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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review: Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes

Everyone is falling over themselves to talk up Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. Here are a few choice quotes:

Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes comes highly recommended, whether or not you've played any other games in the M&M franchise. This is not a bastardization of the series. If anything, Clash of Heroes may become the catalyst to resurrect a franchise that was once on its last legs. - RPGFan
If you’re looking for a good challenge for your strategic muscles, Clash of Heroes is the game for you. - NSider2
During the course of writing this, Eurogamer MMO editor Oli Welsh popped up on my MSN to ask me if I thought it was a puzzle, RPG or strategy game. It has enough elements of each that I honestly couldn't say. What I did do was recommend it to him wholeheartedly, because, whatever it is, Clash of Heroes is a very good game indeed. - Eurogamer
Clash of Heroes can be summed up very easily. This is one of the best games of 2009. - Kombo
In other words, there is a lot of praise for this game. Is it really such a great game? Yes and no. Yes because it resurrects and restarts a moribund franchise and adds some fantastic ideas to it, and no because it's so poorly balanced and laid out.

Clash has a neat concept at its core that's getting a lot of play lately: The puzzle/strategy/RPG with a story. Puzzle Quest started it, Puzzle Kingdoms made it boring, Henry Hatsworth threw in platforming, and Clash of Heroes brings it back to puzzle/strategy. The concept, in a nutshell is this: Match three or more units together. They'll march forward in a straight line after a set amount of turns and do damage to whatever is in front of them. Your opponent on the upper screen will do the same thing to you. Use this method to defeat a variety of other heroes and bosses with some variations. In some cases, the enemy moves around the field of play, meaning you have to figure out where they're going before you can stop them. In some cases, your units have different powers, like consuming unmatched units in order to boost attack power or leaving a trail of poison in their attack's wake. When you win a battle, you and your units gain experience points.

The underlying mechanics are great fun. Learning the intricacies and timing of this system is fantastic, and the variety of units makes it a pleasure to play. In fact, that's what makes the entire game so frustrating. Here's the problem with Clash of Heroes: It's horribly, horribly unbalanced. It succumbs to what I call Brick Wall Difficulty.

Brick Wall Difficulty can be described like this: You're tooling along, everything's great, the game's been challenging but not overly so. All of a sudden WHAM you hit a wall. You try every skill you have developed in the game to pass it, and you simply can't. It takes an inordinate amount of time to get over the hump, and in some cases it doesn't matter what you do. You will still always hit that wall.

Clash has several such walls. The difficulty spikes almost at random. They don't point you in the way of a solution, they don't help you get over the hump, but they just stare at you and say "Deal." While some may say that this shows trust in the gamer and appreciation for tradition, it really doesn't. It just shows that there were a few too many rough edges in the game and no one involved in the making of it cared. That's a real problem, since the underlying mechanics make you want to play more. You'd like to continue onward, but the game keeps getting in the way.

A few things that contribute to the Brick Wall Difficulty spikes: You're constantly changing characters and starting over from scratch with new ones. Any skills, items, or experience gained from the previous encounters is lost. How could this have been remedied? Allow us to carry over the characters, skills, or items. It's that simple. Even allowing the items to be carried over would be excellent. Instead, you're left running around to do sidequests in an attempt to gain some items that might help you later on knowing full well that as soon as you beat the level's boss you'll lose them all over again.

It leads me to believe that the makers of the game weren't really sure of what the focus of Clash should be. Is it a multiplayer game where the single-player is just to train you on the different factions? If so, then why did they spend so much time crafting a story for it? Is it a single-player game where the multiplayer is there to extend your experience? Then why did they not smooth out the rough edges in the single-player game?

All told, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes had potential. However, in order to see this potential, we'll probably have to wait for the inevitable sequel. Let's hope they learned the right lessons.

Final Rating: C-