Ubisoft Classic Franchises Going Online En Mass

By John Walker on August 15th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

Coo, it's in a browser, but Anno's still pretty.

Ubisoft are putting a lot of stuff online. There’s Anno Online, Silent Hunter Online, and Might & Magic Heroes Online, and you can see a trailer for each of them downstairs. These are browser-based free-to-play reincarnations of the popular, long-time franchises. Do you want those then?

Here’s Anno Online:

And Silent Hunter Online:

And Might & Magic Heroes Online:

Don’t get over excited by the “play now” offer in the Anno teaser, cos you can’t. Silly Ubisoft. But you can sign up for the betas for all three. And of course they’ll be free-to-play when they launch. Ubisoft’s awful always-awful DRM system has crippled previous games in both the Anno and Silent Hunter series, so it’s interesting to see the move to browser-based games. While you can still lament that they’re in your browser and not on your desktop, at least the need for an internet connection makes some sliver of sense.

Also, I see from PC Gamer’s scoop (I found these videos by stalking Ubi’s YouTube feed, but those dastardly PCG guys are always outfoxing me) they’re saying they won’t replace regular offline releases of the series.

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65 Comments »

  1. Torgen says:

    lolnope

  2. Llewyn says:

    So, ummm, do they need any browser plugins?

  3. JoeGuy says:

    Stop making everything online damn it Ubisoft!

    • alundra says:

      Look at on the bright side, we are one step closer for them to pay us to play their games, maybe then I will approach UBI.

  4. RedViv says:

    I have yet to see a good browser adaptation of an existing franchise.

  5. UsF says:

    Bye Anno, was nice knowing you. How are you doing Silent Hunter? Got better?

  6. TillEulenspiegel says:

    Ubisoft’s awful always-awful DRM system

    Tee hee.

    Conceptually, there’s nothing wrong with browser games. They could be really in-depth and use the massively multiplayer aspect to great effect. But in practice, they almost always feature poor simplified gameplay and an overly aggressive F2P business model.

  7. empyrion says:

    Or they could, you know, just remove their DRM from current titles and stop adding it to future titles, so that we can actually buy their games again.

    • ulix says:

      They did. While most of their games still have some form of DRM, they do not require you to be online all the time. A few examples:

      Rayman Origins: no UBI-DRM.
      Future Soldier: no UBI-DRM.
      Assassin’s Creed Revelations: no UBI-DRM.
      Driver San Francisco: no Ubi-DRM.

      So since the last four or five major Ubisoft releases ditched the draconian DRM for something less evil, it would be idiotic to expect them to go back to “always-online”.

      • Azradesh says:

        Driver has Ubi DRM.
        Ass Creed Rev has Ubi DRM.

      • Rivalus says:

        Really?! Future Soldier doesn’t have UBI-DRM? I might just interested in buying now. Thank you

      • Saiko Kila says:

        They are more evil than that. Take Anno 2070 for instance – you can play it offline (after starting it when online) but some of crucial features of the main game mode are missing when you are offline. This is because data is stored on Ubi servers – for example when you move items to your ark in continuous mode, the information is stored remotely on their servers, not in your save or on your machine (this can be used to duplicate items, as a side effect).

      • battles_atlas says:

        Driver SF may be excellent, but its ubi-DRM’d to the gills. The moronic uplay application that imposes itself between Steam and the game you actually paid for manages to fail about 1 in every 3 attempts, either hanging when trying to ‘sync save files’ or just not even launching itself properly. Plus of course the recent browser exploit idiocy. All this buggy crap on a game that’s been out for ages and is itself rock solid.

      • alilsneaky says:

        Driver SF DOES have tages…
        I bought the game during the steam sale and it was freezing every minute (literally, to the second) for 3-4seconds because the drm servers were overloaded and the game was waiting for the drm packet.

        Don’t spread lies and bullshit.

  8. Anthile says:

    Again with the “Might & Magic Heroes”. What’s so bad about just Heroes of Might & Magic? I really don’t get it.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Colons sell games.

      Might and Magic: Heroes will sell 500x as much as Heroes of Might and Magic.

    • TheTuninator says:

      I take it they just wanted to establish “Might & Magic” as a brand, hence the colon.

      It does suck. HoMM >>>> M&M: H. The second just sounds awfully awkward and strident.

    • NathanH says:

      it makes me particularly sad because whenever I see a new Might and Magic: Whatever game, for a brief foolish moment I think it might be an actual Might and Magic game. Like, in the style of 6–8.

  9. RegisteredUser says:

    I could see this working for a more 2D heroes and anno franchise, but SH? Come on.

    Anyway, they can go sod off. I’ve grown to dislike them on principle.

  10. Hunchback says:

    I guess F2P, browser games bring in MOAR cash than conventional, big and complex, offline payed games.

    Well fuck ‘em, i ain’t paying for either, they keep producing shit.

  11. Belua says:

    Heroes of Might & Magic (fuck the new name) as a browser game could actually be good, if it was just like the offline game and you could play asynchronous multiplayer games with other people. I could get used to the idea of logging in, checking my running games and committing a couple of moves in my lunch break.
    But in reality, it will probably be just another pay to win game that was simplified as far as possible and feels incredibly cheap and boring, as well as being awkwardly similar to every free 2 play game ever made.

    Yeah, I’m not exactly optimistic.

    • Dragon Master says:

      Have hope man, have hope! Try not to bash my last shred of optimism on this…

      • Belua says:

        My hope and optimism has been crushed so often already in the last couple of months or even years, that it’s hard to feel positive about newly announced games, especially when the developers abuse my beloved IPs and lock them into the tiny browser.
        Right now it takes my full effort to feel vaguely, carefully optimistic about Watchdogs, Borderlands 2, Dishonored and… well, maybe a couple more (Assassin’s Creed maybe, but only in so far as its mostly a tried formula that I happen to like), but those are the ones I have the highest hopes in at the moment.
        At least of the “big” games – somehow, I feel a lot better about indie games recently.

  12. TheTuninator says:

    Long-time HoMM fan here. This news has me very concerned. Quoting from the PCG news bit:

    “To counter this sop to traditionalism [hex maps], however, the battles have been changed to nerf ranged units a little – rather than having effectively infinite weapon range within the battles limited arena, they are now more limited in how far they can fire.”

    Ranged units ALREADY had an inbuilt compensating mechanism; two, in point of fact. They did half damage at over half range/through obstacles, and they did half damage in melee, making them very vulnerable to enemy troops closing the gap.

    This was on the old hex maps, too, exactly what they’re returning! There’s no need to “counter” this change, because it was a model which worked fine for HII and HIII, and HIII is widely regarded as the best entry in the series.

    An additional nerf isn’t necessary, and if ranged units now cannot shoot across the entire battlefield, that will significantly hinder traditional neutral creeping strategies which allowed a skilled player to clear the game map much faster and thus gain an advantage.

    “Similarly, for melee combat, facing and flanking are now very important. Get around behind someone’s monsters and that unit takes a lot of extra damage. ”

    I honestly cannot see how this will work. Heroes doesn’t have ZoC on the battle map, and with only 7 units on the battlefield per side, it’s going to be impossible to stop a unit from just running behind its opponent and stabbing them in the back every time unless there is a DRASTIC change to unit movement values (i.e. giving everything 2 or 3 movement), which would in turn kill unit variety.

    Going by the classic Heroes movement system which has remained in place for five games, there is absolutely nothing preventing a unit from simply moving to flank/rear attack, and if they change the system to “root” units in place when attacked that both negates the classic Heroes “root” ability certain monsters had as well as turning battles into boring, stagnant slugfests.

    “Apreotesei assured us that the classic HOMM design flaw – where losing men early in a campaign meant you would be unable to complete it without a total restart – wasn’t going to be a problem this time around.”

    If you lose too many men early on in the level, you deserve to lose, because you played poorly! It’s no different from wiping on a level of, say, Panzer General II because you squandered too many units in a head-on attack into artillery the first several turns and couldn’t sustain your offensive, or losing a game of Civ because you made a terrible choice for your starting cities and provoked a much stronger opponent early on.

    If you play poorly you deserve to lose on anything but the easier difficulties, no matter what the game, and wasting too many troops was always the Heroes litmus test for poor play.

    Losing too many men early in one mission doesn’t affect your ability to complete the *entire campaign* because troops usually are not carried over from mission to mission in HoMM.

    Also, the combination of 3D unit models and good-looking 2D art is awkward; I’d much rather everything be 2D.

    I am watching this with interest, but I’m apprehensive. The Heroes formula ain’t broke, so why fix it? They tried that with HVI and results were mixed at best.

    Also, F2P is a terrible model for the consumer. I don’t want to get nickel-and-dimed at an exorbitant price for individual campaigns (exactly what Ubi is doing right now for HVI, in point of fact)

    “The premium payments here are, we suspect, going to be for extra story content, extra missions, extra character classes, unit reskins, extra units, special unit upgrades and so on…. Again, Apreotesei emphasised that there would be no “pay to win”.”

    If it’s HoMM, and they are selling extra factions, classes, extra units, or special upgrades, it is pay-to-win, period. The only things they could sell would be hero, town, and unit reskins. Sell a faction as DLC that both players don’t need to have in order to play one another, unlike traditional expansions where both players have access to that faction, and it turns out to be OP? P2W. Sell a unit upgrade that turns out to be OP, hardly unheard of in the HoMM series? P2W.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Most of the changes you list sound like solutions to common mistakes people encounter in the first couple hours of play, before they get a hang of the game. I imagine that Ubi’s priority is for the player to feel powerful and successful for those first couple of hours, so that they are hooked easily and more willing to pay for microtransactions when the difficulty bar is eventually raised.

      For a f2p business model, the classic Heroes formula probably is a bit broken, since free games rely on frontloading the fun content, and burying the metagame in some sort of microtransaction system.

      About encouraging flanking: In some hex games like Age of Wonders, moving through a space adacent to a melee unit automatically triggers an attack and ends that movement early. Implementing something similiar might work ok.

      • TheTuninator says:

        I think you’re quite right about that, unfortunately. They’ll want to make things as easy and accessible as possible. Problem is, HoMM wasn’t exactly a legendarily difficult series to get into, and I fear that these balance changes, while well-intentioned, are rather ill advised.

        Ending movement early would still be problematic and largely non-functional in the context of HoMM, as the average Heroes unit can move at least 4-5 squares/hexes (plenty enough to circumvent the melee block and get into flank/rear position) and additionally it would turn the traditionally fluid Heroes battlescape into a rather stagnant affair.

    • NathanH says:

      I agree with everything you say apart from the walkover battles. One thing I don’t like about the old Heroes games is the way that most of your battles are just questions of whether you lose zero or ten soldiers. I’d rather be fighting battles where legions of corpses pile up on each side.

      • TheTuninator says:

        Well, that typically holds true for any serious engagement between players whose heroes/armies of relative parity, whether the game be HoMM II or HoMM V. Bodies will pile up all over, particularly in sieges.

        It’s not the case for neutral creeping, nor should it be, because losing your entire army to neutral stacks repeatedly despite playing well would not be enjoyable. Tough stacks like L6 or, particularly, L7 creatures should present a challenge, but I don’t think it would really be advisable to turn every neutral battle into a bloodbath given the sheer amount of neutral stacks you’ve got to chew through as you play the strategic map. Needing to restock your army after every one or two neutral battles would slow the game’s pace to a crawl.

        Think of it as the difference between fighting barbarians in Civ or neutral camps in WCIII or fighting another player in those games; taking out neutrals is typically quick and relatively bloodless, fighting a player is not. Same holds true for any of the Heroes games.

        • NathanH says:

          I understand the mechanic, I just don’t think it’s a good one. Babysitting through many chaff battles isn’t all that much fun, but it accounts for much of the game, especially in single player. Obviously increasing the power of the random creature stacks without reducing the number of them would be silly.

          • Snargelfargen says:

            Ideally you should be killing the weaker stacks with a secondary, barebones scouting army while your heroes’ massive army engages in more epic pursuits. Later games have sort of lost sight of that though, the worst example being King’s Bounty, where a battle resulting in the loss of more than one or two troops could be considered a failure.

          • TheTuninator says:

            The point of the sundry neutral stacks is to encourage the player to develop a strategy for playing the strategic map, which is the most important part of any Heroes games.

            Players who do hero “chaining” to clear more of the map every turn and develop tactics to eliminate the neutrals while minimizing losses as extensively as possible will gain a significant advantage.

            Replace the neutral stacks with a fewer amount of stronger ones, and there would be a set of problems. First off, either you have to have less locations on the overland map or the map become smuch easier to play as a result of the lack of guards.

            Secondly, forcing neutral battles to be bloodbaths even for skilled players would make the game prohibitively difficult for the less experienced players, people who don’t understand tactical concepts like fodder stacks, waiting, and why Slow or Haste are so important.

            Thus, I find the presence of neutrals to be a solid mechanic; it encourages the player to apply their strategic thinking ability in order to develop the best possible plan for “playing the map”, as it were, much as you might develop a campaign plan in one of Paradox’s GSGs.

            Also, for me, beating a neutral battle with no casualties feels great, because it’s a testament to my skill at the game that I can emerge with no casualties. Still, I can understand why others might feel differently.

            Ultimately, it is still quite possible to play HoMM as a high-body-count bloodbath by flinging your troops at the enemy, whether they be neutral or player-controlled, and winning through attrition; it’s just not an optimal way to play.

          • InternetBatman says:

            I thought King’s Bounty was just differently structured with a different purpose in mind. The enemies are generally pretty strong, and losses are only sometimes avoidable with careful planning. This is to make you explore, sneak around and outwit your enemies, which is more befitting the idea of an expeditionary force. Even then, the game provides enough money for players to brute force their way through many battles if they so desire.

    • lexoneir says:

      Proving that HoMM is long dead. At least there’s Kings Bounty.

      • Moraven says:

        You know there is a King’s Bounty Facebook game, right?

        • PodX140 says:

          Hey, that game actually ISN’T atrocious. It’s actually even half decent. They took the entire combat system, every asset from the actual KB games, the music, a lot of great stuff. Sure, the resurrection system is a bit annoying and of course you have the energy system, but it’s still a pretty darn fun game.

          • Moraven says:

            Aye, the Heroes/KB combat system works great in the browser. The only downside is as said is the limitations just when you start to have fun, you run out of energy and need to fork over cash.

    • BubuIIC says:

      “Apreotesei assured us that the classic HOMM design flaw – where losing men early in a campaign meant you would be unable to complete it without a total restart – wasn’t going to be a problem this time around.”

      I don’t even think this is true. (Beside the fact that he is obviously talking about one map not a campaign) In HIII (if you don’t screw up in the first two turns or so) you should always have enough resupply of units in town. Even if you completely lost your army, you retreat your hero back to town and are ready to go with probably more stuff then you had before. If you fight an epic battle with an opponent then although you lost a lot of units you should also have inflicted enough pain to even it out a bit. I think the gameplay was actually pretty well balanced there.

      If you lose too many men early on in the level, you deserve to lose, because you played poorly!
      I completely agree but unfortunately I can almost see the opposite happening. There are no long term effects of your doings, you screw up some battles completely, it won’t matter because you can’t capture cities early on because the inherent defense is too strong (or something). You screw up your economics and it won’t matter because basic income is high enough nothing else really makes a difference. In short none of your actions really make any difference in the game, as it too often happens in these browser based F2P games…

      As for the backstabbing on hexes, I could actually see that working on the Heroes III battlefields. Often these were quite cramped, when you have a lot of obstacles on it. And then maybe some two-hex units and you can’t really get to the enemy with all your units let alone get in their back. If thought out properly (I have my doubts here) this could work on the right type of battlefields. Or make it an ability of some units, this might be ok then. But that’s probably not what they are aiming for.

  13. Snargelfargen says:

    I believe this strategy is called “Throw shit at the wall and see what sticks”.

    I don’t want to be that wall .

    • Red_Avatar says:

      Me neither – and it’s a good description for what they’re doing. They’re basically taking the brands that were made popular by core gamers and give them to the masses while leaving the original fans in the cold (not to mention basically giving them the finger).

      I wish they’d make up their mind – why are they dumbing down sequels to classics and don’t give the fans what they want because they are trying to drag in casual gamers when they already create a casual option for them? It’s core gamers that are the big spenders – a good sequel to a classic WILL sell plenty as has been proven time and time again.

      • Snargelfargen says:

        Yeah it’s truly bizarre. I can definitely get behind opening up a franchise or genre to a wider audience, but so much is lost in the transition to pay2win that they might as well just start anew.

        On the other hand the gaming industry seems to be suffering a desperate shortage of distinctive names. Silent Hunter is an amazing title compared to Call of Warsea: Tactical Operations

  14. diamondmx says:

    lol Ubisoft.

  15. ZIGS says:

    Do you want those then?

  16. thebluemonkey81 says:

    There are very few “free to play” games that work, like I can could them on one hand and even less that I actually like.

    I think it’s fair to say I’d rather watch hollyoaks than play a “free to play” game

  17. MythArcana says:

    Ruination.

  18. Zephro says:

    Putting games online isn’t necessarily a bad idea. I mean turn based squad games like HoMM or X-Com (I know quite different but stick with me) could work as asynchronous online games fair enough. So if it doesn’t upset the normal offline releases then whatever. Might actually be good little games.

    But Silent Hunter? Really? It’s the most single player game ever. Each player gets their own time control? Or just fixed real time 2 month long missions in the Atlantic?

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Griefing would be a lot of fun if players got to choose between German uboats and the Merchant Marine.

    • Hydrogene says:

      What this means is that SH online will (probably) only be small scale naval battles, and not a grand scale campaign with long cruises in accelerated time… :(

      • Alien Smithee says:

        Ubisoft have turned the once great -and loved by many- tactical and strategic Silent Hunter series into a multiplayer free-for all that now resembles nothing more than a paddling pool at a fairground surrounded by screaming kids waggling joysticks controlling plastic chunky yellow garish remote-controlled “submarines”, all trying to win by crashing said whining, buzzing plastic boats into each other.

        I will truly rejoice the day when I read the news that Ubisoft have finally gone bankrupt.

  19. NathanH says:

    I’m holding out for Shameless Cash-in Online.

  20. VeteranGunner says:

    RAPE….RAPE somebody help…. EA looks over its shoulder laughs and continues to molest the dead body of CnC…
    I dont usually hop onto the “hate this game” bandwagon but today gaming lost 3 of its great franchises and silent hunter lol…
    Fans of HoMM, Anno and CnC I am sorry for your loss I will be grieving with you.

    p.s. watch the anno trailer and pretend it is ubisoft talking about free to play.

  21. The Greatness says:

    That was a pretty close-up groin shot in the HoMM trailer.

  22. Moraven says:

    Everyone is trying to put their games online now, but 5 years late.

    Stick to your iteration of your games, invest and innovate.

    But lets copy every facebook game (spam friends to actually progress) or Evoli/Ultima online (pay to progress/win. its like 1-10% of the playerbase pays. With so many more games flooding the market so many of these will crash and burn.

    Now if they tied in Heroes Online browser game to some epic online multiplayer mode campaign in Heroes 7, then that would be sweet.

  23. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    It seems like that HoMM trailer took some audio cues from Blizzard’s Diablo III animations.

  24. Rivalus says:

    Does anyone ever play Marvel Super Hero Squad Online? It has a quite good F2P model. You don’t really have to pay (although the temptation is great), with patience you can get anythings. And the grahic is good, it use Unity web plugin. I wish more F2P follow this model.

  25. Vicho says:

    Here is a radical idea. Stop releasing the same Silent Hunter game over and over. 2 was perfect.
    How about a modern setting with boomers and attack subs, perhaps in the Cold War straight from a Tom Clancy novel (read: almost all of them).
    You now have every sim nut engorged at the first naval sim since Harpoon.
    ???
    profit

    All this clambering to grab the F2P casual market leaves great big fat empty pockets in others.

  26. socrate says:

    meh Ubisoft was dead a long time ago to me this just show me i did the right thing by not supporting this silly DRM crusade that made no sense and now they keep spitting on their best title instead of giving them much needed love.

    i mean anno is the same as a gazillion year ago…im all for changing era and keep it interesting visually…but the only thing i see change is that instead of needing tobacco to upgrade my civilian to the next lvl i need a mp3 player or whatever that holo thing was…its been repetitive for the past decade when alots of the system need much needed love and innovation.

    then you have HoMM that keep the same recipe of upgrading graphic but sticking with the stale story that repeat itself over and over again and bringing back old faction over and over again with nothing new to them or the system…or and lets not forget that the last anno and HoMM only only benefit is totally horrible and basically the only way they could think of trying to pass their silly DRM on us that is not only not worth it at all it just make the game tedious and boring instead of bringing cool feature that should have been in the game for age…or even decent AI that don’t cheat to win a game or actually play instead of cheating.

    and now F2P…really…i could care less there is much better F2P to waste my time on that actually don’t reward people power for money and there is enough old anno and old HoMM to not have to deal with this with pretty much 100x the fun in them since they don’t upgrade and bring anything other then graphic to the new one just to milk people.

    one thing id like to point out is alots of free browser game just end up hugging my time for almost no reward unless i spend $$ which id rather just buy the old game and get my fix in 1 hour instead of having to wait 2 month to actually assault a castle in HoMM or build a wonder building in anno without having to get 10 “friend” to help me

  27. Azovyr says:

    I still haven’t been able to play Heroes VI online due to always disconnecting from their servers despite having an excellent net connection. I won’t be touching these browser based coin-op games with a barge pole.