Feel free to leave a comment, agree, disagree, remonstrate or generally rip the whole thing apart. Like you guys ever needed any encouragment... It’s been four years since the release of an awkwardly conceived Heroes IV and the debacle that resulted in the dissolution of 3DO, briefly throwing the fate of the whole Might & Magic series into the ether. Heroes of Might & Magic V has both a new publisher and developer, was dogged by fan concerns for its development in the open Beta and, in the universal battle of art versus sales, a horribly premature March release was narrowly overcome by the sonorous outcry from the community. And we can all pat ourselves on the backs guys because in hindsight, it bloody needed it!
So I have valid reason for my adolescent excitement in receiving my ‘Super Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ being somewhat tempered by cynicism. I’m taking the hype with a pinch of salt, especially as I’m still reeling from the sucker punch 3DO dealt me in 2002. Thank god the Wake of Gods and Equilibris mod teams were in my corner reviving my enthusiasm for my favourite series ever.
Heroes V certainly heralds back to the days of Heroes III. It’s a stale and thus much berated comparison in the Celestial Heavens forums, but all too relevant. Beneath the graphical sophistication and a natural transition to full 3D lies many of Heroes III’s simpler game mechanics that were radically (and controversially) overhauled in Heroes IV. And frankly, for the most part it’s to the credit of the game.
This next chapter is set in the new world of Ashan and features the standard Heroes stuff: six factions with many familiar races and creatures, same resources and resource management, a similar (but extended) magic system to that of previous Heroes incarnations, combat and adventure phases and the same explore, expand and conquer strategic formula. So veterans will feel very comfortable with the Heroes V experience from the offset, although a number of major features have sufficiently changed the game to warrant its new title. This is just as well, because most of us didn’t fork out the best part of £40 for Heroes III with eye candy!
Developer Nival Interactive has taken the unprecedented step of including an optional dynamic mode in addition to the turn-based system. Essentially, this limits the amount of time you have to take each turn for both combat and adventure phases. It’s a simple idea that works particularly well for multiplayer games where serial indecision can render a small map into eye-bleeding tedium for the other players. However, if this feature was intended to give the game a broader appeal within the genre, I can’t help but feel it was misguided, as the HOMM series is a genre-defining turn-based game and essentially the dynamic system detracts from the gameplay experience.
Ghost mode has remedied the thumb-twiddling phase for players awaiting their turn in multiplayer games. Human players are now bequeathed spirits that can travel the map and explore new territory while other human players are taking their turn. Ghosts can increase in power, possess neutral creature stacks, attack other ghosts, haunt enemy mines (decreasing their output) and even curse enemy heroes. Ghost mode is limited both by the amount of movement your ghosts have and the enemy heroes’ turn – an incentive for your lagging mates to hurry their turn. It’s a novel solution and apart from being a bit overpowered - powerful ghosts can cover a serious distance and are unrestricted by water and terrain – it lends an interesting facet to the new episode.
But unless you’re a newbie to the HOMM series, this might all have proved to be ephemeral gloss coating a hackneyed title. Heroes V’s saving grace, what truly lends it new depth and delivers the series from wilting into mediocrity, is the innovative and profoundly detailed new skill system.
Taking the best aspects of Heroes III and IV skill systems, a single hero levelling up can choose from one of 12 skills (in the time-honoured schools of both might and magic) up to a maximum of six, from basic, to advanced to expert level. Each skill unlocks three abilities and the right combination of both can unlock further specialisations and, ultimately, the supremely powerful ultimate skill and ability.
Many of these abilities are unique to each faction, including one skill that each new hero begins with (e.g. necromancers start with basic necromancy) and a unique ability for every hero. This allows for an incredible level of customisation and careful hero development.
This is what the HOMM series is really about: not a glorified, turn-based fantasy Command and Conquer. Not charging around the feral countryside with a generic, cookie-cutter unit made distinguishable only by a portrait and a few lines of biography. It’s about charging around the feral countryside with a unique Hero with a distinct role within your empire and approach to the combat and adventure phases.
And despite the number bugs Heroes V was released with anyway (even with the extra month development time), the slightly dim AI, the lack of map editor and the general lack of single scenario maps, I love this game. It seems that, for most of us, our fan-friendly Ubisoft Producer Fabrice Cambounet has made good on his promise not to repeat the tragedy that was Heroes IV and disappoint a demanding Heroes community. Although you can’t please everyone…
- Heroes V is:
- A series-saver
- Very accessible
- Heroes V is not:
- Heroes IV
- Heroes III#2
- Worth 9/10… prior to patches