You can't say Turn Based Strategy without having Heroes of Might and Magic in there somewhere. The game series has been sleeping for a while of course and now its back, brought to us by the kind folks at Ubisoft. Heroes of Might and Magic V is a colourful return to the series and is a good starting point for old and new fans alike.
It's someone's wedding day and the proceedings are interrupted suddenly with a flash and a bang, demons attack and overrun the Griffin Empire. The Queen is separated from her beloved and the stage is set for the typical fantasy plot. It's time for some sword and sorcery action as the game unfolds.
There are six factions and six campaigns to get to grips with in the game, there are 80 creatures to use and at least 170 creature powers to learn. This is all thrown together in an easy, simple and intuitive interface that doesn't require a degree in Rocket Science to understand.
Moving around the world is accomplished via clicking (or double clicking) at a point of interest on screen, hitting the move key or the move icon. Your hero, the main avatar that you control at the beginning will move up to her action point total and then you must end your turn. Later on when you have multiple heroes and armies on the move you'll be able to move all of them before you end your turn.
As you explore the vibrant maps you will encounter creatures that want to join with you, creatures that would rather fight and various small locations that give your character or army a bonus. All of these are displayed with easy to see icons and in full 3d graphics not dissimilar to good old Warcraft 3.
There are certain buildings in the world that you can capture and these will either add to your overall resources (gold, wood, gems, ore, mercury, sulphur and crystals) provide a better view of the map, increase your unit type production or provide another kind of bonus. The interface lets you know clearly and concisely about the kind of building it is and what bonus it provides.
Some of the creatures (depending on the size and power of your heroes' army) will flee rather than fight, you can chase them down if you want or let them go. If you choose to fight you can kill them and gain more experience than you would for just letting them go.
The exploration and city management portion of the game is simple enough to learn, there's no confusion about what each icon or information panel does and the mini-map of the area is clean and concise. There is a handy objectives button and this tracks what you need to do nicely.
City management is again simple, you can upgrade and build the various buildings to transform your settlement into a thriving metropolis and these upgrades give you bonuses to various things, or they allow you to build up a new set of creatures. You can also upgrade your armies' units and replenish dead troops here. A good example of this is taking a Knight unit and making it into a Paladin. You can purchase various war machines to aid you in battles and provide support to your units.
The combat in Heroes V is again simple, with either turn based or active battle (akin to certain Squaresoft games) but for this review we'll concentrate on turn based. You are given a chance at the start to place your units on the map and then combat proceeds in the order of creature initiative. Each creature can either move, attack or skip their turn, waiting or defending for example.
You can cast spells if your hero has the ability and provide support to your own army. If you have a Ballista on side then it will fire automatically unless your hero has the skill to command one, in that case you may choose your own target for the siege weapon.
Combat is simple and easy to pick up, the various bonuses and tactical elements are hidden seamlessly in the game system and you can just concentrate on having fun. When you are involved in a siege you gain a catapult for destroying enemy walls and until the walls are down only flying and certain ranged units can attack. This is not mired by complex unit tactics and a myriad of formation buttons; it's been made as accessible as possible so that the game isn't bogged in realistic war-game detail.
Your hero can search for mysterious and ancient artefacts as the story progresses but I'll leave that up to the player to find out.
When you have enough experience it's time to level up the hero and gain some new abilities and powers. You get given a basic increase as standard to attack or defence and so on, then you can pick from certain powers or skills as you keep gaining levels. Once again it's simple and effective, the whole system works very well.
The cartoon style graphics may not be to everyone's taste but in this game they work nicely. It has a feel of being colourful, bright, big and bold with over the top armour and weapons. The individual character heroes have a solid feel to them and the creatures all have a sense of graphical personality.
The travel map has limited 3d rotation and again has nicely drawn and animated graphics, it's a bright and lush world brought to life with reflections in the water and a lovely sense of fantasy. The battle maps are simple affairs but they work in the context of the game and they don't detract from it. The city management screens are gorgeous with each city depicted in 3d and as you upgrade you can see the changes made to the various buildings and the citadel itself.
In keeping with the cartoon style of the graphics, the animation is simple and effective. The motion of the characters lacks a true fluidity but works non-the-less. There are some nice battle animations and spell casting animations as well as some personality to each unit as they wait to fight. They respond to a victory in a positive manner and a defeat in a negative one. The mission map has some nice animations that lend a feeling of a living world, the sawmill cuts up wood and the smoke trails from a peasant hut while chickens run around fields and so on.
The various factions' stories unfold as each mission progresses, beginning with the Haven (human) faction and telling the tale of a land under the forces of darkness. The mission design itself is intelligent and you don't feel put off at any point by any kind of huge quest, or side objective. The maps are well made and they combine nicely with the animation and graphics, exploration is interesting and the designers have packed the maps with little bonuses and hidden locations under the fog of war.
From the ambient noise to the battle clash and the sound of your heroes horse riding through the world map, Heroes Might and Magic V comes alive with a vibrant audio that delivers good quality through even an older soundcard.
The musical score for the game is a great one, its stirring and brings to mind glorious battles and the sense of the fantastic. It is a good mix of harmonious soft music for exploration and a dramatic tense music for important events and combat.
It isn't the best voice work in the business and suffers from a little flatness in the delivery of the lines. It works however and provides a sense of character to some of the people in the world. I wasn't too impressed with the voice acting from the Queen and felt that the actor wasn't really putting any kind of effort into it. This was the only part of the game that dragged me down when playing.
You can play in Hot Seat mode, where up to 4 players can play on the same computer and swap turns. A LAN game or connect to Ubi.com's own gameplay service. You can play against each other or in teamplay mode where you can make alliances with the other players to outwit a superior foe.
The game introduces two modes, called Duel and Ghost Mode. Ghost Mode being a fairly involved human only game and Duel being a battle between heroes rather than heroes and armies.
Multiplayer can also have turn based or active battle settings; there are numerous ways to define the game being played and various settings to increase or decrease the timer and so on. All in all it's a pretty fun experience and Ghost Mode certainly ups the ante in bizarre-ness.
Players are given one Ghost each and can take on the roles of the Ghost. They can influence the normal world (where other players are) by doing things like haunting enemy mines, giving them an increase in production or cursing enemy mines lowering their output. The Ghost can also possess neutral creatures and take them over to provide a challenge for the other players. Ghost Mode ends if your player is attacked in the real world. Ghosts make excellent scouts and the mode itself is insanely fun if a little strange to begin with.
In an age of powerful physics systems and eye-popping, mind-blowing special effects it's nice to see a return to turn based action. Heroes of Might and Magic has always been a firm favourite of the turn based players along with the glorious X-Com games and this incarnation of the series stays fairly strong to its roots.
I experienced a couple of timeouts with the MP and a few lag issues that lowered my overall score, as well as the voice acting problem that was mentioned earlier. The dodgy voice acting is however a staple for various games like these and we can't really hold that against them, well I can, but that's only my opinion.
One bonus in HoM&M's favour is that Starforce (we'll not go into that little debacle) has been removed from the product. Now I have myself not experienced any real problems with Starforce but I take issue with any company that installs things on my system without telling me. So bonus to Ubisoft for taking the path away from software protection that infringes on my computer.
And that's about it. HoM&M V is a great game that has some excellent SP gaming as well as some decent MP gaming for those people who like to trash human players online or a LAN.