It's hard to know what to say about a game like Might and Magic Heroes: Era of Chaos. It's two games, really. The first is a linear series of missions that offer some simple tactical choices, but never really does much to engage the player. The second, which you can't access until you've reached level 20, is an experimental multiplayer game that manages to capture the spirit of the old Heroes of Might and Magic games.
Both of these games are absolutely buried in a maze of menus, energy bars, and timers that are designed to hook an addiction-prone mind so that you keep coming back. Not because you enjoy it, but because you're worried you'll miss something if you don't log in over and over again.
For the uninitiated, Might and Magic Heroes:Era of Chaos is something of a spin-off of the long-running Heroes of Might and Magic series of strategy games. These games had players recruit and control armies of fantasy creatures across a dangerous world map in pursuit of conquest.
Once more, without feeling
This new mobile offering is a return to the world of Heroes of Might and Magic III, which is widely considered to be the best game in the series. It is not, however, a retread of the gameplay that made the third game so popular.
To start, the only thing Era of Chaos lets players do is make their way through the linear story, fighting one battle after another. These battles each begin by positioning troops in a way that makes the most sense compared to their enemy's formation. Then, you let your troops loose and toss spells at the ensuing chaos as you desperately hope you had some sort of idea what you were doing.
It's a far more hands-off approach than what its namesake series used to offer, in which players had direct control over how each battle plays out, and the game loses something in the change. That's not to say that the battles are uninteresting, though. There's some nuance to be found in which troops to send into battle, how to position your army, and when and where to cast spells. It's a bit difficult, however, to feel invested in these battles, especially since every unit lost automatically gets fully healed by the next battle.
I Wish I Could Quit You
These battles make up the core of a deviously-designed system of psychological tricks and Gacha mechanics that are thick enough to absolutely drown in. There are six different shops that all use different currencies, twelve different menus that hand out bonuses at different intervals, and so many different systems involved in improving your heroes and units that they'd be impossible to keep track of if there weren't little red dots that told you whenever an upgrade was available.
The thing is, most of these systems don't involve much player choice - all the upgrades are a set progression for each unit, and all the bonuses are dolled out in roughly the same order. If the game wanted to, it could automate most of this stuff and players would have the same amount of depth.
The system is just there to take up your time as you tap on each icon, find the right place to upgrade your artifacts or equipment or rank or level, and then get a little happy feeling as you watch the numbers go up. The more time you spend, the more invested you feel, and the more likely you are to shell out some cash when the game sticks a roadblock in front of you that can only be passed by waiting a few hours or digging out your credit card.
More and more game features unlock as players grow their army and carry on, and most of it is slight variations on the exact hands-off gameplay described earlier. There are some interesting ideas, of course - some are fights against other players, one is a fight against a giant dragon, another is a battle against endless swarms of dwarves - but all of them are just a set of individual battles where you arrange your troops then let them loose.
All Together, Now
Then, the "Guild Adventure" unlocks, and it's like somebody pulled back a curtain and revealed that some of the game's designers had played a Heroes of Might and Magic game before, and wanted to do the series justice.
It's a fascinating idea that has players in each guild working together as they move their armies across a shared hex-based world-map. You fight monsters and collect equipment on your own, and team up with other guild members to finish quests and defeat bosses. You can even open up a portal into another guild's land and battle it out with the opposing team.
It's a mode that could have - and I'd argue should have - been the main attraction. Instead, it's hampered by the rest of the game, hidden behind the endless system of menus and skinner boxes that are transparently designed to suck money out of your pocket. The game even severely limits how many moves you can take in a day in an attempt to get you back on the addiction treadmill.
The most telling thing to say about Era of Chaos is that players will spend at least two-thirds of their time navigating its manipulative, time-wasting psychological tricks instead of actually taking part in the game that's on display. It's a shame, too, since there's actually a game in there that is worth playing - it's just buried underneath every single free-to-play pitfall the developers could assemble into one package.
Perhaps I've been spoiled by Apple Arcade, where the games are allowed to focus on simply being enjoyable games rather than exploitative ways of reaching into players' wallets. Perhaps I'm naive in thinking that a game should be able to succeed on its own merits rather than by studying human psychology and figuring out the most-effective way to make someone dole out a continuous supply of cash.
But one thing I know is that the moment I uninstalled Might and Magic Heroes: Era of Chaos, it felt like a huge relief. I was no longer exposed to its life-sucking schemes, and I have no desire to dive back into them.
An iOS review copy of Might and Magic Heroes: Era of Chaos was provided to TheGamer for this review. Might and Magic Heroes: Era of Chaos will be available on iOS and Android devices.
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