I’ve been a Heroes of Might & Magic fan since the day we received the PC Gamer monthly software demo CD featuring Heroes 2. I remember playing the demo multiple times because the game was so darn addictive and after purchasing the actual game, my brothers and I have partook in many multiplayer experiences. Following the game was quite possibly one of my favorite games of all time in Heroes of Might & Magic 3, a game that I’ve spent countless hours playing both single player and multiplayer gameplay. Since then, I’ve played all of the recent iterations of the series and am looking forward to the release of Heroes of Might & Magic 6, coming later this year.
However, at last year’s E3, I discovered a revelation of a game that combined the Might & Magic universe with an addictive style of gameplay reminiscent of Puzzle Quest. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes had been out on DS for months yet somehow I hadn’t experienced it (or even heard of it, for that matter) until at E3. Nonetheless, I was extremely excited about what I saw. Though I still never purchased the DS version of the game (due to a lack of time) I now am able to experience the game for myself on PSN and Xbox Live. Is the game as addictive as it looks (judging by the rave reviews of the DS version, I expected so) and are there enough improvements to warrant the $15 downloadable purchase?
If you’ve played a Puzzle Quest game, you’ll be quite familiar with what M&M:CoH has to offer. Mixing RPG and puzzle gameplay, players will spend their time traversing through lengthy campaigns staged in the Heroes of Might and Magic V land of Ashan and though the outer shell looks like an RPG, the battles are strictly puzzle based. Moving around the map is even like Puzzle Quest, as there are no turns like that of the Heroes universe and you’ll move along set paths throughout the environment, talking to NPCs and running into battles.
The main game is extremely lengthy (partly due to the length of some of the battles, but also due to the amount of content in each of the five campaigns). Look for at least 30-40 hours to complete the game’s campaign mode. And, to sweeten the pot, there are a number of multiplayer options including 2 player battles and new 4-player team battles.
What is always extremely addictive about games such as these are the RPG elements that glue the sessions of puzzle gameplay together. Though battles are generally the same basic style throughout your entire experience, there are a large number of customizable RPG-style elements that keep the experience fresh and personalized throughout the experience. Besides the ability to choose the units that you wish to take into battle, you can also choose to equip from 10 different artifacts (per campaign), each of which has different effects on the battle or on a specific type of unit’s abilities.
Throughout the campaigns, players can embark on main quests as well as a number of side quests along the way. Finishing all of the possible side quests and battles is a good idea since your hero and the individual units can all gain levels, increasing the hero’s HP, defense, and maximum number of units on the field at one time, while the units’ might and toughness stats increase.
There are 8 different creature types to be found for each of the 5 factions. Core units can always be used but advanced and elite units are in limited quantities; in order to keep these units available, resources are needed to purchase them at specific creature dwellings. Thus, though the majority of the game feels much like a game of Puzzle Quest, the setting, creatures, and even resource collection all feel familiar for Heroes of Might & Magic fans such as myself.
Puzzle Quest was always an enjoyable game because the battles were fairly simple due to their Bejeweled style of gameplay. However, as you play through the game, even with the different spells and character classes, I found that the battles were often breezed through so quickly that they became almost a non-important portion of the game (where you would quickly and easily win the battles so that you could get to customize your character. On the other hand, battles in M&M:CoH are at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of complexity. Rather than use spells and only connect three or more like pieces in a row, M&M:CoH increases the complexity of the battle with some major strategy elements.
The basics behind the game are a little easy to pick up. Battles consist of two armies, one on the bottom of the screen (yours), and one at the top (your opponent’s). The goal for most battles is to break through your enemy’s line of troops, attacking a literal line at the back of their army. Each attack on their back line takes away HP from their opponent and the goal is to knock your opponent out before he annihilates you.
Armies consist of up to 5 different types of units that are placed randomly on the map. The “core” units such as swordsmen, archers, and pikemen take up only one space on the board and these are sort of the bread and butter of your army. By placing these units in different combinations, you can form either attacking or wall formations. For instance, if you place three troops of the same type and color in a vertical row, they’ll form an attack force, whereas if you place 3 or more units of the same type and color in a horizontal row, they’ll move to the front line as a wall. Each attack force has a counter that tells how many turns until they’ll attack and each turn that they charge, they’ll build up power (though they can also be attacked to reduce their overall power). Finally, once a troop attacks, it will march vertically into the enemy’s territory attacking walls, units and even attack formations. Depending upon the toughness of the units defending (a stat of the unit), your troops will either break through or be defeated (subtracting off the overall power of your attack force depending upon the enemy’s toughness).
In terms of controlling your troops, you’ll have a certain amount of allowed moves before your turn is up. A move can consist of either moving a troop (you can only move troops from the back line and place them back on another locations back line) or deleting a unit. Controlling your troops is the puzzle portion of the game and you can create chains and combos using your moves. Each chain you create will give you an extra move so it’s important to try to create chains to be successful in battle. Chains also increase your MP meter, which when filled up can unleash a player skill that can turn the tides of battle in your favor (such as Arrow Storm that launches 3 arrows at your opponent).
Other advanced techniques can (and must) be performed to succeed in battle such as linking and fusing your troops. A link is performed when two troops of the same color are formed that also have the same amount of turns until they attack (thus they would both attack in the same turn). Each successful link increases the attack power of the troops once they attack. As for fusions, these can be formed at any time before an army attacks and are done so by matching three troops of the same color and type behind an attack force that’s already charging. The two forces combine into one super troop with double attack power (and successive fusions with the troop will further increase its power). Finally, walls can also be improved by forming another wall behind it. This doubles the strength of the current wall and frees up another space on your board (a very important thing).
What makes the game’s battle system even more complex is the fact that there are other types of troops aside from your core units. Advanced and Elite troops can be added to your army (up to 2 at a time) and these units take up more space and are much more powerful than core units. Advanced units take up two vertical spaces and are activated by placing two core units of the same color behind them. They typically take a little longer to charge up than core units but have much stronger attack and defense.
As for Elite troops, these take up four spaces on the battle field (a two by two square) and are activated by lining up a two by two square of core units behind it. These units are nigh unstoppable aside from another elite unit in their path and though they take even longer to charge, they are extremely effective and worth the effort. And, each of these core and elite units obey the same laws of linking and fusion and can even be linked with troops of different types, as long as they have the same color.
Though most of the battles in the game involve the traditional style of battling, there are some changeups from time to time to put a variation on the gameplay. First of all, certain battles require you to perform some sort of feat before the battle is finished. This can be anything from hitting in a secret code (by striking different colored gongs with your troops in the right order) to picking off elusive units at the top of the screen. Also, there are puzzle battles that allow only a limited amount of moves in which you must destroy all of the enemy units with the troops provided.
Beautiful Presentation (at a Cost)
I’ve admitted that I hadn’t played the game on the DS but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen this kind of a jump between platforms before. Many times games find themselves nicely fitting on a certain platform and though they are remade with fancier graphics on later systems, tradeoffs take place in the process. Thus, it is important to weigh the pros and cons between different versions of games to see what best fits your own personal experiences. For instance, Puzzle Quest 2 had many different advantages on both the DS and the 360. Whereas the DS had better controls and portability, the 360 version was faster, cheaper, and better looking. In this case, the biggest glaring difference seems to be the load times in this version; I found that they often disrupted the flow of the gameplay due to their length and I’m most certain that the DS version didn’t suffer from this problem. What I don’t know, however, is whether the gameplay itself in the DS version is up to the same pace as that of what I played on the PSN (whether it’s as responsive and quick to get through menus, battles, etc.).
The DS also has the advantage in terms of portability. It’s always a plus to be able to bring a game you love anywhere you go (for instance, this weekend I would love to play the game but I’m currently writing at my fiancés hometown and cannot). However, I can’t say whether the controls are any better or worse in this version of the game as everything is extremely easy to control from the battles to the overworld. What I will say, though, is that the game does look expectedly beautiful when compared to its DS counterpart. There are other additions that have been included in this version of the game such as a few more artifacts and 4-player team battles to go along with the traditional head to head matchups of the DS game.