Heroes V Beta Test Impressions

or Ten Hot Topics of the Beta

As a beta tester since the first phase of the closed beta test, I have been allowed to share my first impressions of Heroes of Might and Magic V beta by the producer of the game, and I thank him for his confidence. The goal is to inform the fans who will join the open beta test about the current state of the game, so that they know what they are getting themselves into, and to provide some information to the English-speaking fans, who have been neglected by the press recently. It is too early to say whether the game will become a classic like the third game of the series. However, you will be happy to hear that the game will most probably sell well, it will attract a lot of new fans and, as long as critics agree to forget for a moment 3DO's past mistakes (I'm talking to you, Computer Gaming World), it will get good reviews in a couple of months.

Whether you plan to join the open beta or not, here is a list of 10 hot topics of the Heroes of Might and Magic V beta test. Please note that the screenshots are not new.

  1. Graphics. Your first few turns will be a shock, believe me. The screenshots you have seen until today only gives you a vague idea of what it feels like to be moving around the new Might and Magic universe. The 3D heroes and creatures, more than ever, feel like tangible board game miniatures. Thanks to the fact that you are allowed to zoom and rotate the camera around them, they look alive and, in the case of creatures such as the hydra, truly gigantic. I can't wait to see the screenshot that players will share on the Web later this year.
  2. Music. Rob King and Paul Romero did it again. While some of the town themes lack some punch, most of the music is certainly up to the standards of the previous Heroes games. The Haven theme music is particularly impressive. It feels like an ode to the resurrection of the Heroes franchise. It might very well bring a tear to the eye of the most sensible fans.
  3. Interface. The new interface takes some time to get used to (it reminded me of my frustrating first games of Populous, a very long time ago!), but we have seen some improvements from one phase to another. It requires a little more skills with the mouse than in previous Heroes games, but finding a good combination of mouse movements and keyboard shortcuts usually takes you where you want to go. Testers reported various problems about their ability to see things on the adventure map: the underground was too dark, some objects were blocking the view and it was sometimes easy to miss an enemy stack.
  4. Towns. What doesn't take much time to get used to is city management. You will definitely feel in Heroes III territory here, despite the new visuals. The overall balance of the towns also reminds us of Heroes III, where some factions had a clear advantage over another. But again, the vote for the best town seemed to differ from one player to another, so we will have to wait and see how the final game is balanced.
  5. Heroes III. The return of other Heroes III features (weekly growth, the lack of fog of war, and the regular visits to the waterwheel) did not bother me as much as I expected. Having reinstalled the old game on some occasions for a quick hot seat game or a WoG custom map, I still felt at home. The game does feel a little like a revamped version of Heroes III, but as much as I loved Heroes IV, I don't see that as a step back.
  6. Combat. Expect some major changes, from a different turn-based system to a rather small battlefield, which is still the subject of a large debate. The camera close-up effect during an attack loses its novelty after a while, but it definitely adds some atmosphere to a battle. On more than one occasion I found myself swinging an imaginary sword in the air while my creature performed a killing move. I looked a little silly, but I loved it.
  7. Spells and Skills. Again, some drastic changes. I cannot provide any specific detail yet, but I think Nival and Ubisoft realized how critical to the game those components are.
  8. Multiplayer. This is one of the parts of the game that is still under construction. However, what little we could see of the new multiplayer modes was very intriguing. The ghost mode is different from anything you have experienced until now, both with Heroes and other computer games. Ubisoft and Nival are really serious about creating a game that will be popular online.
  9. Missing Content. It should be noted that a lot of content will need to be added to the game before the release. The campaigns, my favorite part of the game, were missing with the exception of some short sneak previews. It has already been announced that the artificial intelligence will not be included in the open beta. Since the game was going to change a lot during the past few months, Nival probably wanted to wait a little longer before starting to teach the computer how to play. The game is also prone to crash, but the number of occurrences decreased with every phase of the beta.
  10. Starforce. I don't think anyone had problems with Starforce during the beta (as discussed here). The copy protection drivers have been on my computers for month without any side effect, although I haven't tried burning anything yet. Even though I'm still concerned about the methods publishers will use to protect their games in the future, I trust Starforce a lot more than I used to.

The team of beta testers has to be commended for their hard work. I won't name anyone, but a couple of players have right from the start identified some problems with the game, found potential balance issues, helped other people get started with the game and probably sent Ubisoft more feedback than it could ever hope for. The forums dedicated to the beta have a great atmosphere and its discussions, despite a couple of heated discussions, remained diplomatic and friendly. When the beta started I expected to see leaks and childish flaming, but the testers proved me wrong. Putting the game in the hands of thousands of players was a risky move for Ubisoft, but the community was well worth the confidence it was granted, and performed top-notch work.

You will hear some complaints during the next few weeks about people who will compare the Heroes V beta to the final version of latest Civ or Age of Empires game, who own a computer that might not be strong enough to run the game, or who expected to get a full game with a 700 MB download. Feel free to listen to them, but also make sure you try to give the game a test drive. If you are ready to accept the limitations of a game that is still several weeks away from being finalized, you will get an opportunity that very few people were granted back in the days of 3DO. You will be able to try a game that was improved greatly since the beginning of the closed beta, and your feedback could make the difference between a good game and a great game.

Watch Celestial Heavens during the next weeks as week bring you coverage of the Heroes of Might and Magic V open beta test.