|Publisher: Freeverse Genre: Adventure & RPG|
|Min OS X: 10.4 CPU: Intel RAM: 512 MB Hard Disk: 2048 MB DVD-ROM|
Gameplay: How it all hangs togetherWhen it boils down to it, to a great extent Heroes V feels like a reinvention of Heroes III in terms of its basic gameplay and mechanics. There are certainly differences, and actually many of them seem like the removal of features rather than the addition of new ones. There are fewer heroes in the game, not nearly as many creatures and magic spells, and even fewer town types (back to the six of Heroes II). However, what's there has been carefully thought out and streamlined to produce a very effective game. What's more, some of the good points about Heroes IV have also been integrated into the basic formula, in a way that makes them work better than they did in Heroes IV itself. Here I'm thinking particularly of the hero skills system and some magic spells.
I have not had sufficient time playing the game to make an objective judgement about the quality of the AI. For one thing, Heroes V can do certain things that previous games couldn't, like having heroes that follow predetermined, scripted paths. Some of the campaign maps (which are what I've spent most of my time testing) do feel a little on the scripted side, it has to be said. However, from what I've seen so far, the AI seems good. Only time will tell whether it's as good as it was in Heroes III (where it was truly excellent), but it does seem obviously better than that of Heroes IV, which was a disappointment in the AI department.
Indeed, Heroes V is unexpectedly difficult in parts. Players who have mastered earlier games in the series, and think they know what to expect, may be in for a bit of a surprise; some of the campaign maps are very challenging. There are other unexpected twists in particular maps, too, of a kind that were not possible in earlier games. For instance, in one map, unaligned troops (those of a class not matching your heroes) gradually desert over time, so that their numbers diminish as the game goes on. In another, the map can only be revealed when your hero is on land, so if he's in a boat his progress is impeded by the fog of the unexplored map, which behaves like a barrier.Structurally, Heroes V plays just like its predecessors with the same basic objectives and mechanics. The daily creature growth of Heroes IV is abandoned in favour of the previous model in which creature dwellings refresh at the start of every week. In fact, Heroes V has some quite interesting weekly events. Previous Heroes games just had 'week of the (...whatever)' events in which creature growth doubled for the named creature, if it was a creature that featured in the game. Heroes V takes this idea much further. Not only are there 'creature weeks', but there are also 'special event weeks' in which interesting things happen. Resources from particular mines may be doubled. Heroes' movement points or experience gained may be increased. Artifact prices may be halved. Spell-casting costs may be reduced, spell effectiveness increased or mana regeneration doubled. There are lots of possibilities which add another level of interest to the game. Of course, as before, there are many weeks in which nothing special happens, and these 'weeks of nothing' often have humorous or downright silly events attached to them. For example, there's a 'Week of Hamster' which purportedly doubles the growth rate of Hamsters and Berserk Combat Hamsters. Unfortunately, the reuse of very similar jokes in these 'weeks of nothing' means that the humour outstays its welcome. For example: 'Week of Flamingo: not a good week to be a prawn.' 'Week of Sparrow: Not a good week to be a worm.' 'Week of Lion: Not a good week to be an antelope.' And so on.
I have to say that, overall, Heroes V brings together the good elements of its predecessors remarkably well, and improves on them in some ways. So, what don't I like about it?
Gripes and grumblesPrimarily the things I don't like amount to rough corners rather than actual problems. My main gripes are with the very poor standard of the text in the game, and the needless tinkering that has gone on with spell names and other items (such as the grail). I can see no justification at all for having renamed many of the magic spells, especially when the new version of the spell is functionally identical to its predecessor. It would appear that the decision to rename spells was taken at a late stage, too, as some of the spell descriptions contain references to the old names. For instance, Puppet Master refers to itself by its old name, Hypnotise. To my mind, renaming spells arbitrarily in this way was a particularly stupid decision, as it achieves no positive effect and merely makes it harder to relate to the previous games in the series.
As for the game text, it must be acknowledged that the game has been created by European designers whose first language is not English. Unfortunately this really does show, and I can't for the life of me understand why no-one was employed to proof-read the text in the game and rewrite it where necessary. Oddly enough, the text of the cut-scene subtitles is well written (even if it often doesn't match what's being said!); it's the text within the main game that's full of clangers. Aside from the numerous spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, the effect at times is exactly what you'd expect to see from someone who can make himself understood in English but who is not fluent in the language. It's a terrible shame for two reasons. Aside from the fact that the poor writing standards let the game down badly in an area that ought to have been child's play to get right, Heroes V also lets down the whole series. Although I think it's fair to say that the standard of written English declined as the series progressed (Heroes IV was nothing special in this regard), the early games in the series really were very nicely written. Heroes II had a lot of evocative, atmospheric text in it with hardly an error to find; Heroes III was nearly as good, with just an occasional slip-up. Heroes V, sadly, loses all the power of good language and replaces it with a fumbling attempt at fractured English. What a shame.
A final grumble concerns some practical matters. Any seasoned Heroes player knows that you need easy access to your downloaded map files and also to your save game files (particularly so that the latter can be trashed easily when you've finished with them). Unfortunately there is no such easy access with Heroes V: to install map files you have to tunnel down a deep Windows-style directory structure and then create the required Maps folder manually. There are no instructions about how to do that, either, so, for the record, if you want to download some extra maps for Heroes V, here's what you must do:
• Right-click (or Ctrl-click) the Heroes of Might and Magic V application in the Finder and choose Show Package Contents from the resulting contextual menu.
• In the resulting window, tunnel down through the folders until you reach the following folder:
Contents/Resources/transgaming/c_drive/Program Files/Ubisoft/Heroes of Might and Magic V
• In the Heroes of Might and Magic folder, create a new folder called Maps. Copy your downloaded map files into this folder.
It's an excellent idea to make an alias of the Maps folder alongside the Heroes V application so that you can get back to it easily. You may also like to make an alias of the game manual, a PDF file that can be found alongside your newly-created Maps folder.
While you're at it, you may also like to make an alias of the Saves folder, where save-game files are stored. This can be found on the following path (this time, not inside the Heroes application):
~/Library/Preferences/Heroes of Might and Magic V Preferences/p_drive/My Documents/My Games/Heroes of Might and Magic V/Profiles/profile_name/Saves
...where profile_name is the name you gave yourself when setting up a profile for your first game.
The unfortunate point about Heroes V save files is that they're huge. Previous Heroes games had small, efficient save files which were rarely more than a couple of hundred K in size. The smallest Heroes V save I've yet seen was 2.1MB, and the largest something over 6MB. They soon add up and waste a great deal of drive space. Although save files can be deleted individually within the game itself, getting rid of several all at once is a tedious process. It's much easier to do the job in the Finder.
Where's Magellan?Finally, the big grumble: once again, there's no map editor. It seems to be a depressing, recurring theme with the Heroes series that the poorer games (Heroes IV) and poorer Mac conversions (Heroes II) do have the editor converted for them, even though you might not be particularly interested in it, whereas the really good members of the series (Heroes III, Heroes V, Heroes I), for which the map editor would be particularly appreciated, don't have it. So although the PC version of Heroes V has a map editor, the Mac version loses out again.
Another problem is the somewhat limited content. Because there aren't as many maps supplied with Heroes V as with earlier games, you'll be wanting to look for third party maps to download all the sooner... and whilst there are some to be found, many of them already require the Hammers of Fate expansion pack. Because this pack arrived for the PC relatively quickly, it's already become well established and many downloadable maps rely on its features. Needless to say, because the Mac version of Heroes V doesn't include the Hammers of Fate code, the majority of third party maps won't work with it.
On the positive side, Freeverse is clearly very interested in porting Hammers of Fate, and the problem is an economic one rather than a practical one: if enough Mac users buy Heroes V, the expansion pack should hopefully make it across the great divide as well, and we'll all be happy. A second expansion pack for the PC version is rumoured, so if the timing is right, maybe Freeverse will be able to port a 'Heroes V Complete' in due course. That would be the best outcome of all.