Might & Magic: Heroes VI is the next chapter in Ubisoft's rebooted Heroes of Might & Magic series, and even though this new game is being developed by Black Hole Studios (Warhammer: Mark of Chaos and Armies of Exigo), it seems to have more immediately in common with Heroes V than with the classic Heroes III--the game that gets us all nostalgic. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. For starters, Heroes VI has a lush 3D graphics engine that renders a colorful world inhabited by the fantasy creatures you've come to expect from Ubisoft's rebooted Might & Magic franchise--demons, undead, orcs, and humans, among others. We recently spent some more time with the single-player campaign, and here's what we found out.
Similar to Heroes V, Heroes VI's campaign will put a stronger emphasis on story and will include numerous cinematic cutscenes (as well as brief audio conversations among key characters) to break up the action of exploring and conquering the overworld map. As we've discussed in our previous coverage, your primary goal on most Heroes VI maps, like in every other game in the series, is to explore and conquer the map by seizing resources in the form of small caches that give you a one-off bonus, and production nodes (gold mines, sawmills, and so on) that give you a continuous income, while hacking through any neutral monsters or enemy heroes that dare oppose you.
Most of the resources and map features you recall from previous games--gold, wood, ore, and crystal, as well as learning stones that grant bonus experience and rally flags that grant morale bonuses for a week--return in Heroes VI, though the game also has interesting new tweaks to the basic Heroes formula. For instance, even though the game still considers each passing turn on the overland map to consist of a single day (with seven turns composing a week), each week brings with it a bonus not to individual unit growth (such as the week of this or that unit that gains a growth bonus), but rather to a more-abstract concept that will benefit a specific strategy instead. One of the more-interesting weekly bonuses we saw was the "week of blood," a temporary, weeklong bonus in which all abilities along the path of blood gain bonus effectiveness.
As we've mentioned previously, Heroes VI introduces a new concept of ethical alignment in the form of two "paths" you can follow, the path of tears (a peaceful path that grants mostly defensive bonuses) and the path of blood (a more-aggressive path that grants mostly offensive bonuses in battle). Taking more-aggressive action in certain situations will unlock more slots along the path of blood, while taking a pacifist's approach will unlock more slots in tears. In each case, every time your campaign hero gains an experience level by either slaughtering enemies in battle or converting treasure chests to experience points (rather than keeping the gold for himself--a classic Heroes of Might & Magic choice), you'll have the opportunity to advance one additional slot into either path. However, at least in the early goings of the campaign, you'll actually be able to advance equally in both paths, since each one is divided into tiers with multiple skills in each, and subsequent tiers are locked out until your hero gains a certain experience level…so at least in the early part of the campaign, which we played, it won't be possible to specialize entirely in tears or in blood. In any case, each time you gain a level, you can pick up an additional blood or tears hero ability that you can use once per round in the game's board-game-like tactical combat mode.
Tactical combat seems just as strategic as ever and even seems to have a puzzle-game-like quality to it. Because battles take place on a rectangular grid between units such as guardsmen (pikemen), marksmen (archers), and sisters (healers), and because each unit has a specific movement range and damage range, and because you can use only one ability from your hero (either an innate magic spell or a blood/tears spell, or a simple attack), just like in Heroes V, winning battles with minimal losses seems like a game of advanced planning and some simple math, adding up damage from attacks and counterattacks that might be elicited. For those players who desperately need to win every battle without a single casualty, Heroes VI handily lets you replay each one--though for players who don't care to sweat the details, the game also has an auto-combat option that gives up control of your armies to the computer and auto-resolves the results in quicker, if less-than-optimal, fashion.
Completing each map in the campaign will earn you special bonuses for the next mission tied to your online Heroes VI "conflux" account. The conflux is Heroes VI's online game profile that tracks your overall single-player and multiplayer statistics, as well as "dynasty traits," an ongoing passive bonus to your hero that you can choose at the beginning of a new map, and keep active on your hero for that particular adventure, such as bonus starting gold or bonuses to your combat prowess. Over time, you'll also earn dynasty weapons--items that you can keep in your persistent dynasty profile and equip on your heroes later on.
Might & Magic: Heroes VI will apparently offer an evolved version of the new Heroes universe first envisioned in Heroes V and expanded upon in later games, such as Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. The game is scheduled to launch later this year.