A rushed release leaves Heroes IV plagued with bugs, yet it manages to live up to its name.
The award-winning Heroes of Might and Magic series takes a leap of faith this year with an all-new game engine and a gameplay which 3DO claims to be a "Reinvention of the Award Winning Franchise". Their latest offering manages to introduce new elements, while keeping familiar grounds for old players in terms of gameplay and strategy.
One of the most obvious changes is in terms of the game's graphics. Gone are the hand-painted cartoony graphics of the old, replaced by highly detailed, pre-rendered 3D models. Both the adventure map and the battle screen look more alive than in the previous releases by showing everything from an isometric point of view.
The game is separated into six campaigns, one for each "race": Might, Nature, Life, Death, Order, and Chaos. Each race has its own set of structures, and the towns also look differently depending on the nature of the race controlling it. Creatures can be recruited from these towns. For every town, building one structure may disable the building of another structure, and since structures cannot be destroyed, one is forced to decide on what type of units would better suit his playing style, adding to the strategy and customizability of the game. The number of structures may become overwhelming at first, especially to a new player deciding what to build, but it actually makes the game more interesting once you get the hang of it.
Another interesting change that old players would immediately notice is the ability to send heroes into the battlefield, as opposed to the previous versions where they simply stood in one corner and casted spells and used items. Heroes can still act as a mere spellcaster and item-user, though as the game progresses heroes may get powerful enough to take out entire armies alone. Heroes may also armor, weapons, and artifacts, and the modifiers some of these items give may be crucial in affecting the outcome of battles, while others may give terrain movement bonuses or boost the player's income. To add to the addictiveness of the game, Heroes can become any one of the 48 Hero Classes, depending on the skills that the hero chooses to learn. Each race has both a fighter and a wizard type of hero and comes equipped with 2 skills, except for those belonging to the Might class, where only a fighter type of hero is available, with equipped 3 skills instead of the normal 2.
Heroes IV boasts of a new magic system, and each school of magic has its own array of offensive spells as well as enchantments. The game also boasts a total of 60 creature classes, each with its own unique abilities and attributes, as well as custom animation.
The graphics in the game is definitely a treat. The fantasy adventure map is very colorful and meticulously drawn down to the last detail, providing stunning visuals to hold the player in awe and wanting to explore more.
On the down side, the animation isn't very solid. This is especially evident in the battle view, where it seems that the characters were given too few animation frames, making it look very choppy even at the normal speed setting. Things tend to get really choppy when there are too many elements in the screen.
Music / Sounds
The musical scores are very well composed and really sets the mood of the game. The music changes depending on portion of the map you are currently viewing, and it also changes as on enters a battle. The only reason why I didn't give a very high score here is because the music sometimes becomes very choppy, and sometimes it gets stuck in one portion for a few seconds. This may sometimes become annoying, especially if you are running a high-end system and expect things to work smoothly.
The sound effects are generally well done, although the developers could have spent more time adding sounds to the different units (like making the griffins cry when attacking). The voice-overs are also exceptional, complete with matching accent. The only drawback is, that the sound effects sometimes become choppy or gets stuck, just like with the music.
Heroes IV remains as solid as ever, and with its new features, the game has become even more interesting. The maps and scenarios are very well designed, with lots of new things to discover, quests to accomplish, and a beautiful story to unfurl, guaranteed to make the player engrossed in the game and forget about time, eat, sleep, and a social life.
Due to its rushed release, only hotseat mode is currently offered, but this does not really affect the game's value much, which is concentrated on the single-player mode.
Although the learning curve for the game may be a little bit steep especially for new players and for those who do not like to read manuals, the tutorial, in-game help, and right-click information should be adequate enough to make one quickly acquainted with the deep intricacies of the game.
Even though the overall plot does not play a very big part in the gaming experience (The world got destroyed and all the races had to begin anew), the individual campaigns are very well written and engaging, giving one the feel of reading through a fantasy novel while actually being part of the action.
While obviously bugged due to its rushed release, Heroes IV lives up to its name as the standard of turn-based strategy games, providing a game that is both fun and challenging for any gamer.