Review: Might & Magic Heroes: Era of Chaos
Here at Gamer Escape, doing the same-old, same-old just isn’t good enough. So we’re switching things up a bit here with a mobile game review! Now I’m personally not the biggest mobile game player out there. That said, I do have a bit of a soft spot for what are commonly known as “gacha games.” These are typically mobile games with an RPG or puzzle game format, where you form a team of characters, some of whom can be found as you play, and others are obtained through spending special currency on a random draw of a selection of characters, essentially like a capsule or “gachapon” vending machine as they are known, which is how this mobile genre got its name.
Might & Magic Heroes: Era of Chaos (Free-to-play on iOS and Android), developed by Ourpalm and Playcrab and published by Ubisoft Mobile, is one of these sort of titles, based on the famous Heroes of Might & Magic franchise and bearing some resemblance to other RPG-based gacha games. The question is, will it rise out from the pack, or will it get lost in a sea of overly similar games? Let’s break it down and find out!
Saving the Kingdom
Era of Chaos starts up with an honestly rather cliche fantasy world story. All was fine and peaceful in the kingdom of Erathia. The king of the land sends his only daughter, Catherine, off on some voyage of personal discovery or something (the exact reason isn’t really made clear). Everything is okay in the land for a while until the king is poisoned and killed under mysterious circumstances, and the land spirals into chaos upon Catherine’s return.
Following this, the game’s tutorial launches, with Catherine arriving by ship to a small island to rest, resupply, and recruit help. A fairy discovers her and offers to guide her as she makes preparations to return and retake her homeland, with a lot of decently written dialogue scenes as you learn the game’s mechanics.
Unfortunately, once you complete this tutorial chapter and the game begins proper, that’s really about all you get for story. There are very sparse dialogue scenes updating you on the state of the realm as you progress, but it is rather lacking for its intention of being a part of a long-running RPG series. Additionally, the opening scene and the tutorial feature decent voice acting, but this gradually fades away as you get into things.
At the simplest level, the gameplay consists of two components. Firstly, building an army of units of various types, such as ranged attackers, spellcasters, defenders, melee attackers, and charging units, which you arrange into a formation and send into real-time combat with a hero from the Might & Magic world leading them. The second component can be summed up as tapping through an obnoxious number of menus, dialog, and map screens to collect all your items and resources, upgrade your troops, and recruit new ones. I’ve played my share of such games and let me tell you, the menu navigation, resource gathering, and upgrading takes as long if not longer as the actual gameplay segments themselves. They really went a little overboard here, and it ends up making the game seem more complex than it really is.
So let’s talk about the combat, which is the main focus of the game. Before a battle, you from a squad of units and place them onto a 4×4 formation grid. You look at the enemy’s formation and units and try to set up your own to counter it. Once you send them into battle, everything plays out automatically, and each type of unit follows a particular pattern of behavior and uses its own special skills automatically. While this is taking place, you can use the special skills of the hero you selected to influence the tide of the battle, be it magic spells or physical attacks to damage specific enemies, summoning temporary units, or casting crowd control or healing spells. That’s the extent of your interaction of the game; you spend most of the time just watching.
Most of the strategy and depth comes out of choosing the right units and setting up a good formation to counter that of the enemy. You have to consider both the type and the arrangement of the enemy forces, as well as what types of damage and crowd control they are weak against. While there is a good amount of depth there and poor planning can certainly turn things sour for you, I find the relative lack of interactivity during the battle itself to be somewhat boring.
This gets worse during the game’s Arena mode, which is basically an asynchronous PvP mode where you pit your team and formation against that of other players. In this mode, though, you can’t do anything at all but watch. Auto-battle is forced on and you can’t choose when and where to cast your hero spells. It’s all just done for you, and seemingly at random. Not the most fun part of the game, to say the least.
The gathering of resources and upgrading your troops is, as alluded to previously, a chore and pretty mindless. The “gear” for your units is fixed, so there’s minimal decision making, and upgrading them could really be condensed down to a single button but actually requires a lot of tapping to carry out. The game really, really needs a “Upgrade All” button for unit upgrading, and a “Collect All” button for receiving all your rewards and gifts and collecting all your resources, because it takes up way too much of the time you spend playing. The battle system and the strategy that goes into it is decent, but the constant tapping through dozens of menu was a real test of patience for me.
Artistically, Era of Chaos is a mixed bag. There are some quite beautifully drawn works of art for loading backdrops, the heroes, and the town which serves as the home screen. In battle, the visuals are just okay, with fairly generic cartoonish art for the battle units on top of a well-drawn background (but sometimes, that background makes the characters look massive, like they’re fighting on top of a satellite image). The animation is good, but on the whole, the battle sequences look like something from the SNES era and it doesn’t really push the envelope at all for mobile games. This does mean that pretty much any phone that can run the required version of your operating system will mostly likely handle the game without trouble.
The sound for the most part is just average. The early story sequences do feature some pretty decent voice acting, which is surprising for a game like this, but outside of that, the music and sound throughout the game just sounds really generic and stock-like, and you’ll probably end up turning it off fairly quickly.
Now you may have never heard of the developers of Era of Chaos, and that’s because this game was outsourced to China, like a lot of famous IP mobile games seem to be these days. Unfortunately, this does show in the game, mostly in the form of localization issues. The game uses weird terminology in a lot of places (The game kept telling me to “top-up” whenever I tried to use a feature that needed more gems or required VIP status, as if we were talking about filling a tank of gas) and there are a fair few grammatical gaffes and some awkward English throughout, like telling me to “loot the place of gold” in the image below. Am I looting a place that has gold in it? Or am I looting a gold-colored place? (One would assume any place you’re looting has something valuable in it…)
The mediocre quality of the rest of the game also seems to reflect this. While I didn’t run into any major bugs or problems and the server uptime has been solid, the whole experience just feels rough around the edges. Unfortunately, I feel like the outsourcing is to blame.
Now to be fair, there are some really good Asia-based studios out there that have made some mobile games I am a fan of. Era of Chaos, though, is decent at best, but falls well short of what some of the studios you’ve actually heard of have released. The game offers very good depth in it’s combat system that is fairly enjoyable, but these quality issues combined with the other problems discussed up to this point really drag things down. This really doesn’t bode well for anyone who may consider paying any money for this game. Which brings us to our next topic…
Now, because this is a free-to-play gacha game, we have to talk about the microtransactions. I’m not going to go on some holy anti-microtransaction crusade here because, while I don’t often partake in it, I recognize free-to-play games have to get money from somewhere. What it all boils down to is this: Good gacha games have a strong gameplay side which gives you a reasonable amount of currency or farmable characters with which to build your teams. They give you a pretty solid taste of the stuff you can pay for and skilled play is often rewarded with free pulls of the gacha machines. These games make you want to spend money on them to collect all the characters or have more team options. They don’t make you feel forced to buy just to continue playing past a certain point. Bad ones pressure you at every turn and make you feel like you’re inadequate without paying up.
So where does Era of Chaos stack up? Succinctly, somewhere in the middle. There are a lot of things to buy with the premium currency and, particularly in the PvP modes, when you see the top players and the drastically higher power rating they have, you feel small. However, the game is pretty liberal with the free currency and you can play through the campaign fairly easily without paying up. It does try to pressure you to buy currency to obtain a higher VIP status, basically offering you the promise of a regular supply of resources if you spend at least a certain amount of money, and locking some convenience features behind having that VIP status.
All told, it’s definitely not the most egregious abuser of microtransactions, but I could certainly do without the constant pressure to buy VIP status. I rate its application of microtransactions as “Decent.” For full disclosure: I did not make any in-game purchases, nor was I provided with any free currency beyond what the game gives normally.
I’ve played a lot of gacha games. Only a few have held my attention long enough to get me to consider making any purchases, so I admittedly have a pretty high bar for quality when it comes to what I’m willing to pay for. Era of Chaos just doesn’t get there. It doesn’t do enough that’s unique or special to set it apart from other similar games, and while the gameplay isn’t awful, it is hard to be thrilled or excited when there’s so little you can do once a battle starts. Then, when you consider the quality issues and the never-ending menus, whatever fun you might be having ends up getting tarnished after the battle is over.
Fans of the Might & Magic franchise may find enough fan service here to get into this game and stick with it, but for most other people, this game simply doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from other gacha games with higher production values. With some polish and some streamlining I could call this game “Good,” but in its current state, “Mediocre” is about the best word I can use to describe it.
Review access to this free-to-play game provided by Ubisoft for Android. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Ubisoft.