The weird thing about sleeper hits is they sneak up behind you and beat the holy hell out of you, like a mugger in a dark alley. There you are, playing some game like Modern Warfare 2, a game with millions of advertising dollars telling you it’s great and you should play it. You are obediently basking in the manufactured hype when Might and Magic Clash of Heroes sneaks into your house and steals your life away. I haven’t played Modern Warfare 2 in weeks, and it seems like all I do in my free time is hold my DS.
Longtime fans of the Might and Magic series may be a little put off by Clash of Heroes at first. It has almost nothing in common with the venerable computer role playing games of yore and little in common with Ubisoft’s reboot of the series. I know I’m a total Might and Magic noob (I was less than a year old when the first game was released in ‘86) but my unfamiliarity let me judge Clash of Heroes on its own merits. Considering that aside from its title it’s basically a completely new game, it’s good to look at it fresh.
At its core Clash of Heroes is a turn-based strategy RPG. The land of Ashan is inhabited by four races—Sylvan (elves), Haven (humans), Necromancers and Mages. These four are at war with the demon horde, which returns to Ashan in search of a mystical blade that can bind demons. You play five sequential campaigns as five different young adults who are swept up in the conflict. Each race has its own unique attributes, which factor hugely into the gameplay.
Each world map in Ashan is navigated by traveling between pre-set nodes. At first I thought this would make gameplay too linear and simple, but I was surprised to find a lot of complexity worked into the maps. Secret caves, side missions, bonus items and resources are hidden all over Ashan. The nodes are really just there to keep players from getting lost, and can be navigated with either the D-pad or touch screen. In fact, all of the controls work this way; after a few hours playing with the stylus I switched over the buttons.
Navigating the overworld is all well and good, but the main thrust of the game is the brilliant combat system. When exploring Ashan you’ll encounter enemy after enemy, and engage in battle. Your formations line up along the bottom screen, while the enemy appears on the top screen. Your objective is usually to penetrate the enemy’s forces and strike the opposite side of the playing field, dealing XP damage to the enemy commander.
Of course, your opponent is trying to do the same thing to you, and this is why you must manage your formations wisely. Your units are arranged in a grid, consisting of three colors and multiple types. Line three of the same type and color in a vertical column and they’ll charge up, ready for attack. A number represents how many turns they have until they are charged, and their personal HP is presented as a health bar; this HP value also represents how hard they’ll hit when they attack.
Arrange three units of a kind in a horizontal line, and they’ll form a protective barrier. These barriers can be stacked and are essential for defense or turtling up, because they diminish the enemy forces’ attack power and can usually stop smaller units in their tracks before being destroyed. As you use basic units or they fall in battle, your forces are diminished and you must call for reinforcements.
These two basic formations can be expanded by a staggering amount of strategy. Just the three colors and types of basic units offer a lot of possibilities, but these can be supplemented by different kinds of basic soldiers and elite units. Elites offer unique and powerful attacks, but require two or more basic units behind them to activate and take longer to charge. They must also be enlisted from special garrisons for cash and resources; they don’t infinitely reinforce like the basic types, giving you incentive to preserve them from being killed needlessly. Using elites takes some clever planning but the benefits of their unique attacks more than make up for it. Priests heal your HP, deer soldiers can bypass enemy barricades, and angels literally bring the finger of god down onto the field, striking a devastating blow.
Using these attacks, or any attack for that matter, takes solid strategy. Each turn you typically get three moves to work with. Every time you rearrange a unit, delete one or reinforce your position, you use up a move. Once your moves are gone it’s the enemy’s turn, and you’ll soon find yourself thinking several moves ahead as you agonize over your methodically built offense. Thankfully, three moves aren’t all you have to deal with if you have a little luck and shrewdness on your side.
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