Ubisoft has done this several times recently, with the announcement of Silent Hunter Online, Anno Online and Might & Magic Heroes Online. For the latter we have gone all the way from Berlin to Dusseldorf to find out whether the name is also embedded in the product.
I become melancholy when I think of all the many hours that I, stereotyped enough in the basement of my parents house, spent with Heroes of Might and Magic III. That is now almost twelve years ago and after Heroes of Might and Magic V and its successor couldn't surpass my love for the third part, the announcement in Dusseldorf of Might and Magic Online Heroes was, for me, a very special one.
In the office of Bluebyte we sink right into the fantasy world and accompany a necromancer, who adventures on seeking an exit through the catacombs of Prison Island. On his journey he is accompanied by some creatures recruited from tombs and, probably, from his capital. It is immediately apparent that there is no turn-based movement. That's a small revolution, but after some thought, it's actually not. After all, given the fact that here we see a free-to-play browser game, turn-based movement wouldn't have made a lot of sense. So we click our hero in real time, in the direction we want to go, and collect piles of gold and chests and wood.
"This is not a simple spin-off," says Doru Apreotesei, Creative Supervisor of Might and Magic Heroes Online, trying to dispel the skepticism of the present journalists. Rather it is a complete adventure into its own history, that is located between parts five and six, and plays in the world of Ashan. From the look of the design, it is rather based on the third part of the strategy series, and still looks stunningly detailed.
Unfortunately we can't have a look at the cities, but we watch some amazing fights instead, and they are wonderfully old-fashioned and turn-based. On the battlefield the heroes are standing on the side, so they can delegate the dirty part of the work to their units. Every creature can walk a certain distance and, at the end, turn based on the decision of which direction they should look. This is not new to strategy games, but for it is Heroes and forces us to think a step further. After all, if our monster gets a hit from behind, it will hurt more than from the side or front.
It comes in handy that the environment is far more influential than usual, and much more varied. Instead of large surfaces on which to station our units without any problems, we now also have to find solutions for narrow bridges that bring us minimal losses. This is because lost troops are not only missing from the next battle, they also lower our rating afterwards. Classically, we get more points depending on how confidently we can finish the fight.
All in all, it sounds typical for a Heroes title, which fits seamlessly, and with only minor changes made to the series. But that's just not the case. The word Online in the name is not only a decoration: as we see the hero penetrate deeper into the dark world, suddenly facing one of the other heroes.
Anyone who thinks like I do, that we will now see an exciting confrontation, is unfortunately wrong. After all, both are actively pursuing the same goal - to somehow emerge from this uncomfortable territory. So without further ado they combine their powers, and both play against the gatekeepers Urtak, which done all alone would certainly not be as easy for our hero to handle.
It's not entirely clear yet how many players will be in the same game world, says Apreotesei. The meetings will remain manageable, because not every player is team-minded, and so the developers want to ensure that there aren't continuous fights: that would frustrate most of the online warriors. Whether we start at different locations on the map of Prison Island, he left open.
But at least we know that there are other landscapes, different from the dark desert of our necromancers. That's what we notice, when the scene switches to a sky warrior, who is busy exploring the verdant landscapes. But the other side is never far away, and while the character is moving, we often identify bridges that lead to seemingly Prison Island.
We often see, while our adventure goes on, cities that just scream to be taken. So all heroes will again be able to recruit creatures of all kinds and to put together the ultimate army. It also makes sense to have many cities, because each one can specialise in the provision of other resources.
Those who are now thinking of creating their own levels to share with friends and people from the Internet, will be disappointed. This possibility will not be accessible at the start of the game, says Doru Apreotesei. That does not mean that it will never come. "The only limit is the sky," says the creative supervisor, keeping in high hopes.
We could not see that much of Might & Magic Heroes Online, but the graphics and combat make clear that here again we have a real Heroes waiting for us, which could achieve a whole new level of depth through the new co-op options. However, one should keep a certain amount of residual skepticism.