Some Thoughts About Heroes VI

With Fall A finals over and Fall B yet to begin, I’ve had the must needed opportunity to relay and play some computer games. Specifically, I’ve been playing the newly released Might & Magic: Heroes VI. On Saturday, after the Fall A party, I spent 5 hours with the single player campaign.

Initial impressions? Great music. Excellent graphics. Decent voice acting. Intriguing story. But is it all good? The more I played, the more I found myself raising my brow.

Heroes VI makes a number of dramatic changes to the series’ core mechanics to streamline the interface and speed up gameplay. The most noticeable change is the reduction of resources from 7 to 4. Sulfur, mercury, gems, and crystals have been condensed into a single rare resource called Dragon Blood Crystals. The developers claim that the change makes the game more strategic because every faction must fight for the same resources. I’m not so sure. But in the grand scheme of things, the reduction of resources is a minor quibble.

Far more intriguing is the new hero skill system, which enables players to manage ever step of their heroes’ advancement. Previously, when a hero gained a level, players would have to choose between two skills. It added an element of randomness to the gameplay that (depending on who you asked) was either terribly unbalanced or fiendishly exciting. By giving players control over their heroes, the developers remove the uncertainty that defined the previous skill system. On one hand, it’s now less frustrating for veteran players to develop specialized heroes such as resource gatherers, explorers, field generals, etc. On the other hand, an important strategic layer has been lost: the need for players to improvise when dealt a bad hand.

The most devastating change to the game is the introduction of ‘areas of control.’ Basically, regions of the map are now tied to specific nodes (i.e. forts and cities). When a player captures a node, all mines and creature dwellings within its area of control automatically shift their allegiance. How does this change the game? It pushes every player to constantly ignore mines and immediately rush opponents’ forts and cities. In theory, this change speeds up gameplay. In practice, it reduces the number of strategic options available for a weaker player to regain his or her advantage on the overworld map.

If you keep your city unguarded, an enemy can instantly take over the city along with 3-5 mines nearby in one fell swoop. A powerful player will take over one node after the next, systematically denying the other side of reinforcing their heroes. Victory and defeat is now determined solely on the battlefield, not resource-denying tactics. If you lose a few nodes, the domino effect begins and you’ve lost the game.

In Heroes VI, you not only take over a city but also convert it to your faction. For example, if you are playing as the Haven faction, you can covert an enemy stronghold, necropolis, sanctuary, or inferno into a haven.

I hate the fact that towns can be immediately converted with the click of a button. It’s too easy!

The game would be a lot more interesting if players were required to wait a few turns to convert a town. It would reduce the benefits of town conversion and force players to choose between prioritizing the short term or long term. Do I hire non-faction units to bolster my defenses or risk a few turns of town conversion to gain the ability to hire faction units in the long term? These types of dilemmas add depth to kingdom management, an aspect that is sorely lacking.

The other benefit to implementing a delay in town conversion is it allows players to recapture their cities mid-transformation. Players no longer need to wait until day 6 to capture a town. How would this work? The more advanced a city is, the longer turn penalty it’d impose on a player attempting to convert it. A level 1 town would fully convert in 1 turn, a level 2 town would require 2 turns, etc.

Taking the idea a step further, a delay could be added to flagged mines reverting to an owner. Currently, if a player captures a mine in an opponent’s territory, the mine immediately returns to the opponent’s control when the hero steps away. Thus, the game removes all incentive to capture mines as an offensive strategy. By adding a delay, it means heroes will benefit from capturing enemy mines (but only for a few turns). Opponents will be able to respond in two ways: send heroes to recapture lost mines or wait a few days for the mines to automatically return to their control.

Heroes VI in its current form (aside from combat) simply feels repetitive and one-dimensional. The multi-faceted kingdom management game has been replaced by a tactical war game.

I’m sure the developers discussed each new gameplay mechanic in detail. I also appreciate the fact that the developers are trying to move the Heroes series forward by experimenting with new ideas. However, looking back at the series, I know that each patch and expansion adds enormous complexities to the game that enhance the player’s experience. So while I’m not completely pleased with Heroes VI at the moment, I know that the best is yet to come.

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