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Heroes of Might and Magic V Review

Heroes of Might and Magic V pack shot
Developer:Nival Interactive
Publisher:UbiSoft
Genre:Turn Based Strategy with RPG Elements
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.mightandmagic.com/HeroesV/
Release Date:May 19, 2006 (UK)
Reviewer:James Barlow (Malis)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

Ubisoft's Heroes of Might and Magic V (HOMMV) is, as you might expect, the fifth instalment of the long-running Heroes of Might and Magic series. The game was developed with some controversy. In 2003 Ubisoft acquired the rights to the Might and Magic franchise after 3DO filed bankruptcy. HOMMV had already been in development under 3DO, but Ubisoft chose to discard their developments (an isometric 2D game) and start from the ground up, with the game re-imagined in 3D. So has all this controversy adversely affected the game? In short - no. HOMMV is a polished, addictive, and thoroughly enjoyable strategy game.

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By now you'll have glanced at our screenshots, and I'm sure you'll agree - HOMMV looks very nice. Graphics are crisp and clear in a cartoon style popularised by Blizzard and their Warcraft franchise, with everything rendered in full 3D. The player can zoom right in and rotate the camera to their heart's desire - in both combat and the overland map. The overland screen is particularly impressive, each map is vibrant and packed full of features. One small complaint is that the maps are so densely populated with farms, shrines, lakes and other mystical areas that it can be easy to miss an important usable location or stack of resources- simply because they blend in so seamlessly with the environment. Each of the 5 factions features very different and individual unit and building styles, from the fire-torn Inferno units to the woodland homes of the Sylvans.

Game-play wise, HOMMV is both engaging and rewarding. I found myself utterly drawn into the simple, yet deceptively deep gaming which the game provides. Much of the game is spent on the overland map, and it's here that you'll move your hero (and in turn, his army), manage your town and recruit troops. The map is packed full of items and locations, which really stop the tactical overland screen from becoming drab and an annoying diversion from combat. There is a strange excitement from exploring each new map and hunting for items. Once you've used up all your hero's movement points, you simply click turn over and wait for the computer to move. At some point though, that army you've been meticulously grooming will have to earn its keep, and combat is where HOMMV really starts to shine.

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Once combat is initiated the screen zooms in with a motion blur to a chess like board, with your hero's army is laid-out before you. An initiative bar is displayed at the bottom of the screen, showing you precisely when each unit (including the enemy's) will get their turn. Every unit has a movement characteristic which determines how far they can move on their turn. If they are within reach of an enemy, you can attack, and the game shows a predicted amount of damage before you actually strike. Heroes get magic, and many units have their own selectable special attacks too. This simple system paves the way for addictive and surprisingly tactical play. It becomes possible for very small armies to beat larger hordes if their initiative is high enough, and targets are chosen well. Add in morale (a unit affected by good morale gets a second turn very soon after his first) and luck (critical hits) and I was completely hooked. There was a definite 'one more battle then bed' theme to my gaming while reviewing this.

I'd like to mark out the animations here as they really do bring combat to life. Whilst the cynical may argue that battles are a glorified chess game, the animations of units really lends to the drama and spirit of the game. Paladins charge in recklessly, gryphons cry and swoop majestically, whilst demons bellow to obscene gods before hurling massive bolts of fire at their foes.

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The computer AI is no walkover either, offering up some tough battles for those who choose to just fling heavy numbers at their enemy. However the game does seem to get overly difficult in some missions. One particular mission in the second campaign must rank as one of the hardest levels I've ever had to play in a computer game - and I've played a few. The brick wall of difficulty can be very frustrating (elves and dragons are hard - you have been warned) and the learning curve of the game could definitely be paced better. Missions to tend to be varied and compelling though as - shock - HOMMV is a turn-based strategy with a semi-interesting story. While the subject matter is old hat (demon threatens the land, old foes must unite to best it) and clich├ęd, the missions are pulled off with such flair that the story starts to serve as an interesting backdrop to the world you're playing in. For example, one mission requires you to take a small pre-made army and cross a border, while dodging your superior pursuers by clever use of sanctuaries and caves. Couple this with a level and experience system for heroes (higher levels give access to more skills that boost or aid your armies) that contiues across missions, and the single-player campaign is a treat to play.

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Of course the game has its share of flaws. As noted earlier, the story is passably interesting, but cut-scenes are very hit and miss. While they do advance the story, the voice-acting is generally pretty poor. One thing that annoyed me in particular was a demon lord (who does look pretty cool) speaking in an American accent that sounded completely un-evil, and indeed more like a 'dear diary' extract - "Tree-shagging pixies! I don't have time for this." While the single-player campaign is fun, the addictive nature of the game means that you may well find it over far too quickly. Sadly the game features no random map generator or map editor - something which previous incarnations of the game have featured. Attempts to replay the campaign on a higher difficulty level may meet with frustration, as higher levels of difficulty are really the computer cheating and getting more resources a turn, without any noticeable AI increases.

Most annoying though is the lack of decent documentation the game ships with. While the manual explains the basics, many concepts, abilities and skills are left for the player to stumble upon. For example, every race has an 'ultimate' special skill that is only available after a hero learns a certain set of skills. No mention of this is ever given in a manual, and I had to trawl the web for information on this, and on the huge amount of creature abilities available. Ubisoft have promised to release a full manual online in the future. While the game is by no means unplayable without this information, those who seek to progress beyond a basic understanding of the game really deserve a more detailed manual.

HOMMV does support multi-player but I found this to be somewhat unsatisfying. I was plagued with connection problems, and the turn-based nature of the game does not feel at home over multi-play at the moment. Ghost mode is a nice idea (control a ghost in your off turns to affect enemy units and buildings) but is very much a novelty bearing little huge impact on the outcome on games

Summary

HOMMV is a rewarding and enjoyable game, with a definite addictive edge. The mixture of RPG elements and turn-based strategy are ably complemented by a robust and pretty 3D engine which really draws you into the game. Despite some problems with the difficulty in places and a lack of decent documentation and supplementary game-modes, the game remains a fun and polished example of the genre. Gamers with some long nights free should definitely think about giving HOMMV a go.

The bottom line
7.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Addictive game-play
  • Decent graphics and animation
  • Varied missions
  • Simple to pick-up, hard to master
  • Wide variety of units, spells and abilities

Not so good stuff

  • Misjudged difficulty curve in some missions
  • Poor voice-acting
  • No map editor or map generator
  • Very poor game manual
  • Cheating AI!


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