Might & Magic Heroes VI: Shades of Darkness – PC
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Virtuos
Release Date: May 2, 2013
Genre: Strategy, RPG
Reviewed by Dean Engle

Review Score: 4 of 5

At one time the Heroes of Might & Magic franchise was the epitome of turn based strategy games. That time was almost fifteen years ago when Heroes of Might and Magic III was release, and almost everything related to the franchise since then has been disappointing at best aside from the small scale, Nintendo DS puzzle game Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes released in 2009. Then, in 2011 Might & Magic Heroes VI was released to a generally positive reaction, but it still didn’t live up to the expectations of past success in the franchise. The stand alone expansion Might & Magic Heroes VI: Shades of Darkness tries to improve on some parts of the game while also adding new content including two new campaigns, a new Dark Elf faction, and many new creatures and buildings.

Unfortunately, Shades of Darkness suffers from the same problems that plagued its predecessor. Although some of the game-breaking bugs have been patched since its release, there are still many bugs that result in crashes and game systems simply not working as intended. I didn’t run into as many bugs as some reviewers or fans who bought the game on day one of release, but shipping a product this broken two years after the previous product was just as broken is inexcusable.

Once you get past some of the unfortunate bugs, Shades of Darkness is actually an extremely fun game that harkens back to the fantastic days of Heroes of Might & Magic. For those who’ve never played a game in this franchise, Might & Magic Heroes VI: Shades of Darkness is a turned based strategy game that takes resource management and overworld elements from games like Civilization, but also offers a much more in depth combat system that happens on a grid based sunscreen similar to games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. The combination of these two turn based strategy elements into one game is what the franchise is known for, and Shades of Darkness does this as good, if not better, than any other game released in the last few years.

The new campaigns offer lengthy sequences mixed with narrative motivations to give context to the strategy within the game rather than it simply being a game of defeating all the opposing forces or meeting win conditions like other turn based strategy games require. The game also looks fantastic with the addition of the new faction and a focus on the darker side of the fantasy genre. All of the creatures have beautiful designs whether they be appropriately grotesque or pristine. All of these things combine to create a game like no other that looks amazing and delivers a fantastic strategy experience that can’t be found anywhere else.

When Shades of Darkness is good, it’s great, but the game suffers from some difficulty problems that end up forcing you to replay large sections of the game if you haven’t planned accordingly for any upcoming difficult battles. Mistakes can be made early on in the game that end up preventing you from advancing through the game even though there was no way of knowing those specific actions were going to be detrimental to your overall progress when they were made. That means you have to go back and replay hours of the game over again in order to figure out the exact path the designers intended you to take.

As the ‘strategy’ in the turn based strategy genre implies, these types of games usually offer a variety of options for progression. One should be able to employee a number of different strategies to overcome a specific obstacle. Might & Magic Heroes VI: Shades of Darkness, however, requires a fairly strict adherence to a set path in order to be successful. There is obviously still some variety in the order things can be done and where resources can be spent, but the ability to recover from any mistakes is almost nonexistent. This means a game that should be an in depth clash of strategies and management turns into a grueling game of trial and error that requires hours of replaying if you aren’t already familiar with the exact objectives in each campaign.

Might & Magic Heroes VI: Shades of Darkness adds some great content to an already decent game. It’s definitely a great value as a standalone expansion for $30, even if there are some disappointing problems with bugs and difficulty balance. Just like Might & Magic Heroes VI, Shades of Darkness doesn’t live up to the previous high points in the franchise, but the beautiful art design and unique mix of turn based strategy elements make such this feature filled, lengthy experience definitely worth a look, especially considering the price.