As a long time fan of the Heroes Of Might and Magic series — now known as Might and Magic: Heroes — and someone who didn’t enjoy the game’s sixth installment very much, I was a bit apprehensive about the strategy game’s seventh outing. Might and Magic: Heroes VI was plagued with bugs, poor performance, always online DRM, and some strange mechanics. But after playing the beta for Might and Magic: Heroes VII, I can confidently say that the series has gone back or is at least going back to what made it great. While not as amazing as the original three games which stand as some of my favorite computer games of all time, Heroes VII comes very close to beating Heroes V — Ubisoft’s first Heroes title after acquiring the license — in terms of execution.
Might and Magic: Heroes is a turn based strategy series with light RPG elements. The gameplay revolves around controlling heroes (which act as your generals), forming armies, building your cities up to gain resources and new units, finding hidden treasures, and crushing your foes. It is, in my opinion, the simplest and most addicting fantasy-themed strategy franchise of all time, and one that has stuck with me for ten years now. There’s something just amazing about the various gameplay elements; the combat is tactical and flows well, watching your city grow is so satisfying, and absolutely wrecking a large army with your own is one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced in a game.
In this beta, we have access to four multiplayer and singleplayer skirmish maps; one on one duels, more maps, and a campaign mode will be available after the game releases. Heroes VII will have at least six factions to play as upon release, with four being available in the beta: Haven (Traditional Knights), Academy (Magical Beasts like Golems, Genies, etc.), Sylvan (Fairies and Unicorns), and Dungeon (Dragons, Minotaurs, and Dark Elves). The two factions not included in this beta are Stronghold (Goblins and Orcs) and Necropolis (The Undead). Every faction is completely different from the last, and Heroes VII does a great job of making them unique and creative, something I can’t say the last two games did very well.
The first thing that stands out to me in Heros VII compared to Heroes VI is no more “dynasties” or “hero creation” (yet). Thank goodness! I absolutely despised the creation system in Heroes VI. I guess it adds to the RPG elements, but it’s irritating to not be able to play skirmishes or multiplayer without making a character. Plus, you have to make a character for every faction; having a list of heroes to choose from for each faction makes much more sense than painstakingly creating a bunch, and it just saves time.
The overworlds in Heroes VII are beautiful; they are so intricately detailed and an absolute treat to the eye. Each map included in the beta is unique and varied. They go from a small, 1 on 1 map, to a gigantic 8 player skirmish. The interface is easy to understand, and navigating around the map is responsive and precise. The game gives you exactly the right amount of feedback for everything you do or want to do.
A new addition to the game is the leveling up system. In previous installments, leveling up would randomly increase certain attributes for your hero, or allow you to choose a randomly selected skill. Heroes VII has added a skill tree (or should I say a skill wheel?). This adds more depth to the heroes, as you can better fine tune what skills you acquire and specialize your hero in certain areas; something that wasn’t always possible in previous games.
City screens look absolutely stunning. Your cities are represented with magnificent looking painted scenes that really remind me of Heroes II and Heroes III. Not only this, but there are a plethora of buildings available for each faction. Heroes VI was very basic with its city buildings and had few options. While Heroes VI had maybe 10 buildings per faction, Heroes VII’s cities appear to have (I didn’t count) over 30 different buildings for each faction. Not only this, but you will get choices for certain buildings. Sometimes a building “slot” will have two buildings you can choose from. Maybe you can choose between a building that increases Crossbowman production and a building that increases Swordsman production; you can only choose one for that city. This is a great addition, and really adds strategy to the game, as well as giving more purpose to having additional cities because you can build the buildings that you missed out on in other cities.
My biggest problem with the overworld (and probably my biggest problem with the game so far) is turns — why on earth do I have to wait around for five minutes so that the computer players can take their turns? In the older Heroes games, NPCs would take their turns almost instantaneously, unless you could physically see them making their moves on the map. If they were hidden behind the fog of war, their turn would happen in the snap of a finger. Even if you could see what an enemy was doing, it would be sped up (or could be adjusted to do so). In Heroes VII, you have to wait in real time, even if you can’t see anything the computer is doing. I really must ask: Who thought this was even close to a good idea?
In an eight player match, I had to wait three minutes before I could take my next turn, and for things I couldn’t even see happening on my screen. Of course you’re going to have turns where barely anything happens, so I was only playing for 30% of the time spent. What is the point of that? What makes this worse is that the game’s performance drops horrendously while computers take their turns. Heroes VII runs perfectly for me, but when my opponents are taking their turns, the frames per second will drop to about 10fps, so don’t expect to look around at the scenery while you wait. This needs to be fixed before the game is released, or else it will really dampen my drive to continue playing a match. I suppose this can be averted with the option of simultaneous turns (everyone’s turn happens at the same time), but not everyone (including myself) will want to use that option.
Combat in Heroes VII is great. The units look awesome on screen and are very well detailed. The flow is a lot quicker than that of Heroes VI, but I dislike the unnecessary camera angle changes that occur when a unit attacks. Yes, it adds a cinematic feel to battle, but half of the time it doesn’t even work. The camera will cut to an over-the-shoulder view when my ranged unit attacks, but the it will end up being blocked by a tree or another unit, preventing me from seeing the action.
The biggest issue I have with combat are the animations — they’re terrible. I know this is just a beta, so I’m hoping they’ll improve tenfold by the game’s release. Currently, animations (mostly attack animations) feel very rigid, and lack any impact. Units look like robots when they strike, and there’s no sound or visual effect for any of the attacks, so it ends up being very underwhelming. Again, this is a beta, so I assume this isn’t something the developers thought was that important for the time being. The main point is that combat is fun, and that’s all that matters. Still, I hope this is improved.
For being in a beta, Heroes VII is refreshingly low on bugs. I have encountered a few here and there, but they were nothing experience-killing. A few times the game would force me to deploy only one unit in my army when going into battle, rather than my whole army. This wasn’t frequent, but it sure confused me when it happened. The other bug is very minor: it seems as though when ranged units are killed, instead of playing their death animation, they’ll play their melee attack animation. Sometimes death animations won’t even play at all, and dead units will just stand there for a second and then suddenly be dead on the floor. Obviously these are not game-breaking, but they’re bugs nonetheless, and they should be addressed.
Might and Magic Heroes VII has impressed me thoroughly so far. I did not expect it to be as fun and as well constructed as it is, considering Heroes VI left a very sour taste in my mouth. I look forward to the game’s final release later this month, and I’ll certainly be giving it a full review.