Game Review 001: Heroes of Might & Magic Series

PROLEGOMENAN

This is the first official game review I will have posted on my blog, so please be kind of I haven’t worked out the review “kinks” yet. An oddity you might also want to ask is why I am reviewing a game series that is rather outdated by many standards. Two simple reasons; the series is one of my favorites, and it is remarkably unique in numerous areas. A truly innovative product that I feel is still yet to be challenged in turn-based games to this day. And thus begins the review…

It is a fitting name for such a series. “Heroes” of Might & Magic is exactly about commanding your heroes in a mighty battle against other heroes, all of which are wielding powerful weapons and armor and commanding spells that not only of combative types, but also spells that allow you to quicken your pace around the game world. Impatient for a battle with the green colored enemy that has a castle type you want? Cast “Fly” if you have it and you can soar over mountains to reach new areas that would otherwise have taken you an extra three or more turns to reach. This all sounds extremely dramatic, but remember, it’s a turn-based strategy series and uses limited viewing perspectives.

WHAT IS UNIQUE

I like to start this with a description of what is unique about the game, as this will set the stage for everything else to follow. When reading a game review I find myself always looking for those unique elements, sometimes skimming past the mass of “filler” material that accompanies most reviews. Especially when you are reviewing a sequel I find only around twenty percent of the gameplay content and mechanics are unique. I like to compare this to the book industry, especially when considering textbooks. How much is really changed from the fourth to the fifth editions? Not much.

The Heroes of Might & Magic series, or known as HoMM for short, was designed with an isometric perspective. While this isn’t unique in itself, what contents lay on this perspective is unique. Most isometric maps consist of a very basic set of elements, such as a building, city icon, forest cluster, paths connecting each area, and so on. HoMM sets itself apart by sprinkling a little bit of all the things you will interact with and use right on the map in an “in-your-face” method. Many of these elements are extremely detailed in a 2D way and are more numerous than you’d expect for a game’s map layout.

For example, as you see your hero journeys around the map you will see treasure chests with experience or gold in them, artifacts that render new powers to you, creature buildings to purchase additional armies with, and much more. This makes it extremely easy to figure out where you are and what your immediate goals should be. There isn’t much second guessing in the first few turns of the game, thus the learning curve is relatively low. Complexity and critical think, however, will mushroom after about your tenth or eleventh turn, so be ready to start thinking like a chess player.

The developers really went wild with packing in this content. Since this game is turn-based your heroes each have a set limit of spaces they can move on the map. Let’s pick an arbitrary number and say they can move in the best of circumstances twenty paces. In this amount you may have half a dozen treasure chests clustered together, two or three artifacts sprinkled in-between, static neutral creatures to fight, and a few resources to build up your cities. Each map is different, however, so some maps will be more conservative in this packing of content than others. If you get bored with the predefined maps there is the map generator that does a fairly decent job at creating fresh content. However, don’t expect it to be too complicated or detailed.

GAMEPLAY

New games start with choosing the map type, your hero and castle, and an extra resource to help you get started. There are additional settings for minor difficulty changes and a few interface options you can also change in the game. Once in the game you will see your starting castle and the hero you originally chose. These two items are at the very heart of what HoMM is all about. Castles provide creatures and support for your heroes, and in times of trouble they can also provide additional protection from advancing enemy heroes. The heroes under your command themselves are your mobile armies, moving around the map and from castle to castle acquiring artifacts, spells, additional creatures, and experience that further enhances their powers.

The entire game series is about acquiring better spells, more castles that house your armies, resources, and hero experience. Due to the nature of the game, depending on the map style and size you chose, you will find that you tend to “eat up” the areas you explore. Once you’ve acquired treasure chests, resources, and killed off static creatures, there are a limited number of these that continually exist. After the map is explored you can easily take these over if they are in enemy hands. This is interesting for awhile, but the real fun is exploring new areas. Difficulties can especially begin to occur when you need an additional hero to help command a large map, but you’ve already eaten up all the resources in your area. Thus it may be difficult to get them to a high level without journeying far away from the protection of your castles.

Because the series is turn-based, the developers initiated a “fog of war” to the map that forced you to more cautiously navigate new areas. This is common in most games of this type, even real-time strategy games. A few castles, and even some heroes, will be able to re-establish this fog of war the following turn, even after you’ve been through it already. This is where thinking ahead and strategy come into play. Take one too many steps in one direction and just beyond that fog of war could be an enemy waiting for you. If your turn is up and you have no movement points left, be lucky to be able to retreat after the battle begins if you become overpowered.

There is a multiplayer option, but be warned on playing on too large of a map. As with many turn-based strategy games, a complete game on a large map with the goal of destroying all your enemies completely can take literally days to accomplish. Thankfully, if you’re in for such a long and drawn-out battle, the game has a multiplayer save option that you can continually go back to for future gameplay sessions. Take caution though that anyone you play with can easily load his or her own save of the game later on, without a multiplayer connection established, and take a “peak” at what you’re doing.

GRAPHICS, SOUND, INTERFACE

Until Heroes V came along and completely changed just about every element of the game from the graphics, sound, and viewing perspective itself, the previous games sported simple interfaces that gave you statistics on just about anything you need in one or two mouse clicks. It is simple to adjust any settings you need and to view what armies and land are under your control. Don’t expect much customization though, even with unique mod-packs such as Wake of Gods for Heroes III. Heroes V will give you more control over settings, but even in such a modern game it still keeps it conservative.

Graphic details are really good in most of the series games, although it is clear that improvements were significant after Heroes IV and particularly Heroes V were introduced. Before then you were stuck with a 2D interface that was relatively static. Was this a problem for immersion? Absolutely not! Considering the overall content detail that the maps sported in these earlier games, you were sucked into the gameplay in such a way that you didn’t mind the abysmal frame rate of the tree motion or the simple hero motion as you moved them across the map. For the era that each game in the series was introduced in, the developers did quite well in introducing unique graphic styles.

WRAPPING UP

I keep coming back to the HoMM not for its uniqueness, but because it provides a level of replayability that I have found lacking in many other games. Even so, I wish the game had better multiplayer options that provided fun gameplay on a scale of an hour or two instead of a day or two.

PROS:

- As yet unchallenged unique gameplay experience
- Expansive maps that are extremely detailed
- Plenty of heroes and castle types to keep your interest
- Replayability through random map generator
- Simple and effective interface

CONS:

- Series is “aged”, so don’t expect any updates if you encounter problems
- The latest game, Heroes V, deviates too much from the classic design
- Interface settings and adjustments are limited
- As with many turn-based games, the multiplayer fun factor is limited
- Game copy protection on discs may prove a problem on completely valid discs, especially with Heroes V.
- Limited to the PC for many of the sequels, sorry MAC users

FINAL OVERALL RATING

9/10

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