Might and Magic: Heroes VII – Review
The adventure began with a meeting of Ashan’s Marionette Society.
It struck me as odd, and slightly unpolished, as I sat and listened to Duke Ivan Griffin’s frustrations tumble out of his gaping mouth. His advisors, similarly inanimate, dropped their jaws in shock and their disagreement dribbled from their lips through the sound card to my speakers. Murazel, with her very short eyelashes and patchy eyeliner, chose to exude a story about a young Tomas Wolf who was sent to rebuild roads in his district. There is every likelihood that it was exuded from her pores.
Once this has been awkwardly imparted to the player, the Ashan Marionette Society have the decency to leave Might and Magic Heroes’ fans to enjoy the next instalment in their series.
Let’s be clear from the start: this game is a love letter to the fans of the franchise, and adequately represents the turn-based strategy subgenre. We are leading our hero (or hero of the moment) through a map to collect resources, recruit allies, and go to war against whoever we are predetermined to despise in that particular mission. Limbic Entertainment appreciates the solid foundation and how it makes or breaks the genre to add elements that can be innocuous to some and destructive to others. It was obvious that they tried to be consultative during the beta to ensure that this would be a game that would meet what the fans wanted, with equal part nostalgia and innovation. Favoured elements, such as caravans, return from a near-10-year absence. Other additions, such as flanking damage, seem so unobtrusive that as a first-time participant to the franchise I was unaware that this was a new element for veterans.
This is where the terrifying chasm between fans and new players opens up and threatens to swallow all of Limbic’s hard work.
I looked forward to this game. The closest I have ever been to a turn-based strategy game is Fire Emblem: Awakening, and my household breakfast chatter for the last 2 months involves hearing about how my partner is going with his Rome II campaign. I had a very strong curiosity that led me to wonder how I would go with a turn-based strategy game myself. However, when I finally started to play the game, I think I felt a bit like the marionettes from the beginning. My mouth was slightly agape as I noticeably struggled my way through the Haven campaign. There were moments where I did not really engage with the goal of the campaign (as Tomas Wolf is such a pompous little snot that I really wanted to see his armies fail so that he could be exiled. Maybe I could have played as Ymoril if that happened). I discovered that exploring all of the countryside probably allowed my rival to call all of his friends and direct his own Taylor Swift “Bad Blood” montage.
In combat, I tried to read up about my enemies but soon tired of trying to figure out the math behind whether I would luckily destroy an entire group of soldiers or if that one hairy creature would complete decimate my priests. I pretended to place my units “strategically” on a battlefield, but had no idea if I had given my archers an advantage or committed genocide. All I could glean was that I should never be trusted with a ranged weapon. The auto-resolve combat feature is a nice touch so that I don’t have to intricately experience my folly, and colour-coding the battles gave me a good indicator of how many I had to steer clear of until I had enough troops and experience to succeed.
Certainly, once I had just tried every option available to me, I gained a better understanding of the controls and the tactics that I should consider and I started to enjoy the game. I don’t see this as a negative, as some people will be happy to devote the time to learn. Other impatient beginners will struggle a lot more.
Excusing my limited experience in turn-based strategy, I could not understand some of the corners that had been cut in other areas of the game. The gorgeous introductory sections to the campaign invoked some of the memorable moments from Diablo 3 that my playable character narrated, however the unpolished nightmare fuel of Ashan’s “dolls” at the campaign table did not reflect the same level of care. The dialogue acting is articulate, but I did not understand why dialogue transitions were automatic up until the end where the player was required to close the dialogue window. In comparison to a recent playthrough of Heroes II that I had watched, the maps in Heroes VII are beautiful and rich with detail. However, I could not figure out the simple controls to pan the map around so that I could see hidden elements (and even then, resources are hard to find or could be easily mistaken for other map elements).
While I did not experience many bugs during my game time (and any that I did experience could be drummed up to a 4-year-old desktop), the few that I did find were no worse than other imperfections that could be dismissed with the hope that they would be rectified in the future. Some units disappear, some choppiness occurred, some AI decisions took a while. I am honestly resigned to the fact that this is quite common for game releases in this generation, and the level of criticism shifts away from “how many bugs” to “how quickly can bugs be fixed”.
As a new player, I will probably be spending most of my time in the campaign for a while as the most complete content that has been created for Heroes VII. I see it as a challenge and a welcome change, but also feel that I am in good hands for my first turn-based strategy game experience. For seasoned fans, the prospect of multiplayer maps (either online or LAN) are quite appealing, as are Duel modes that skip the exploration and resource collection and direct players right to the combat. Whether it will be enough to balance their nostalgic needs with the necessary innovation is hard to tell.
It isn’t the well-rehearsed play that we were all expecting – the marionettists are probably a touch drunk, and the stage director left some cables around that the protagonist is tripping over. However, despite its flaws, the game is still a valuable entry to the series and has potential for further greatness and refinement.