February 18th saw the release of Might and Magic Heroes VII’s latest patch, which included The Lost Tales of Axeoth, a series of new maps that pay homage to the franchise’s fourth instalment. Fans speculate that the rationale behind Axeoth lies in Ubisoft’s attempt at catering to the displeased fan base, at reigniting nostalgic interest.
Might and Magic Heroes VII was, suffice it to say, not well received.
The trends apparent in the initial releases of the past three Heroes games were enough to put off many fans. Innumerable bugs, gameplay restrictions, lack of coherence between game size and visuals… it seemed that Heroes was on a continuing path to devolution.
As I scoured the major Heroes community forums to observe the reactions to Axeoth, I noticed that the damage had been done.
Only a handful seemed genuinely interested.
Most fans simply had had enough.
Although I tend to fall under the former, I aim to claim the following with a degree of impartiality: while bugs, gameplay restrictions, and weak visuals all legitimately contribute to the failure of the title’s latest instalment, there are two often unspoken factors that contribute just as equally.
The Heroes franchise had been funded and produced by several companies within its twenty-one year legacy. New World Computing, 3DO, Ubisoft, Nival, Black Hole, Virtuos, Limbic— though each had a hand in shaping the franchise to its current state, the handing of the torch between companies carried inevitable and difficult changes that were (mostly) unwelcome.
Heroes VII’s current publisher, Ubisoft, and developer, Limbic Entertainment, have arguably made the most radical changes. In order to get community involvement on various decisions, Ubisoft set up the Shadow Council, a means by which fans can influence the shaping of the game via partaking in online surveys.
The rub? Even during the alpha and beta phases, fans cried havoc on the implementation of a skill wheel that allowed Hero classes to plan the acquisition of skills, at the cost of having to choose from a pre-selected set of 10. For the non-Heroes fans, this might seem inconsequential but when there are a total of 23 skills, 10/23 seems quite limiting.
Limbisoft’s response? An eleven point snippy justification on why they would eventually choose to keep the skill wheel despite community outcries.
To discuss the minutiae of the random-freedom VS procedural-restrictive debate would take more pages than the Upanishads. But concerning Limbisoft’s justification…
Is this the way to reward fans? To welcome community input?
A few more “justifications” on the part of community liaisons (which I cannot cite, as I’ve already spent two hours trying to find these examples in forums with 1000+ pages) and more than half a year later…
Limbisoft is paying the price—a mediocre game at best lacking in content and playability and the fans’ insatiable mistrust.
What was the point of the Shadow Council again?
I have never seen more unhappy gamers than Heroes fans. One only need visit the official site to garner exposure to the cat lady-like comments being made in relation to the VIIth instalment.
Feeling adventurous? Try some of the Heroes community forums. Misery truly loves company.
The fan whinging is not completely unwarranted. Many of these fans (such as I) have stayed loyal since the series’ inception. To see a game with a simple concept devolve into a game with standards unfit to compete upon release is, in a word, disheartening.
But the nasty rhetoric is far from productive for the series’ future. It discourages the producers, spreads similar thinking to fans that are genuinely hopeful, and detracts potential consumers from game immersion.
Who are the true heroes?
This interplay between fans and developers remind me a bit of Masaru Emoto’s water experiments, where he claimed that water has molecular properties that change in appearance depending on the messages it receives daily. The frozen water that received expressions of gratitude looked more beautiful than that which received hate.
Sounds like New Agey shit? It most likely is, as Emoto has refused to reenact his experiments within highly controlled environments.
But since we are dealing with human consciousness, i.e. the game producers and fans, we can liken their relationship to that of a parent and its child. Show the child love and support and it will flourish. Give it neglect and disdain and expect nothing short of a mal-adjusted, volatile vaj spawn.
But between the fans and the producers, who are the parents and who are the children?
It doesn’t matter.
There are no heroes here.
The producers have listened to some fan feedback such as the remodeling of two Necropolis units, but on issues that truly matter—the gameplay, the visuals, even the suggestion to have the title’s release pushed back—the cries have fallen on deaf ears… Or the improvement efforts are taking too long to implement.
As far as the disgruntled fans, the sensibly adult thing to do when an intellectual property that you love is not up to par is to let it go. Get your money back, continue playing old mods, wallow in past titles that made the series for you. But to continuously berate the series and the people who have worked on them (for better or worse), to wish for the series’ end, to spread the misery so that others may share in yours, is…
… Perplexingly childish.
Deep down, perhaps these naysayers yearn too for a brighter tomorrow for the Heroes games?
After all, why waste so much negative energy on something for which they have lost all hope?