I. Intro

Heroes IV (H4) is everything you'd expect out of a new game designed for today's technology. The graphics are simply amazing. Designers intent on producing quality maps will likely be producing works of art at the same time. The creature appearances in-game (and animated) are much better than some of the stills we saw pre-release.

Sound? The only word that remotely fits is "stunning". The most excellent musical scores I've heard in a game combined with good creature and interface sound effects put H4 in a very elite tier. Some songs may motivate players to turn the base and volume on their speakers way up and just listen for a while.

Those used to H3 will think things are not as intuitive in H4 when they first install and fire it up. They should keep in mind that H4 IS a new game and not just another add on or expansion to the previous series. The best recommendation for new players is to just take the time and get used to it. Play will become nearly as innate in H4 as it was in the past.

One of the BIG pluses in H4 is that the game forces players to micromanage much less. The days of leaving 2-4 "pack-mule" heroes scattered around the map just to collect resources and creatures is over. Windmills, Creature Habitats and other such buildings now automatically send their resources to you every week once they're flagged. Monsters aren't quite the same but building a "Caravan" structure in a town allows you to purchase them directly from their habitats. It takes them a day or more to show up, depending on distance, but it's much faster than if the armies in question physically made the trip. Transfers between towns with caravans can also be done even with entire groups containing heroes.

Another big change in H4 is the fact that armies no longer require a hero to escort them; though, there are benefits to doing so as one would expect. You wish to reinforce your main hero? No problem. Just buy the creatures at the closest town and send them on their way. You can have up to eight separate armies, with or without heroes, traversing around the map at any given time.

Added strategy comes to the game with the new Fog of War or Shroud. At the start the black, murky haze will hide all aspects of the strategic map save whatever your town(s) can see, just like the old game. Once a hero moves over an area one can see what's around as expected; however, once the hero leaves the area the terrain is shaded into a darker color scale and enemy heroes and armies can not be seen. Given this, it will now be possible to sneak up on your opponents if you move stealthily enough. Buildings of your flag have a short scouting range so an approaching enemy would do well to avoid such structures to keep from sounding the alarm.

II. Towns and Creatures

In H4 there are only six town types to choose from: Academy (order), Asylum (chaos), Haven (life), Necropolis (death), Preserve (nature) and Stronghold (might). Each has it's own strengths and weaknesses as well as a unique unit load out. Many towns have likenesses to those from H3; however, the destruction of Erathia seems to have scrambled things a bit.

Another important change is the fact that though there are now eight available creatures per town, only five can be produced. There are two types of creatures per level in each town. Of the four separate creature levels, only the weakest (L1) creatures can be produced simultaneously. A choice must be made of which habitat to build at each level from two to four. This means that capturing a town of your primary type is not a guarantee to be an exact match to your capital's habitats.

Lastly, it's important to note here that there are now no upgrades to any creature type in towns. Thus, the crimp on your resources is a bit lower but they need to be considering the top gold output of any town is now 1000 a day barring the Grail Structure.

The Academy

This town, given the units available, most resembles H3's Tower. Many units like the powerful Titans and spell casting Genies have returned. There are fresh faces too like the Dragon Golem who, despite a comical appearance, is a worthwhile combat unit.

Each town, save the Stronghold, has it's own "School of Magic". The Academy boasts the "Order" side of the magical spectrum. There is a small amount of direct damage in the forum of "Magic Fist" and "Ice Bolt". This is not where the school gets it's strength though; instead, a powerful array of combat affecting spells such as Illusion, Berserk, Hypnotize and Mass Slow make such armed wizards a formidable enemy. See the CH Spell List for info on specific spells from all the schools.

The average Academy unit statistics are a bit below average but not to where the town is unplayable. The units you know from the Tower are still formidable and the newbies are worthwhile also. So which creatures does one choose to produce? That is what will be covered for each town:

L2: Gold Golems They are very tough on hit points and do more attack damage than any other L2 unit. Combine this with heavy magical resistance (75%) and it's very worthwhile. However, they are very slow and getting them into a fighting position is sometimes difficult.

L2: Magi These aren't the plane Jane shooters you remember from H3; instead, they come with a small repertoire of powerful spells that they can inflict upon the enemy. You get some nice damage out of these units and good longevity since you can protect them in the rear of your battle line.

My Vote: Magi. The L1 Dwarves and L4 Dragon Golems (if chosen) give you all the tanking action you could need. Any more detracts from your combat potential.

L3: Genie Once again, the Genie is a potent spell caster, but this time you get to control where "she" casts. They can shoot for big damage or create Illusions (copies of any stack on the battlefield). The Illusions may not sound so powerful but they deal out and absorb real damage which is a great way to reduce casualties. Genies are quite brittle for L3 units though so it's not a good idea to have them on the front lines where they can easily be pummeled.

L3: Naga Just like you remember them: Nice damage, No Retaliation and decent toughness. While she is no speed demon, she's not a slug either.

My Vote: Somewhat close but I definitely lean toward the Genie. Their Illusion spell and direct spell damage are just too cool to pass up.

L4: Dragon Golem One of H4's brand new units. They are formidable melee creatures with their First Strike ability as well as the fact that they cancel out enemy first striking. Their speed is good so despite their large size it's fairly easy to get them where they're needed.

L4: Titan How can one not like the big guys?! They were always a favorite in H3 and they don't disappoint now. In addition to being high damage ranged units they now come with "Chaos Ward". It's an ability which reduces the damage they take from troops and spells of that alignment.

My Vote: Has to be the Titan, though the Golem isn't a bad choice either.

The Asylum

It's hard to say which H3 town the Asylum mirrors given a broad mix of units now makes their home here. This town boasts "Chaos Magic" which offers a multitude of nice direct damage spells like Chain Lightning and Implosion. There are also some potent creature affecting spells like Blood Frenzy (+25% to all friendly melee combat creatures) and mass First Strike. The offense from this school is very potent to say the least.

As far as units go, the L1's are somewhat weak but that's to be expected. Less "utility" here than the Academy but what they lack in spells, they gain in brawn.

L2: Medusas Like in H3 the Medusa is a shooter with an added kick; however, she no longer turns things to stone that she touches. Instead, the old Mighty Gorgon "Stone Gaze" ability yields her extra kills in addition to her normal ranged damage. Not bad at all.

L2: Minotaurs Detuned from the heavy axe swinging creatures you remember. The key change to this creature though is their brand new ability to block both melee and ranged attacks. It kicks in a decent percentage of the time and stops all incoming damage before they retaliate. Once again... not bad.

My Vote: The best offense is a good offense (I love tautologies). I'd rather have a unit that can shoot at things and get more kills than something that may or may not be a bit more survivable. Plus, they are the only real range units you get given the L1 Orcs are not very effective. Medusas are the way to go.

L3: Efreeti Displaced from their old home of the Inferno, these units are a worthwhile choice. They are very fire based which means they can resist such attacks but also can be resisted at the same time. Their fire shield is a small but noticeable kicker to their offensive potential.

L3: Nightmare Nightmares are very tough (most hits out of any L3) with good speed and damage. They can cast terror on a target which effectively nullifies a creature's actions for several rounds. Nice if you NEED to shut something down in a battle. Another thing is that these guys just look really cool. Kudos to the artist that designed him.

My Vote: Pick 'Em. Either one will serve you well.

L4: Black Dragons There's a lot to be said for being the biggest and the baddest. The BD is exactly this. They have more hits and damage than any creature in the game. BD's are also immune to all spells just like in H3 which can be a curse and a blessing. So... "what's the problem" you might ask? Quantity and cost. You get one of these a week for production and they are a whopping 8000 each plus a small amount of sulfur. Still... even just a few of these wyrms will add SO much to your army.

L4: Hydras Big, slow and anything (unfriendly) next to it just gets whacked with no chance to retaliate. Because the Hydra is limited to ground movement it sometimes is hard to get them into a good attack position. Despite getting twice as many per week as one does BD's I don't think there is a real comparison here.

My Vote: Big, nasty Dragons. (and no I'm not biased just because I'm the "plaid" variety)

The Haven

The Haven is very much like the H3 Castle given the majority of those creatures made it to H4 in this town type. It's a good town for those who enjoy being able to protect and/or revive stacks of their troops in order to better maintain critical mass. Various spells from the Life Magic school as well as Haven creatures will better ensure the survival of your armies.

The potential to select three, quality ranged units is one of the Haven's better points; however, one of them, the Ballista has some serious drawbacks.

L2: Ballistae This war machine is mechanical and thus is immune to certain spell effects. Also, it can fire through walls and obstacles with no penalty; even at great distance. Once again one could ask "what's the problem?" This time, there is an answer that some won't like. The Ballista is one of the slowest units in the game both strategically and tactically. Of course, the tactical move is much less important given it's firing bonuses, but though actual experience I'll say this unit DOES slow your main army down by anywhere from two to four spaces a turn. Does that overcome its good points? Maybe.

L2: Pikemen As an alternative to the Ballista, you lose the ranged attack with the Pikemen but not entirely. They can strike creatures melee but can do so up to two units of distance away on the combat screen. The defending unit does not retaliate given the Pikemen actually have the space to move out of the defenders range.

My Vote: I lean towards the Pikemen but claim the Ballista has its merits. Towards the end of the game in which I first used the big machines I got tired of toting them around so I left about 120 of them in my capital with a newbie hero. An enemy snuck an army to my gate, and from the center platform the Ballistae annihilated the attacking force, which included Faerie Dragons and a few other high level stacks.

L3: Crusaders He's tougher than you remember him and he carries a larger sword. Other than that the Crusader's function is about the same with average speed and double strike. Add a built in Death Ward for defense bonuses versus death aligned targets and it's a worthwhile choice.

L3: Monks If you opt to go against the Ballista it'd probably be wise if you chose Monks instead of the Crusaders. The Monks are the last chance you'll have for a ranged unit in this city type and they still fare pretty well in the roll. Like their Crusader counterparts, they too have Death Ward. (Additional Note: Monte Python fans will get a kick out of seeing their animation. Just move the cursor over them and they'll do it.)

My Vote: Pick 'em. Once again I'd say it depends on your L2 choice. If you pick the ranged unit in L2 then take the Crusader for L3 and vise versa.

L4: Archangels Very fast and very deadly, the Angel still comes with his Resurrection spell. Be careful where you use it though since it's a one shot deal no matter if you resurrect 5 hit points worth of creatures or 500. You can't make a mistake by picking these guys.

L4: Champions By far, the Champion is the weakest of all the L4 units. So why pick them over the Archangel? What you lack in quality you make up for in quantity. Four Champs a week is greater than some L3 creatures even. They work about the same here as in H3. The farther they move before striking, the more their damage bonus will be.

My Vote: The Angel by a wing. A flying unit with Resurrection beats out a ground-pounder despite getting only two a week. You can have fun with the Champs no doubt so picking them isn't a mistake... at least not a bad one.

The Necropolis

Given the H4 Necropolis is mostly a conglomeration of the H3 town of the same name as well as the Inferno, perhaps they should have named this town the "Necroferno" or maybe the "Infernpolis". Regardless, this town is the center for Death Magic as one would expect from such a title. Some of the more potent spells involve reviving dead or nearly dead stacks to fight for your side during a battle. Good spells to mention would be Vampiric Touch which gives the targeted stack the Vamps life regain ability for the duration of combat, also there is the spell called Sacrifice. This version is better than what you remember from H3. You still must target one of your own stacks but it now revives twice the number of hits that the live stack had prior to the spell. I used this on a number of Imps once to revive some Venom Spawn of mine that had been smashed. A nice exchange.

Some very powerful units reside in the Necropolis. Some would argue they are the best in the game. Some of the less notable undead creatures come with affixes like "Skeletal" and "Insubstantial" that offer significant defensive bonuses.

L2: Cerebri The three-headed dogs are back again to prove their bite IS, in fact, worse than their bark. It's fairly easy to maneuver them into positions where they can hit multiple targets. They are a great candidate for the Vampiric Touch spell given their affinity to be mass mugged by the computer. The spell definitely helps keep them alive.

L2: Ghosts I know what you're thinking. You played H2 and remember how big you could make your Ghost stack. Sorry. Not this time. These particular Ghosts do not have the ability to grow like the H2 version. They simply are fast flying units who can "Age" their opponents by dropping their defense and speed values when hitting them.

My Vote: For a potent town, the L2 units are sort of bland. Either one is a pretty good choice but I prefer the Ghosts since their numbers can be augmented by the Undead Converter town structure as well as a hero's Necromancy skill.

L3: Vampires Fast, Flying, Undead, No Retaliation, Life Sucking. All in one package? Whoo Hoo! The only problem is that only three are produced a week. Of course, the converse to this is, that a like number of Venom Spawn are produced so you don't lose anything quantity-wise. In addition, just like the Ghost, skills and town structures can help get you more Vamps.

L3: Venom Spawn Many look at the L3 choice for this town and don't even give a second thought to these disgusting blobs. Well, those people should think again. The Spawn boasts the top amount of damage for any shooter in the game barring the Titan. The only L3 that does more damage than the spawn would be the Nightmare. In addition they have a nasty poison effect that melts away the hits of any affected stack every turn until the end of combat. Consider again that the Spawn is the only ranged unit the Necropolis has to offer.

My Vote: This one will be the topic of debate for the duration of the game's popularity. It's looking like the early consensus leans toward the Vamps but I'll go out on a limb and say the Spawn closely competes. Who would I chose personally? Um... errr... [cough] Vamps [cough]. Live opponents will be motivated to concentrate fire on the Vamps so the Spawn may be more popular in multiplayer games.

L4: Bone Dragons Much improved over their H3 predecessors, the Bone Dragons are very tough (second only to the Black Dragon and tied with the Phoenix) and now strike without retaliation. In addition struck creatures will run a short distance away which can help if you wish to break up someone's formation.

L4: Devils The cataclysm that swallowed Erathia left these tortured soles without a hand. Apparently the prosthetics available in Axeoth were few and far between. I'm talking about the trident-like thing that passes for one of his hands. Aside from that, the rest of the Devil's appearance is fine and his performance is outstanding. The teleportation skill can put him anywhere on the combat map he wants to go which is potentially unbalancing. Life ward keeps him from being hurt as bad by Haven creatures and they can summon a number of Ice Demons equal to their own stack once per combat.

My Vote: Devils. Easy. Until (if at all) the teleport skill is nerfed they will be very superior to the Bone Dragons.

The Preserve

The Preserve is the center of Nature Magic. Most of the spells associated with this town are one kind or another of summoning. This type of spell lasts only for the duration of combat, so don't count on magically creating permanent stacks of whatevers this way. Mass First Strike and Mass Speed are a couple other nice spells the school has to offer.

The Preserve gets a bonus that no other town does in the form of a summoning portal. This gate will allow you to summon a nice array of nature creatures in varying quantities. Unlike the summoning spells, these creatures are permanent. The types available include various low and mid level creatures, the Elementals (nicely improved in most cases) and even the new Waspwort which is a decent ranged unit that infects it's targets with weakness for the duration of combat.

The towns regular units are fairly potent.

L2: Elves Double Shot and First Strike. Why would one not want to field them? No good answer. Still, it must be pointed out that their hit points are below average when compared to other L2's and a weekly quantity of six is the lowest you can get in the bracket.

L2: White Tigers Don't tell Sigfreed and Roy about this game. They may complain that fielding these cats in battle is an animal rights violation. In all seriousness the big cats are decent units having nearly twice the hit points that the Elves do. Their damage is double the Elves level but it evens out given the cats only strike their opponents once.

My Vote: I think the Elves are a better choice here since higher level Preserve selections WILL yield you some nice melee creatures in the form of the Griffon or Unicorn and potentially the Phoenix at L4. First Strike for ranged is important given other ranged units won't immediately fire back since combat is simultaneous now.

L3: Griffons These Castle off-casts somehow ended up here after the long trip from Erathia. Obviously only the stronger members of their species survived as they are now very tough and do much better damage. They still come with unlimited retaliation

L3: Unicorns Slightly weaker than in H3, the Unicorn still is a worthwhile unit with its Blinding skill.

My Vote: The Birds win. Getting one less bird a week than Unicorns isn't that big of a deal. Their initiative is high enough to have them wait well into the turn so they can attack after other friendly units have absorbed the defender retaliations. I actually had a fair sized stack of these units in a game where I was playing Haven as my primary town. I flew them over the wall on a city attack and after the enemy decimated them (taking heavy casualties in the process) I had my Archangel stack resurrect them. The AI had to be cursing and swearing at that point.

L4: Faerie Dragons Not the plushy purple butterfly-winged dragons you remember from H3, but they still come with a lethal spell compliment. A stack of as few as ten or so of these will wreak havoc across the battlefield. One thing to do with them (provided the space is available) is split just one off into it's own stack. While the big group of them fires away with lightning or other direct damage spells, the lone dragon will cast Confusion to shut a key enemy stack down every turn. Watch their Magic Mirror skill too. I nearly killed my own stack of Magi once given I forgot what that the Dragons would reflect a portion of spell damage back at the caster. Nasty.

L4: The Phoenix Ever want to know what a BBQ'd chicken would look like provided the chef forgot to de-feather the bird in question? Bring on the Phoenix! Despite the bird's silly appearance they STILL are the fastest units in the game. Give them Fire Breath and Rebirth for skills and they are just as alluring to use as ever. As with any breath weapon creature you must be careful where you place them as the AI has a knack for making your Birds (Black Dragons too) fry your own units.

My Vote: Pick 'em. Sometimes I really wish I could have both units from a given town. This is one of those cases. Though the "Fire Chicken" is more of a solid combat unit, the Dragon is about the nature town's only source of direct damage magic.

Preserve Summonables: I won't go into the L1 or L2 creatures you can summon through the portal since I suspect that none will really be a popular choice.

L3: Air Elementals These are nothing more than really tough (and fast) flying units. They are Insubstantial which means their over-all defense rating is doubled for physical attacks both melee and ranged. Not bad but nothing to do cartwheels over either.

L3: Fire Elementals They are slower than their airy counterparts, but have the advantage of a ranged attack. Fire Elementals, as one would expect, have a fire-based attack which means they resist fire attacks as well as can have their own salvos resisted. If you're looking to bolster your ranged attack don't bother with these guys. See the "Waspworts" section below as to why.

L3: Earth Elementals They are slower than an Air Elemental but have magic resistance and do more melee damage. Slow tanks are nice in some situations but I'm always more willing to sacrifice a little toughness and damage for better speed.

L3: Water Elementals Instead of being ranged like in H3, Water Elementals now come with a short list of spells. Direct damage from magic is sometimes preferable to physical ranged attacks since there is no retaliation. I like these units a lot and are one of the top three portal choices in my opinion.

L3: Wasports Do you like your salad with Italian dressing or napalm? These leafy, moving plants are very deadly shooters and come with a built in Weakness spell versus whatever they target. A base quantity of six a week means you can stack up large quantities of these in a very short time. They are over 50% tougher than the water elementals but are slower on the strategic map. A nice heavy hitter if that's what you're looking for, plus they are a good alternative to the Water Elemental's direct damage spells if you're facing a heavily resistant opponent.

L4: The Mantis A big, giant, fearsome bug. His Binding skill keeps creatures he strikes in place as well as minimizing their damage. They're SLIGHTLY brittle at 210 hits a piece but that's not that bad of a detriment. Their cost per average damage point is a bit high as well. The ability to hold things in place is somewhat useful, but I've found that the AI likes to beat on the bug with everything possible until the bug either lets go or is dead. A weekly quantity of one just isn't enough either. I'll take Black Dragons with that same quantity because you get SO MUCH more with them. The binding utility just isn't worth it.

My Vote: Water Elemental, Salad Slicer or Mantis. The two L3 units are both very worthwhile. If, however, you'd like to field another L4 in addition to your Faerie Dragon or Phoenix then the Mantis is the way to do it. The L1 and L2 choices just aren't worth it and the Fire and Earth Elemental don't give enough bang for your buck.

The Stronghold

Magic? We don't need no STINKIN' MAGIC! That's right, this town has exactly zero access to magic of any type save a potion or two. Instead, the town concentrates on brute strength, magic resistance and large army sizes for it's success. At the town tavern you may hire heroes from any of the other five town types EXCLUDING those who come with any magic or spellcasting skills. What you CAN do with those other hero types is find yourself one with "Nobility" to augment your creature production. See Section III for more info on that skill.

The Breeding Pit town structure is very important to the Stronghold because of the 50% bonus to creature growth it bestows. Imagine how big of an army you could create with the Pit, a hero with Grandmaster (GM) Nobility and a grail structure. That would be +150% creature growth total.

L2: Harpies They have the same functionality as they did in H3, striking without retaliation after which they fly back to their original position. Their move rate in combat puts them in a very elite tier of creatures that move across the entire battlefield and attack in a single turn. Not bad for a measly L2 creature.

L2: Nomads The Nomads only slightly slower then the Harpies but are about twice as tough doing around 50% more damage. The fact that they have First Strike adds to their survivability.

My Vote: The Nomads are second to only the Gold Golems in toughness and are quick enough to move over ground without much problem. I'll take them over the Harpies most of the time. Choose either way and you get a good unit though.

L3: Cyclops One of the creatures I've learned to hate (at least when the enemy has them) is the Cyclops. Their damage is not extraordinary but the fact that they do it to a wide area of effect can be extremely devastating. A quantity of three a week isn't that much of a problem considering the various means you can use to augment the number. In fact it's most likely a good balancing factor. Be careful with these critters as it's possible to damage your own stacks if they are close to the target area.

L3: Ogre Magi The Ogres are very slow and have a magic arsenal of the Blood Lust spell. Other than that I don't see how they compare even when you get twice as many a week as you do Cyclops. I doubt even the AI in it's current state would make the mistake of fielding these guys.

My Vote: If it's not obvious I'll reiterate. Take the "One Eyed Rock Hurlers" unless you like mediocrity.

L4: Behemoths AKA "Gorilla Mutants". These lumbering beasts do amazing damage with their strength bonus; however, their primary problem comes from the fact that they are so large and so slow at the same time. Smaller creatures can fit in tighter places, which helps them get around obstacles and such. I recall in one battle I absolutely needed the Behemoths to attack and kill a specific stack or my hero would be killed and get no experience. The Behemoths couldn't fit in the small space between the ground-clutter and tried to walk all the way around ending his turn with effectively no action. Result: Large amount of swearing and a dead hero (not quite in that order).

L4: Thunderbirds Given the glowing review of the "Gorillas" you'd think the T-Birds would hands down be the winner in this case. Well, you'd be right. They're damage isn't quite as good and they are definitely more brittle but this is overcome by a nice lightning effect as well as a starting quantity of three a week instead of two. The fact that they fly and move about double the Behemoths distance should also be mentioned here.

My Vote: Thunderbirds obviously; however, if you don't mind dealing with the immobility of the Behemoths go ahead and take them. Their Strength ability combined with an already high damage total makes them VERY dangerous... given they can actually get into the fight.

III. Heroes and Skills

One of the biggest differences between H3 and H4 is that heroes now actually are part of the battlefield rather than passive, spell-casting spectators. This means they can fight, kill and be killed. Don't worry, though. If you win a battle in which a hero is slain you'll notice a tombstone in place of the hero's picture in the army list. Bring that group back to any friendly town and he/she will be resurrected for free. Generally, it's a good idea to avoid getting your hero's killed because they will get no experience from a battle in which they are slain.

You can also have multiple heroes per army group in this game. I think two is the optimal number. Any more and you detract from the number of big armies you can field along with them. Any less and you miss out on either combat benefits or spell casting.

The skill system in H4 is remarkably different than in H3. In the old game a player would get a choice of two skills whenever a hero leveled and was restricted to any 10 skills total. In H4, this has changed. The skills are broken out into "Primary" and "Secondary. Each primary skill has three secondary skills associated with it. As one would expect the all the skills in each primary group are at least loosely related to each other. Every hero can have up to five primary skills as well as all three secondary skills that go with each primary. Each skill has five levels of expertise in the following order from lowest to highest:

1) Basic
2) Advanced
3) Expert
4) Master
5) Grandmaster

Each level gains certain bonuses and abilities beyond the previous one. I won't go into all the skills here because they are adequately covered in the user manual. I will, however, key on a few specific ones that I feel are worth mentioning.

First and foremost is a skill that I feel no one can live without. That is "Nobility". This skill, as was mentioned in section II, augments the weekly creature production in a town. For this to occur the player must simply bring the Nobility hero to the town he wishes and select the appropriate control to get his hero "elected". Then the town's production will instantly increase. The percentage ranges from 10% to 50%.

What good is it, one may ask, to get 10% more Black Dragons a week given only one is produced. In H3, fractions would be truncated but this is not the case for H4. That extra 0.1 a week of a black dragon is cumulative meaning that once every 10 weeks, an extra Black Dragon will show up for hire. Thus it's easy to see why getting the percentage up to 50 as quickly as possible would be advantageous.

I reiterate, every player needs at least one hero with the Nobility skill. Those who don't have them will be at a serious disadvantage.

As if one needed more motivation to use Nobility, the secondary skills that go with it allow for greater gold production "Estates" and greater resource generation "Mining". Nobility is the gift that keeps on giving.

Another "must have" skill would be "Tactics". What this does is allow for increasing levels of combat speed as well as initiative in battle. This skill alone can really help you get big, lumbering units like Behemoths into the battle a lot faster. Other skills that go along with tactics are very worthwhile. They are "Offense" which lets your creatures do more damage, "Defense" which allows your creatures to take less damage in combat and finally, "Leadership" which gives all your troops bonuses to Luck and Morale.

The various magic skills such as "Chaos Magic" are all relatively similar. They all allow either allow you cast higher level spells and/or augment existing mana points or spell casting effectiveness. Generally, I'll have one hero be a true mage and the other the tactician. That way you get the best of both worlds in some nice helpful spells as well as fast creatures with high combat initiative.

There IS good argument though to have your two primary heroes both as heavy spell casters. This allows a player to blanket the battlefield with helpful (or harmful in the enemy's case) spell effects more quickly. You lose out on skills like tactics but each school of magic has a spell or two that you'll find to be worth it in its stead.

IV. Combat

One easily noticeable feature to combat is the Isometric Combat map. In a nutshell, "Isometric" means that there is no hexagonal grid and that though it won't appear this way, the map is taller than it is wide.

As was mentioned in section III, heroes are now physically part of the battlefield. They can take damage and die like any other unit. There are certain things one can do to help prevent this such as potions. Immortality potions allow a hero to instantly come back to life if killed in a combat. The potion can be consumed at any time and will last until his first death (this will happen pretty much every game at least once). The game does not allow you to consume multiple potions but many may be carried and consumed even during a battle if need be. At 1000 each from each town's Alchemists (name of structure will vary from town to town) many would think these potions are way under-priced as well as too readily available.

City Sieges are another very different aspect to the game. Gone are the days where a catapult magically appears out of thin air for every town assault. Gone also are the three auto-shooting, uncontrollable towers that defended each city given a castle was built.

The walls of a city now are pretty much indestructible. The main gate, however is not. It takes three shots from any creature (or hero) stack that does 50 damage or more to break down the door of a city with a castle. Once this occurs anyone may cross the threshold and get inside provided it's not blocked.

In cities with Castles built the defender will get three "shooting" platforms to place creatures on. Such creatures may be targeted from the outside and may shoot/cast outside also. If a creature is not on one of these towers the only other way for them to be in combat is to "man the walls". In other words they must be directly adjacent to the outer wall and can thus give and take ranged fire or even melee with enemy troops directly on the other side. Any creature not on the front wall or on a platform cannot be attacked. It may be a bug or oversight right now but the attacker CAN cast certain offensive spells like Curse and Poison over the walls of a besieged town. Defending heroes may always cast beneficial spells on friendly creatures inside the walls regardless of their position.

I'll mention again that attacks and defenses in combat are now simultaneous which makes abilities like "No Retaliation" much more worthwhile. Some attackers have the ability, "First Strike". As one would guess from the title, the skill lets the attacker function much as he/she would in H3 where the defender retaliates after the attackers damage has been fully applied.

V. The Strategic Map

Other than the aforementioned shroud as well as the amazing graphic detail, not much has changed on the strategic map. Heroes must still delve deep into the wild trying to find resources, power ups, artifacts, other cities and (of course) the enemy.

Players now may notice that weeks are no longer announced. Instead of weeks we have "The Month of the..." whatever. The creatures that are randomly seeded around the map every month are no longer so random. Instead of being in random locations they will now be placed in front of your flagged resource points and creature habitats. Only a small percentage of structures will be covered this way. Any such "blocked" structure will not contribute resources to your economy until the monsters are cleared out. I've found this annoying on occasion but it's a better feature for the game than just sporadic placement all over the map.

VI. The Map Editor

I won't say much here since I am only getting my feet wet using this tool. I worked on about four total maps in H3 and only finished one; however, the absolute beauty and realism that can be created on these maps motivates me to get into it more.

The single most important comment I can make here deals with something a mapmaker does at every map's very inception. If you want a two level map make ABSOLUTE SURE you click that option in your initial map setup screen. If you don't do this and then start working on the map there will be no way later to make it two levels. Does this come from personal experience? Let's just say that trashing about four hours of work was a very hard thing for me to do.

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