An Appeal to Nostalgia
Might & Magic Heroes: Era of Chaos is the latest game in the Heroes of Might and Magic series that first appeared in 1995. It is a retelling of HOMM III, which is considered by many to be the best entry in the franchise. In total, there are seven games in the core series and seven spin-offs.
No reason to worry though. You don’t need to have played previous HOMM games to understand what’s going on. As with many mobile games based on established gaming franchises, this one does not boast the depth of gameplay found in its counterparts. It’s a simplified and gacha-fied version of the games that have come before. If you play Era of Chaos with nostalgia-fueled expectations, those expectations might mar your gaming experience. This is not a Heroes of Might and Magic game as you have known it.
Even the story is just a shadow of the one it’s retelling. Sure, Catherine makes a return, location names on the map are familiar, and the opening cutscene may hit you in the nostalgia feels. I soon stopped reading the story blurbs though and I skipped through dialog simply because it wasn’t interesting. None of it had any impact on the gameplay or my understanding of what was happening. And that’s because nothing much was happening besides repetitive battles.
This Is Not the Combat Your HOMM Taught You
Story mode has two maps, overworld and underworld, reminiscent of other HOMM strategy titles. In Era of Chaos though it’s completely linear. You move from location to location, almost on rails, and have to conquer each location before you can progress to the next.
Unlike previous turn-based Heroes of Might and Magic games, battles in Era of Chaos happen in real time. They are also automated for the most part and this can be off-putting at first. One of the strong points of the HOMM series is the ability to direct your troops exactly as you see fit. Mastering the abilities of the various unit types and adroitly using them to conquer specific enemy groups could often change the course of battle.
The automation of fights in Era of Chaos means that this key element has been removed. Other than using your hero to cast spells when they’re not on cooldown, you often feel like you’re not even participating in battle, but rather watching AI do whatever it wants with no input from you whatsoever. Once on the battlefield, you can’t direct where troops go or who they attack. In fact, in PVP arenas you do literally nothing besides watch and can even skip directly to the end. Not only is this kind of dull, but it lacks the basic interactivity a person expects when playing a game.
It’s Not All Bad
The fast pace of battles would make it extremely difficult to control both your hero and individual troops in real time. Some battles last only 20 seconds, and that’s simply not enough time for one person to oversee every move of their army. But encounters are not entirely passive. Before each battle, you can set up your troop deployment and view the layout of enemy forces. So a little bit of strategy comes into play. You select the order in which your units will initially engage the enemy. Then by placing specific troops at particular locations, you can make use of their special abilities. The Cavalier, for example, if given a clear path to charge, will rush past enemy units to attack the rear. The few times I’ve lost battles, I found that rearranging my troops or switching them out for different classes made all the difference.
You start the game with only three unit types, but there are dozens to unlock. This adds a fun, deck-building aspect to the game. Classes cover the typical melee, defense, ranged, and caster types, and different units have different rarities, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Each can be upgraded or ignored as you see fit. So after a while, you’ll have an army customized to your playing style. As you collect units, you’ll discover another tactical element of the game: unit synergy. Some units synergize well together. The Wood Elf, for example, has a greater chance to use her Double Strike attack against slowed targets. So putting her on the battlefield with the Centaur, who causes Slow, is a good idea.
Dazed and Confused, or Maybe Just Bored
There’s an almost mind-boggling number of modes in the game. In addition to story mode, there are three PVP modes, training grounds, an area to grind for XP and gold, and a gauntlet-like campaign map. Joining a guild opens up the guild adventure map, which is entirely separate from the maps used in story mode and has its own maze of quests and objectives.
This variety of things to do can make the game seem overwhelmingly deep at first, but ultimately you’re doing the same battles over and over again. Enemies change, but the pace and difficulty doesn’t. As your troops level up, so do the enemies. I reached level 40 and noticed very little difference in difficulty or strategizing from when I first started the game. It soon became mind numbing and repetitive.
Also, some of this perceived depth is artificial and due only to the convoluted menu system, a tactic used by some mobile games to entice players to spend money on unnecessary resources. The main screen is covered with icons, each of which lead to achievement lists, limited time offers, in-game mail rewards, daily, story, and arena challenges, and on and on. I didn’t even find the game volume options until I’d played for several hours. Contrary to the logic of sound game design, everything isn’t accessible in one place. It’s a labyrinth of menus that’s almost a game in itself to navigate through.
Playing For Free
Mobile games are known for their gacha mechanics that entice players to spend real money. Era of Chaos is no different, but you can indeed play for free. There are six shops, each with a different currency type, and I admit I don’t understand the purpose of them all. In the end, they’re just more things to collect. I never found myself running low enough on resources or funds to hinder my ability to play. I never had to put down my device to wait for something to recharge.
Ultimately, those who come to the game with happy memories of previous Heroes of Might and Magic games are most likely to be disappointed. However, if you judge the game solely on its own merits, you will have fun for a while. Era of Chaos is not a groundbreaker, but it’s a more than decent way to pass the time for a few days or weeks.
Is it Hardcore?
Era of Chaos offers a nearly overwhelming amount of content hidden behind a labyrinth of confusing menus. Partially or entirely automated battles eliminate a lot of player involvement and eventually become repetitive. It’s entertaining for a while, but nothing that will be installed long term.