"The perception at the moment is that hardcore gamers don't play browser games. The only people who play browser games are players who click on advertising banners and things like that," says Doru Apreotesei, Creative Supervisor on Might & Magic Heroes Online. "But with Might & Magic Heroes Online we've had a lot of people come up to us and say that this game has a higher skill ceiling than a lot of games that they've actually paid upfront for."
There's no doubt that Ubisoft Bluebyte are aiming for a more hardcore crowd with their latest Might & Magic game, a free-to-play game that runs in any browser. Problem is, most players who regard themselves as hardcore also have strong opinions on both free-to-play and browser games - mostly negative ones.
Heroes Online is unlikely to change these perceptions, but despite that we enjoyed the game we played minutes before our interview with Apreotesei. It's an isometric, top-down RPG filled with classic fantasy lore, loads of chest-looting, and some seriously strategic turn-based combat. We played the start of the Haven campaign, although the open Beta - due later this year - will launch with Necropolis too.
Navigating the world is as simple as point and click, and you can see all your friends exploring the same space as their ghostly knights gallop around the map. Find yourself stumped by a battle, and you can quickly invite another player to fight alongside you. It's a smart system.
Our first fight happens pretty quickly and we square off against... some kind of angry tree. It's little more than sword-sharpening practice for our knight, but does a good job of explaining the battle system. The combat area is a honeycomb of hexagonal zones, and you move your units through the zones to reach enemies (again, by pointing and clicking). It's all turn-based - movement, attacking and skills are rolled into a single 'player move' - and although early scraps are simple, single sessions, later fights will have multiple waves. So, if you barely survive the first wave, you're likely to get smashed in the second. This adds an extra layer of tactical depth to the combat, which is by far and away the best thing about Heroes Online.
During the game you'll be able to customise your character, focusing on either might or magic abilities, and add different unit types and creatures to your army. Importantly, everything is completely faithful to the lore - units and characters genuinely behave as they should in this world.
Perhaps this is because Ubisoft Bluebyte are really listening to what fans want from a Might & Magic game. "We're definitely targeting this game at the 'Heroes' fan-base - not because they're our biggest source of revenue, but because they're a barometer of quality," says Apreotesei. "We invited a bunch of VIP Might & Magic fans in to the office to basically tear us a new one, because that's what we need them to do in order to make sure we're making the right game. If we can satisfy these dedicated Might & Magic fans, and make a game that they enjoy, then it'll certainly be something that less dedicated players will like too because the quality will be so high." We'll find out how much quality the developers (and the fans) can cram into this game ahead of its late summer 2013 open Beta.