Heroes of Might and Magic IV Review
By Jimmy Vails |
Alright, alright. So the game's been out for a week or so and we still haven't reviewed it. I'm sure there are any number of reasons why it's taken me so long but the first and most important is that I simply can't stop playing the game long enough to bother writing the review. Okay, okay, that's a cop out but it's true. With a few small exceptions Heroes of Might and Magic IV is every bit as impressive as any of the previous titles in the series.
But rather than just offering some small evolutionary changes to the admittedly addictive existing games, Heroes IV ponies up some significant changes that, in my opinion, only make the game more enjoyable. Well, all but one of the changes make it better but we'll get to that a bit later.
For those of you who have just joined us, Heroes of Might and Magic is a turn-based strategy series that's enjoyed tremendous success -- and deservedly so. Players lead their armies and heroes around a fantastic world, capturing towns and fighting fantastic creatures and evil overlords. Heck, in Heroes you can even be one of the evil overlords.
Heroes IV continues the tradition in fine style and fans of the series shouldn't even bother reading the rest of the review. Steal a car and go buy a copy of the game right now. There are some small problems here and there but, overall, this is a fantastic addition to the franchise. Six new campaigns and a whole batch of scenarios will likely keep you occupied until the next installment or expansion comes along.
The game has always been about the heroes but heroes are an even bigger focus now. Their role has been changed a bit as well. Most significantly, your heroes now take a more active role in the battles. They'll take the field alongside your other creatures and will have to attack and defend just like the rank and file. This makes the cultivation and preservation of heroes an even greater priority. Luckily, it's as rewarding as it is important.
Hero development has been enlarged quite a bit. Each hero begins in one of eleven different classes based on their starting skill. Heroes trained in Nobility are your Lords while those trained in Life magic are Priests. Combat-oriented characters are divided between Barbarians (for melee oriented folks) and Archers (for the ranged types). As your hero gains levels, he or she will also gain new skills. Once you depart from your main skill branch and start specializing in a second set of skills, your hero can become one of 36 different sub-classes.
A Knight who supplements his Tactics skill with a little Death magic becomes a Reaver. A Thief who opts to focus on Nature Magic in addition to his regular scouting skill set becomes a Bard. Each of the 48 total character classes come with their own unique bonuses and benefits as well. Cardinals (specializing in Life magic and Nobility) gain a 5% bonus to resurrection. Heroes who combine Chaos and Death magic become Liches and can age their opponents thereby reducing their offensive and defensive abilities.
In all there are nine skill groupings -- individual combat, tactics, scouting, nobility and five different colleges of magic -- life, death, order, nature and chaos. Every primary skill group has three separate secondary skills associated with it. All skills provide unique bonuses (resurrection lets you reclaim a portion of the units lost in battle, for instance). Since each primary and secondary skill has five rankings there's a lot of variety to be explored here.
In fact building up your heroes and seeing them get better and more powerful is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. Unfortunately it also ties in with a weakness in the campaigns. You're not allowed to take all of your heroes through from one mission to the next. Those that are crucial to the advancement of the story are automatically passed through of course but then the game selects a varying number of additional heroes to pass on to the next scenario. The problem is that the game selects the highest-level heroes itself instead of allowing you to pick which ones you'd like to carry over.
This presents two problems. For one thing, most scenarios grant you new, high level heroes as part of the story. It can be a real let down to build up a high level priest only to discover that another high level priest will be granted to you in the next mission. Great, now you just gave up the 23rd level Beastmaster you really enjoyed so you can have two 25th level Priests. It wouldn't be too much of a problem if the heroes you get later in the adventure had any chance in hell of actually getting up to a high enough level to oust your earlier (and now unfortunately redundant) heroes. Unless you're willing to focus exclusively on leveling a particular hero by exploring every experience opportunity on a given level, you might as well not get too attached to your lower level heroes.
The various campaigns and scenarios are tied together with well-developed stories that have a strong characters and meaningful episodes. As you wander about the world of Heroes you'll notice a few other changes. For one thing, there's now a fog of war that works alongside the normal shroud that obscures the map. It might actually become a priority to station guards and garrisons at key passes so you can keep an eye on the movement of your enemies. It might be, but the truth is that the enemy and neutral armies are still relatively passive throughout the game and you'll rarely find yourself scrambling to keep up with or in front of their efforts.