“I couldn’t care less how I’m remembered” explains Ivan Griffin in the opening cinematic to Limbic and Ubisoft’s Might & Magic Heroes VII. It’s an impressive claim for anyone to make in our society, where so much of our daily life is spent trying to do and say all of the right things to fit in. In Might & Magic Heroes VII, however, there’s a rather uneasy sense that the developers themselves took Griffin’s philosophy just a little bit too seriously when crafting this latest instalment to a twenty year series.
The franchise has been a reliable staple in the strategy genre since Heroes Of Might & Magic: A Strategic Quest first released in 1995. Inspired by the design of King’s Bounty in 1990, the series has always put players in control of a selection of heroes, who essentially take the role of explorers and commanders for the different phases of gameplay. In the overworlds, players move their heroes across different maps and regions collecting resources and adding to their fortifications as they go. These fortifications in turn allow for the recruitment of additional combat units and abilities, to lend strength to the player once they move into any of the various battle scenarios littered across each map and to help them complete the quests and tasks they are set with in each new stage.
Cards on the table, I’ll admit I had never played a Might & Magic game before getting the opportunity to dive into this one. As a longtime RPG player and sporadic dabbler in the strategy genre, however, I was more than excited to test out this interesting blend of the two. After a quick cram session to get myself up to speed with the series’ history, I jumped right in to Might & Magic Heroes VII and have to say I was immediately impressed by the variety that greeted me.
The game’s first menu is filled with a pleasing selection of modes to choose from. There are both single and multiplayer stages to play through, as well as a detailed campaign and a neat duel mode that allows players to head straight into a combat scenario and skip all of the exploration and resource gathering. It seemed that the first challenge this game was going to throw at me was choosing just where to begin, but I concluded that the campaign had to be the most logical starting point.
The opening for the campaign plays out nicely and shines its light on a pensive Ivan Griffin, our narrator from the opening cinematic. After the assassination of Empress Falcon, the Falcon Empire has dissolved and the land is split in numerous places. Seeking the counsel of six advisors – all presented as classic RPG stereotypes – Ivan ponders how best to pursue the crown. From here, the direction of the campaign becomes the player’s choice, with each of Griffin’s advisors offering up a different section of the story to choose from. There seems to be no real order or direction in which to play through these, so I happily chose at random to get straight into the action.
In all but the duel modes, each stage takes on the same form. Players use as much available movement as they can per day – dictated by their hero’s movement stat – to recruit allies, gather resources and overcome the various enemies standing in their way. Fixed objectives appear at the start of the stage and, in true RPG fashion, additional, optional tasks can be uncovered as players move their way around the map.
The RPG elements of Might & Magic Heroes VII are certainly among the game’s strengths. Having a small, fixed fortification is useful and easy to manage while the moveable hero keeps things fluid and pacy. Too many times have I found strategy games to be arduous as they get bogged down in stationary sequences and endless waiting times. Might & Magic Heroes VII does away with practically all of that and each game moves at a brisk pace. The evolution and growth of heroes and allied units is also a plus and it keep a feeling of meaningful progression running through the game. Heroes each have a wheel of customizable skills and abilities to choose from, all of which come in very handy when commanding their forces on a battlefield.
Speaking of battlefields, the combat itself in the game is also very pleasing (once you know exactly what you’re doing, but more on that later). Battles can be waged between a few small infantry units on a tiny, squared board to much larger affairs between creatures, fortifications and soldiers alike. Units in the game are mostly split into Might and Magic categories with a few sub-sets that can either make them effective or ineffective against other types. Players are tasked with commanding these units to victory, while also using the powers of their off-field hero to boost the odds in their favour wherever possible. The combat is fast-paced and at times frenetic, but never rushes the player too much. It’s paced nicely between hack ’n’ slash madness and turn-based strategy, but it certainly can take a bit of getting used to…
One of the biggest problems I found with the game is that, no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find any sort of tutorial, or even a guide system. While existing players of the series may scoff at my inability, newcomers could find some of the game’s nuances as debilitating as I did early on.
The movement mechanic, for example, is never explained to players, and so I found myself desperately stuck after just twenty-two hero moves in the first minutes of my first campaign stage. It took a frantic Google search and the use of a Heroes Of Might & Magic III wiki to help me discover that the game was broken down into days, with the end of each day representing the end of the player’s turn and thus the reset of such stats. A painfully simple solution, but one that was mysteriously hidden from me in the game.
Part of me wants to believe that I perhaps chose the wrong section to start my campaign with, but even as I moved through other stages I never once found that misplaced tutorial. How on earth is a game supposed to attract new players if it’s going to keep its secrets so hidden?
It’s also a shame to note that Might & Magic Heroes VII is not among the more attractive games I’ve ever played. On a PC build more than capable of running the game at its highest settings, I experienced a worrying amount of visual issues during combat scenarios. Large-scale battles were especially taxing, with the units appearing blocky and with the lack of agility that one would come to associate with Lego men. Even the basic landscapes that sit behind the checkered battlefields suffered at these times, and the textures regularly reverted to being little more than blurred colours. This was especially disappointing, because at its best times the game has some very attractive and appealing visual styles to offer.
I absolutely don’t think that Might & Magic Heroes VII is a bad game, but it’s definitely one that is its own worst enemy. The great pacing of each stage and slick blend of RPG and strategy elements were definitely signs for encouragement once I wrapped my head around what was going on. The visual struggles and the game’s apparently refusal to easily open the experience to new players are major disappointments, though, and it’s these failings that could ultimately see it fail to reach any audience outside the series’ already faithful players.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game, which was provided to us.
Might & Magic Heroes VII has some very pleasing moments, but its visual issues and strange reluctance to welcome new players could lead it to an unfortunate downfall.