After appearing in numerous PC and console titles, the Might and Magic universe is being brought to the Nintendo DS by Ubisoft and developer Capybara Games. Clash of Heroes takes place in the fantasy world of Ashan, a land populated by elves, knights, wizards, and necromancers. The game features several playable characters, but you'll learn the ropes as the elven warrior Anwen, and we recently spent some time with him for our first hands-on preview.
The game’s story starts with a bang. A link to the parallel demon world of Sheogh has been opened during a recent lunar eclipse, and it has plunged the peaceful Ashan into darkness. The forces of good once held a powerful weapon known as the Blade of Binding, which bends the will of demons to that of the sword's master. However, in the game's opening sequence the blade is stolen, and it's up to you to find it before it's too late.
Clash of Heroes' turn-based strategy is played on both screens. Your army is presented on the bottom screen, and your opponent's army is on the top. Units are ordered into eight vertical rows, and you need to maximise their effectiveness by grouping similar units together. Vertically lining up three of the same unit type and colour will create an attack formation, whereas a horizontal row will result in a defensive wall that your forces can stand behind. Adding another three units to either formation will combine the two groups to make a more powerful one. The catch, however, is that you can only move units that are at the bottom of the screen, and you have a limited number of moves per turn.
While you have a limited number of units at your command, you can call in reinforcements to fill your population to its capacity. Our forces included elven archers, bears, pixies, deer, and dragons, whereas the enemy forces consisted of demons and evil knights. The type and colour of replacement units are random, making gameplay feel like a puzzle game at times. Deleting miscoloured units in between those of the same colour results in an attack formation, with the added bonus of giving you an extra move. You'll lose health if you unsuccessfully block an attack, but you can do the same to the enemy. You can also create link attacks by forming columns of the same colour and unit, which results in an attack bonus. The more links you create, the higher the attack bonus, and the wealth of tactics at your disposal means that there are plenty of different possibilities for battle.
Our elite units included deer and druids, and they can substantially increase your attacks. Their numbers are limited, however, and if they are depleted you have to purchase more of them at the end of the battle. Combining champion units such as dragons with four regular units of the same colour will unleash a devastating champion attack. Your hero also has a special hero attack, which in Anwen's case is the sniper shot. This powerful arrow can be fired once the champion attack meter has been filled up. You can fill up the meter by successfully attacking or defending.
Each successful battle rewards you with XP and with gold that can be used to buy new items. You encounter artefacts throughout Ashan, which also give you an additional bonus. One such bonus is the Ring of Vitality, which boosts your hero's health by 15 percent. You'll also find the Phoenix Feather, which will revive you once per battle with 25 percent heath. In addition to the main story, you can embark on side quests, such as a bounty hunter's task of eliminating roguish elves.
The world of Ashan is well realised on the DS, and Capybara has put plenty of detail into the heroes, villains, and environments. The main characters all have their own unique personalities and expressions, while the colour palette is vibrant and the graphics are crisp. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is due out on August 25. For more on the game, check out the just-published trailer and developer diary, and stay tuned to GameSpot for more Might and Magic news over the coming months.