Adventure & RPG
The Heroes of Might and Magic (HOMM) series has been a Macintosh staple long before most of the franchises even begun. It can be argued that Kingís Bounty was a HOMM zero, as it came from the same development house as HOMM one through four. Something happened along the way to Heroes of Might and Magic V,, though. New World Computing closed when 3D0 went bankrupt in 2003, and the developers scattered to the four winds. Later that year, Ubisoft acquired the rights to the series, and the questions began. Would the new developer have the same quality of gameplay and richness of story in mind? Does HOMMV play the same as its predecessors? For Macintosh users, there is yet another question- is the Cider technology that will be used for the game going to work as well as native code? That's right, HOMMV is the first game that we know of that will be using Cider from Transgaming. That means no port and only Intel machines will be able to play HOMMV. More on that later...
Does it play and look the same?The early preview copy of HOMMV I received is smooth. The worker bees at Nival Interactive of Blitzkrieg and Silent Storm fame got the nod to create the game. Freeverse (of various flammable simian fame) are using the Cider engine to run the game, and both Freeverse and Nival have had their hands full with the graphical richness expected of a 21st century strategy title. For the first time in the series, the HOMMV engine is 3D, not 3D-styled sprites. The animations are smooth, the cut scenes are overacted, but appropriately overacted fitting the series, and the "tiles" on the maps are pieces of art in their own right. In an additional master stroke, the orchestral soundtrack is wonderful and contextual. When youíre exploring what appears to be a pastoral field, the music is delicate and light. The music changes to a more militaristic march when enemies are afoot, and need stomping to death. Periodically, the odd bit of operatic chants pops up, but never inappropriately.
Gameplay mechanics are more or less unchanged, which should come as a relief to regular players of the series. HOMMV is hero driven- you start with one unit, your hero, and a handful of beasties populating your army. Army population and attributes vary greatly depending on which faction youíre playing as, but more on that in a little while. The main exploration map is vast, and obscured until your hero stack is moved around to explore it. When you meet the baddies, combat takes place on a graph paper-style grid. Maybe the grid will be obscured by terrain, and maybe it wonít. HOMMV is still uses a turn-based battle system, but you only have a set amount of time to choose your move per individual unit stack. While you obviously have your army-commanding hero to control which can simply attack an enemy unit, you also bear various magical powers that can be rained down on your foes. Powers also manifest depending on which faction you select to play, and how much hard earned battle experience the hero has.
On the battle grid, a single icon with a corresponding number represents each group of creatures and how many of them populate the stack. As in previous games in the series, some creatures get along better with other creatures in the same army. Mixing incompatible creature types can lead to breakdowns in morale, as well as poor performance from one or both groups. Creature type strength and weaknesses vary, as they do in most fantasy games. Archers shoot arrows at range, but have major issues up close. Undead legions reanimate fallen foes to add to their forces at the end of a battle. Dragons fly, breathe fire, and are tough to kill, but you wonít have many of them. Standard stereotypes of fantasy creatures do apply, but the paradigm is welcome in a game of this magnitude and complexity.
Strengths and weaknesses of the factions also come as no surprise, but itís everything you should expect in a Fantasy tactical game. Haven is humankind- the defacto standard on which all other races are measured. As the Haven player, you do best with human soldiers, and can train them along the way. The campaign levels are focused around Queen Isabel and her battles with the other factions. Inferno are summoned demons from the underworld. Gating, or teleporting, is their major strength and can lead to massive forces on the battlegrid strung out over a long battle. The Dungeon faction is populated by the legendary Dark Elves made infamous by modern Fantasy fiction. Most Dungeon attacks are magical based, so the best way to deal with them is get up close and start pounding away. Sylvan Elves are the polar opposite of the Dungeon faction, and are the old Rampart faction in all but name. Archery akin to the "Lord of the Rings" elves are the name of the game for the Sylvan Elves. A sub-faction of Humans also exist named the Academy. If you like your Fantasy army human, and spitting fireballs with conjured familiars at their side, the Academy is the side for you. Academy wizards and summoned creatures are most reminiscent of the Tower faction in earlier games. Rounding out the factions is Necropolis. Shambling zombies and rickety skeletons make up the bulk of the Necropolis armies. As a bonus, a percentage of fallen foes are resurrected for your army at the conclusion of a successful battle. It will take a few runs through in skirmishes to determine which faction suits your particular fighting style. I recommend that the first few times through, you play as Haven, to get a feel for the game. I still stick with Haven for the most part, but the opportunity to raise a massive army and overwhelm my foes with their own resurrected troops as a Necropolis general is hard to resist. As with any game, your mileage may vary, and you may find yourself a master at the arcane Academy wizards.