Heroes of Might and Magic IV
Heroes of Might and Magic III was one of the finest turn based strategy games of all time. Simple to learn, difficult to master but always a pleasure to play, the game has been a firm favourite with online gamers and single players alike since it's release back in 1999. However time flies when you're having fun and after two expansions and a complete version (which included the original game and the expansion packs) we now have the arrival of Heroes of Might and Magic IV.
The question that most Heroes fans have wanted answered is 'Is the game better than Heroes III?' Well after almost a weeks solid play I can honestly say that it is better than Heroes III, but only just. Don't think this is a negative comment as Heroes III was always going to take some effort to equal let alone surpass. A host of new features and gameplay tweaks have been included and although some of the changes are only slight they collectively add up to a more rewarding gameplay experience.
Of course the first thing you will have noticed from the screenshots is just how much the graphics have improved from Heroes III. The adventure map looks superb. The graphics in Heroes III were considered good upon it's release but the release of Age of Wonders, a similar type of game, made Heroes III look outdated. The biggest culprit here was the battle screen. Age of Wonders had an isometric viewpoint and gave an environment that lent itself to providing a greater possibility for strategic planning. Heroes III was dull by comparison with it's flat 2D battle screen and the characters were poorly animated which only served to make it look poor in comparison. Heroes IV is very similar to Age of Wonders in how it portrays the battles and it is all the better for it.
Before we go on to discuss the new features in Heroes IV, I'll just recap what the game is all about in case you haven't played one of the previous games. The game is set in a fantasy world of mythical creatures, both good and evil. There are six factions within the game and these are Nature, Order, Chaos, Life, Death (these five are schools of magic) and Might. During any of the games campaigns or scenarios you will play as one of these factions. You normally begin with control of one town, in which you can build a variety of buildings and recruit a variety of creatures, and one hero who you can assign creatures to. The hero acts as a kind of general over your army. In true RPG fashion your hero acquires experience for the battles he fights and 'levels-up' to gain greater abilities which you get to choose. It is possible to control multiple heroes at the same time, which is when the fun really begins, as additional ones can be hired in your town's tavern. Should you lose your hero the game is allowed to continue, unless the conditions for defeat state otherwise. The objectives depend on the campaign or scenario but basically you'll have to travel the map solving puzzles and securing resources, to help you create better buildings and create creatures, and battling all kinds of weird and wonderful enemies. The gameplay is turn based, as are the battles. This description may not sound too exciting but suffice to say that the gameplay is hypnotic and once you've started a game it becomes very difficult to get away from it.
OK then so what's new in Heroes IV? Well for a start your armies no longer have to have a hero. You can just create an army and march them over the map fighting battles. You won't be able to benefit from the magical items that you find unless you have a hero though. Rather than being static spectators waiting for you to approach them your enemies can now wander over to attack you. Should this feature irritate you, you can disable it at the beginning of a game if you wish.
In Heroes III whilst developing your town you could build any buildings that you wanted to. In Heroes IV this is not the case and choosing to build certain buildings will make other buildings unable to be built. This may sound harsh but it actually helps as it allows you to plan a strategy and focus a towns production in a certain way. In battles you will be pleased to here that your heroes can now participate in the fight, unlike Heroes III where he/she was just a spectator. You can also have multiple heroes in a party which again adds a new dimension to the gameplay. Quick combat has also been added but as it just throws up an instant result it just doesn't feel very satisfying. A host of interface changes have been made and they make it far easier to manage both your heroes and towns.
Heroes III was wonderful for deaf gamers and thankfully Heroes IV is just as good. Everything is subtitled. Mission objectives can be recalled at any time through a press of the 'i' key. Everything is tooltipped. The whole game is amazing in it's text feedback. All we can say is thank you New World Computing for putting the deaf gamer on an equal footing.
We mentioned earlier that the graphics have had a makeover and they look fabulous. Some of the characters look a little silly, like the Leprechaun who just looks too wacky, but on the whole the game looks excellent.
So does the game get full marks then? Well not quite. There is no random scenario generator. The add-on for Heroes III, Armageddon's Blade, contained a random scenario generator and this gave immeasurable replay value to the game. The game does come with six campaigns, a host of scenarios and a scenario/campaign editor though, so it still provides a ludicrously long amount of gameplay time. As of yet there is no multiplayer mode. This seems crazy as Heroes III was a superb experience online and even now is really popular. A game update is supposed to be not far away but with news that the whole of the development team for Heroes IV is now unemployed circling around the Internet, this may be later rather than sooner. Let's hope it is sooner rather than later because this addition could make it the strategy game of the year.
Overall Game Rating: 9.2/10 Superb. Heroes IV improves on the phenomenal Heroes III in style. Gameplay tweaks and graphical enhancements have helped to give the game a more enriched gameplay experience. Let's hope the multiplayer patch is on it's way.
Deaf Gamers comment: Perfect. We can't say anymore than that really.