Thunderbirds Are GO!
In many ways, the turn-based Heroes spinoffs of the Might & Magic series have proven more resilient than their RPG brethren, tending to rise higher in the critical standings, attracting greater audiences, and delivering more memorable experiences. But it hasn't all been plain sailing. Heroes VI, releasing in October 2011 to moderate acclaim, fared fairly well. Sadly the same could not be said of its developers, with tensions between Black Hole and Ubisoft stretched to breaking point. Something had to give and the buggy Heroes VI was left somewhat stranded without support.
Enter Limbic Entertainment, who've been furiously patching the beast for nine months to try and restore some semblence of order. But there's no doubt that something big is required. Something to bring fans both old and new together again, to breathe new life into Heroes VI.
That something, or should we say someone, is Crag Hack.
The first expansion pack for Heroes VI, coming later this week at £7.99, will see the return of the barbarian legend who's been a series mainstay since he first appeared in Might & Magic : The Secret of the Inner Sanctum as Crag the Hack. He's often had a bit of a makeover, he's been a human and a dwarf, living in Enroth, Erathia, and now Ashan, but every time we've crossed paths he's been a beardy barbarian, usually sporting a liberally horned helm, and his offensive melee stats have been the best around.
His latest adventure sees him cast as a pirate, sporting a fetching eye patch for added menace. The titular Savage Seas encapsulate a patch of Ashan's rocky coastline, and a number of islands home to buccanneering folks, bandits, thieves, cutthroats, and other unsavoury types. Typically, Crag Hack has fitted in rather nicely.
But it would seem that something is amiss (well, more than usual). Ships and sailors have been disappearing, freak weather conditions abound, rumours borne upon the wind speak of a legendary creature whose name shall surely prick the ears of anyone who played Heroes III. It is said that a Thunderbird has descended upon the islands and is wreaking havoc...and only our legendary barabarian pirate is able enough, and brave enough, to sort things out.
It's an expansion, not an overhaul, so our 20 minutes or so of hands-on time with the game essentially played out like a quick spin on Heroes VI. We did manage to island hop a little bit, and witness the diverse conditions and environments that Ubisoft have stuffed into the game. We were just getting stuck into a chapter that saw an imprisoned Crag Hack fending off the violent attentions of a bunch of nagas when a rep came over and booted up the "Hero Demo" save file that pimped our barbarian's stats out to maximum and set us up on a completely different island.
"Prepare yourself for a boss fight," he said mildly. WARNING: Spoilers imminent.
After ridding the island of gold, sticking our flag in a bunch of mines and sawmills, and adding another ten cyclopes to our ranks just for good measure, we booted a Haven hero out of their town and set off for the top of a nearby mountain. We found ourselves greeted by a heavy storm, and a fat cutscene.
And then the Thunderbird appeared.
Forget your evolved Rocs with hit points in double figures, this moody whirlwind was packing several tens of thousands. Others around me fell by the wayside, unable to deal with the bird's chained lightning attacks, and disoriented by the Thunderbird's irritating ability to conjure up a tornado and change a player's unit placements. More a battle of attrition and endurance rather than anything else, I'm still left unconvinced by single boss battles, but it was nice to receive the Thunderbird as a pet afterwards, even if the victory cutscene basically suggested that you'd quested for ten hours because an overgrown electric eagle basically got bored.
To be honest, though, the return of a Heroes legend and an all-new 10-hour campaign is exactly what we want from an expansion, and at £7.99 it's not a package to be sniffed at. There's more too: the world of Varn (fans of the original game will remember that name) has been fully recreated here too, with a bunch of new quest items and artefacts to be had, essentially giving players two campaigns in one.
And even if you're not bothered about the return of Crag Hack, there's still good news. Update 1.5 is inbound and will not only be fixing number of persistent bugs, but will allow players to finally synchronise online and offline saves. There are some balancing tweaks being made too, and (perhaps best of all) the big fat patch will also give players the option to deploy all-new, hand-crafted 2D town screens for all factions, much like those found in previous instalments of the series. The omission of the town screen caused some minor uproar when Heroes VI first appeared, but now at the push of a button you'll be able to behold your citadel in all its glory, and more easily assess unit production, market development, and fortifications.
Oh, and the patch is completely free.
Might and Magic Heroes VI: Pirates of the Savage Sea, and Patch 1.5 will both release on July 12th.