Heroes of Might and Magic V is the latest installment of one of the more successful Might and Magic spin-offs. Since the demise of 3DO this latest installment was developed by Nival Interactive the same studio that produced Silent Storm. It has been hotly anticipated since its announcment a little over a year ago. I sat down with the game to see how it stands up compared to the venerable Heroes of Might and Magic games of the past.
HoMMV differs from its many predecessors in several ways. Firstly the game no longer uses bitmaps. Everything is rendered in full 3D using the Silent Storm engine. Secondly the plot of the game is no longer set in the same world as the previous games or in any other Might and Magic universe. The previous HoMM games all had interconnecting plot threads, many of which trace further back to Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven. Finally there have been a number of changes to the skill system and other mechanics aspects of gameplay. However the core concept has remained unchanged.
The graphics in this game are very good. I have played all of the Heroes games since they were called King's Bounty so the adjustment was a little difficult at first. The biggest complaint I have is that many features of the map are now hidden unless you inspect the map from every possible angle. This caused me some frustration a number of times as brush, shadow, trees or other objects obscured important landmarks. Aside from the difficulties in interfacing, however, this iteration of HoMM is the prettiest to date. Trees blow in the wind and their shadows follow while the terrain slowly fades from one type to another. Locations in the game are all lovingly animated: leprechauns dance at the magic spring while wheels turn at the mill and carts leave the mines. The Silent Storm engine really shines here. The sound in HoMMV is very good. The game has an original score composed by Rob King and Paul Romero. The soundtrack itself changes depending on your environment and always contributes positively to the game as any good soundtrack should.
Those who are unfamiliar with the Might and Magic games of the past don't suffer terribly from the break with past games. The game consists of a series of linked campaigns that are meant to be played sequentially, part of an overarching story that is told from the viewpoints of different participants. The greatest problem with this is the oftentimes lackluster voice acting and the script. Dialogue often comes as stilted and unnatural sounding at times. I'm not sure if that is a result of translation or just of poor writing but there it is.
The greatest change in the game comes in the skill system. Combat works just as it did before. Heroes now are able to attack or defend certain units as well as cast the usual repertoire of spells. They might not be able to do a great deal of damage to an enemy unit but when taking on Pit Fiends and the like every kill helps. In past versions of Heroes of Might and Magic heroes would gain experience and levels. As they gained levels they would choose from different skills based on their class type allowing for a great deal of flexibility in customizing heroes. Players are still able to do this. However certain skills will only become available when combinations of other skills are taken. There are also special abilities that are taken as a skill with combinations of different skills. Benediction, for example, is available to take as a special ability in combat after a hero has learned leadership.
Players still have a variety of heroes to choose from and hundreds of creatures to recruit from such environments as Haven, Dungeon and Infernal. Players will send their heroes wandering around the map to capture or seize towns that they then improve to recruit more and higher quality troops. Heroes are still expected to seize control of resource generating locations such as mines and sawmill to produce raw materials.
Ubisoft has continued the trend of normal and Ã¢â‚¬Å“collector'sÃ¢â‚¬Â editions of the game. The collector's edition comes with special gameplay features that are disabled in the regular edition as well as a soundtrack, special artwork and the game on a single DVD-ROM instead of multiple CDs. The cost difference is about ten bucks, well worth it since I personally hate having to stop and swap CDs during an installation.
One of the biggest problems with the game, and with any strategy game, is the lack of an included map editor or even a random map generator. The online capability of Heroes of Might and Magic V is one of its biggest assets but the inability to create custom maps or generate maps randomly from scratch for online or solo play is a huge disadvantage. These features have been promised in future updates but until then players are limited to the included pre-designed maps. Multiplayer itself is conducted in either a hot-seat fashion as befits any turn-based game or through a timed internet play where players are given a time limit for their turns. There is no requirement for a third party client like GameSpy but instead players meet up directly through Ubi.com.
Heroes of Might and Magic V currently retails for around 49.95 or 59.95 for the collector's edition. Online play and a sizable story campaign mean that you are promised a good forty or so hours of solo play and as many as you care to invest playing against others online.
The long and short is that I would put this game at an 87%. The mechanics are solid, tried and true as they are and the graphics aren't bad. The biggest problem stems from the interface and the lack of features that should be obvious. Heroes of Might and Magic V is a good buy for the price. The game is a worthy addition to the genre and its success will hopefully propel the Might and Magic franchise to new heights.