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The history and fall of Might and Magic games

Remembering an iconic series

Last week, Ubisoft unveiled Might & Magic: Chess Royale. This mobile title attempts to combine the autobattler genre with battle royale mechanics, much like Blizzard’s Hearthstone Battlegrounds combined it with a CCG.

In gameplay footage, it looks like a standard auto chess game, with the addition of a round-based matchmaking system. Starting with a hundred strong bracket, each individual win sees you matched against another survivor, until there’s only one player left. This may sound like an arduous affair, but the publisher assures us that matches will only take around 10 minutes. Looking over the game’s site, it appears that it will feature the usual hero-collector mechanics to monetize.

The announcement comes at an odd time. While the big battle royales are still being played quite a lot, their crazy growth of the last few years is starting to stabilize. The newer auto chess genre, meanwhile, is already on the decline. This is despite titles like Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics not even having left their respective beta phases yet. What the new game has to do with the original franchise is not clear either but that, sadly, has become a hallmark of its more recent entries.

Fifteen minutes of Might & Magic: Chess Royale gameplay.

Of Might and.. well you know this one

When you hear “Might & Magic” these days, you’re forgiven for thinking of the Heroes series first. In fact, while reading up on this new game, that’s the one that most journos brought up as well. The franchise is a lot older, however. It’s right up there with Ultima and Wizardry as one of the original PC RPGs, on par with something like The Elder Scrolls these days.

The series’ plot centered around a race of powerful aliens known as the Ancients, who seeded life on planets across the galaxy. Along the way, they ended up at war with a void race known as the Kreegans. To protect their fledgling worlds from them, the Ancients assigned each a guardian. Unfortunately, one of these guardians, Sargeras… eh sorry, Sheltem, goes crazy and decides to burn it all down instead. It’s up to your group of adventurers to travel across the worlds to stop him.

Foiling Sheltem took up the first five games in the series, at which point Heroes of Might & Magic was released. Basically a reskin of developer New World Computing’s earlier game, King’s Bounty, it brought the familiar turn-based, map-exploring gameplay we associate with the franchise now. Its first four games, as well as Might & Magic 6 through 9 all take place on a single planet called Enroth. They follow the houses of Ironfist and Gryphonheart as they navigate the fall out of the Ancients’ ongoing war.

Heroes of Might & Magic 3

Heroes of Might & Magic’s map is what the series is now most famous for.

The mobile years

At this point in time, New Word Computing was dealing with some fallout of its own. Specifically, its parent company 3DO filed for bankruptcy in 2003. This is where Ubisoft picked up the rights to the name.

The publisher would put out one more Might & Magic game and three additional Heroes games. Taking place on a new world, Ashan, they were generic fantasy affairs and largely disconnected from the previous plot. They were also marred with technical issues and intrusive DRM. Said problems persisted among following spin-off titles like Dark Messiah of Might & Magic until, eventually, the series more or less died.

Only, of course, it wasn’t allowed to. Since Heroes 7, there have been two web-based games with the Might & Magic title, a puzzle-strategy game and at least three other mobile titles with little to no relation to the main series. It gives the impression of Ubisoft just slapping the label on any game featuring knights and wizards to squeeze some more value out of its IP. Which is a real shame because, with today’s technology, a proper installment could invigorate one of PC gaming’s oldest RPG series. Instead, we get its heroes, auto-battling into perpetuity, until their origins are completely forgotten.

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