Status: Story complete, no attempt at multiplayer
Put this on your (virtual) box: Match three for triumph!
Most intriguing idea: Making a puzzle-strategy-RPG.
Best design decision: Using troop distributions on the battlefield as a substrate for the puzzle
Worst design decision: Inadequately balancing the initial grid states.
I probably should have known better than to pick this game up, but the concept of a puzzle-RPG strokes so many of my pleasure centers that I’m a sucker every time. Combine this with some nostalgic appreciation for the early entries in the Heroes of Might & Magic games, and even the Might and Magic RPGs (Remember those? No? Dang kids, get off my lawn!), and the trap was set.
Unfortunately, Clash of Heroes‘ match-three mechanics heavily favor whoever gets the better setup and luckier distribution of reinforcements. The player only gets three moves per turn to arrange his armies in horizontal (defense) or vertical (attack) chains of three units. If you can create these groups by dismissing a unit from the field you get the move back, but if you create them by moving a unit into position you get nothing (unless your move managed to create 2 or more chains). As a consequence, the side that gets a good starting arrangement (i.e. one in which many chains can be created by deletion in the first turn) has a significant, possibly even dominant, advantage, especially since almost no healing is available. This feels unfair if you lose, but more perniciously, it makes wins feel unearned. Frankly, I only felt like I won one or two of the battles in the game; the rest of the time I felt like I got lucky either at the start, or with my reinforcements. I also had my share of bad luck with reinforcements: particularly in Aidan’s chapter I found that my expensive elite units almost always dropped into a column where an imminent attack would wipe them out next turn. This led to some amusingly paranoid end-turn choices, which did me no good because Aidan’s spell stank.
The higher-order loop of the game also got a bit tedious for me. In every chapter, your hero starts out at very low level and must gain strength for a confrontation with the local Big Bad. Repeatedly doing this got to be a bore, and the new units in each chapter were rarely unique enough to make army-building interesting. The game’s plodding story offered no real assistance, despite some interesting early flourishes. In this regard, the Griffin Empire chapter was the best, as it contained some plot archetypes I like, as well as the game’s most unique boss. Alas, that was the second of five chapters, and I was heartily ready for the game to be over long before it actually was. My impatience was only exacerbated by the frequent, boring loads. If you’re going to have this many loading screens, you’ve got to make them suck less.
If you can’t say something nice… I much prefer this take on the puzzle RPG to the Puzzle Quest series. With some tuning (stack movement? better chaining bonuses?) to make the initial grid state a little less important and what you do with it a little more so, this could be really grand.