I've put more time into Might & Magic Heroes VI than I will in almost any other game this year. The sheer amount of playable content is daunting, and makes this turn-based strategy title one of the best value propositions I've ever encountered. I expected the countless hours of generally repetitious gameplay to start to bore, but Heroes VI remains entertaining despite its flaws, making it a great treat for any strategy enthusiast.
Heroes VI tells the story of a troubled royal family. Through the numerous campaigns you get to find out how each of the Duke's many children interact with the main plot, taking you through the game's various factions in the process. It's good to play each campaign because they introduce you to the mechanics of each army, but the story itself is ultimately forgettable. Even the new Tears and Blood morality system, where you make choices that give you various abilities depending on what you do, can't make it all that interesting. The choices aren't anything to agonize over, I just quickly pick one to get the next power or item I need. Still, story shortcomings aside, the campaign doesn't disappoint as far as strategy goes.
Heroes VI has two different turn-based gameplay components. Your hero, whom you can customize with loot and level up in an RPG manner, moves around a campaign map each turn. With an army in tow, you direct them towards enemy forces and use them to gather loot and other special items. You then use collected items and resources from conquered lands to grow your economy, which is important for building up cities and further expanding your lands. A good deal of strategy occurs during these sections, because your hero has limited movement. I found myself having to make careful decisions about which enemies to attack, which resources to pursue and what items to go after. You have to plan out moves several turns ahead, and adjust your strategy as the enemy reacts to your movements.
The other turn-based part of Heroes VI comes into play when two armies clash. You can auto-resolve most battles, but if you want to get knee deep in strategy you can play them directly. Combat takes place on a grid, and it's up to you to direct your troops based on the layout of the enemy. You have an array of troop types at your disposal, so a clever commander will play their abilities off one another, as well as use their hero's spells and abilities to turn the tide.
Disappointingly, later combat really comes down to simple numbers. No matter the skill of the commander, an overwhelming amount of troops will ultimately win the day. Very rarely did I encounter a situation I could turn around through my own tactics, and often I found I played things out worse than the computer anyways. Tactics in combat may lose value in the long run, but every map is still satisfying. It takes a lot of skill and resource management to make sure you're able to build up the massive armies it takes to win, after all.
Each game you play and get achievements in adds to your Dynasty. From the main menu you can look at your Dynasty, using your points to buy additional abilities and characters for your persistent profile. These abilities can be used in campaign and multiplayer missions, and add another layer of strategy to how you build your character Dynasty Rewards also give you a consistent set of rewards while you play, softening the blow of a brutal defeat, or making victory all the sweeter.
If you manage to complete the various campaigns – no small feat since they're difficult even on Easy – there's still custom maps and multiplayer. You can play local multiplayer in "hot seat" mode, as well as go online. I am still a fan of just duking it out with AI, though, as online multiplayer requires a lot of waiting for the other side to take their turn. You can just jump directly into quick turn-based battles if you're not patient, but I prefer the skill it takes to manage my heroes and cities in an epic campaign to that of directing attacks on the battlefield.
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