Might & Magic Heroes VI - Shades of Darkness Review

Might & Magic Heroes VI: Shades of Darkness is a harsh challenge, but not often a fair one.

Might & Magic Heroes VI: Shades of Darkness is as addictive as it is annoying. This standalone expansion for the 2011 turn-based tactical role-playing game will lure you in with its compelling combat and gorgeous artwork, but push you away with its intense difficulty and bugs. Shades of Darkness clearly needed more time in development, both to smooth out some issues with the over-the-top challenges presented in the new campaigns, and to stomp out the bugs that make the game even tougher to play.

Combat difficulty forces you to replay huge stretches of levels to have a shot at victory in final battles.
Combat difficulty forces you to replay huge stretches of levels to have a shot at victory in final battles.

At the heart of this standalone expansion is a pair of new campaigns focusing on the darker side of the Might & Magic Heroes world. Events unfold in the fantasy realm of Ashan about a century after those in the original Might & Magic Heroes VI. In one, you take on the role of Raelag, a dark elf prince fighting to unite warring clans and ensure the survival of his underground-dwelling new Dungeon faction against the machinations of the Necromancers of Necropolis. In the other, you play Vein, a death knight working with the Necropolis faction. There's plenty of convoluted lore, which references black dragons, the goddess Malassa, some creeps known as the Faceless, and so forth, but you can (and perhaps should) safely skip the cutscenes and just skim the rather dense text without missing anything important. Very little of the campaigns' stories matters to what happens in battle, and the overenunciated voice acting is highly cartoonish, making the plot feel more like overzealous window dressing than a tale worth telling.

Nothing in the two campaigns is particularly noteworthy for series veterans. There is an assortment of new, predictable units with the Dungeon faction, along with new heroes and new artifacts to equip. The new stealth abilities are nifty, especially if you have a good stack of dark elf assassins in your army, as they can deliver devastating attacks at the start of battles due to their invisibility talent. But aside from stealth, nothing significantly alters gameplay. Both the campaign structure and map design are similar to what has come before.

The creepy design of your evil troops provides a fitting dark atmosphere to the new campaigns.
The creepy design of your evil troops provides a fitting dark atmosphere to the new campaigns.

One way in which Shades of Darkness excels is its reliance on the darker side of fantasy. You guide evil factions loaded with the likes of vampires, ghouls, assassins, and floating octopi, and mysterious visual touches on main maps and battle scenes make these entities come to eerie life. Even watching your Necromancer troops scream in triumph after battles is chilling. The mixture of these evildoers and their underground lands and the traditional brighter color palette of the above-ground Might & Magic world of Ashan is striking.

Varying difficulty is a significant source of frustration. Maps are loaded with encounters, giving you a lot to explore and kill. Most battles are easy to win in the early stages, which helps you sink your teeth into what Shades of Darkness has to offer. But it's all a trap. This early easy difficulty sets up an illusion that you're rolling along nicely, mopping up the bad guys while sustaining seemingly acceptable losses. But in reality, the later-map battles are so tough that you can't afford to lose anybody along the way. Even trivial- or low-rated foes tend to take out at least a few of your troops before their dirt naps. So if you take on a lot of encounters, your losses add up quickly.

There is little to no margin for error here. You need to find the right path to the victory objectives without making any mistakes. Take on too many foes, and you lose the war of attrition; take on too few, and you wind up not gaining enough experience and missing out on artifacts that have a huge impact on powering up your hero. Then there are the tight time restrictions. Many maps have one or more goals involving a task like reaching a certain spot, or destroying specific enemy locations, that need to be accomplished in a set number of turns. Take too much time to explore or experiment, and you instantly lose.

When the forces of darkness clash with the forces of light, there can be only one victor.
When the forces of darkness clash with the forces of light, there can be only one victor.

Such time constraints hamper your ability to recruit reinforcements and all but require you to repeat maps once or twice before you have a chance at victory. You frequently wind up backtracking and fighting the same battles, or even just replaying maps from the beginning. It's all too easy to get close to the end of a map and discover that (surprise!) you really couldn't afford the loss of those dozen assassins an hour or so ago after all, or that you simply don't have the number of turns needed to complete all the goals that the game demands.

Still, it's not all bad. You must ask yourself before entering almost any encounter if the end result will be worth it. Will the inevitable troop loss be justified by the experience points, nifty suit of armor, nice pile of gold, or other goodies you get to loot after the bloodshed? These considerations prevent you from simply plowing through every encounter on the map en route to eventual victory. They also give the campaigns some serious heft when it comes to both engrossing you and the sheer time it takes to complete them. Having so little room for screwing up raises the stakes, giving importance to every move you make. It's all quite grueling, but at times, it's a good kind of grueling.

Get comfortable riding your weird purple demon thingy; you'll be spending a lot of time on it!
Get comfortable riding your weird purple demon thingy; you'll be spending a lot of time on it!

Bugs are another problem. Initially, the new content couldn't even be accessed on the Steam content delivery service, and while the problem has been rectified, there are lingering issues with battle screens going black due to a conflict with machines that have dual video cards. Dealing with this problem means forcing a shutdown, which in turn might cause save files to go missing, forcing a complete replay of the map in progress.

Shades of Darkness is aimed at hardcore Might & Magic Heroes VI players who want a serious challenge. And in that respect, the game delivers. Unfortunately, this difficulty is more than a bit unfair, hitting you with too many surprises that force you to replay battles and huge sections of maps on a regular basis. You have to be too perfect, in too many battles, too often. The relentless punishment, plus the bugs, make the game tough to recommend to anyone but diehard fans of the series looking for the ultimate M&M Heroes challenge.

The Good
Tons of new content, with two lengthy campaigns and added units
Same compelling franchise formula, boosted by new stealth options
Dark fantasy graphics lend the game a fittingly somber tone
The Bad
Varying difficulty traps you into replaying big sections of levels
Offers few surprises to M&M Heroes VI veterans
Bugs can cause you to force quit the game and lose progress
6
Fair
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xonar99

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Enough with these nonsensical RTS afterbirth games already, go back to full-on Might & Magic RPG's already! Xeen-style!

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Vambran

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Game was good i liked it.

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ggregd

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European developers tend to confuse strategy with puzzles. They design maps/levels/scenarios so there's one way to complete it and if you do anything else you lose. It almost always means you lose on the first try until you figure out the trick. Good strategy games allow different methods to succeed - speed, building a huge army, turtling, etc.

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kohle36

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This guy needs to go play Shadow of Death - HoMM expansions have always been pretty grueling. I'm getting a bit tired of "it's too hard for me!" being counted as a negative against game design. From what he described, this sounds more challenging than broken, and he probably just needs to learn to play better. Bugs are another thing - but from the sounds of it, it's just one issue with a particular system setup. Anyone run into anything else?

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deactivated-5a397382d8ac4

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Gah! When will we ever get a Heroes worthy of the old renowned games that was Heroes I-III, these days they can't even balance the difficulty *sob*

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kellqj

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@EXODYS HOMM 5 is rather good and has some of the same cool stuff like HOMM 3 (No Sandro though)

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JimB

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Edited By JimB

I finished both campaigns in this edition and there was one map I had to start three time to beat it. I had pre-ordered the game when it was released I couldn't find where to download it from. I sent a e-mail to Ubisoft that had yet to be anwsered. I found out how to download the game on the forum. The difficulty playing the skirmishes alone is damn near impossible. I haven't been able to win one yet.

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chyng85

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Edited By chyng85

So it is wasting time?

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Master_Vexov

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Edited By Master_Vexov

One of the worst launched games and took them a year to fix it up to what should have been decent enough launch title. Ubisoft treated this like EA treated SWTOR, they just don't give a crap and wanted extra cash coming in.

It would be great if H3 was just remade with these graphics, or even 5.

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thequickshooter

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@Master_Vexov umm i don't know on what version you're playing

but the gog.com version has full compatibility and they improve the textures of the game

plus who the hell plays a game for it's graphics???

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csward

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@thequickshooter @Master_Vexov I think your reading comprehension is off sir...

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lostn

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This game is buggy. I started the second mission with my hero (Raelag) reset to lv 1! He started mission 1 at lv 5...! All my reputation, artifacts, and stat points gone.

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pylothepylon13

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@lostn game launcher is super glitchy, along with its confusing supporting system. If you are interested in turn based rpg, there are better games out there such as Fallen of the Enchantress; which has sturdy launch engine and well developed interface.

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thequickshooter

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@lostn heroes vi is pretty shit, so just search in youtube for the cutscenes (cause the story is amazing) and just play heroes 5 or 3

6 is the worst, i'ed take 4 anyday over this piece of shit

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kohle36

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@thequickshooter @lostn Did they eventually implement town screens? That was the single largest oversight of the vanilla game.

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lostn

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@thequickshooter @lostn I think the game had potential. Way more than 4 did. The graphics are nice, and most of the gameplay refinements are great. But the bugs! And the difficulty was frustratingly impossible.

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so_hai

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I bought the original Heroes VI game and it too is unfairly difficult. It is because you cannot develop troops without attacking, and you can't develop troops if you you're too weak to attack. It's a circular mechanism that is at odds with strategy. Also, the CPU manages to build up whatever and whenever it wants.

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csward

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@so_hai I had the same problem. :/

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natalieyan

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i hope they could port Heroes III to PSVita

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botroo3

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Edited By botroo3

bought the complete edition on steam... its a complete disaster, too many bugs even in the original campaign that was released almost 3 years ago!, not to mention the online DRM :S. its a waste of 50$.

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noobdw

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Edited By noobdw

@botroo3 Listen, happened to me with Diablo III (not so long ago but still) now I download games illegally and if I like the game than I buy it, this way I don't waste money and I support the good companies. you should do the same :/

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Master_cheat001

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@botroo3 Origin, Uplay, GFWL. I don't know what disaster plafform will appear next? Steam is fa mor stable than those sh*t combined. At least Ubisuck puts their games on Steam for God 'sake. As much as I like to buy from EA (sometime),Origin prevented me from doing that ("Great" download speed).

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voljin1987

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Edited By voljin1987

@Master_cheat001 @botroo3 gog is the way to go.. now if only there were more games released there

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thequickshooter

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@voljin1987 @Master_cheat001 @botroo3

amen to that brother

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Wintermist

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I like all the Heroes games, and I guess I don't really have a favourite. They're all good in my book.

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Vambran

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Beat the game and did not run into any bugs. Game can be hard as heck though. Nearly impossible to beat some maps on the first playthrough.

New faction is okay , combat animations for some of the units seem are a bit off though. Overall i liked it.

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Agent-Smithy

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So mediocre that they dun even bother to make a review video?

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aeterna789

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The Heroes series ended for me when Sandro the Necromancer became a side character and subsequently removed.

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acelogan1989

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Edited By acelogan1989

meh

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pottedPlant7p

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Edited By pottedPlant7p

It's a 30$ DLC that, according to Steam forums, is completely broken and unplayable. How we are getting "more than our money's worth" is beyond me, even if it were functionnal.

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thequickshooter

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GOG sale!

all heroes of might and magic games 50% off

http://www.gog.com/promo/ubisoft_weekend_promo_170513

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dark_sith_

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Edited By dark_sith_

@thequickshooter I generally just pretend that all HoMM titles after the fourth don't exist. After NWC closed its doors, M&M games just aren't the same thing. I just hope M&M X returns this once great IP to its origins.

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thequickshooter

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@dark_sith_ actually heroes V is pretty damn awesome

the campaign have novel like story and it's not just conquer this and conquer that

it has a great story filled with many emotions

the magic system is way better then 3 and they made the online much more fluid

it's one the damn best heroes games in existence and completely shits all over heroes 4

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thequickshooter

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@ggregd @thequickshooter @dark_sith_

provided they were from the same nation

the negetive moral you'ed get for mixing troops is just unfair

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ggregd

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@thequickshooter @dark_sith_ I always though Heroes 4 was too easy because of the OP heroes on the battlefield. You could forget troops and have 4 heroes in your army and destroy anything you come up against.

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thequickshooter

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@dark_sith_ @thequickshooter

yeah i miss those text boxes of how did you get an artifact

especially heroes 4 text boxes, for they were pleasant to read

the art style is a bit off but it's ok by any means

the campaign is much better, heroes 3&4 campaign were insanely difficult

the story is great, it's actually more understand able since the world of ashen (heroes 5) has a proper time line >> http://www.heroesofmightandmagic.com/heroes5/timeline.shtml

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dark_sith_

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@thequickshooter @dark_sith_ As a matter of fact, I'm just now playing Heroes V. Again. Game mechanics are good. No question there. But the game somehow feels stripped to me. Gone are all those little touches from previous titles. Colours look drab in comparison to HoMM III and IV. No more little blocks of descriptive text when you find some item or a chest. Not to mention that the new world is nowhere near as interesting as those that came before. It is a good game, but not as immersing as previous titles.

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Majkic666

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@thequickshooter uhmm how about NO... already have 2 copies of all might and magic games even 3 of 2 of them

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thequickshooter

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@Majkic666 @thequickshooter i have 3 copies

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enartloc

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Edited By enartloc

@thequickshooter Support CDPR people,buy games from gog!

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koospetoors

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@enartloc @thequickshooter Agreed! These guys are one of the last remaining companies that actually see the customer as a person and not a fat wallet to suck dry, they truly deserve all the support they can get.

2 • 
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Vojtass

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@enartloc @thequickshooter Yup! HoM&M III all the way!

5 • 
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Sardinar

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Ubisoft realized that they can't casualize the mechanics of this game so they just release a crap version to milk the last bits from the fans, oh well.

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n0xinab0x

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Edited By n0xinab0x

I'd like to know what version of this game the Reviewer played. Whether it was the actual released 1.8 version, or the 2 gig patch 2.1. The reason I bring that up is because games here on Gamespot and in general, reviews are supposed to be based on the first release of a game. I remember when Heroes 6 came out and Gamespot took almost 3 weeks to review it, which by then several patches had already came out....Just wondering is all. And if you're a Heroes 3 fan such as myself, you'd of enjoyed Heroes Chronicles.

3 • 
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dark_sith_

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@n0xinab0x Heroes Chronicles is an awesome set of games. Wish someone would roll out high resolution mod like the one for Heroes III

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Simplythebest12

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RIP Might and Magic. Ubisoft destroyed the franchise

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komuchen

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You can clearly see that reviewer, as 90% of the time on this site, doesn't know what he is talking about. Since when "few suprises" are a bad thing? CoD has no suprises and yet you all beat off to it, or rather paycheck.

Also, difficulty? The guy didn't play HoM&M 6 for sure, because there you also had to replay missions to have a chance, and some of them were pretty long and hard as shit, and yet he writes it like it has been added now. And "Might & Magic Heroes"? What the hell, no, what the **** does that even mean? It should've been "Might and Magic" world, because Might and Magic and Heroes share the same world, history, timeline or whatever you want to call it. And it's an EXPANSION, so what did you expect, aside from new castle and few tweaks?

Also "Take on too many foes, and you lose the war of attrition; take on too few, and you wind up not gaining enough experience and missing out on artifacts that have a huge impact on powering up your hero" well, sounds like Heroes VI to me. So yeah, he didn't even played it. Is that a good thing that the game is hard? According to Gamespot they don't even know, because there was no mention about it in the VI review.

2 • 
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enartloc

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this is like the nerd's CoD,same shit with new graphics

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Sardinar

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Edited By Sardinar

@enartloc What? That's not all that's new. It also has DRM. Same shit with new graphics pff...

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Might & Magic: Heroes VI More Info

Follow
  • First Released Oct 13, 2011
    released
    • PC
    Might & Magic Heroes VI is a multiplayer turn-based strategy game for the PC platform.
    7.6
    Average Rating1062 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Might & Magic: Heroes VI
    Developed by:
    Black Hole Games, Virtuos, Limbic Entertainment
    Published by:
    Ubisoft
    Genre(s):
    Strategy, Turn-Based
    Theme(s):
    Fantasy
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    Mild Language, Sexual Themes, Violence