Might And Magic Heroes Online Begins Quest For F2P

By Richard Cobbett on August 16th, 2012 at 4:49 pm.

Um. Lady on the left? You're not fooling anyone with that chinny-thinky stuff.

Might and Magic Heroes Online (not to be confused with the recently closed Heroes Of Might And Magic Online) looks a hell of a lot like regular Might and Magic Heroes. That’s a good thing. It’s got microtransactions and maps where you’ll see other players running around, but when battle starts, it’s to that familiar zoomed-in view you’ll be taken, and the same strategy that awaits. There’s simply more to conquer. Potentially much, much more.

Wow, with epic, bustling environments like this, I TOTALLY get why the online side is exciting! (weeps actual tears for the art of taking screenshots)

Like all of Ubisoft’s recent online announcements, Might and Magic Heroes Online is a free to play game that runs directly in your browser and, like the salvation of the planet Mongo, is based on Flash. You take control of a hero unit (which at launch will likely have to come from the bright and shiny Haven or creepy and spiky Necropolis factions, though more are planned) who has to travel the length and breadth of their fantasy world to raise mighty armies, then crush all those who get in your way by mastering hex-based, turn-by-turn combat.

The demo I saw was promising, though can largely be summed up as simply “Might And Magic Heroes Only In A Web Browser”. There was only one character running around the map for most of it, fighting enemies alone, and not showing off any social encounters, dungeons, raids, or the towns that you can establish around the world to help fund your bloody campaign.

These things are going to be in the game, they simply weren’t in the demo – and while it’s not difficult to guess how things will work out, there were no hard details on specifically how adding things like more players and microtransactions were going to make the previously single-player focused action better rather than simply more crowded. Likewise, while there was talk of teaming up against tough monsters on the map, there was very little on how the mechanics have changed to, say, share out the enemies you’d normally have sole eviscerating rights to.

Deleted joke from when I thought this game was called Heroes of Might And Magic Online. Ahem. What do you get if you take the Necropolis side, the Haven side, and put them together around several layers of tactics, strategy and army building? A HOMM sandwich!

The basic action looks solid enough though – starting with a pretty looking real-time map with monsters standing around, patiently waiting for a hero to run up and challenge them to a fight. The actual fights take place on a different map entirely, with the troops you’ve assembled lining up to take on the enemy, and your hero unit bravely sitting on the sidelines out of face-punching range. The challenge is two-fold; not simply giving your army the right orders, but assembling the right armies from the world’s races and units in the first place. They don’t all have to be from the same faction, though there are bonuses for sticking to what you know – at least early on.

As far as why you’re beating all everyone up, I have no idea. Ubisoft promises that whatever’s going on will be canon with Heroes V and VI, but isn’t talking about the details. The closest thing to a plot so far is this CG teaser movie, which consists of a knight in plate armour and a woman whose name I believe is Lady Spiderqueen von Underboob sternly facing off on a dusty plane, before being distracted by an incoming tornado and deciding “Bugger that!

I’m assuming the story will be a little more epic than this though, or at the very least, a mite longer. Whatever the big picture though, fighting looks tight – modelled down to a level of being able to turn on a hex to avoid backstabs, and with a decent range of encounters in the demo. In a simple case, you might get a a Necropolis hero in a straight-up fight with some nasties. A more complex one involved one enemy heavy-hitter backed up with a few weak mooks, with the aim being to mop up his friends before he finished lumbering over to crack skulls.

Probably the most interesting though was a battle set on a bridge, which was an example of a custom map being wheeled out to better fit the encounter. Here, instead of simply facing an generic field, the bridge and river were brought into the fight to create a chokepoint. These are the exception to the rule, but will show up from time to time for key battles.

Watching a demo, especially one sped up for the sake of time, it’s impossible to know how the AI, range of units, tactical variety and so forth compare to the standard games. On the surface though, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be able to at least match the existing games – especially when you factor in how easily more quests, factions and maps can be patched in.

Developers! Want to make your game look better in previews? Spend more than five seconds taking your screenshots! Seriously, the demo I saw had giant hulking monsters, impressive factions of evil... it didn't look anything like as boring as this. Sigh.

More pressingly, the cash-shop side of the game was completely glossed over in the demo, save that it will obviously exist. Progress boosters are a dead cert though, and it’s a fairly safe bet that Towns won’t just be economic hubs for your hero. Again, none of this was shown in the demo itself, but I was promised that “You’ll have your town and your town will do right by you.”

Specifically, you’ll be able to customise it with assorted buildings, gather resources for both direct use and crafting, recruit units to your army, and set up trade routes. This has ‘monetisation’ scrawled across its forehead in expensive lipstick, though hopefully not to the point that you’ll feel like you’ve slipped into Might and Magic Settlers Online every time your gold purse runs dry. The focus on PvE (at least for the moment, though PvP in discussion) means that things like progress boosters can work fine without disrupting anyone else’s game. I’m nervous though at just how much other elements like the speed of army recruiting could so easily be squeezed for cash if Ubisoft chooses to go down that route. Like so much, we’ll have to wait and see there.

Provided the monetisation side is fair though, Might and Magic Heroes Online does look like a tempting package. Ubisoft promises that you can play it antisocially if you like, and I always approve of that. Assuming it’s true, and not followed by a little asterisk leading to the words “If you spend a hundred squillion pounds”, I can see the scale of the game alone being a massive draw – probably not at launch, but as content is added to the world over the next few years.

If that can be funded by people willing to drop a fortune on XP boosts, faction purchases and cosmetic gubbins, then fantastic. I suspect it’s going to go a little deeper than that though, and would feel a lot better about that if I knew exactly what the “Online” was going to add.

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37 Comments »

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  1. Mr. Mister says:

    That helmet’s reduced visual range might be quite annoying to plan around on the map.

  2. Freud says:

    Call me reactionary, but the only way to play multiplayer HoMM is a taunt-filled hotseat session.

    • TheTuninator says:

      Not the only way, but certainly the best.

      • Ravelle says:

        Sadly, Hotseat and local co-op are scarce nowadays, for whatever reason people think we don’t want it anymore.

  3. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    But I like going chinny-thinky! Down with the anti-chinny-thinky sentiments!

    This is potentially interesting.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I only just noticed that the guy on the right has a baby growing out of his armour. No wonder the bloke in the middle is looking a little tired. Most awkward game of Risk ever…

      • Premium User Badge

        RedViv says:

        Probably the medieval fantasy version of those front-mounted baby carriages.

  4. ferdy says:

    Any mention of a release date?

  5. TheTuninator says:

    Longtime HoMM fan here. I’ve already detailed most of my concerns in the news post yesterday, but if I may restate a couple:

    The contrast between the traditional Heroes 2D art and the 3D hero/creature models that have obviously been reused from HoMM V is rather jarring. Honestly, I’d like to see the game be entirely 2D. 2D art can look absolutely gorgeous, and TBS is the perfect genre for this kind of artstyle. Indeed, 14 years after release, HoMM III’s strategic map and UI is still an absolute treat for the eyes.

    Additionally, how exactly they will implement a paid system worries me. Heroes is a series which has often had seriously overpowered skills (Diplomacy, Necromancy), units (Vampire Lords in HIII and Vampire Princes in HV, to name a few), spells (Fly, Dimension Door, Town Portal), and sometimes even towns (Haven’s Training in HV, Necropolis and Conflux in HIII) just to name a few examples.

    Now, these bits were always mitigated by the fact that the other player had access to them as well, and so if another player picked an OP faction or went for an OP skill build the other player could reciprocate in kind in order to level the playing field.

    However, in a system where one might purchase units, skills, abilities, and even towns independently from other players, this system of checks and balances goes right out the window. Suddenly, I don’t have the option to play Necro or Conflux against Necro or Conflux anymore; I don’t have the option to meet Fly with Town Portal or Necromancy with Diplomacy.

    Given that I just don’t see them being able to sell enough purely cosmetic items to sustain a profit, and given their recent blatant price gouging with HoMM VI, I am not very optimistic.

    Somehow, I can’t help but feel that you’ll end up able to purchase additional troops per week, additional skills, stronger heroes, and better units, and that effectively kills the game from a multiplayer standpoint, because it means spending more money lets you outright beat someone who played better.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      In short: yeah, definite potential problem. At the moment, all their talk was on co-operative rather than competitive action, which would mitigate at least some of that. It’ll all depend on how they implement their cash shop, really, and they’re not saying anything at the moment except the most generic ‘there will be one’ type stuff.

      • TheTuninator says:

        Most of the problems would be alleviated if it’s co-op only, true; although it would be mildly irritating to have somebody do much better or have an easier time because they threw money at the game, that’s not a big deal.

        What worries me is that, given it’s Heroes, I don’t think there are that many options for cosmetic shop items. You can sell hero reskins, *maybe* unit reskins, and that’s about it. Unlike LoL or DotA 2, I am not certain that reskinning your characters would be that attractive given the context of the gameplay, and so it seems that they’ll almost be forced to implement some kind of “pay-to-win” system.

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          My suspicion, as said, is that it won’t so much be outright pay-to-win as pay-to-speed-up-timesinks with things like recruiting in Towns, and the ability to unlock stuff early – you lose an army for instance and you can wait X amount of time to regain some units, or pay Y to get playing again immediately. That seems to jibe with what they were saying about time compression points in SHO and there was talk of progress boosters in Anno as well.

          There’s also some other stuff they can definitely sell, like access to the extra factions and their stories. But until they actually say how it’s going to work, it’s all conjecture, sadly. From what I saw, the basic game is promising. Whether the F2P side is good or bad though, I have no idea.

          • Snargelfargen says:

            The real-time exploration combined with micro-transactions makes a lot of sense. Removing the turn-based element essentially removes the need for balancing, since there’s absolutely no way to ensure an even playing field when players can log on and attack each other at any time whatsoever, instead of having to wait for their army to cross the map.

            Co-op makes a lot of sense in this context too. The more I read about HOMMO, the more I think it will be completely different to the previous games. The only similiarity will be the tactical battles, which arguably is only half of the game.

  6. SkittleDiddler says:

    Another bland, generic M&M game? A multiplayer game run on the backbone of Ubisoft’s wonky and unstable DRM? Potential P2W booster system similar to AoEOnline?

    Sounds like a winner.

  7. Memphis-Ahn says:

    Oh boy can’t wait to play with HOMMO.

  8. HisMastersVoice says:

    ” (…)pretty looking real-time map”

    I’m 28 and what is this?

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Descriptive prose?

      • HisMastersVoice says:

        Let me rephrase. No movement points on the campaign map?

        • Richard Cobbett says:

          Nope, you just walk around at will.

          • Moraven says:

            Interesting. Kings Bounty online took the Facebook energy/action limitation and costs that to travel from location to location (which are just bullets on a map). With free movement this is more like what Kings Bounty (the game) has and Outernauts (facebook pokemon but with action/energy limitation, but free movement).

          • TheTuninator says:

            Hrm.
            This is certainly going to be a very different experience, I suppose. I wonder if the final product will bear any resemblance whatsoever to the actual Heroes games.

            If this actually becomes the go-to for the series instead of actual entries, I am going to be incensed.

  9. Rubyace says:

    Have there always been text when you hover over a picture? If so I think I have to go and look up some old articles

  10. MythArcana says:

    Now that they completely screwed up this franchise, let’s just throw it online and see if it sticks! Thanks, Ubisuck!

  11. Moraven says:

    King’s Bounty online game is decent. It has PvP and not co op PvE. Hopefully Ubisoft takes the good from it and expands.

    Wish they did the game in Unity instead of Flash.

  12. MisterMumbles says:

    I love how they copy-pasted HoMM5 units onto a HoMM3-like battlefield. Kind of ironic. That said, I don’t expect this to be any more than a fuddly mess… like so many games that turn into “F2P” browser-based games.

    Why would anyone sane sink any money into this – let alone waste any of their precious time with it – when they can easily acquire the greatness that is HoMM3 Complete for a tenner from places like GOG?
    http://www.gog.com/en/gamecard/heroes_of_might_and_magic_3_complete_edition

    Slap that good ole HD mod onto that, and you’ll be perfectly set. Free online play as well! Yup, yup. It just boggles my mind. Ubisoft just doesn’t seem to care much for this franchise. All I can imagine them saying is: “Easy money!” More like a waste of money and time.

    I can’t believe I actually finally made an account to comment on this sorry thing.

    • TheTuninator says:

      My personal gaming pipe dream is for a HoMM III remake that redoes the battle map art in modern 2D HD and leaves everything else the same, aside from a proper upscaling into 16:9.

      It’s amazing how well the strategic map art has held up. I still find the strategic map, the townscreens, and even the UI absolutely gorgeous. Therein lies the beauty of good 2D graphics; they’re pretty much ageless.

      It’ll never happen, of course, but at least we still have the Horn of the Abyss team putting out new content, no? Can’t believe they’ve actually managed to add a new town to the game that fits in seamlessly with the others, from style to art assets to music. It’s like NWC made it themselves.

  13. Snargelfargen says:

    This is all completely backwards!

    Real-time movement and exploration means that they have removed the strategic part of the game, where the player is forced to expand and defend their territory with mutiple armies. So basically, the traditional HOMM formula is being discarded on favour of the more simplified gameplay of King’s Bounty.

    Don’t get me wrong, King’s Bounty was a lot of fun. But that brilliance came from taking a popular game and stripping all the unessential elements away to turn it into the perfect SINGLE-PLAYER game. It was basically Tactical Fantasy Hex-Fights: The Awesome! Unfortunately that also means that the King’s Bounty formula gets tiring after a while, especially since the only meta-game is in perfecting your hero’s skillset.

    The HOMM series is fascinating because it has a strong element of risk. The player builds an empire, but with limited movement each turn, that empire is always at risk of attack. The balance between aggressive exploration and defense raises the stakes, making a win much more enjoyable. That tension isn’t present in King’s Bounty. You have all the time in the world, and there is no real way to lose the game, apart from running out of money or troops. Both are plentiful, probably even more so with microtransactions.

  14. tacobellkiller says:

    Is it too much to ask for a proper Might and Magic game again? The combined World of Xeen was a fantastically fun and surprisingly deep games with hidden secrets everywhere. I truly miss the turn based first person rpg, Legend of Grimrock is the closest we’ve gotten for a while but that has too much emphasize on real time maneuvering, have I missed something released in the past 5 years comparable to the old M&M titles?