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Heroes of Might & Magic V - PC - Review

Gw

Posted by: jkdmedia

Review Rating 8.0 Great

At last, a worthy new version of the classic Heroes of Might and Magic! It’s been a long, long time since HOMM II, the best-ever turn-based strategy game. HOMM III was good, but frankly just wasn’t as much fun. HOMM IV was too different. This time around, Nival has played it safe and produced an updated, but still essentially similar game that plays pretty much the same as HOMM II and HOMM III.

The most immediate feature worth noting are the graphics. The camera rotates 360 degrees and allows players to zoom in and out around the map and also to rotate and zoom inside the towns. This all looks really great, but it requires a high-end graphics card. Not only that, if the game doesn’t like the card, it just won’t play, no matter how updated the video driver. If you’re unfortunate enough to have the GeForce 4MX card (which I did have), just get ready to shell out the bucks and get a new card. My new card is an ATI Diamond S9250 256, and it is simpatico with the game.

Even on the lowest video quality settings, the environment and objects are very appealing. At the highest setting, the graphics are better, but the difference isn’t dramatic as they were already very good. The characters are all distinctly drawn, and great care seems to have been taken to give each unit an appearance befitting their actions and descriptions. The Imp, though, looks more cute than evil and closely resembles Stitch from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch. In the battles, the characters are animated and have a wide range of motion as they fight or move across the board. When an enemy stack is killed, often the opposing units will cheer, which is neat.

But enough about the pretty pictures, what about the gameplay? Well, it is a solid turn-based strategy game that focuses on collecting resources, building up towns in order to have strong armies and basically trying to get a bigger, better army more quickly than the computer’s guys. Yep, it’s all about who has the biggest and baddest units, especially in the first portions of the game. Later on, it becomes more balanced with the need to defend and protect against marauding enemies. Don’t let your castles remain undefended, or they’ll be lost.

The single-player mode consists of six campaigns, each with five missions. As each mission can take a while to complete, this is a nice, long game that will take some time to play. The first campaign is a tutorial designed to introduce players to the main features of HOMM. All five missions are included, and the pacing of the tutorial seems almost dawdling at times, until the fifth and last mission. This slow pace would be just fine if all the necessary information about the game was included, but unfortunately for players new to the HOMM world, it’s not.

This tutorial can take even longer to finish due to an often obtuse and confusing English translation. For instance, one tutorial mission states that enemy scouts have to be cleared from the map. Well, to my mind, a scout can move around and therefore should be one of the opposing heroes. However, it turned out that the “scouts” were actually the various dark magical units (as opposed to the knight/haven units) that were stationary guards in front of resources and buildings. Another tutorial mission has an objective of upgrading the mage building to level three. Well, again, I was confused and thought that the buildings that were unlocked after the second mage upgrade were actually the upgraded mage buildings, but this turned out not to be the case. Instead, the upgrade was obtained by building on the same picture as the previous building.

Even for pros there is much that is left unexplained, such as an easy way to see all the resource mines players own at a glance, just how exactly do the characters’ special abilities work during battle, and any information at all about all the opposing units in the game. These and other similar burning questions will have to be learned during the course of the game. The most pressing question for many players will probably be about the various units’ characteristics, which really should have been included in the manual. I mean, how hard would it have been to include a couple of pages describing them?

However, despite the sometimes ho-hum pace of the first campaign, it’s still a whole lot of fun to get reacquainted with the Heroes world! And, the slow pace allows everyone to get used to moving around the freely rotating maps, which can sometimes be tricky. It’s very easy to come up unexpectedly against an unseen enemy horde behind a tree, or to get all turned around by rotating the camera view on one hero, then discover that the next hero to be moved is now oriented differently than previously, because the whole map moves with the camera. There is a mini-map that can be displayed at the bottom left of the screen, but the exact direction is still problematic as the line drawing that encloses the view around the current hero is a weird geometric shape that has no distinct north/south or up/down direction. Just having an “orient North” option on the mini-map would have been extremely helpful.

The interface is streamlined and intuitive, despite the lack of detailed information about resources and opposing units. The main two menus consist of a basic movement, building and battle menu at the bottom right, which can be toggled back and forth between hero movement and town building, and another menu on the left that is a collection of frequently used commands that access the tavern to hire heroes, and also link to the marketplace, magic guild and blacksmith buildings. The menu on the right will turn into a building and unit-purchasing tool when players are in the town, a movement menu when players are traveling, and a battle menu when fighting enemies. These menus are easy to understand and use.

While the interface is kept simple for ease of use, a game this complicated needs a little more information for players. While pop-up menus are available for information on heroes and objects, more information on opposing units and resources would have been greatly appreciated. One good addition (I don’t remember this feature in HOMM II, but it may have been in HOMM III) is the use of icons on the town menu pictures that let players know if a building is being currently added or not. This is very handy, as it is easy to forget what’s being built where and when during a turn and to inadvertently end a turn before everything that can be done, is done.

The AI of the computer opponents is difficult to judge. Sometimes they seem very intelligent and hard to beat, and sometimes they seem rather stupid. The opponents make good decisions during battles for the most part, although they don’t seem to choose to retreat before the end of the battle, which was a main feature of the AI in HOMM II. This would ensure that the hero would survive and be able to be recruited again from an enemy castle, powers intact. This feature seems to be lacking now, or at least, I didn’t experience it. A few times an enemy hero came charging at one, hot for battle, but with only a pitiful few in his or her army against the hordes stacked up in the player’s army. This only happened sometimes, though, so the AI just appears slightly erratic at times.

The maps are designed very well and aren’t crowded. There are still the same resource mines, resource goody piles, money and artifacts to be picked up as before, but there appear to be less artifacts lying around. Collecting powerful attack and defense artifacts was part of the fun previously, and is a little missed. The maps also don’t seem to be as large, either, but that may just be my impression.

The three main modes of play are the single-player campaign, the custom maps (standalone scenarios) and the multiplayer mode. Many will be disappointed about not having the map editor mode for sandbox play, but that will probably be added by an expansion. The multiplayer option can be on a LAN or on the Ubisoft site. Players can choose to start their own game, or join another in the lobby. There is a ladder at Ubi for game-ranking purposes, but players can opt to join a game in Training mode, which ensures the results won’t be ranked in the ladder. Besides regular game play, there is also a duel mode available.

A new twist to multiplayer has been added with a Ghost option, which is a neat way to while away those down moments during other players’ turns. This ghost can curse opponents’ mine sites and the other heroes, and also weaken the other ghosts’ negative influence.

Music is an important aspect of HOMM and I’m happy to report that the musical score is very nice and pleasant to hear. Just as in other editions, it has a classical flavor. The sound effects are not designed as well, though, and the sounds of sawing and hammering are strangely missing.

The hero classes are the familiar ones that have been the most popular in the series, such as the knight (Haven) and elf (Sylvan) races. The barbarians are gone, though, which is sad, I liked the barbarians. Archers, steel golems, titans, bone dragons, griffins, angels and other favorites are here, and some new creatures are also added, like the pit lords, blade dancers and horned overseers. One new aspect is that not everyone is on a horse this time around! It’s disconcerting at first to see an opposing hero bounding toward one mounted on a dragon, but it’s cool!

I was very excited when I learned that Ubisoft had picked up the rights to HOMM. While many people preferred HOMM III over II, I just couldn’t get my heart into HOMM III. The maps were crowded and unappealing in my opinion. HOMM IV doesn’t count. With HOMM V, I was hopeful, but apprehensive. Well, fans of the series can be happy, this game is almost everything it should be, with only a few drawbacks. Basically, if the design team had spent more time on the game, it would have been an almost perfect game. But, as it is, there are too many bugs and rough edges to get the highest ratings. Even though the launch was delayed to fix some of these problems, the end product still feels rushed and a patch had to be fashioned almost at once after the release. The most problems center on the video cards, but the patch is supposed to fix some of those video card conflicts. Also, there is a lag issue with some people, even if they possess the minimum system requirements. However, I’m currently playing with below minimum system requirements for RAM and while some of the saved games do take a while to load up, once loaded, gameplay proceeds at a fair pace.

Heroes of Might and Magic has always been about strategy in a board-game setting, where players take their time making decisions on each turn. Building up a huge army, amassing tons of money and resources and beating those pesky enemy heroes is what it’s all about. This is the same HOMM as previous editions and most fans will be satisfied. The good features have mostly been left intact, and the new features are welcomed additions. Much of the new content is centered around the units and heroes, with things like special abilities added. There is still the depth of gameplay and hours involved, and the same “just one more turn” that will eat into the nighttime. People new to the Heroes’ universe who enjoy a good strategy game should definitely give this one a try, as well.

As a long-time fan of the HOMM series, I absolutely recommend this game with only one caveat: make sure your system will run the game before purchasing. Take the warnings about the non-compatible video cards seriously. There is a demo available, download it and try it first. If it works on your system, the retail game will run as well. Good luck and enjoy!

Review Scoring Details for Heroes of Might & Magic V

Gameplay: 8.0
The gameplay is deep and involving and will eat up the hours as players continue to take one more turn. Pretty pictures, fun items to collect and plenty of chances to level up all add to the general fun. For those who enjoy online play, there are many options available. However, the sandbox mode is missing so fan-based maps won’t be possible. Also, there are way too many technical bugs involved, which can definitely affect gameplay.

Graphics: 9.0
It all looks wonderful!

Sound: 8.0
The music is great and is of a classical style. While I have heard better scores in a few games, the musical score here is very enjoyable.

Difficulty: Medium
The difficulty level ranges from four choices of easy (added with the patch) to heroic. This basically ups the ante on the opponents’ AI, and sometimes makes resource allocation choices more problematic.

Concept: 7.0
It’s the same HOMM basically as before with nothing startlingly new or innovative added.

Multiplayer: 8.0
There are many options for multiplayer and the ghost mode is a fun addition. There are currently a few connectivity problems reported, and also some issues with different versions of the game.

Overall: 8.0
A great turn-based strategy series has gained a worthy addition. HOMM V is everything a strategy fan would want, and remains faithful to what made it great in the first place. While some things could have been better, like bigger maps, more uniform opponent AI and a sandbox mode, what is present is more than enough to warrant getting the game.

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