The Might & Magic Heroes series has had more than its share of ups and downs, but always in a valiant attempt to capture the unique balance between role-playing and strategic combat that the classic games have. Might & Magic Heroes 7 is the latest attempt, and it seems to get really close at first, but then numerous problems start appearing to weight down the experience.
Tell Me a Story
This chapter of the ongoing story takes place in the land of Ashan, which is thrown into turmoil after the Empress is assassinated. Factions are warring for the throne, so the Duke Ivan gathers a council of advisors to help figure out a way to restore order. But instead of strictly talking strategy, the council decides to share stories, with each focusing on a specific faction and theme.
These six stories make up the game's different campaigns, and players can switch between them at any time. They're comprised of related missions, some tied more loosely than others, to tell a longer tale. Once Ivan has heard the stories, his own campaign unlocks for players to experience. The story arcs might appear short, comprised of about four or five missions, but players have to build a kingdom up from practically nothing each time. So, it can take hours to gather the resources necessary to raise an army and defeat your foes - especially since the AI is terrible at managing your army when you select quick resolution.
I chose the Academy campaign, which focuses on Arabian Nights inspired wizards. It also happens to be a story that describes the power and perils of love, which makes it a bit hokey to begin with. It's not helped by how some of the voice acting is a little off, like how a woman is willing to commit suicide so that her life magic can power her lover's artifact, and that sacrifice is met with some matter of fact sounding dialogue.
Not even the introductions are all that appealing, since council discussions aren't animated. Instead, the storytellers are posed like mannequins with the camera panning around them while dialogue occurs over it. I'm sure the developers were shooting for some artistic approach, but it doesn't work very well.
Peace in Conquest
The gameplay is easier than what experienced players might expect. Heroes 7 uses a fixed difficulty system, which can be customized to preference, to help reign in elements like neutral creature army sizes, how quickly AI opponents develop, and so forth. You can build up a formidable army without feeling like you're in a race against a computer opponent with major advantages on its side.
Meanwhile, the creatures themselves have the usual hit-or-miss feel to them. Some creatures inevitably feel more useful, while others end up being little more than fodder. Stacking up a ton of minor units so that they deal a ton of damage is still a viable strategy. In fact, it works so well that you can reasonably get through the game without building Elite units like the Colossus. Spells feel much the same way. While you acquire most of them at random, there's always one spell that is powerful enough to resolve almost every conflict.
The game's relative ease makes it unnecessary to enlist more than one Hero, unless you just want one to govern one of your castles with economic and defense bonuses. It's far simpler to dump overwhelming numbers into one Hero's army and let them cut down everything in their path.
Purists might hate it, but I liked the fact that I could take my time and explore the maps without worrying about running into a neutral creature army that had grown way out of control. But it's also good to have the option to turn up the difficulty if I wanted. There are a number of streamlining systems that help make gameplay better, like how I can use magic to teleport reinforcements straight to my hero, along with caravans to order fresh units from one place to another. These features significantly cut down on a lot of the back-and-forth movements.
Kingdom in Chaos
However, Heroes 7 has a number of problems that completely ruin the experience. In one instance, the Hero I had to defeat ran into a sanctuary building and never came out. Reloading the game caused her to disappear from the map altogether, making the mission impossible to finish. Furthermore, the Academy campaign makes very little use of switching between underworld and overworld maps, which has always been a cornerstone feature of Heroes series. This makes it easy to overlook other features, like hot seat multiplayer and the collection of single scenarios.
Heroes 7 does have that "one more turn" quality that eats away the hours, but the game-breaking bugs, along with cheap cinematics and sound effects, ruin the experience. Also, since the stories take place in the past, there's no sense that players are impacting Ashan's fate until they unlock Ivan's campaign. Perhaps Heroes 7 will meet its potential after a few patches and expansions, but for now, it's tough to look past its flaws.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Might & Magic Heroes 7 is available now for $49.99. The game is rated T.