I’ve been a long-time fan of turn-based strategy games in the fantasy genre.
I have played the original King’s Bounty, Heroes of Might and Magic (HOMM) 1 through 6, Disciples 1 to 3, and the new King’s Bounty series by Katauri Interactive.
Some clunkers in the series I barely bothered to play more than a few hours, like HOMM 4 and Disciples 3, but some were well beloved, like HOMM3 and 5 (which was basically a reboot of 3).
It is with this context as an old school gamer that I can say that HOMM 6 gets two thumbs up from me. It keeps to the flavour of the HOMM series whilst making enough big changes to the gameplay that the game feels like a fresh breath of air.
That being said, there are two big glaring issues that might make or break HOMM6 for you.
If you hate bugs and are not the patient sort where you wait for patches, give this game a miss.
When it was launched in mid-October, it was full of graphic glitches and gameplay bugs. Almost two months later, with a few patches under the belt, the game feels more stable with less crashes to the desktop.
However, there are still noticeable graphical and gameplay bugs. Nothing huge, but the lack of detailed documentation is frustrating.
The second big issue is that if you don’t have a stable broadband connection, forget about this game.
Even if you play this game solely for the single player campaign, Ubisoft forces you to authenticate online every single time to play the game. Otherwise, you play with a gimped version of the game, with powered-down heroes and equipment.
More on this later. First let’s talk about the good stuff.
Gamers who are have played and are used to the HOMM series will find that the gameplay has been simplied and/or reworked in many ways.
For example, there are far less resources to worry about. Besides the basic wood, ore and gold, the only advanced resource is blood crystal.
There are less factions, and every town has no town screen, but a simplified build menu.
The skills tech-tree has been totally reworked into a shorter list of skills and spells. You no longer learn spells at a town’s magic guild, but instead have to spend points when you level up to learn them.
Some skills you can only learn after you’ve gotten a certain reputation in either the “blood” (aggressive tactics) or “tears” (defensive tactics) gauge, which slowly fills up depending on the skills you buy and use.
But it turned out that I didn’t mind these changes at all, and came to regard most of them as good ones.
Sure, more factions than the five offered in HOMM 6 — Haven, Necropolis, Sanctuary, Inferno and Stronghold — would have been nice. Perhaps we have been spoilt by HOMM 5, which offered us eight factions.
But each faction in HOMM 6 is well designed and fleshed-out.
Every unit serves a purpose — like basic ranged shooter, basic ground troop and elite tank –and there are no units that are filler choices where you won’t even recruit them.
Less resources and skills overall doesn’t mean that the game is dumbed down. There is just less needless complexity.
HOMM 6 still feels satisfyingly deep. In addition, it also offers a tighter, more streamlined play experience as much of the gameplay was tweaked and simplified.
For example, all heroes can use the town portal spell and can teleport to any fort or town you control as long as the right town structure is built.
When you recruit heroes in town, they don’t start out at level one, but is pegged to a few levels behind your highest leveled hero.
All towns now share army pools so you don’t have to visit each town to recruit the units there. When you capture a town or fort, you can convert that town or fort, changing all units to your faction’s type.
The result of all this is more strategic gameplay. It obsoletes needless busy work like hiring secondary “runner” heroes just to collect units to pass to your main one.
Another oft-talked about change is that you can’t capture mines permanently unless you capture the nearby fort or town which controls that mine. Do so, and all the mines in the fort or town’s area of influence instantly becomes yours.
This obsoletes the strategy of avoiding the enemy and constantly harrasing enemy mines. No more chasing enemy heroes on their dance across the map, which wasn’t fun gameplay. Now you have to fight enemies legitimately to control territory.
Campaign and story
And you will appreciate all of this game streamlining when you get to play the campaigns, because the campaign maps are huge and sprawling. Literally.
For example, in the Necromancer campaign, which only had four maps, it took me roughly 30+ hours to beat. Of course, me being a masochistic perfectionist — I played on the hardest difficulty and explored every map throughly — might have something to do with this.
Still, the campaigns are long, and challenging enough that it scratched the tactician itch in me. The computer AI is by no means perfect, and they scale up the difficulty more by throwing huge numbers of mobs at you rather than by smarter gameplay, but by and large the game is fun.
One departure from the previous HOMM series is that the campaigns this time around has far more immersive storylines. Cutscenes abound, and every line of text by the main protagaonists is voiced.
The colorful 3D character unit models, lushly designed landscape visuals, well-written storylines and excellent music (there are separate themes per faction) all serve to make playing the campaigns a pleasure.
Ubisoft’s online DRM
And now we come to the absolutely ugly part.
If you play this game offline instead of authenticating with Ubisoft’s server online every time you play (default choice), you will not have access to parts of the single player game.
Sure, you can play the game as per normal, but you will not get to access the game’s Dynasty system, which will allow you to equip certain artifacts and use certain perks.
The edge given by these extras are not game breaking, but it surely seems draconian of Ubisoft to impose this just to ensure that gamers adhere to their DRM, even if you’re playing only the single player campaign.
Even worse is the fact that your save games are pegged to their Ubisoft cloud service. If you started the campaign in “online mode”, you lose the ability to load your previous saved games from the cloud unless you’re connected to their Ubisoft servers.
Play in”offline mode” and the saves are stored locally, but you lose content as you don’t get to access the Dynasty system.
As long as your internet connection is stable, this is not an issue. However, there was once where I couldn’t load any of my saves because I couldn’t connect to the Ubisoft servers.
My ISP’s internet connection seemed fine (a traceroute confirmed this), which meant as a gamer I was punished for Ubisoft’s authentication server being down.
Luckily the disruption was short enough that it didn’t really matter. Online DRM might be better than stealth malware installed on your PC, but not by much.
If HOMM 6 has any major flaws that is game breaking, it is the DRM issue. The bug issue will eventually be sorted by patches. If you can live with these two issues, then HOMM 6 is defintiely worth checking out.