Taking lessons from Heroes 3

The game Might & Magic: Heroes VII, developed by Limbic Entertainment.

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Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby cjlee » Oct 15 2015, 17:51

The debacle that is Heroes 7 has lots of people talking about playing Heroes 3.

Naturally that draws derision from some quarters who feel the Heroes 3 crowd are too stuck in old ways and keep comparing everything to Heroes 3.

I, too, have spent some time thinking about the strengths of Heroes 3, and how it can be used for other versions. The goal is not to replicate Heroes 3 slavishly, but to learn from it and distill its successes for future reference. Here are a few of my conclusions:

1) basic game stability. Heroes 3 was stable and fast when it came out. It was a finished and polished product, simple as that. I don't ever remember patching it. Yes, occasionally it hung my computer (I'm talking about the very first version of RoE that I bought, rather than the Heroes Complete I am now playing which doesn't hang at all), but it WAS a finished product with hardly any problems.

2) low system requirements. I didn't have to buy a new computer for this game, simple as that.

3) vivid colours and appearances between creatures, races and hero appearances. It was a diverse and interesting world.

4) atmospheric music. I notice H7 music is of overall good quality, but some of the races don't seem to feel like the correct music. EG Wizards are not arcane and magical enough and too waltzy like some ballroom. H7 Necromancer music is not deathly, gloomy or scary. Take a page from H2 or H3, please. I remember playing the H2 music for each faction for a girl who didn't play Heroes. I asked her to match the music with the faction, and she did so 6 out of 6. The Necromancer H2 was creepy. H3 Necropolis music sounded like a funeral.

5) map editor This is incredibly important if a game is to be replayable, because the best maps are always fan made.

6) variety. Heroes 3 had a vast number of creatures, spells, abilities, specializations, artifacts all of which affect gameplay in their own way.

7) contrast. There is a real difference between the 1hp peasant, and the 1000hp Azure dragon. You need creatures with extreme power difference in order to create a sense of awe, challenge, progression, etc. Otherwise why bother to build your castle or fight your way up through creature ranks? As you can see from WoG, which added an 8th level of creatures, this is a concept that fans like. Having 3 tiers makes the game too dumb, because masses of level 1 can always beat moderate numbers of level 3.

8) special ability and counters. Like Starcraft, many H3 creatures have their abilities that can make them nearly invincible. Yet there is no real invincibility - there are always ways to solve this puzzle, eg by getting that artifact, using this spell or hiring that other creature. Yet in Heroes 7, skills and abilities are too homogenized. Everything can do some damage to some extent, nothing is such an effective counter for most other approaches, that the gamer needs to scratch his head and think for a long time.

As you can see from my distillation, there is no particular need to replicate any single, or even dozen, aspects of Heroes 3. You could get rid of titans, dwarves, Sandro as a hero and blind as a spell, and your game could still be incredibly fun.

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Kalah » Oct 15 2015, 20:42

Mod note: This topic is weighted towards being about H3, which would cause it to be moved to the H1-4 forum, but as it also contains a comparison of H3 and H7, it stays here for now. If it turns into a thread more about H3, it will be moved.
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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby cjlee » Oct 16 2015, 1:59

To be honest Kalah, I intended this to give people ideas about what they can do with Heroes 7. Replicate the strengths of H3 in H7.

My personal belief is that H3 is really too old by now. We're living in 2015. I still play H3, but it is closer in time to DOS games than modern HD games, and it shows.

I do not believe Ubisoft is capable or willing to create a product that we like.

But I also know that out there, we have many very smart coders. And clearly some people do like H7. These guys could explore the code for H7 and mod it. Granted, it is a tall order. But people really need to consider modding something that is already 3d. Not keep trying to make 800x600 graphics fit modern screens.

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Bloax » Oct 16 2015, 2:44

Power disparity - and thus progression - is definitely a very important thing, and also why I've for some reason always felt that even the most powerful level 7 creatures in H3 were somewhat lacking in sheer firepower.

There's just something very satisfying about single units being able to crush dozens of lower-tier units in single strikes.

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Galaad » Oct 16 2015, 10:55

Kalah wrote:Mod note: This topic is weighted towards being about H3, which would cause it to be moved to the H1-4 forum, but as it also contains a comparison of H3 and H7, it stays here for now. If it turns into a thread more about H3, it will be moved.

What the ...??!
You do know some people are taking a dump on Heroes 3 because they don't like the criticism on Heroes 7 right? This thread perfectly belongs in the h7 forum.

Mod note: Post edited. Mind the language, please ...

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Kalah » Oct 16 2015, 14:27

It belongs here if it's about how H7 could be improved by doing things the way they did it in H3 (which is why I haven't moved it), but not if it turns into a general discussion of how great H3 was. :)
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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Galaad » Oct 16 2015, 14:49

Sorry for I didn't know "what the hell" was inappropriate language. Noted.

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Panda Tar » Oct 16 2015, 15:21

Bloax wrote:Power disparity - and thus progression - is definitely a very important thing, and also why I've for some reason always felt that even the most powerful level 7 creatures in H3 were somewhat lacking in sheer firepower.

There's just something very satisfying about single units being able to crush dozens of lower-tier units in single strikes.


Balancing makes Heroes feel like that, a bit generic when they level the power of units. That's what I most like in H2 and, at some extent, in H4 (given choices between units have great disparities), the feeling of discrepancy, not a forced balance which initiated in H3. In H7, even now, they ended up strengthening one core and one elite, given that they spotted the H6 general feeling of having three units in the same tier. But in these new installments, it gives away the feeling, much more, that numbers will play a blatant role to win a battle than any other applied strategy.
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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby cjlee » Oct 16 2015, 15:49

Kalah wrote:It belongs here if it's about how H7 could be improved by doing things the way they did it in H3 (which is why I haven't moved it), but not if it turns into a general discussion of how great H3 was. :)



Exactly my intention, Kalah. I don't want to see people make H3 again. It's time for something better. But we need to learn the lessons of what worked. Chances are Ubisoft isn't going to fix this, so we need Wake Of Quantomas Equilibris.

H3 had solid foundations. The building that you place on the foundations can vary tremendously. A hospital is not a temple is not a school is not a luxury apartment is not a courthouse.

We need to separate the individual stylistic aspects of H3 from the crucial foundations, plumbing, sewage works, electricity and broadband lines.

Most gamers including me, our tastes can be manipulated to some extent. If you chose to name your dragons as 'giant cockroach' and 'upgraded giant cockroach', it's definitely a turnoff at first. But if game has solid gameplay, people will forget the ridiculous aspect after a while.

However, you can't negotiate away the basic functions. If I play Dragons for 4 hours, enduring 1 minute reload times, bad AI and get a game breaking bug, I will definitely prefer to play Cockroaches (or Worms - which my friends are all still crazy about, over 20 years after they first appeared).

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Kalah » Oct 16 2015, 16:04

I would add that we need the editor from H4, which was better than that of H3. The skill system of H5 was good too, right?
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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Galaad » Oct 16 2015, 16:09

IMO Doomforge says it best HERE.

To me, a HoMM game needs options, strategies, variety. It doesn't need cookie cutter "rock paper scissors" armies and a couple spells to boot.

It needs LOTS of artifacts, LOTS of spells and LOTS of units (like, HoMM5 with alternative upgrades, ofc. balanced so that one alternative upg is not obviously better than the other one).

It needs lots of adventure map objects aswell, lots of skills, and a feeling that pretty much every game you play is unique, and every map is an adventure (like in HoMM3).

To me, the only way for this to work is to create a HoMM3 x HoMM5 hybrid, maybe with elements of HoMM4 magic system (I liked the variety of spells, even though balance sucked as usual i.e. weak spells of Death magic school). Once you have the content, you can experiment with it in any way you please, the way WoG. But you need that content in the first place.

When the game tries to hold your hand and compose armies for you, picks the spells for you so that you can't pick a bad one and in general guides you through the game as if you were dumb... what the heck? Is this heroes or train simulator? we don't need any stupid on-rails gameplay. Let us pick ourselves, damnit.

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Panda Tar » Oct 16 2015, 17:34

What I think they should do:

    1. Play all Heroes games thoroughly, including users' maps, RMG maps, all campaigns, test all heroes, different strategies for the same map, all difficulties.
    2. Identify key-features from each installment and understand how they work.
    3. Based on the findings from #2, check around for feedback provided by all sources and learn how to improve and polish those key-features and understand why they would be better for each installment in particular.
    4. Round all these key-features already improved and improve them even more based on new possible applicable mechanisms.
    5. Add new key-features.
    6. Make those new key-features work with the other.
    7. Identify ways to improve old key-features even more in face of the new key-features.
    8. Prune what may come to be not necessary to keep the gaming experience outstanding.
    9. Provide possibility to toggle the game mechanics for different expertise - for beginners and for hardcore players - not only based on difficulty level. Possibly consider mechanics being tweaked at some extend to give more depth or a cleaner experience.
    10. Execute the project.
    11. Test it.
    12. Correct as many issues as possible.
    13. Release.
    14. Maintain.
    15. Gather feedback and improve.

Now, regarding some points from that Doomforge's post, I'm not fond of that many upgrades, but again, it could be toggled. I some many key-features as they were in H2, such as no spell schools or line ups with a diverse range of power. I'm also a H4 fan, so I expected, when 5 was under productions, that some key-features introduced in H4 would carry over to H5, polished, improved. Instead, they step back in direction of H3. That, in my perception, was a mistake. They could probably have done a much better work if they added and improved upon the last installments, instead of following one as a guideline based in popularity and hoped that would suffice. It is as if the feedback given in H4 only served to prune thing, instead of understanding why they didn't work and how they could be improved. Easiest way was to cut it out. Sadly, the expertise H4 had in being launched with many issues, such as bugs and balancing problems, has not worked for releasing H5 perfectly, coming out with many problems as well. This same problem repeating with H6 and H7. H6 failing in following those steps when understanding why fans enjoyed old installments and ignoring a great deal of feedback - and happening again with H7, listening to feedback from H6, but failing at identifying from older installments again. Besides, apart form a small detail in battle mechanics, I'm not sure one can say that H7 has any key-feature of its own, doesn't add up from old key-features, and change for worst other features which worked back then.

P.S.: playing other TBS games and understanding what fans like on these, and considering these points means to help improving their product; it is also valid. It's not like some of ideas used in these games are patent-pending. Testing what could work and help and improve gameplay, without cluttering it with things if it's possible achieving the same results with less elements.
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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby loran16 » Oct 17 2015, 0:41

cjlee wrote:The debacle that is Heroes 7 has lots of people talking about playing Heroes 3.

Naturally that draws derision from some quarters who feel the Heroes 3 crowd are too stuck in old ways and keep comparing everything to Heroes 3.

I, too, have spent some time thinking about the strengths of Heroes 3, and how it can be used for other versions. The goal is not to replicate Heroes 3 slavishly, but to learn from it and distill its successes for future reference. Here are a few of my conclusions:

1) basic game stability. Heroes 3 was stable and fast when it came out. It was a finished and polished product, simple as that. I don't ever remember patching it. Yes, occasionally it hung my computer (I'm talking about the very first version of RoE that I bought, rather than the Heroes Complete I am now playing which doesn't hang at all), but it WAS a finished product with hardly any problems.

Heroes 3 was indeed patched after the game came out (and after AB and SOD came out, there were at least one patch.) There was an updater included with the game, that no longer works for obvious reasons.

That said, I've been playing unpatched for a bit, and the game does work totally fine.

2) low system requirements. I didn't have to buy a new computer for this game, simple as that.


This is such a big one to me. This is a game series based largely on gameplay. Focus on graphics detracts from that, reduces potential amount of players, makes game run slower.....just not a good sacrifice.

5) map editor This is incredibly important if a game is to be replayable, because the best maps are always fan made.


I'm going to take a contrary view here. A Map editor is a feature that is great. On the other hand, your average player will never ever use it. And Heroes 3 existed before the era where you could share maps easily online. It's a very useful feature, and should be included (since now especially, maps can be shared), but it's not exactly as crucial as CH people think. This is the most hardcore audience here, not the average buyer.

6) variety. Heroes 3 had a vast number of creatures, spells, abilities, specializations, artifacts all of which affect gameplay in their own way.

7) contrast. There is a real difference between the 1hp peasant, and the 1000hp Azure dragon. You need creatures with extreme power difference in order to create a sense of awe, challenge, progression, etc. Otherwise why bother to build your castle or fight your way up through creature ranks? As you can see from WoG, which added an 8th level of creatures, this is a concept that fans like. Having 3 tiers makes the game too dumb, because masses of level 1 can always beat moderate numbers of level 3.

8) special ability and counters. Like Starcraft, many H3 creatures have their abilities that can make them nearly invincible. Yet there is no real invincibility - there are always ways to solve this puzzle, eg by getting that artifact, using this spell or hiring that other creature. Yet in Heroes 7, skills and abilities are too homogenized. Everything can do some damage to some extent, nothing is such an effective counter for most other approaches, that the gamer needs to scratch his head and think for a long time.

As you can see from my distillation, there is no particular need to replicate any single, or even dozen, aspects of Heroes 3. You could get rid of titans, dwarves, Sandro as a hero and blind as a spell, and your game could still be incredibly fun.


This stuff matters a lot more.

That said, I'd add a few things here:

1. The game needs to be more friendly toward newcomers. H3's campaigns started basically by allowing you to access the "easiest" campaigns first, and generally didn't ramp up the difficulty till later. It also included an actual tutorial. If you read the reviews of H7 for example, one of the common complaints is that the game basically provides no help for newcomers. This game doesn't allow for building the audience, so it fails by default.

2. The game needs a hook. Turn Based Strategy is a dying genre nowadays, and a problem with Heroes 7 is that it basically imitates Heroes 3 for the most part and the parts that it changes (skill wheel, forcing you to choose between tier 7 units, basically forcing you to choose between magic and might heroes), aren't exactly interesting.

Heroes 4's changes, while radical, were interesting: Here's a Heroes game that's more like an RPG where heroes take the field! And can change class! Heroes 3 itself was interesting in that it took Heroes' 2's "you can upgrade some units" and went "You can upgrade every unit!"

Heroes 7 has no hook. Everything is a retread or minor change. There's nothing really interesting.

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby cjlee » Oct 17 2015, 12:58

I have a friend who still plays a game invented several thousand years ago. It is a complex and absorbing game. My friend will spend money on books, many hours on youtube videos of the masters playing, etc. Until now, he regularly buys chess boards and pieces - even though he must have at least 50 other chess sets already. He's gone through 3 or 4 clocks already. He even has a chess tie and matching pins and cuff links. Also bought some collector's version of Chess (The Musical).

Ubisoft wants our money, I am more than happy to give them money. The question is, are they spending any effort, time or creativity to earn my money by giving me what I want?

No, while change is welcome for me, it isn't 100% necessary to keep playing people playing Heroes. As long as the variants are endless in the game, people will be absorbed.

That said I don't want to read people say they want Heroes 4 editor or Heroes 5 skill wheel. Please stick on topic - distil the winning features, not make a general comment about liking 2, 3, 4, 5. For instance, Heroes 5 skill wheel is good because it is complex, offers progression, offers choices and sacrifices. You are really building a hero, a guy who is unique and who will lose abilities in exchange for become super good in certain abilities. Necromancer ultimate Howl of Terror is super powerful vs Haven and Stronghold for instance, but weak vs Wizards and useless vs other Necromancers. So if you want to beat a team of diverse opponents, you will need diversity on your side and heroes with the right specializations taking out heroes whose specializations are weak against them.

Heroes 6 skill menu was useless because it helped you build cookie cutter heroes that have no racial characteristic, no unique development advantage, no unique weaknesses.

The reality is that everywhere in real life, as well as in good games, there are always choices and tradeoffs. You think a $100billion carrier group is powerful? Not against Osama bin Laden. To take out Bin Laden, you needed a small team of trained rangers, good intel and a stealth helicopter. Cost for that would be under 1/10000 than cost for a carrier group.

In Starcraft the Protoss mothership is super, super duper powerful. But without air-to-air combatant escorts, it is totally useless.

You can see aspects of this in Heroes 3 also, where Archdevil with Force Shield and antimagic is totally invincible - except against range attackers, dispel+spell combo, etc.

Heroes 6 heroes were so terrible. None of their advantages or specializations mattered. A weak hero with a big army would still steamroll a strong hero with a weak army - so what was the point of having a hero or developing anything?

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Erwinner » Oct 17 2015, 23:38

sorry to go a bit offtopic but just to ask is "what the hell" truly considered offensive language here, I found 87 hits for "what the hell" on this site through Google and none were edited or warned lol

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby cjlee » Oct 18 2015, 4:29

OK, here are also a few lessons on what not to do from Heroes 3:

1) overly random hero stats. Leaving things too much to probability can result in some weirdly improbable, but statistically possible, heroes. EG I once got a Planeswalker with stats 7 2 3 19. This problem was not fixed in H5, so I could get a Runemage with spellpower 2 knowledge 18. Knight with 24 attack, 30 defense, and knowledge at a pitiable 1, etc.

I have also heard that random number generators aren't totally random and partially dependent on the state of your computer.

These statistical extremes should be toned down whenever possible, because it could leave heroes really crippled. You really want to play a knight in H5 who can't even cast haste or cleansing? Or a Runemage with pretty much no spellcasting ability since he specialized in Fire Magic but only had spellpower 2?

A map editor could be devised to make a number of exceptions, eg certain heroes could be rendered incapable of learning certain skills and the information added to the hero bio, so that you already know in advance that you can't expect anything from this hero in this area. It was already done with Yog in H3, who could not cast any spells. For instance, Kilgor in H3 should never get Wisdom.

Another way is to offer a more dynamic means of skill allocation. If your H5 knight hero started down a dark path, she could be turned into a fallen knight. But even this keeps her in the 'knight' class with correspondingly low probability of getting 'dark' skills. Skill probabilities should be adjusted in accordance with hero choices. (This was poorly implemented in H6 with blood and tears heroes, but actually a good idea.)

One way could be to offer witch huts with 'agree to learn from witch' vs 'refuse to learn'. Then if a knight chooses to take necromancy at a witch hut, she automatically becomes a 'fallen knight' and the odds of her being offered other dark skills will increase.

2) overly random offering of skills. One time I got a Cleric to level 18 without being offered water magic once, although I was desperate for it. She got offered Fire magic 3 times, and I eventually accepted because otherwise it would mean getting eagle eye. Irritated, I checked, and found that water magic has a 4/112 probability of being offered to a cleric. Which means that we have a (108/112)^18=51.96% chance of it not ever being offered on the way to level 18.

This was greatly rectified in H5 due to the memory mentor, but overly rectified with a homogenous menu in H6.

What we need are dynamic menus that change with hero choices and types. Barbarians should not get the same menu as wizards. A barbarian who chooses a 'blood' or 'tears' path should get different menus. Keep using diplomacy, and you shouldn't be allowed to get Expert Offence for instance. Or else, to unlock the 'grayed out' Wisdom skill, they may need to agree to sacrifice something important to them such as 2 attack skill points.

Also...

We don't want to be dependent on the mapmaker's mercy for a memory mentor, so I'd like to propose that memory mentor schools be buildable in every town at a modest cost eg 1000 gold.

Of course there should be a price for everything. You want to forget something, you should give up something important to your race.

EG Dwarves should be forced to pay resources to get mentored. Knights pay gold. Wizards sacrifice experience. Warlocks sacrifice artifacts. Barbarians sacrifice troops.

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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Pitsu » Oct 18 2015, 6:04

cjlee wrote:OK, here are also a few lessons on what not to do from Heroes 3:

1) overly random hero stats. ...

2) overly random offering of skills. .



I would not think they are overly random, or it would happen every second time that the hero build ends totally different than initially planned. There already are certain key skills offered at certain points (if you have no wisdom then at level 6 wisdom is offered no matter of probabilities) and there are adventure map objects that allow one to level primary or secondary skills independently of hero leveling probabilities. Of course, there could be even more ways to give control, for instance more than two skill choices at level-up, but a mentor in every town would IMO lead to H6 gameplay.
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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Panda Tar » Oct 18 2015, 6:57

Erwinner wrote:sorry to go a bit offtopic but just to ask is "what the hell" truly considered offensive language here, I found 87 hits for "what the hell" on this site through Google and none were edited or warned lol


You two, that was a warning of cooling off, actually. I understood that without having to see the original post. Just keep in mind that here in CH, there are not ChrisD1s, GenyaArikados and whatnot where we must let out our anger spill out like that because 'normal' reasoning doesn't work. The problem is not language, but the meaning on the words which might start up an anger outburst upon this place. No one here is to blame for the state of things and everyone here, at least here in CH, manages to keep their mood from taking over. Just keep it cool, that 'what the hell' won't feel any worst than 'I like bunnies'. :tsup:

@cjlee
Sorry, cjlee, for this small interruption. Carry on.
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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Panda Tar » Oct 18 2015, 7:10

Pitsu wrote:
1) overly random hero stats. ...

2) overly random offering of skills. .


On these topics, for any Heroes game, I always wondered that heroes could get at least one choice based on Proficiency, which means that it is based on most taken actions. It is the logical path, I think, because you'll get experienced on things you are doing. Always thought it was so strange you battling enemies, killing them with your sword, having no spells, then, out of the blue, you are offered Mysticism and Scholar. In Heroes, you have means to make the game understand your primary behavior as a fighter, spell caster, builder or explorer, and based on that, give you corresponding 'semi-random' skill choices more logically tied to your expertise. Buildings such as the Witch Hut could then be one of the responsible for the 'un'fortunate random skills taught now and then.
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Re: Taking lessons from Heroes 3

Postby Maciek » Oct 18 2015, 17:25

Both h3 and h4 do have certain mechanisms reducing randomness of skills offered at level-ups and I find them quite effective. I don't know if any of those mechanisms are present in any of the newer 'Heroes' games.


1) Exceptions

H3-styled level-up exceptions have the following form: "Every hero of class 'A' will be offered skill from group 'B' at least every N levels."

As Pitsu noted above, some rules of this type are present in h3 with regards to Wisdom and Magic Schools and they are very effective. For example, if you accept every offered Magic School, you will always end up with at least 3 of them. I'm not saying this is what you should always do, but it is always a possibility.
I believe there are similar exceptions regarding Combat skill in h4.

But we can imagine similar rules applied to other skills. For example "Every Knight will be offered Offense, Defense, Tactics, Morale or Luck skill at least every 4 levels." or "Every hero will be offered Logistics, Pathfinding, Scouting or Stealth at least every 5 levels. Make it every 3 in case of Rangers and Beastmasters."
A few rules of this type can make wonders.


2) Class skills

I couldn't think of a better name for this mechanism. It has the following form: "Out of N skills offered to a hero at level-up, K will be picked from a limited list, determined by the hero's class, current skills, possibly level or other factors."

For examples, let's have a look at h4. Out of the 3 skills a Bard will be offered, one will always be picked from Scouting skill tree and one from Nature Magic skill tree. Out of 3 skills a Mage will be offered, 2 will be picked from Order Magic skill tree.
To a lesser extent, this is also present in h3 and h5. Notice how in both of those games you're always offered an upgrade an existing skill.

This mechanism helps consistently build heroes specializing in some area instead of jacks of all trades.


3) Pre-defined skill trees

This mechanism has the following form: "For each hero there is a list of pre-defined possible skill trees. At the start of the game, one of them is picked at random."

This mechanism is present in h3 (but not in h4) and there, it concerns both primary and secondary skill advancements. For every hero there are 255 possible skill trees and (for every hero) one of them is picked at random when you start a map.
In h4, instead of pre-defined skill trees, you get (in singleplayer) the chance to re-roll dices responsible for a level-up by loading the game. For example when your Bard gets to choose between Basic Navigation, Basic Summoning and Basic Chaos that you don't happen to want.

Pre-defined skill trees help eliminate the strokes of absurdly high bad luck otherwise bound to happen once in a while when many people play the game multiple times. For example, I'm sure it's not possible for any Plesanwalker to get 7-2-3-19 primary stats just from level-ups. Even with a bunch of random artifacts and skill increasing buildings it won't happen very often.


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