Might & Magic: Heroes VI Hands-On Preview - New Story and Armies, Classic Music and Gameplay

We get our hands on the next game in the Heroes series and find much that is new, and a few surprising, classic elements from previous games.

You could say that the fantasy-themed, turn-based Heroes of Might & Magic strategy series has had a turbulent history. It was originally the product of New World Computing, a developer that shut its doors years ago. After Heroes IV, New World and its publisher, 3DO, went away, and publisher Ubisoft picked up the license and contracted Russia-based Nival Interactive (creator of Etherlords and Silent Storm) to develop Heroes of Might & Magic V. And now, Ubisoft has found another hired hand in Black Hole Games (creator of Armies of Exigo and Warhammer: Mark of Chaos) to make the sixth chapter in the series, which even has a different name. It's Might & Magic: Heroes VI now.

So if you were a pessimist, you might figure that this new game would end up being totally unrecognizable to a fan of the original series. And while some things have definitely been shifted around, Heroes VI also has some surprising callbacks to previous games in the series, as well as new design decisions intended to finally fix long-standing issues with the Heroes games in general. We got our hands on an early version of the game and have much to report.

If you've been following the Heroes series up to the present day, you're already aware of Ubisoft's decision to make a clean break with the world and lore of Heroes I-IV and to create a new world, Ashan, with a new story and new characters. This world was the stage for Heroes V, as well as for the first-person action game Dark Messiah, and even for the Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes DS puzzle game. Heroes VI also takes place in this new world, but the campaign's story takes place decades before the events in Heroes V and details the founding of some of its factions, such as the undead armies of the necropolis lords, who will build their new nation over the course of the single-player story.

In Might & Magic: Heroes VI, you'll have many choices, but they'll all lead back to conquest in the end.

Without spoiling anything, we'll say that the plot will chronicle the downfall of the Falcon Empire--the predominant nation of human-dwelling "haven" cities (formerly known as the "castle," or "knight" town type)--and the rise of the Griffin Empire, which is the faction that held sway in Heroes V and Clash of Heroes. While Heroes V was about a war between earthly forces and otherworldly demons, Heroes VI's story involves betrayal committed by a powerful archangel for mysterious reasons, and the consequences of this betrayal.

Consequences will play a larger role in Heroes VI as part of the game's new alignment system, which assigns the outcome of various decisions to either the "path of blood" or the "path of tears." Yes, this is still a Heroes game where you recruit powerful hero characters with unique specialty powers to command forces of armies (commonly called "stacks") that are unique to your faction's cities, but many of your choices in the game will put you on one of these two paths. However, from what we've seen, this system won't be a weird, arbitrary role-playing game construct that has been awkwardly bolted onto a turn-based strategy game. Many of the ethical decisions you make will be woven into the fabric of the game itself, such as how you handle the awed surrender of a weaker stack of enemy monsters that scatter at your approach. Do you let them flee? If so, you've taken a step along the peaceful path of tears. Do you opt to pursue and engage them in order to gain more experience from killing them off? You'll be embarking on the path of blood instead. The alignment system will be represented by an onscreen meter that will fill up on either side as you gain points with either alignment.

As you focus more strongly in one direction or another, your primary character (who can be either a "might" hero with better military ability or a "magic" hero with better spellcasting ability, just like in previous Heroes games) will change appearance--wearing spikier armor or deep red robes along the path of blood, or shinier, neater armor and muted blue robes along the path of tears. Your alignment will determine what sorts of skills your characters will unlock in later levels, and it will also determine how you complete the single-player campaign, which has two entirely different ending missions for each path. Interestingly, if you're ambitious enough, you can opt to try to walk both paths by earning every last point of blood and every last point of tears you possibly can, in which case you can unlock all skills and also play through both of the final missions.

After getting an overview of all of Heroes VI's new features, we hunkered down to play two different scenarios, an early tutorial mission for the haven faction and a "boss" mission for the devilish inferno faction. The tutorial mission was extremely straightforward, but it gave us a chance to get a sense of how exploration, combat, and sieges work--and as it turns out, they don't work all that differently than they did in previous games.

You'll still explore the world, searching for precious resources and strongholds to conquer.

Like in previous Heroes games, your hero characters command armies of various critters at various tiered power levels that you lead into tactical battles that unfold on a board-game-like map. Our low-level hero commanded an army of archers, priestesses (whose magical powers healed our allies and damaged undead monsters), and militia soldiers with the ability to soak up damage from adjacent allies. We explored the map by maneuvering our initial hero to pick up resource nodes such as gold mines and ore pits (which, just as in previous games, provide daily resource income as long as they remain under your control), along with onetime resource caches such as campfires, and power-boosting features like learning stones, which still grant your heroes 1,000 experience points when visited. And our hero made his epic journey to the tune of none other than a rearranged version of Heroes of Might & Magic II's haunting exploration theme. Apparently, Heroes VI will reprise much of the music from previous games (some of the combat music draws on Clash of Heroes, for instance).

Over the course of our adventure, we had the opportunity to get into a few skirmishes, which, like in Heroes V, take place on a tactical map divided into square tiles on a grid (though Heroes VI doesn't seem to have the scrolling icon bar at the bottom of the screen to indicate which critter has the next turn available). Because this was a tutorial mission, our archers, priestesses, and militia were able to easily trample the small clusters of skeletons and rogue militia dotting the map, but once we got to a certain point outside of our normal domain, we found ourselves unable to capture any resource nodes until we conquered the nearest town, which was controlled by enemy forces. Heroes VI has a new zone-of-control mechanic that lets you capture and hold any nearby resource nodes as long as you also own the town that exerts control over the region.

The game's skill tree will have many different options.

This game mechanic goes hand in hand with Heroes VI's new town portal fixture (an actual building fixture you can build early on as part of just about any town belonging to any faction), which lets your heroes instantly teleport themselves between the towns you own. Together, these features are intended to curb the age-old problem of hiring throwaway heroes to sneak into enemy territory, flag all your foe's mines, and run away with their resource income until they can send along an errand-boy hero of their own to personally recapture those key locations. While eliminating the tedium of flagging mines and running away definitely seems like a step forward for the series, letting players build town portals all over the place sounds like a huge change for the overall gameplay. Interestingly, once you capture an enemy town, you have the option to "convert" the town to the alignment of your faction--a time-consuming action that will permanently change it to produce units of your town type. This change is intended to help with the equally old problem of having armies from different towns suffer from morale deficits due to having mixed forces. Since Heroes VI will apparently let you build up a province full of converted towns with a town portal in each one, building up a huge, bloodthirsty army and moving it into position should be easier than it has ever been.

Our toughest battle in this tutorial campaign was a siege battle to wrest control of the map's southern half from a stronghold of massed undead critters, including skeleton archers, ghosts (which act as healers for the undead), and vampires. These critters were present in such large numbers that it was impossible for us to not take heavy casualties, in spite of our hero's equipment and skills. Sieges in Heroes VI involve one--and only one--siege engine, the catapult, which, as ever, still has a random chance of knocking down a wall to let attackers inside the keep. Ballistae, ammo carts, and first-aid tents are all gone--instead, these effects are replaced by your hero's powers, which, depending on their strength rating, may take one or more turns to recharge before they can be used again. We used our hero's attack-building skill, a callback to the old "bless" spell, to increase our soldiers' damage on the field while occasionally making an attack of our own--in this case, a damaging archery shot we dumped on enemy archers behind the walls.

After fighting this tough battle, we took on an even bigger challenge in one of Heroes VI's "boss" missions. These missions will consist entirely of one epic battle (no exploration or mine-capturing involved) against a powerful and especially difficult opponent with multiple special abilities. We played as the inferno faction and had a saved game file with a huge demon army at our command, so we were actually pretty well prepared for the boss, a giant spider creature said to be an aspect of an ancient goddess. Our foe possessed many powers, including the ability to spit poison as a ranged attack, the power to paralyze foes with a magical web ability, a leaping attack that let it quickly attack and engage enemies across the battlefield, and the power to summon aggressive ghosts from cocoons in her lair. Our host of misshapen demons, led by fire-hurling succubi, split their attacks between the encroaching ghosts and our adversary until the massive beast leaped forward and engaged our succubi, curtailing their ranged attack. At that point, we used our superior numbers to whale on the enemy until we had cut down its massive health bar all the way to zero.

Will you walk the path of tears or the path of blood?

Might & Magic: Heroes VI makes huge and intriguing changes to the Heroes series. But it also has a lot of what made the series great. We'll get a better sense of what the game has to offer as we near its release later this year.

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Discussion

33 comments
squidbilly22
squidbilly22

they look like total geeks,now i feel a little lame for wanting the game.

CoricidinDXM
CoricidinDXM

2 McMarius: umm.... you realize HOMM2 had orcs with the barbarian faction, right? They were ranged attackers. If you were really a heroes fan I'd expect you to realize that. Ohhhhh yeah, you mentioned heroes 4; that's right you must know nothing about this franchise than. Good day, sir.

McMarius
McMarius

great one of the few games that didn`t had ORCS now has them to .....this is so original ....... when they will understand that to be succesfull with M&M u just need to keep heroes3 and4 concept + a little graphics few creatures , few skils and the fans will love it , why is needed to go so far :((

Sasuda
Sasuda

The art style would be fine if they used it for one faction, it's just not like Heroes without the variety of art. I mean yeah some of it was a little funny looking but who cares it helped define the factions as different. It looks like they took one style and copied and pasted it to everything. Does everything need a face covering and over-detailed armour all over? It's cool on one or two but it's everywhere. Ubisoft has really bad DRM problems too. Seems like to me they are trying to overcomplicate and they don't recognize the simple core basics of the Heroes games. They're missing the heart of Heroes.

markiewicz
markiewicz

ehh.... game looks pretty bad at the moment... I'd rather they made a 2d based game. If you put quality artists behind it I think a hand drawn Heroes 6 would have a completely different feel. Part of the reason why those games lost their appeal compared to HoMM 3 is the change of art style. 4 was still okish, but 5 was just terribly generic, rubbish 3d units. 6 looks like it will continue that trend.

nimd4
nimd4

We just need (quality) SCENARIO maps, perhaps from the devs, a map pack that we can buy (L, XL mostly pls. :))?.. Heroes 3 & actually 4 was played for YEARS offline, with hot-seat play. We did anyway. =) ps. Never again will maps be made like that by the community (unless the map creator/editor has some uber functions to accomodate for the complexity of the game).

Aspiroactive
Aspiroactive

With every new release of Heroes, final programing was sloppy, and the game did not appear to have even been finished. In Heroes V, there were left over options still visible in game play that had been dropped and not finished to rush the game for early release. I am very sceptical that this won' happen again, and I won't be purchasing until I have heard post release reviews.

NeoTemplar
NeoTemplar

Looks average at best. Combat looks like it's straight from H5, which I found very boring. Visuals don't really look any better than H5, just different. All they got is the gameplay changes to try and improve. It's almost easier to make an original game, than to rely on the legacy of the past 5 games, and improve on it.

stabby_mcgee
stabby_mcgee

I hope that they at least give the developers enough time to actually finish the game. The problem with Heroes 4 and 5 wasn't that they had new ideas, it was that those new ideas never got fully tested or implemented since the games got released before they were ready. Heroes 4 got pushed out about half a year before it was completed because 3DO was going bankrupt. With Heroes 5, it seemed like Ubisoft didn't even care about the quality of the game and just wanted the game to come out as soon as possible despite all the problems. There was even a fan campaign to have them push back the release so they could fix all the bugs. Luckily, the campaign was at least partially successful and the fans really helped to improve the game with a great fan created manual, lots of custom maps, and great mods. I don't mind if they change things in Heroes 6 as long as the developer is given the time they need to properly test those ideas and fix as many of the problems as they can before the game is released.

tsaeb1
tsaeb1

I don't understand why they chose to reinvent the wheal since they have the best game made ever, i mean HEROES III. They should just improve that, maybe hire again Sir Mullich, copy some from Wog 3.5, with that it will be a masterpiece, instead everytime they make a totally new game. I really don't understand. HEROES III is the best strategy game made ever.

DarckArchon
DarckArchon

To be honest the fifth didn't felt exactly as its predecesors, i mean it was ok the mechanics, but the design, graphics, that's what bugged me. Somehow it kinda gave a FF style look. the first 4 looked better at design

Hakkology
Hakkology

Where are my wizards aarrgghhhhhhhhhh???

kaem79
kaem79

make it so the hero can move around on the battlefield...

RyuRanVII
RyuRanVII

Some positive changes, some negative changes... But I think it'll ended up being a good game overhaul. I hope Ubisoft releases a demo version.

mythentity
mythentity

@Radwar Well, you see, some people will blindly say Heroes 3 is the best no matter what. You can't really expect to reason with them.

tyskenfan
tyskenfan

This will be AWESOME (*shrieking voice*)

Radwar
Radwar

@erik1116 That's quite the childish approach you've got there.

BartRaz
BartRaz

That doesn't look good. To start with name change, it should be enough, and the year of the release, I foreseen ****.

Sheepofevilz
Sheepofevilz

Changing too much stuff...forget this; this isn't even heroes anymore. No devils? Giants? Black Dragons?

erik1116
erik1116

Thumps up for Heroes 3 being the best in the series no matter what they come out with next. :p

KOBE23IVAN
KOBE23IVAN

i was really waiting for this one...

samka32
samka32

It was the same when H4 was released; lots of new things, old and new game in the same time. It was difficult to accept the new concept, but playing, I discovered that can be pretty interesting. Honestly, I expect to find out exactly the same approach here. And, taking into consideration I have 12 years of Heroes, is better to see also something new :D

pigginpete
pigginpete

I'm torn on some of these changes. On one hand a lot of the stuff being removed WAS tedious and difficult, but on another, the challenge it provided was part of the series' charm, wasn't it? Don't know how I feel about this game jumping on the noob-friendly bandwagon like every single other game. Guess it's inevitable.

Assimilat0r
Assimilat0r

Bad or good i will buy it deffinitly no matter on price or how low on money i am :D

Kesarion
Kesarion

When they took out creature upgrades in Heroes 4 the fans were outraged, 3DO colapsed into bankruptcy and everyone thought the series was over. It is AMAZING that they still haven't learned their lesson. If you take something good out of a good game it's like declaring war on your fans, it's the game developer's mass suicide. I cannot believe they are still doing this. I know Heroes 4 turned out to be a good game, but when people actually sat down, played the game's campaigns and realised it was good, 3DO was dead, the expansions had failed to bring in any cash and Heroes became another wasted series. If they make this mistake now and the series expansions fail, ubisoft will drop Heroes forever like many other titles that had have potential(I'm sure you can think of many). And we all know, when a big company drops a title, it's as good as dead, the people up top that decide what games get a chance only look at the numbers they don't care about the games just the profit. So for the love of god, give this project more time, make it complete, don't doom the series.

super_gameru
super_gameru

To be honest, after reading the first news about Heroes 6 I was very, very disappointed (only 3 resource types; removed the classic view from inside the castle; probably only 4 factions) and I was sure that Ubisoft/Black Hole will screw it up in a big way. After further investigations I was able to see the point of these changes (downgrades at the 1st look) and hope that less resources mean better map/faction balance; no inside view of castle means quicker play etc. Now, although I wish that some of these decisions are not final, I have the hope that the game will still be worthy of the "Heroes" name (even if they changed the name a little). Also because I will buy the game, no matter the critics, cause I loved all the others Heroes titles, I'm not going to play any demos, watch any gameplay footage or read any spoilers. I'll wait for the release(Q4 2011 or even 2012), play it a couple of weeks and then give my opinion. Hopefully after that I'll still play the game for the years to come (like I did with many other heroes titles).

lyk3
lyk3

I am glad to hear that the boring game mechanics are being addressed. But sad to see that the ballista has gone away.

SpyEyes
SpyEyes

looks good, liked the new changes... can't wait.

aozman
aozman

these changes all look positive... can not wait for this game

RectumRammer
RectumRammer

Same here yet 3 was still the best. Started playing it again.

timewarp411
timewarp411

I'm actually pretty pumped about this game. I loved the old ones, even with the flaws. Now they're improving it in a number of great ways and I won't have to send my crappy heroes around the map like cannon fodder haha. Still, too good to be true? I guess I'll find out when it's released.