After 1000 posts, I decided to pull together some of my favourites that I think would contribute to making HOMM V a game that builds on the HOMM tradition while becoming better (of course that's the point!) I could have provided more links and such, but I got lazy... I may build on this and reformat especially if people ask questions for clarification. Better grab a comfy cushion for bum-sore relief now, and enjoy! (Of course I welcome all comments.)
I’m putting this first because I find it to be arguably the most important part of the game to me – Or at least it’s the “cherry on top” that keeps me addicted.
I was very happy with the heroes in HOMM IV in general. The skill trees were good, levelling was at a decent pace to keep interest up, and I liked being able to use specialist heroes for different things (Maybe a Mage and a Combat/Tactics General in the army, and a Thief and a Lord doing their own things separately. HOMM IV heroes were a leap forward from HOMM III, where every hero was basically the same at highish level. The specialists add a lot to replayability (and strategic decisions/options.)
- The experience popup after combat was much missed from HOMM III – Thank you Equilibris team for bringing it back!
Ban Exploits !
I saw exploits as a big problem in HOMM IV. (Exploit = Some illogical trick, usually involving a bunch of micromanagement, that gives you an advantage for no good reason.) My advice to the developers would be "Avoid game design decisions that encourage counter-intuitive micromanagement!"
I’m happy with the HOMM III-IV way in general – The inventory and backpack.
- I would like to see some way to use more than one sword at a time, etc. though. This isn’t just a “wouldn’t it be cool” thought – I do find it legitimately frustrating in a long game (Say an XL map like Zanfas’ Challenge) to collect all kinds of cool equipment that I can’t use because I don’t have enough hands. It also would reduce the amount of juggling back and forth between different special-purpose items, although some amount of that is fine. A Dexterity skill could serve to allow the use of a right handed weapon in your shield hand (or a left-handed spellbook in your right), two-handed weapons or Staves in one hand, and/or more than two rings. Alternatively this ability could come naturally to all heroes with high level – That would avoid having the ability limited to one type of hero.
- Inventory clutter – Would be nice to reduce. I’d like to be able to sell useless treasures and artefacts. I’d also want a better idea “at a glance” of what I have. Mouse-over text is important for this. HOMM IV made using spell-learning Parchments annoying – A good step would have been to show the spell’s icon and/or the icon for the magic skill (ex. Expert Nature) needed to use the scroll.
- Switching equipped items (in combat) would be nice. Cast Mass Slow from your scroll, then use your next turn to switch it for a shield of Chaos.
- In HOMM IV potions would have been much more useful if they were drinkable before combat began (as a first phase, without needing to waste a turn for each.) Even if the enemy army ambushed me, I certainly should have time to make sure I’ve topped up my potion of Immortality (and Quickness, Cold, etc.) before the two armies actually engaged. (May not be in HOMM V, with heroes on the sidelines.)
Creature Equipment :
It seems to me that units should be able to equip stuff. I would like to see special-purpose treasures and artefacts that benefit stacks – Giant-sized armour or weapons specially made (or stripped from dead titans) for your behemoths, a totem that allows your stack of Ogre Mages to regenerate mana each combat turn, or siege engines like rams or towers would be good fits. Some things could be built at your castle blacksmith, others would be found on the adventure map.
When a stack with armour merged with an unarmoured stack, the benefit would be halved until you had a chance to buy/find armour for the new units. In the inventory you would see “Giant-Sized Plate armour – 12” if you had enough for 12 Behemoths. The totem or the siege tower would benefit the whole stack, so you only need one and adding more units doesn’t matter.
I was very happy with the HOMM IV lineup (I’m talking about the way it was structured, rather than the specifics.) Most importantly, each side played very differently. This was partly because of the types of creatures available, and partly because of the spells available, but also because of the specialized heroes and the way they were available. Order couldn’t buy a Thief, and Chaos couldn’t buy a Lord, so deal with it! Nature built their army partly via the Summoning skill, Death via Necromancy, and Might via the Breeding Pens (if they even used creatures.) Very good for replay value.
Again HOMM IV was a step in the right direction, because dividing the spells into factions enhanced replay value. I could make a case for some spells being available to all or most factions (magic missle, dispel, maybe even slow), but I definitely like having the experience of playing a Priest much different from a Necromancer.
One problem with HOMM III and IV was that some spell options were just much better than others at the same level. This is nearly impossible to balance, especially since it the value of a spell varies based on the map and the opponent. Mass Chaos ward is game-breaking vs. Chaos, but useless vs. Order. A suggestion – Reduce the random factor of spell selection by allowing the hero to research the spell of his choice each time he learns to use a new level of magic, or each time he upgrades his mage guild (maybe makes more sense.) Either way, if you want Hypnotize you won’t get stuck with Pain Mirror. This would make balancing much easier, because you eliminate the problem of a game being decided mainly by (un)lucky spell selection. “I got Dimension Door and Town Portal and you didn’t – Guess I win!”
A number of people have put endless time into assembling precise lineups of exactly what creatures should be in each town. I really don’t care about that – I’d just like to see a bunch of creatures in the tradition of HOMM, each with their part to play in their side’s overall strategy.
I did like the creature choices in HOMM IV, and I think that has great promise both for replay value and for balance (giving side A one creature that helps them vs side B and another that helps vs side C, or one that is good on a Small map and another that is great on a Large one.) I also liked the selective upgrades in HOMM II, where a few creatures could be upgraded or even upgraded twice, but others were just what they were. (HOMM III got silly with every creature needing to be upgraded.) A combination of creature choices with selective upgrades seems best.
I leave it to the developers to figure out what creatures with what special abilities in how many distinct levels work well with the game they create. They have a rich tradition to draw on – Of course I’ll expect to see life-draining Vampires, missile-resistant Skeletons, Resurrecting Angels, fire-breathing Dragons, etc. in there somewhere!
I loved them in HOMM IV for what they added to combat tactics, but hated what I call the single-caster-vs-large-target-stack exploits. The ability of a single genie to paralyse a huge enemy stack had several impacts on gameplay – It made caster creature very hard to measure for balance purposes, because when casting stack-effecting spells 100 genies were no more powerful than 5; It forced me to do a lot of annoying micromanagement if I wanted to maximize my progress (resplitting genies into empty army slots, and Passing on their turns after the first couple of rounds of combat); And I suppose I just found it plain offensive to my ideals of logic and fairness.
My proposed solution involves pooled mana (if one Genie has 30 SP, 10 would have 300 SP) combined with scaleable spell effects. If one Genie can Slow one Behemoth (half movement) for 3 SP, then 10 Genies can Slow 10 Behemoths for 30 SP from their pool. If there are 20 Behemoths, either it will cost 2x as much mana, or it will be half as effective (the Behemoths will be moving at 75% instead of 50%) Hypnotize could be scaled down when used on large stacks, with the effect having less duration or being downgraded to a Berzerk, Song of Peace, or Slow spell as the target stack gets bigger. Heroes might suffer from the same limitations when trying to disable really large stacks, or not – Whatever proves better balanced. In any case, a L20 hero would have disabling power equivalent to a lot of genies.
The turn-based Adventure map of previous HOMMs is a stand-by that works well in general. Rushing around to gain experience and treasure is the heart of the game.
HOMM IV was essentially all about massing as big an army as possible so you could win the race to kill more of the neutral monsters as soon as possible. Eventually the two big armies would meet, and the winner of that one fight simply won the game (sometimes they never even met, if one side fared much better in the race against the neutrals!)
I’d like to see the game change significantly in a way that encourages the campaign vs your MP (or even AI) opponent to be more direct. Have some skirmishes, where one battle does not win the war. Trade territory back and forth. Divide your forces to protect multiple fronts, deploy garrisons to command territory, key resources or bridges, etc. Feint on one front and then launch an all-out surprise attack on his capitol, to catch his main army out of position. All of that stuff is strategic goodness, and pretty much absent from previous HOMM titles. Topics: Force Concentration - Let's replace it with strategic allocation of troops!, Subject: RE: Heroes V - Down with the conventions!
A sub-problem that contributed to the one-fight-to-win nature of HOMM has been the near-impossibility of avoiding a fight you don’t want. If your last few movement points bring you just into sight of a larger enemy army that can reach you on his turn, the game is over. You have no movement left, you can’t flee because you will lose your entire army, and you can’t surrender because it’s far too expensive. That’s just wrong. - One option is simultaneous movement. If properly implemented, it could resolve the “one day’s lead isn’t enough” side-effect of turn-based movement. It may prove difficult to implement well, but it’s been discussed in other threads.
- In any case, it needs to be easier to Flee with your army (more or less) intact. Fleeing should cause your army to kind-of caravan back to the nearest friendly city, perhaps with some percentage lost and perhaps trickling in over some time. Taking the army out of play while they travel and regroup would be a significant penalty, but it wouldn’t be the end of the game as it is now.
- Same idea for Surrendering – In HOMM IV the cost is the purchase cost of your entire army, plus a big price for your hero (who otherwise could flee for free). So it effectively triples the price of the creatures –
You pay for them initially, then you lose the price again for them to surrender and your opponent gains the same amount! Clicking the Surrender button for any significant army ends the game as surely as the Flee button does. The idea of Surrender is OK, so the price just needs to be adjusted. (Or maybe the price is OK, but a whole additional layer of diplomacy needs to be built around it – Your Surrender comes along with a peace treaty to give you time to catch up.)
What if territory became really important? If running around the map flagging mines was fine, but they didn't do you much good if you just abandoned them behind you? If more land area under your close control resulted in more tax income for your war chest?
I propose that each city, garrison, and army (possibly only if stationary) project a perimeter of control on the map. The stronger the garrison or army is, the bigger the bubble. All of the overlapping perimeters together make up the effective borders of your empire. Strategic Logistics can be easily abstracted, by saying that an army moves faster and/or gets morale/combat bonuses for fighting on home territory, and penalties if there is no clear "supply line" path back to their home base. The Logistics skill could help reduce the "cut off" penalties.
Flying on the Adventure Map
Without getting into great detail, I’d like to see all-flyer armies able to pass over low obstacles like rivers, walls and trees. It would add an additional layer of strategy, so I am in favour in principle. Tough to balance (especially for map designers), but surely doable.
I’d like to see the map bigger (probably scrolling), possibly including multiple armies if they are close together when combat is joined. Opponents should start out of archery range, so that the first shot (Cyclops rock through to the heroes and shooters) doesn’t tend to be so completely crippling. It should be more difficult to reach through the front ranks to hit the soft underbelly.
Topics: Tinkering with the mechanics to make Mages survivable (Closed Topic), HOMM Combat screen
HOMM IV was a big improvement, by letting you actually fight with all of the castle defenders (the HOMM III arrow towers backed by 7 single dwarves were extremely silly.) The implementation certainly needed to be improved – Units should have stood on top of the wall instead of fighting through it, etc. A variety of siege weapons would be very nice (rams, ladders, siege towers, various defences and counters like boiling oil.)
I’d also like to see the castle assailable from multiple sides (combined with the larger combat map.)
Here are some examples of logical “real” tactics that I would like to see the game emphasise more (as opposed to exploits like single-caster and retaliation fodder):
a) Ranged attack - pick the enemy apart while preventing them from engaging your archers in melee. Use meat shields, bottlenecks, elevation, fortifications, etc.
b) Tactical spellcasting - use of fatigue, curse, mirth, blur, quicksand, etc. (But 10 casters are 10x as good as 1.)
c) Use of terrain - Shoot from cover, make them attack you in a defensible position, force them to ford a river or struggle over rough terrain or uphill to reach you, so they will be half-defeated before they can even engage.
d) Deployment - give yourself ready access to their soft white underbelly from the get-go, and keep your own vulnerabilities out of reach. (I loved the HOMM III Tactics skill too!)
e) Manoeuvring - flank or surround your enemies, lead them into meat grinders, hit them from behind, divide and conquer, hit-and-run with your sprites.
f) Concentration of force - Attack 1/3 of their army with 2/3 of yours, so that they suffer attrition twice as fast. Deploy your elite troops so that they can win quick victories to sway army morale.
g) Use of fortifications - HOMM III castles are nice, although they seem too expensive and the implementation needs patching.
THOSE are legitimate tactics. We've all used each of them, some with more skill than others no doubt. I would love to see HOMM V emphasise tactics as the way to triumph over an equal or stronger foe, rather than the clever use of exploits that multiply the strength of your units.
Air units in Combat
Add more tactical options to combat by introducing units that can’t attack other units because of altitude. Thunderbirds can attack pikemen with lightning bolts while staying out of reach of the retaliation. Gargoyles can choose to fly safely over the pikemen or to fly down and melee with them. Archers or Angels (Anti-Air units) would block their movement though, so the gargoyles would need to fly far around them or fight their way through. Both Air and Anti-Air units would become more tactically powerful, and a clever general might be able to arrange to attack Ground-only units with Air units like the Thunderbirds or Dragons that could kill them without fear. That would need to be carefully balanced somehow for neutral stacks especially, but I would be interested in the result!
- “Easy” one – I’d like to see the Hero’s equipment on him as he stands on the sideline, using skins and then overlaying the graphic for his sword, shield, armour, etc. Tricky, but doable and very additive.
- “Tough” one – I’d like to see combat graphics move towards the look (and in a way the tactical play) of the Total War series. Stacks/Units still exist (you don't ever have to command each individual creature in the group), but big stacks are displayed as a mob (or more organized phalanx) of troops. A stack of 10k Skeletons can’t just walk across a bridge or through a castle gate – They have to file through slowly. And the same legion of Skeletons can’t all attack five Angels at the same time, even though the Angels tower above them on the battlefield. I think there is a lot of promise here – The battles would become much more interesting to watch, new tactical options would open up, and some exploits would automatically become obsolete if they only work because of stacking.
I would like to be able to see a lot more information at a glance, rather than having to do calculations in my head or sift through info screens. Some examples to improve, taking HOMM IV as the base:
- Is the target ready to retaliate? His “readiness” could be displayed by his stance on the screen – Erect if ready and reclining if unready, for example. A “thermometer” icon would be an easier-to-implement substitute. Additional note about retaliation – Eliminate the retaliation-stealing-fodder exploit by allowing target stacks to retaliate multiple times until their full retaliation potential is used up (if attacked by stacks that they can easily destroy with less than one full retaliation.) So the stance could have perhaps four levels to indicate the creature’s percent readiness.
- Does the target have high morale? A simple (un)happy-face icon would serve, or the unit’s face could actually change (I wonder what a happy waspwort looks like? :)
- What target should I attack? The HOMM IV attack cursor is pretty good, showing “x 1/2" for range penalties, etc. It should be a little more prevalent – There are situations where the attack factor doesn’t show up, such as the castle moat – Just display any attack multiplier possible. Same goes for DD spells vs Magic Resistance, ward protections, whatever
– Show me an attack multiplier cursor. Also show me how many creatures I can expect to kill in the target stack along with the expected damage – With those tweaks I’m happy with the HOMM IV way. But I’d also like to see more information about range combined with the right-click movement shadow (which is great) – One shade for x 1/4 damage, another for x 1/2, etc. This would show me exactly where things are blocking my Line of Sight, and about where I should move to get a clear full-damage shot.
I'm finishing with something else near to my heart, in the hopes that UbiSoft makes a step change improvement in the MP experience. HOMM IV hotseat had a place, but on-line MP just didn’t work (IMO) because of transfer lag combined with the necessary waits involved in a turn-based game. (Somewhat) simultaneous moves would be very challenging to implement well, but could be The Key. The best way to improve at a game is to play against fresh opponents, lose, and then be able to see what they did that was so effective. WC III is fantastic for this, and HOMM IV isn’t even in the ballpark. I’m light on specifics here, so I will leave those up to the talented designers at Ubi!
Topic: How to avoid MPs inevitable (?) Anti-climax?