I'd rather paint Might & Magic: Showdown's figurines than play the game

Ubisoft has a surprise: not only has it just announced Might & Magic: Showdown, which I was able to preview last week, it's also releasing it on Early Access today. Showdown is a 1v1 PvP game set in the in Might & Magic universe, but plays out on a virtual tabletop with digital figurines that can be painted however you like. The level of detail possible with Showdown's virtual painting tools is impressive, but unfortunately they support one of the dullest PvP games I've played in a long time. Watch the video above to see it in action and hear my thoughts, or read on.

The painting tools—which are also being released as a free but limited standalone game—are some of the best I've ever used. There are dozens of unlockable paints, categorized by their sheen and finish, and you can even adjust the opacity to make new colors. Your brush size can get as small as a single pixel wide, and things like shading and highlights are kept on separate painting layers so you can easily add fine details. Or, if you're lazy like me, large sections of a figurine can be painted at once to make the whole process less daunting. It's truly impressive, and I highly recommend you play around with the toolset in the free painter releasing alongside Showdown.

The tragedy of Showdown's painting tools is that the game they are part of doesn't take advantage of the creativity they allow. The game itself has a camera pulled so far back, you can basically only tell how a unit has been painted in its static portrait at the top or in the post-game victory screen. In fact, as shown in the video above, you could pretty much black out the entirety of the action in the center of the screen and still successfully play the game. 

(3v3) Not quite the best showcase of that one pixel brush you fine-tuned your figurines with.

This is because each player brings four units into a battle—there's also 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3, but 4v4 is the primary ranked format—but you only directly control one of them. You select targets and switch between abilities for your Hero character, but the other three are Creature characters, which are AI-controlled based on behavior patterns you "program" into them before a fight. Things like "Attack the lowest health opponent" or "If an opponent is next to two others, use X ability." It's not a bad system on paper, but it's aggressively uninteresting in practice. 

During a match, I was just staring at cooldown indicators and making sure my Hero had the correct target selected while my Creatures did their thing. It's not very engaging at the best of times, and became even worse if either player's Hero was killed early in a fight, leaving their pre-programmed Creatures to helplessly defend the fallen player's honor. If Showdown had a mode that gave you control of all your units, it could be an engaging, challenging PvP game. But, as it stands, it's hard to shake the feeling that mechanical skill was sacrificed for wider accessibility. 

We'll have to see how Might & Magic: Showdown changes over the course of its Early Access life, but currently the painting is the only part of it worth playing. Both the $20 game and the free paint workshop are now available on Steam, and I'd definitely recommend giving the latter a shot—especially if you own a Wacom tablet or similar drawing pad. I imagine some cool (and wildly inappropriate) paint jobs will start popping up, it's just a shame the game they'll be used in isn't more interesting. 

Tom Marks
Tom is PC Gamer’s Associate Editor. He enjoys platformers, puzzles and puzzle-platformers. He also enjoys talking about PC games, which he now no longer does alone. Tune in every Wednesday at 1pm Pacific on Twitch.tv/pcgamer to see Tom host The PC Gamer Show.