The reshuffled name doesn't mean there's anything radical about the sixth entry in the veteran Heroes of Might and Magic series, but there doesn't need to be. The Might and Magic hybrid of empire building, exploration and turn-based combat is as addictive as ever.
Might & Magic's heroes are pompous, whimsical sorts who you would never elect to run a country. Unconcerned with state matters, they ride forth with a posse of warriors to find gold and a fight. Your hero acts as your pawn of exploration on the gorgeous world map. Each turn he can ride a certain distance, picking up relics, investigating ruins and engaging enemies.
In battle, the hero stands at the back in silver armour probably worth more than his castle. In standard Heroes of Might and Magic fashion, war is waged in turns on a grid.
My first act as ruler is to start a fight and order a unit of crossbowmen to certain death. My close combat units stand stock still in horror as my mis-click sends my only ranged unit marching towards a slobbering Cerberus demon. The old Might and Magic games were blessed with evocative lo-fi graphics that looked as if they had been lifted from old medieval woodcuts. Now, beautifully rendered models exchange blows.
My crossbowman puts down his bow, draws a tiny knife and shanks the demon in the neck. The beast roars, biting his face off, while at the back, my hero waves his magic sword and casts “inspire” on the crossbowman. You can do it, lads!
This sort of rash leadership is recognised by a new 'blood and tears' reputation system. Some missions on the campaign map offer reckless resolutions, others sensible ones. Charging in to hit the problem with a hammer earns blood points. Negotiation and bargaining sends you down the grossly misnamed path of tears. Getting enough points in either path lets you choose a new class for your hero, opening up new abilities and changing his appearance. The same system applies to every faction's single player campaign. If you want to create a charitable necromancer, it can be done.
My hero continues cheerfully down the path of blood, but in a fit of kindness, I retreat my crossbowmen to a safer station, and they plod slowly to the back of the battle. For all the graphical polish, there's a total lack of urgency to Might & Magic's battles. Death gets meted out slowly and politely. It's more like cricket than war.
The sedate pace is part of Might & Magic's charm. The pleasure of a long campaign comes from gradually turning an army of peasants into a war machine, a homestead into a gleaming palace and a pompous twit of a knight into a hero with god-like power. It's doing it in the most mannered and traditional way possible, but Might & Magic Heroes VI looks set to deliver on all those counts