Thereâ€™s nothing like a new HoMM title to remind you itâ€™s time to upgrade your aging hardware. The Might & Magic Heroes VI beta stubbornly refused to run on one PC, and would only work on a second, newer one (as in: manufactured in late 2010) after much patching and updating of drivers. The whole installation process could be likened to ripping through many layers of well-taped gift wrap to reach the actual presentâ€¦ but would the contents be everything you could wish for? Or some tacky trinket youâ€™d immediately try and flog on Trade Me?
A long time fan of the series, Iâ€™ve dallied with most of the other incarnations, but always drifted back to the earlier HoMM games, which were a turn-based strategy spin-off from the Might & Magic RPGs. So it was happy news indeed to hear another such title was on the way - even if it has recently been rebranded as Might & Magic Heroes. Somehow, â€˜MMHâ€™ doesnâ€™t have quite the same ring to it, but weâ€™ll roll with it.
Set some 400 years prior to the events in Heroes V, the campaigns revolve around a power struggle between five scions of the Griffin dynasty, prior to its rise to the throne. Good to see the tradition for dramatic storylines has been upheld here, with good emphasis on the heroesâ€™ backgrounds. Thereâ€™s plenty of text dialogue between characters â€“ some of which is quite entertaining, and cinematic-style interludes link each scenario to the next.
Visually, the game is as much a step up from Heroes V as that game was from Heroes IV. Thereâ€™s no denying itâ€™s beautiful to look at; however this does come at a cost. Under the video options menu, there are plenty of tweaks to coax better performance from a slower machine; however being unable to feast your eyes on the entire visual banquet is like having to settle for â€˜liteâ€™ beer, when you really want a real one. Being unable to rotate the camera initially felt quite restrictive compared to Heroes V, although you do get accustomed to it. During my hands-on session I experienced the occasional drop in framerate, plus other text and graphics-related issues. Such things are expected in a beta, however, so weâ€™ll cut them some slackâ€¦ for now.
The interface is very user friendly, and from what Iâ€™ve seen, the menus are laid out in a logical manner, with simple to access functions, and useful hotkeys. Thereâ€™s an awful lot of new information to digest, but a tutorial goes some way towards ensuring you have a basic level of competence, before embarking on further scenarios. A game of this depth really requires a manual, and it will be interesting to see how it measures up.
If youâ€™ve played any of the previous Heroes games youâ€™ll pretty much be able to jump straight in, although there are some obvious changes. For instance, there are fewer resources to worry about, which is a plus. The expanded skill trees are far more sophisticated, and I must admit to feeling ambivalent about this aspect. With the new system, heroes can potentially wield might and magic abilities equally, and it does allow for more hero customization â€“ provided you know what youâ€™re doing. It certainly complicates matters, though. Having relatively few skills to manage was what made the earlier titles so accessible. Perhaps these changes were driven by the developerâ€™s aim to deliver innovation - and Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll all warm to them, but itâ€™s going to take some getting used to.
With regard to combat, I wonâ€™t go into too much detail here; weâ€™ll save it for the review. Suffice it to say, it flows well, looks fantastic, and there are enough new units and features to keep fans and tactical buffs happy for a very long time. Multiplayer offers both hot seat and skirmish modes, and the introduction of an online hub known as the Conflux provides a sense of community, as well as the enticement of extra features for online play.
With its appetiser of three single player campaign maps, a classic hot seat multiplayer map and the Conflux, the beta gives us a taste of the various maps, factions and units, while setting the stage for the upcoming full version (currently due for an early September release). It has certainly whetted my appetite for more... should be interesting to see what the main course delivers!