Might and Magic Heroes V was a generally well-received title that filled a massive gap in the current pantheon of games. The tactical-RPG combat genre is one that has lacked a sufficient number of recent releases, and the title has positioned itself well with decent (if not admirable quality). The new expansion, Shades of Darkness, adds two new campaigns and a host of new buildings, multiplayer maps, heroes and upgrades.
The two new campaigns focus on the Dark Elves and the other evil elements of the game’s universe. It’s a nice departure to see evil depicted in a different light. The Dungeon campaign, in particular, adds considerable depth to the dark elves, portraying their fall to darkness as a complex fight for survival, a conflict of Machiavellian necessity. The campaign depicts the cost of the “ends justify the means.” The necromancers find themselves in a similar position (though they have already turned much further to the dark side). Though the voice acting and dialogue are predictably hookey (yes, I could not stop myself from laughing at several points) they serve their purpose, and if you can’t survive them, the scenes are all skippable.
The Dark Elves and Necromancers have very distinct play styles, with powerful but fragile units forcing deep tactical considerations in each combat. A large number of special abilities (life stealing, invisible units, etc.) provide a unique feel distinct from the races portrayed in previous campaigns. It’s a nice switch, and one which I think will be enjoyed by fans of the previous campaigns. That said, these races are such a departure that they’re probably best played by veterans (beginners will have a hard time employing the diverse set of abilities properly).
I think that the most disappointing part of the expansion The nature of the campaigns (with time pressures and lack of recruiting ability) force a bit too much concentration on preservation of force, making me feel like I had to replay many of the battles if I had lost anyone from my army. The Dungeon campaign’s first mission, in particular, was frustrating in this respect. The final boss battle was a huge spike in difficultly, something which really hurt on my first 3 hour play through- when I reached the battle and then realized I couldn’t win. This led to a second playthrough where I played through every conflict several times- not a particularly enjoyable experience. And the maps themselves feel very static- instead of a vibrant world, there are a bunch of static enemies waiting for me to interact with them. It’s sad to wander through such a vibrant world to learn that the only force of agency in the world is the player.
Fans of Might and Magic Heroes VI will certainly enjoy the opportunity to turn to evil, experience some new, compelling storylines, and have new content to explore. Shades of Darkness is not meant for beginners, and its difficultly spikes and oddly designed campaigns are not for everyone- really, only veterans will be equipped to confront the challenges it presents. . I personally appreciated the complex treatment of evil, something which many games struggle to properly convey. While not for the faint of heart, longtime fans will find a lot here to love