Even though the genesis of the Might and Magic series hasn’t always been true to the roots laid down by 3DO and New World Computing, starting all the way back in 1986, it’s always evolved in interesting ways. Blue Byte games are evolving in it in a way that’s pretty drastic but just as interesting. They’re turning it into a Flash-based browser game, complete with microtransactions and multiplayer. This is Heroes Online.
No need to roll your eyes. Or run away. Because it turns out that you can do a hell of a lot in Flash 11, and finding Free to Play to be a bad thing got old a few years ago, as League of Legends and World of Tanks would be more than happy to tell you.
And when you think about it, the Heroes series of Might and Magic lends itself well to casual play, not least because of its turn based, instanced hex battles but also because each fight only lasts ten to fifteen minutes, or half an hour if you’re really taking your time. But unless you’re Bobby Fischer, you’re probably going to be able to squeeze a battle or two into your lunchbreak, or in the gap between Casualty and X-Factor.
Being shown a presentation at Blue Byte’s headquarters in Dusseldorf, the game looks surprisingly vibrant for running purely on Flash. The world is really not all that far from Might and Magic Heroes VI, released last year, and as the player character is guided around a crypt-area themed around the Necropolis faction you can see one or two others doing exactly the same. You’ve got your hero, and you’ve got your army, and as you move around the world both grow in both experience and size, depending on the way you want to expand.
Bits and pieces of MMOs are seeping through into the game, and it’s apparent from the offset that they’re going for something far more social than the previous entries in a series that’s geared almost entirely towards sucking you into a rich, compulsive single player experience.
Bosses, for instance, are not only their own unique force, but come with custom maps with the hexes arranged in their own specific pattern. We were shown a huge ogre-like warrior guarding a bridge, and his battlemap was bottlenecked hard, forcing the player to deal with dozens of smaller creatures before being able to tackle the main boss. The flipside of this is that AoE attacks were much more effective, slaughtering the clumped enemies.
Not only is there more variety in the boss battles, but you can pull in nearby strangers, or friends, to help you out with their own armies. The Creative Supervisor on the game, Doru Apreotesei, was quick to state that these social features won’t interfere with those players who still want to play Heroes as they always have. More than that, even those players who do choose to neglect the rest of the community will be indirectly drawn to it. “We have faction specific storylines. We have interlocking paths where we want to create a long term story where several elements are shared from several perspectives.”
So even if they did want to keep to themselves, and level their character without the input of any other players, they’re going to want to communicate just a little if they want to find out all that the game has to offer. That, or reroll a new character. Which might not be a bad idea, considering “you can never have any hero that knows everything. You still have to strategise and specialise, either in might or magic, or a slight combination of both.”
Unfortunately, with the game still so early in development, Blue Byte aren’t willing to talk about exactly how it’s all going to be monetised, but when Doru says “The towns will definitely be in there and they’ll be a big part of things. You’ll have your town and your town will do right by you.” it makes it sound like there’ll be some sort of troop generation going on that can be optimized and accelerated. Other than that, it’s anyone’s guess as to exactly how they expect to add microtransactions to the game.
More than anything else, seeing a game with this scope, looking this accomplished, all from within a browser, is genuinely incredible. And if they can bring the appeal of the fully fledged Heroes games over into Heroes Online, and figure out exactly how to charge for it effectively, it’s going to be something that can eat up spare time with a delicious appetite.