What happened so far:
Last week, a friend and I took two days off, and spent our free time playing games in Hot Seat mode (a multiplayer mode on one device, in which the players execute their turns one after another). We decided to play Heroes of Might and Magic VII, or Might and Magic: Heroes VII, as it is called today. We are huge fans of the series and have played every game since the very first one. Naturally, we were very excited to play a new “Heroes game”. It took us a full day to finish a match against two A.I opponents. We had lots of fun, and afterward I really felt like writing about it. Please consider: if you have never played a title of the series you will not get much out of reading this.
In advance I have to explain that Heroes 7 had its content chosen by the community. Ubisoft asked the players which factions they wanted, what kind of army setup they wanted, and so on. Therefore, this game was bound to be good, right? That’s what I thought the whole time, during the weeks before it was released. Shortly after release the first reviews on Steam trickled in. “Mostly negative”, written in a dark orange font , was the first thing I saw on the top right corner of their Steam store page.
“How is that possible?” was my first thought. Reading a few of those reviews made it pretty clear, though: “Lots of bugs”; “unpolished, unfinished”; “unplayably buggy”.
Yet the player who stated the game was “unplayable” had played it for 128 hours. He endured heavy bugs for 128 hours, just to keep playing that game. That says a lot about the gameplay fun factor. After playing it myself I can say, “Yes, the gameplay is awesome”, and I think it’s sad that Ubisoft got so many negative reviews, just because they released a buggy version.
Why write about the positive elements of the game, when you are currently angry at bugs and want to furiously comment about them instead? Sure, but if no one tells them how great the gameplay is, they might change it in future games to come, and I don’t want that. So here I go:
If you’re an old fan of the series, you will most likely love this sequel. It has brought back many elements that were lost in the previous game, like the mages guild, for example. Every time you upgrade it, you get a random selection of spells in the respective upgrade level. They also implemented famous unit types from older games, such as Troglodytes from Heroes III or the Academy faction, which was non-existent at all in Heroes VI.
Seeing all these familiar elements was quite heartwarming, and they merged terrifically with all the new changes. One of my favorite changes was that, during the process of upgrading your city, you had to choose between two buildings every once in a while. Ubisoft had already introduced that in the predecessor, but this time they used it far better. In Heroes VII every faction has two champion units, but you can only choose one of them. This is just brilliant in terms of replayability. While I clicked on one of the two buildings to confirm my decision, I already looked forward to the next match, in which I would pick the alternative.
*Side Note: I really enjoyed this element a lot, and it reminded me of a feature they had implemented, back in an expansion of Heroes V. Instead of just one upgrade per unit, you had two upgrade options, from which you had to pick one. Both upgrade options had different pros and cons and you had to evaluate which upgrade would be more useful on the current map and against the current enemy factions. In my opinion this was the best innovation ever made to a “Heroes of Might and Magic” game. I hope Ubisoft will bring this back some day. I’m sure a lot of people would enjoy that.
Back to Heroes 7. New elements can also be found in the combat system. They added a flanking system, which allows you to do more damage standing behind an enemy unit. This bonus damage has been divided into “Flanking”–if you’re standing on the tiles diagonally adjacent to the back of the enemy– and “Full Flanking”–if you’re standing on the tile directly behind the enemy. This adds a new strategic factor to battles and really forced us to take new approaches to the way we fight. There are many more small additions that increase the quality of the gameplay and go well with the typical “Heroes” game flow.
As you can read thus far, I am thrilled. Great! That’s it, right? No. Here’s what I didn’t like: visuals. (Except for the city screens. Those are beautiful).
Nowadays it seems to be a trend to give everything a sinister, colder looking style. Lots of movie and game remakes use this “new style” as if they wanted to say, “Look how we’ve grown up. We’re not the goofy looking original anymore”. In general I enjoy this style, but I didn’t want to see it in this particular series.
Sadly Heroes VI and VII went along with the trend. Both games got a more sinister, realistic art style. I always considered the Heroes series to be High Fantasy—mythical , magical and colourful. The new style suggests a Dark Fantasy flair, which is not what I, personally, want from these games.
Furthermore Heroes VII is lacking visual feedback, especially in terms of combat. The battle and magic animations seems somewhat … half-hearted. Different magical spells are visualized by different-coloured glows around the caster, very few spells actually embody something like roots or shields, and scoring a critical hit doesn’t feel like scoring a critical hit.
If I finally managed to gather a huge army and engage in combat with my legion of deadly Arch-liches, and it’s eventually their turn, and I hover my mouse over the enemy to see that one blast will eradicate 80% of his unit, then I want to really feel that blast! But I don’t. The moment passes by uneventfully. Sure, the enemy units have sustained major casualties, but it’s just numbers. The feeling of having become superior to my opponent is diminished. Which brings me to my last negative point: the visualization of upgrades.
With a few exceptions, there are very little visual differences between the original unit and the upgraded unit. Just to clarify: I love upgrades. I am addicted to upgrades. If a game has well made upgrades, to me it’s already 120% better than it was initially. Naturally, upgrading a building and looking forward to my new improved unit is a big part of the series for me. My craving was not satisfied, though. It was more like, “Oh, the unit got a hat and some shoulder pads. That’s nice … I guess. Oh, his attack animation is still the same. I see”. Overall it doesn’t seem like my army has really improved, and that feeling of superiority is diminished once again.
I believe I am not the only one, who thinks this to be important.
What I wish for:
So here’s my suggestion, Ubisoft: release an expansion in which you implement the optional upgrade units and give them a new and interesting look. That would be a great addition to an already great game.
Also, thank you for still offering Hot Seat mode in your games. Very few titles do that these days. I think Hot Seat mode is a great multiplayer option and I could say so many things about it, that I will probably dedicate another article to it and its place in the universe of gaming.
To conclude this I can say: we had a great day with Might and Magic: Heroes VII. So grab a friend, get a few snacks and start a match of turn-based strategy action (… in Hot Seat mode).