Heroes Kingdoms: the free strategy MMO
I should be honest: I love browser games. I have more browser games bookmarked on my Opera launch page than everything else combined. Every spare moment I have at home or at the office is spent tweaking stats, upgrading houses, or teeing off in browser games (shh, don't tell Logan). But a lot of browser games are meager meals, more interesting because of their accessibility than truly intriguing gameplay. That's why I was so jazzed to see Ubisoft's Might & Magic Heroes Kingdoms at E3 this year--a much deeper, engaging strategy browser MMO than I've ever seen before. And it's free-to-play to boot.
Now before you get too excited, not all of the graphics look like that screenshot. A lot of your time will be spent in graphical menus with 2D artwork and plenty o' numbers you can tweak to boost your kingdom's effectiveness. My biggest issue with a lot of the browser strategy games out there is that there isn't a whole lot to do aside from logging in once every 24 hours to make sure buildings are upgrading and peasants haven't burned down your castle. From what I've seen of M&M:HK, it looks like there's always something for you to micromanage if you want to maximize efficiency (which you know I do!).
It's not all kingdoms and castles; the key to the game's depth is the heroes system (this is called "Heroes Kingdoms" after all). In fact, Chris Early, VP of digital publishing at Ubisoft told me during the demo that he estimates he's spent about 80% of his time working with his heroes and only 20% on city management. Every hero you control can have 3 "professions" (think of them as specializations, such as merchant, diplomat, warrior, etc.) and each of those professions have 5 sublevels, which you can have 1-3 points in each. That's a lot of customization.
Toss in items that can add abilities to use against monsters or in PvP and you're looking at some serious potential for variation. Your heroes can be leading the charge in PvP or against monsters to clear land inside your territory--which can then have useful structures built upon it-- or striking deals in the marketplace and keeping the population at ease.
You'll need strong cities with a stable economy if you want to participate in the major story arc. The game's going to feature primary storylines that play out over 6 months, during which time the four major factions will battle for control of the land. Once one faction gets strong enough, it will trigger that season's end-game content, which can vary, but the example given to me by Early was a rush to collect artifacts that suddenly appear around the globe (more industrial players can munfacture their own instead). The concept of a rotating story arc sounds very promising, but we'll have to see how it plays out in a tumultuous tide of players eager to break the system and game their way to the top.
Players will be able to manage 3 cities and 3 heroes for free, and paying a moderate subscription will remove that limitation. I'm eager to get into the beta within the next few weeks, and will definitely report back then. But for now, I can confidently say that, if nothing else, this is going to offer deeper gameplay and more dynamic feedback than any of the other strategy browser games I'm playing.