campaign can end up being very long considering the more methodical and slow paced style of the game, the story ends up being fairly lacklustre with little twists and turns and inconsistent voice acting all throughout it. It's a generic tale of protecting a Duke's land all the while having some serious family issues and feuds, and for the most part it's not noteworthy. The campaign however is still well worth playing through, as the gameplay itself is superb albeit typically very long as any Might and Magic title would have it, and it shows you several of the factions and features within the game.
For those not in the know, Heroes VI and the series in general is a turn based strategy game that is basically separated into two tiers. The first tier is the top down map and exploring your surrounding area with your starting hero, collecting randomly placed loot and fighting enemies with a set number of units in your army. You can build this army up by recruiting more at your city, though you can only recruit a maximum amount per week which turns over every seven turns. Your city can also be built up to have more defenses with fortifications, and can also be upgraded to recruit more units per week, upgrade units and eventually recruit secondary heroes to your main, thus doubling your exploring of the map. It works out much like a tabletop game would, as once you've diminished your movement points for a turn you end it and wait on the next player to make his move. While it may sound tedious, Heroes VI has an addictive flair to it that remains consistently interesting due to the random loot and unpredictable opponents, and having so much depth and customisation at your disposal when it comes to your hero, it can also make the combat very different each time.
Combat is the second tier of Heroes VI and is where most of the intensity and thought goes in. It's top down and based on a small grid much like chess, albeit you can stack a whole lot of units onto each other and you've got a Hero who can buff, debuff and do damage per turn. Combat is turn based just like the exploration tier, but it's also much more difficult, as careful planning and tactics are necessary in winning many of the fights. Fights can last a good while before they're well and truly over, and taking your time with each turn is paramount to success.
With that said however, though combat is very deep and quite interesting particularly with the amount of possibilities in spell combinations and hero stats you can have, late game tends to turn into a stacking fest where simply overwhelming your opponent with masses of upgraded troops can destroy you, regardless of whether or not you're the better tactician. This however we can attribute to our own level of skill, as although overwhelming forces can simply dominate, more clever planning and general sieging and harassment of the opponent could potentially avoid a late game death army all together. It's still difficult to stop an opponent from stacking an army though particularly on larger maps, and many times you might just be unlucky in that he has better loot around him than you do, so you're off to a slower start. But this is how Heroes games have been for the most part, and while it can be frustrating to lose because you're unlucky, you'll still continue to play as the game continually challenges and hooks you with its gnarly claws of addiction.
While Heroes VI feels mostly like a modernised version of Heroes II, it does add in new features such as the Tears and Blood morality system, which depending on your choices in specific situations in-game, will reward you with different kinds of items and passive abilities. It's a fairly small feature in that it doesn't have any major consequence within the game itself, but it's a nice touch that can aid in specific situations.
The dynasty system however is the bigger feature and fairly deep at that, where every game you play on your account gives you experience points and eventually unlocks bonuses and rewards, boosting victories in combat or adding a passive bonus at the start of a game. It's a universal system that is also entirely optional when creating a game too, so people don't have to use it if they don't want to. It's very nice though as it adds incentive to continue playing, which may be a problem for you if you're already addicted.
Realistically, it's simply hard to fault Heroes VI when it comes to its mechanics. It has some balance issues which can be entirely dependent on luck and it's also quite a difficult title, but most of what it attempts to do it does extremely well. But while the game itself is quite excellent, Ubisoft's Uplay system can be a right pain in the backside to deal with. A couple of times we actually lost one or two save files due to Uplay's save game synchronisation which is bizarre, and while for the most part it was working okay, for it to actually destroy save games is quite frankly ridiculous. It's a nice system in that it rewards you, but issues such as that are quite major and shouldn't affect the game in such a way that it doesn't acquire your save because it couldn't sync to their servers.
Might and Magic Heroes VI is a title that is very much catered towards fans of the series, but also invites newcomers with its excellent presentation, visual flair and inviting atmosphere. While the campaign's story and voice acting is quite average at best, you'll still want to play it purely for its gameplay which is superb and addictive as it always has been with the series. Once you're done with this (which can take a good 30 hours), you've got custom scenarios you can play on with custom Heroes and varying degrees of AI difficulty, and you've also got the return of Hot-seat play which can pit two friends against each other for a few hours or days, depending on your rations. It's a title certainly worth getting if only for its replayability and purity of gameplay, as there's a near infinite amount of play you can get out of this. Recommended.