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Publisher: Freeverse    Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: 10.4    CPU: Intel    RAM: 512 MB    Hard Disk: 2048 MB    DVD-ROM

Heroes of Might & Magic V
April 3, 2007 | Richard Hallas

Click to enlarge

Lens flare in the town of Brightwood

Graphics: The splendour falls on castle walls
The most instantly obvious difference in Heroes V is the graphical presentation, so let's discuss that aspect first.

Every new iteration of Heroes has introduced a new graphical system, whether it was a minor improvement to an existing style (Heroes I to II) or an entirely new perspective (Heroes III to IV). However, all previous games in the series have used essentially static sprite-based graphics with a fixed perspective. The big change introduced with Heroes V is a new 3D graphics engine which (at long last, some may say) brings the game into the modern world with graphics that you can view from arbitrary angles and scenes into which you can zoom in and out.

Of course, every time a game makes the 2D to 3D transition, the system demands increase substantially. Heroes V now requires a pretty powerful machine on which to run. However, in a sense this is a bit of a side-issue in this instance: if you've got an Intel-based Mac, it'll run Heroes V, and if you haven't, it won't. In fact, this is one area in which Macs have an advantage over PCs: the Mac version of Heroes V has been specially tweaked so that it will work properly on a machine without a high-end graphics card. That is, if you have a MacBook (non-Pro model), Heroes V will run on it. That's great news, because if you had a PC laptop with an equivalent integrated graphics chip, you'd find that the PC version of the game wouldn't run on it. There is a bit of a trade-off: if you have a MacBook, you're denied a certain amount of the game's visual splendour because the integrated graphics chip just isn't up to coping with it. However, it's a small loss: the graphics look great even without the odd missing water reflection, and it's impressive that they look as good as they do on Apple's low-end laptop.

But are the graphics actually any good? Well yes, they are; in some respects they're absolutely stunning. However, I do have minor reservations about some aspects of the graphics.

The first worry about the Heroes V graphics arose long before the game first appeared on the PC, because of the creators' decision to adopt a stylised, Manga-inspired look for the characters. I wasn't alone in not liking the sound of this; however, I'm pleased to say that the results are far better than I feared. Although I preferred the more realistic appearance of earlier games (particularly with regard to the hero portraits), the style of Heroes V is consistent and quite attractive. Interestingly, there's also an impressively good correspondence between the appearance of creatures in their flat 2D representations (seen during battle sequences, for instance) and their 3D models.

The appearance of the game world is rich and attractive. Models are well defined and distinct, and the settings are varied and colourful (perhaps uncommonly so) without being garish. In a way, the game feels slightly like a step back to the brightly colourful world of Heroes II after the slightly muted and more photo-realistic look of Heroes III. One significant change is in the appearance of the movement path for each hero. In all previous games, the path has taken the form of a series of arrows, angling around after one another and terminating in a large X. In Heroes V, there are no pointing arrows; there's just a series of spots on the ground. I was a little disappointed by this because I was very used to the arrows and liked them. On the positive side, though, the directional information conveyed by the arrows was never really necessary (the presence of the path made the direction self-evident), and in Heroes V the appearance of the path relates to the particular hero you're controlling, which is a nice touch.

Another nice touch is the coloured glow that radiates from objects on the map that your hero can pick up. The glow is subtle, but it does catch your eye and help you to notice objects that would otherwise be easy to miss. This is important, because the lushness of the 3D world makes it easier to overlook small collectable objects that are strewn over the terrain.

I particularly liked the appearance of underground levels in Heroes V. Caverns and passages are lit in all sorts of moody colours and look very convincingly rocky. Initially I found the view a little cluttered, not least because it often involves 'translucent rocks' (it's necessary to be able to see your hero through foreground stalactites and stalagmites), but you soon get used to that. Overall, the underground level is very atmospheric; more so than the previous games.

Thanks to the true 3D nature of the game, you can now view the game world from any angle you like. As well as the previous panning motion around the map, you can now rotate your view, raise or lower your line of sight and zoom in and out of the map. This applies both to the adventure map and battle screens, and (to a lesser extent) to town screens, too.

Now for the negative aspects, nearly all of which relate to the adventure map.

Initially I found it fun to rotate my view of the map and look at things from different angles; it was a new experience for a Heroes game, after all. However, the novelty soon wore off. Quite honestly, Heroes isn't (or, at least, shouldn't be) the sort of game where you need to spin the camera around all the time. In the end, I found the ability to move the camera a lot more bother than it was worth.

For a start, the range of movement is much more limited than I had expected it to be. You can zoom in a bit, but not really as much as I'd like. For example, I'd have liked to get a really detailed look at some of the 3D models, and it might have been fun, if rather a gimmick, to be able to look through the eyes of the hero while travelling through the world. None of this is possible. At the other extreme, I couldn't zoom out far enough to get a really good overview of a large portion of the world map. The range of zoom was much more restricted than I would have liked, and the same was true of the angle of view. You can look down on the map from above, but you can't make the view vertical. You can angle your view across the map, but not enough to make it seem as though you're walking between trees.

As for rotation, you can twirl the view to any angle you like, but the view to the north is the most generally useful (for ease of accessing town entrances and the like) and there's no easy way to snap back to it once you've rotated away from it. More importantly, I found it all too easy to catch mouse buttons and shift the camera position to somewhere unwanted by accident while playing. All in all, once the novelty had worn off, I found not only that I didn't often need to shift the camera around, but that I didn't want to either. What I wanted was just an easy way of playing the game, like the earlier members of the series, without the hassle of dealing with the camera.

Luckily, just such an option is provided in the game's preferences. If you choose to use the 'Classic HoMM' viewing mode, the camera is locked at a near-vertical angle (a steeper viewing angle than you can achieve when controlling the camera yourself) and rotation is disabled, with the view always pointing to the north. Having turned that option on, I found that I stuck with it and never returned to using the freely controllable camera view. Zooming in and out still works in the classic HoMM viewing mode, though, which is actually quite useful because the game slows down somewhat as the graphical complexity increases (this is certainly the case on the MacBook; it may not be on machines with proper graphics cards), so zooming in may improve the frame rate.

However, there are a couple of negative aspects to the classic HoMM view, unfortunately. The first is that the game simply doesn't look quite as good in this mode as did the previous games in the series, simply by the nature of the graphics. In the earlier games, the views were fixed and the graphics were optimised for this style of viewing. In Heroes V, with the classic viewing style turned on you find that you see a lot of roofs of buildings and tops of trees, and not so many sides; this fact makes things less distinguishable from one another than they used to be.

The other problem with the fixed classic view is that objects on the map can get in the way of what you're trying to click. There are, for instance, some extremely tall trees in Heroes V, and it's sometimes quite possible that trees at the front of the screen obscure the view of your hero at the centre. If you're trying to click on treasure and resources this can be a real nuisance because sometimes you can't even see it, whilst at other times you can see it but not click on it, because a foreground object is in the way. If that happens, you either have to nudge the object to the side of the screen (shifting the parallax of the view) until you can get the mouse pointer to react to it, or, at the extreme, go into the game preferences and change back to the free-camera viewing mode. (To be fair, the 'obstructing objects' problem is a bit of a problem regardless of viewing mode; it can just be worse in the Classic HoMM mode because the camera controls are restricted.)

So those are genuine concerns, but luckily they're not major problems. You get used to the look of the top-down view after a short time, and the 'obstructing objects' problem is only a nuisance on relatively rare occasions. Overall the graphics look really nice, even on the MacBook with its lowly integrated graphics chip. I'd love to see the graphics at their best on a Mac Pro, but the MacBook is the only Intel Mac available to me at present. (Note that the screenshots accompanying this article were all created on my MacBook, so are not necessarily representative of the game at its best.)


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