Review: Might & Magic Heroes Kingdoms

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I admit that I am still working on getting used to the new Might & Magic nomenclature, but let me help you out a bit by saying that when you see ‘Heroes’ you know you are dealing with a strategy game. The Kingdoms part isn’t clearly defined yet, but perhaps it is meant to indicate the MMO (massively multiplayer online) aspects. Regardless, here is what you are getting with Might & Magic Heroes Kingdoms: a web browser-based 2D massively multiplayer online strategy game. I have played the game since it was in beta and through the European and North American launches, and on the PC, Mac and even the iPad! So how does it play? Let’s take a look based on two things: is it a Might & Magic game … and is it any good.

Last night I took a few minutes to see how my last battle went, to check on the progress of my various upgrades and new construction, to grab some additional resources at the marketplace, and to order some new units from the barracks. I was in and out of the game in about ten minutes, and will spend a similar amount of time tonight doing the same things.

When you look at the game structure you see all of the trappings of both the strategy and MMO genres. Like a MMO there are factions and you can form alliances with other actual players to work against enemies to expand regions. Of course, the world ticks on while you are offline and you can be attacked by other players looking to seize your territory.

But while there are certainly MMO components, for the most part the game is an all-out strategy romp. You start with a single hero that you choose to align with a single faction from four choices. The Haven, a Holy Empire, has a strong army but weak magic and expensive building cost. The Academy is a magic-based empire, with a weak economy and weaker units. Inferno is the kingdom of demons, with strong units and powerful but expensive magic. The Necropolis is the kingdom of undeath, with weak units but fast early development and a fair balance between the power of their troops and their magic. Naturally, because I am an idiot who likes playing mages even in games where it is a bad choice, I chose the Academy.

You start with a single town and some troops, and need to conquer the ‘mines’ in the area to begin production of the four main resources – gold, lumber, ore, and sulfur. Yes, lumber is why I put ‘mines’ in quotes. But once you have control over the mines, you can begin generating resources which allows you to recruit new heroes and conquer more areas and build new buildings to recruit minions for your armies and so on.

The combat mechanic is a simple ‘rock paper scissors’ system: you have warriors, archers, and mounted units. Warriors are strong against archers but weak against mounted units, and so on. Having a balanced army is critical – as is keeping your numbers up. As you get further and further away from your town center you will meet with more and more dangerous enemies.

As I said, I have spent about 5 – 10 minutes per night on the game, and what happens is you get a real-time estimate of how long something will take. So when I start a battle at 10PM it might not finish until 2AM, and that new building won’t be ready until 6AM, and so the next morning you can initiate new actions and leave it until the following evening to check on. This is NOT an action game. You don’t see combat or construction or anything else. Although ostensibly you play as the hero, it is more like a ‘god game’ where you are controlling everything in your world without seeing anything happen.

So far I have described a solid strategy game, but said nothing about the performance, platform specifics, or franchise heritage. I’ll correct that now.

Might & Magic Heroes Kingdoms has some names and lore associated with the franchise, but quite honestly it could have been called ‘Bob’s Nifty Browser Fantasy Strategy Game’ and no one would have noticed. It really feels like someone had already come up with the game and Ubisoft simply slapped the Might & Magic name on it and assigned a team to rename things and add some backstory and lore. It works well enough, but aside from home screens and specific instances when you get information it is easy to forget any specific attachment.

The game really feels like any other browser strategy game, although it is better than any other I have tried. The overall performance is great, and I didn’t have a single crash during my entire test period. It launches quickly, provides the same core interface across FireFox, Chrome, Internet Explorer and Safari on Mac and PC systems, and Safari on the iPad. I tend to play most on my Alienware m11x, which has a 1366 x 768 11″ screen and causes problems with the interface. Things tend to fall off the bottom, and the little area of an enemy info panel showing the unit strength is invisible. This means I need to go to the ‘combat initiation’ screen to see if I should actually enter battle. So while it ‘works’ across platforms, I would advise no less than a 900 pixel high screen to see everything.

In Europe Ubisoft released Might & Magic Heroes Kingdoms as an iPad app as well, though it is not yet available in the US. To get around this I had registered a UK iTunes account previously and made use of that to download the free app and then copy it to my US account and sync it to my iPad. Not really what is supposed to be done, but for a free app I am not losing any sleep worrying about these silly artificial boundaries. The app works great, but is ultimately just a wrapper around the browser game – and was likely written as such. Everything looks and feels like you are on the web browser. I would hope they would do something to take better advantage of the app, but I can also see the advantages of keeping everything as a single unified interface.

Recently I won a Twitter contest from Ubisoft which gave me two months of Premium account access. While the free account works great, it is clear that there are advantages afforded premium users. Premium users have no restrictions on the numbers of towns or heroes they acquire, there are no time-based restrictions on anything, and they get better tools, upgraded mailboxes, a training mode to check out combat before committing resources, and so on. When you encounter other players you can see the cumulative impact of these things, and even in the short time I have been a ‘uber-user’ I have seen some advantages. That said, I cannot see myself paying to play – but that is the beauty of the system: some folks are already paying and are happy, and others never will pay – but everyone benefits from a more richly populated game world.

Ultimately Might & Magic Heroes Kingdoms is just another browser based online strategy game, albeit a very good one. I would advise anyone who finds the concept interesting to check it out – that is the beauty of these ‘free to play’ games! But beyond that, the slow pacing, generic world feel, and lackluster interface makes me question the value of buying a subscription. But as I said – give it a try, check how much you are playing, and see if it is worth your money to gain the advantage a Premium subscription brings.

Pros:
+ Nice visuals
+ Solid combat system
+ Resources and game mechanics are well balanced

Cons:
– Interface is clunky
– Doesn’t scale well to smaller screens (i.e. netbooks)
– Generic world with ‘Might & Magic’ slapped on it

Game Info:
Platform: PC, Mac and iPad
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: 8/27/2010
Genre: Turn-Based Online Strategy
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: Massively Multiplayer
Source: Initial beta preview access provided by publisher, now free to play

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!