So then, the sixth version of Heroes of... wait a minute, what’s this? Might and Magic Heroes? Why change the name? To confuse and befuddle old gamers like me? Then well played Ubisoft. Other than that though, why? Does it make the game newer, fresher? Does it make it more appealing to the youth of today? It’s a strange rebranding if you ask me, and doesn’t Heroes of Might & Magic sound better anyway? More fantastical? More grand? It does to me. Anyhow, HOMM is now MMH and we’ll all just have to get used to it.
Knowing the previous name of the series is about as far as it gets for me, as I’ve never played a HOMM game before. Which is odd really – I love this type of game, and always liked King’s Bounty (both the original and Legend) – I just never got round to these games. So I’m afraid if you’re after a comparison to previous games, you’re plum out of luck. Other than a whinge about the name, that is.
However, after a bit of Wiki-scouting, I’ve come to the conclusion that MMHIV isn’t that different to its predecessors. It’s a turn-based fantasy epic, in which you ride your heroes and their armies around the game world, exploring, questing, and biffing. The biffing is done in on a turn-based grid, with your army lining up on one side and the enemies on the other. All very regimented with none of this uncouth flanking nonsense. Spells can be cast, special moves executed – just as you’d expect, and a whole lot of fun it must be said.
Also, and this came as a surprise to me – a King’s Bounty aficionado – your hero can capture territory for their own faction and upgrade their castles, which provides various bonuses, as well as generating creatures for your armies. This means there’s always something to do, which is a Very Nice Thing.
The story is the usual fantasy tripe, this time featuring dysfunctional families. Actually, I’m doing it an injustice there – I actually liked the family aspect. It gave each of the individual campaigns continuity and was just generally a bit more interesting than “Hero kills enemies. Hero spends XP. Hero saves world. Hero BIG STRONG” that I was expecting.
There are five campaigns, all of which play out in a broadly similar manner, but each of which have a distinct feel and look. Some of them are much more enjoyable than others; I found the Inferno campaign to be a lifeless waste of my time, but thoroughly enjoyed the Necropolis campaign. What does that say about me, I wonder? That I’d rather spend time down a mine with the undead, than standing around, baking in the sun, with a bunch of topless chavs, probably. And that would be a fairly accurate description of my character.
The campaigns are all interlinked and can be dipped in and out of at any time. Providing you can actually get the game working, that is. You see, it’s by Ubisoft – surely one of the worst, most inept companies on the face of the Earth. It uses their hateful, broken uPlay game launcher – the auto-patch feature of which prevented my game from working, and required that I spent an entire evening searching the web for solutions and downloading random files. In the end I had to uninstall the launcher, reinstall it, auto-patch, repeat, and then manually patch the game! In the UK there’s a thing called the Sale of Goods Act – part of which says that products sold must be ‘fit for purpose’. I’d be interested to see what happens if anyone decides to take Ubisoft to task over this, because I’ve got two Ubisoft games – neither of which worked out of the box through no fault of my own. In short; their games are not fit for purpose (they don’t work). Add to that the truly despicable DRM they use (which admittedly isn’t so bad in MMH – you can play the game offline once you’ve logged in), and you get an experience that sometimes just isn’t worth bothering with. Ubisoft, you need to stop doing this. You’re not stopping piracy; you’re stopping paying customers from using their product, which is surely illegal. Even if it isn’t, I hate you as does most of the PC gaming community, which is a shame as some of your games would be really good if they worked properly.
The fact is that if this game was published by any other company, I would unflinchingly recommend it. As it’s Ubisoft I recommend it with caution, but recommend it I still do. There is an awful lot to do here – there’s always a quest to be doing, an army of hostile critters to be scrapping, something to be upgrading. It doesn’t have the personality of the King’s Bounty games, but it IS the better game. And you really do feel like a hero once you’re fully powered up and with a massive posse in tow.
It has its flaws, mind you. Although it looks pretty-but-nothing-special, the close-ups are utterly shocking and the animation is wince-worthy. Some of the voice acting is... well, complete shit. Check out the start of the Sanctuary campaign – it’s the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard! I had to skip the intro because it was so bad, but when the NPC started talking in-game, I burst out laughing. If that actor thinks that’s a good voice, then they’re a Valium loving drunk. Also, and this is a very personal thing, it felt a bit too Disney: twee and forced. I utterly hate this – as a child I couldn't stand Disney and now, as an adult, it makes me uncontrollable with rage. SO WHAT IF I HAVE A PROBLEM? I just don’t like it. You may, but then you’re probably a sap.
If I were you? I’d certainly consider buying it, especially if you can get it for cheap. Steer clear if you have a duff net connection though, or an irrational hatred of the Jungle Book.