Heroes of Might and Magic V
When New World Computing closed its doors in 2003, fans of its long-running series Heroes of Might and Magic thought it was game over. Ubisoft scooped up the rights to the franchise and passed the development torch to Etherlords creator Nival Interactive. That left fans of the series with one burning question: Can the Russian developer recapture the magic and make a game that lives up to the Heroes legacy?
Perhaps the best thing about Heroes of Might and Magic 5 is that it doesnâ€™t take too many liberties with the familiar recipe. In spite of the attractive new 3D graphics and the brilliantly revamped tactical combat system, it plays a lot like a game that New World might have made. In fact, Nival has gone back to basics in many respects, stripping the game of a lot of the dead-weight mechanics accumulated over the years. Gone is the ability to move your heroes around the battlefield, or to make stacks with multiple heroes, or with nothing but heroes, or with no heroes.
Heroes of Might and Magic V returns to the simple dynamic of one hero, one stack, and the game is better for it. As in the early entries in the series, heroes serve primarily as a throttle on your ability to expand. In order to move a stack of monsters around the map, you have to hire a hero to lead them. But heroes are expensive, and that limits how quickly you can expand your influence. It wasâ€”and still isâ€”a good system, and Nival clearly understands why.
But if Nival really â€œgetsâ€ the appeal of Heroes of Might and Magic in some respects, it misses the target completely in others. The meat of the Heroes games has always been the stand-alone scenarios. Heck, the original game in the series didnâ€™t even have a campaign, and even Heroes 4, which was a bit light in terms of stand-alone content, came with 31 individual scenarios plus a map editor. Heroes of Might and Magic 5 comes with 10. And no editor.
Sure, there are six â€œsingle scenariosâ€ that play a lot like campaign missions. They have the same long cutscenes with the same painfully bad dialogue, nonadjustable settings, and puzzle-like objectives. They arenâ€™t particularly replayable. Then there is the campaign itself, a six-chapter, 30-scenario monster that only takes slightly more time to complete than a doctoral dissertation. Like other campaigns in the series, it serves as a sort of tutorial, easing you into the various game mechanics by introducing them to you a few at a time. It also breaks some of the dynamics of the game â€” particularly the hero dynamic that Nival so expertly resurrected. You generally donâ€™t want to waste money and experience on extra heroes in the campaign, because only the story-centric heroes (and their hard-earned skills) carry over to the next scenario. Any extra hero, thus, will act more as cart mules for troops.
By the end, youâ€™ll be comfortable with all the nuances of each faction, but will have also run out of content. In previous Heroes games, the campaigns were always just an appetizer for the main course. In Heroes of Might and Magic 5, the campaign is pretty much the whole game. Granted, it’s a pretty good campaign, with a creative mix of objectives (though not always clearly defined). It starts out like a tutorial for the first three missions, but then the difficulty level increases exponentially. By the second campaign, you’ll have to use every ounce of skill you have as a beginner.
In fact, some of the missions just seem out of sync with the rest of the campaign – their difficulty alternates between easy, brutal, then back to easy again, ruining the experience at times. Still, Heroes of Might and Magic 5 is a hard game to dislike, and may in fact be much better suited for new players who haven’t tried the classics. It hits too many notes too perfectly perfectly in this regard. The tactical combat, for instance, is fantastic â€” itâ€™s easily the best in the series, in fact. The new battlefield puts more emphasis on effective unit placement, both before and during combat. Large units, which take up four squares, are now trickier to maneuver, but theyâ€™re even more essential for screening your back-line missile units. The tight quarters of the new battlefields, along with larger creatures and obstacles, make movement skills like teleportation and flight more valuable.
The new initiative bar makes it a lot easier to see the effects of morale and to understand exactly which units will move in what order so that you can plan your attacks accordingly. Heroes and war machines tilt the odds as off-battlefield support units without unbalancing things. There are myriad different strategies that you can pursue through creature recruitment and skill development, and the unit art and combat animations are wonderful. How could there be any sour notes in a game with combat this good?
Yet there are, if but a few. The new ghost mode in multiplayer feels tacked on and does little to address downtime issues. There arenâ€™t many multiplayer maps to play, in any event. The 3D interface is inconsistent (why does the mouse scroll the view in the world map but not in combat?) and sometimes clunky (you have to rotate the camera constantly to see anything in dungeons), and the 3D town view is functionally useless. This flaw defeats the purpose of the town view as a means of assessing your upgrades at a glance. They might as well not have it at all, it being nothing more than 3D eye candy.
Speaking of not having things at all, no definitive creature list or spell list or building list is available anywhere in the game. The game interface only gives you stats for creatures that you can currently recruit, and the manual contains no specific information about creatures, spells, or buildings. There is no in-game database, no reference cardâ€”nothing. You canâ€™t even right-click to check creature abilities when you encounter them on the world map. Canâ€™t remember whether Gremlins have a missile attack? Youâ€™ll just have to charge into battle and find out.
While Heroes of Might and Magic 5 may be a hard game to hate, itâ€™s also ocasionally hard to love. It has the makings of a great game, and some tweaking can definitely get it there. On the bright side, the campaign mode serves as a good introduction to gameplay, and there’s little doubt that many new players will be converted to the series with this release.
System Requirements: Pentium IV 1 GHz, 256 MB RAM, WinXP