Might & Magic: Heroes VI Review
September 2nd, 2012
Kalah offers the final review of the sixth instalment of the Heroes series, looking at the campaigns, gameplay, graphics and much more.
Unlike reviewers like Gamespot, who had to do their work with what they had, I have the cheat sheet. I have the benefit of hindsight, having had the game for a year rather than just a couple of days. However, I have always believed that reviews should be based on what a game is, not what it has the potential to be. Therefore, the fact that game reviewers are forced to write reviews of games before they're released is far from ideal.
Here, then, is the review of the game based on what can be regarded as a final version. Our final review.
4/6 – Really not bad, but nothing legendary.
The story is really good. Murder, intrigue, betrayal, a civil war and family feuds – above it all, a greater threat looming on the horizon and long-term plans designed to face it. So where does it fall short? Well, the dialogue is one thing. It's ... not good. Do I have to say more? All right, I will: The writing is like it was done by a twelve-year-old. Or, if I'm being serious for a moment, by a non-English speaker... which is ironic, since the writing of the DLC, which was, is better. It's also quite out of place: a campaign series in which you can choose which part/faction to play first needs to base its dialogue around this fact. As it is, many things just don't make sense. There are also inconsistencies based on character developments. One of the exciting bits of this game is the blood/tear system, but the actions of the characters don't necessarily reflect which such school you belong to.
For a game placing such emphasis on the campaigns, I had expected more. I must admit I never played all of them. You may criticize, but the thing is: I would have played them all if they were good enough. You may say that I shouldn't make up my mind about them until I have completed them all, but really ... are the rest so good that they'll completely convince me? If that is so, I would submit that as a distinct weakness in itself. The fact that I only completed two thirds of the campaigns before moving house might have something to do with my never finishing the lot, but the fact remains that if they were really enticing, I would have wanted to keep playing. Instead, I started up a new round of Football Manager. What does that tell you?
1/6 – a powerful, useless tool.
When the game was announced and we were offered the chance to give advice on its features, I told Ubisoft from the very start, just as I have been banging on ever since: "Use us. Use the Community." Elaborating, I wanted the producers to use the various gaming sites for everything from news releases to information gathering and suggestions. In short, UbiHole decided to ignore this advice and I believe this contributed to many of the problems we have been experiencing.
For instance, the Community sites were unanimous in their request that the map editor should be prioritized. Ubisoft and the original developers chose to ignore this advice. This has yielded the result that the current state of the editor is so poor and the code so complex that the current developers are lamenting the fact that they can do little to correct it.
The Community of M&M fans are what drives the franchise forwards. The reason people still play (and buy) old Heroes games is the fact that the players have hundreds of maps at their disposal – also that it is possible to create mods. When H6 was made, work seems to have been put into creating ready-made campaigns for story line play, not build the game in such a way that players could develop their own maps and stories. The editor was designed as a powerful tool for developers, but is too hard to use for most people.
That's a problem. The Heroes series is based on longevity. A long life-span. People don't buy them just because they want to play the campaigns. They don't buy the expansions for the continuation of a story arch, but for the extra factions, units and artefacts added to the already well-functioning game. Heroes VI has the longevity of your average fruit fly. The choices made when designing the editor; the lack of user-friendliness, the lack of an RMG and campaign editor are to blame. The developers never understood – despite Communities screaming it at them – that we don't just want to play these games; we also want to add things to them.
Creative Director Erwan le Breton himself said that there are many players (a "silent community") who buy and play the game without actually playing a big part in the Communities. This is true. However, what kind of player is more likely to contribute to the quality of the series; someone who buys it because it's been well-advertised, plays the campaigns and then puts it on a shelf before moving on to something else, or someone who enters the forums with his/her opinions and wishes for improvement? Sadly, Ubisoft have made a game to suit the casual players, not those who want to spend more time developing the series. It took a steady storm of complaints to get the town screens changed. This was – no doubt – a change for the better, but who were responsible for getting it done? The "silent mass"?
2/6 – In some ways mysteriously enjoyable, but bugged, unbalanced and suffering from poor infrastructure for online play.
I have to say that once I got started with H6 a while after its release, I found it fairly enjoyable. I found it much better than H5; it ran better on my PC and the graphics and videos were a lot better. So why only a grade of 2? Frankly, the game places too much emphasis on the campaigns and the online experience. There should be more than that. The game should be such that you can start up a single-player game and play different maps when you want, but because the game was built around the campaigns, not much was done to ensure that players had the chance to do this. The game was also made with giving players an extra online experience in mind. The fact that this experience has been full of interruptions, such as servers going down (usually during the weekend), must be considered a huge drawback. Just as Gamespy concluded in their review: "the horrendous UPlay system's draconian requirement that you be connected to the internet at all times to play" became more of a liability to the game than the "added bonus" it was supposed to be. It gave the fans a reason to stay away from the game altogether, rather than encourage them to play it online. The Dynasty weapons too were malfunctioning.
The Conflux was coined a revolutionary move upon release. It turned out to be a fallacy. Not because the concept in itself is flawed, but because the infrastructure offered by Ubisoft failed to support it – just as I predicted last year. What I said back then was that Ubisoft had a poor track record in supporting online features, and that the Conflux was a good idea since it also meant you could play offline. That turned out to be wrong: the lack of online/offline savegame compatibility meant you couldn't really jump between the two at all. The Conflux sounded like a good idea ... but in the end, it failed to work in practice. It failed. Abysmally.
Also, the game was not properly balanced when released. Of course, that's to be expected. Even the great Master of Orion II was out of balance when released. It, however, was fixed. Heroes VI, after a year of patching, still is not. That's not good. It may not be noticed by the casual players, but for those who take it seriously and want to compete, it certainly is. When an amateur player like yours truly notices during simple campaign play, I'd expect that most people do.
Then there are the bugs, of which there were a lot: critical bugs in the Dynasty system; spells and special abilities (especially for creatures) not working; alt-tabbing and saving games causing the game to crash; campaign bugs; hotkeys not working ... the number of patches (8!) released so far and their respective sizes should be an indication of how big a problem this has been.
The AI is not much to speak of either. Stories abound on the AI not using its potential in battle, not flagging mines and cheating on the adventure maps. To most players, a mediocre AI is enough if you just want to play the game for its story and not have too many problems finishing it; it's a bit like playing on a low difficulty. For the more experienced player, however, a proper challenge is wanted. Given the lacklustre AI, most such players would rather play online against human players ... but given the lack of balance, that the online system doesn't work very well and due to the lack of maps to play, they can't.
5/6 – Excellent.
I was really upset that the previous game never gave us value for money in this department. They introduced 3D, yes, but the resource requirements were so high that you could never really run it at 100% without ending up with a choppy game. I ended up really annoyed with this and eventually stopped playing altogether, wishing they had dropped the 3D thing so the game would run better. This time, I have no such problems, despite playing on the same PC.
Great landscape, beautiful creatures and scenery, good-looking artefacts and very nice animations are just some of the words I can use to describe the feel I get when looking at the screen with H6 in the drive. A slight drawback is (just as in H5) the cutscenes, which are rubbish. The less said about them, the better.
6/6 – Considering the team responsible for it, you kinda knew it would be great.
The Rob King/Paul Romero duo is responsible for much of the series' music and the news that it would be them who would design the music for Heroes VI also, is some of the better news I have been able to post the last couple of years. Sometimes I just shut off the music in games because it becomes repetitive, but in some games, it gives something extra to the atmosphere of it all. The music of the Heroes games usually does just that – just think of the opera music used in town screens. The sixth in the series is no exception to the rule: the music is really quite good.
I just have to mention that I also have Tom Salta's "An Ancient Storm is Rising" on my stereo and I always find myself humming along when it gets to the middle theme.
The developers said back in June that the game has a lot of potential. However, it is not reasonable that a game's potential should be released a year after its original release. Seeing as the game is still suffering from serious flaws, I expect that this "potential" will in fact never be released.
To be fair, there are good points. The graphics are excellent, the music is good, the story not bad at all. The interface was poor but has been changed for the better and (as I said before) I judge the game as it is now, not as it was. In the end, though, the game's lack of balance, horrible online features and a complete absence of replayability became its downfall.
In short, Heroes VI was a game that could have been, but never made it because of poor design decisions, a lack of support and a refusal to involve the fans in anything important. The game's broken features, the lack of a functioning online system and lack of a good editor and random map generator ... are simply too much to ignore.
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