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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

The rather cramped spell-book

Magic and spellcasting
My initial reaction to the spell system in Heroes V was one of disappointment. Visually, the presentation of the spell book reminded me of Heroes I, as there are only three spells on each page of your open spell book, so you can see no more than six at a time; that felt terribly cramped after Heroes III and IV, which let you view twice as many. It also seemed very obvious that the number of spells available had been drastically reduced since previous games; perhaps the limited number of spells per page is an attempt to disguise this. Heroes III had four schools of magic with nearly 20 spells in each school, making for a total of around 75 different spells. Heroes IV had something approaching 150 spells, though there was a fair amount of duplication and similarity between some of them. Heroes V, though, has just 44 spells in total, which does seem quite restrictive after the abundance in the previous games.

However, it would be fair to say that the spells that Heroes V does include have been well thought out. Perhaps one of the weaker aspects of Heroes III was that some of its spells were all but useless, and in Heroes IV there were almost too many to keep track of (and only a few that you would use regularly). After around eight years of playing Heroes III, for example, I don't believe I've ever once used the Remove Obstacle spell. There is no such redundancy in Heroes V; all the spells you can find in the game have their uses, so maybe this is an effective case of 'less is more'. Moreover, some apparently familiar spells turn out to work differently, and are often much more useful than they were in earlier games. The Hypnotise spell in Heroes III, for example, sounded useful in theory, but in reality it almost never worked on the creatures you wanted to affect. In Heroes V its equivalent, Puppet Master, is one of the most useful spells in the game.

Heroes V is much like Heroes III in that its spells are divided into four schools of magic, though the groupings (Dark, Destructive, Light and Summoning Magic) are not equivalent. However, unlike Heroes III, becoming proficient in the magic of a particular school does not automatically give you mass-effect versions of many of your spells. Your performance with the spells will improve, but the spells themselves do not change their nature as they did in Heroes III. I found this a shame, personally, as I very much liked the mass effects that were granted at Expert level. Heroes IV reverted to the older Heroes II approach of having separate mass-effect spells (such as Mass Haste), and Heroes V continues with this approach.

Actually, Heroes V contains an effective blending of the magic systems of all previous Heroes games. The spell book (and the fact that the spells appear in the order you learn them) is reminiscent of Heroes I; the nature of some of the spells (with separate mass-effect versions) is like Heroes II; the four-school magic system, and many of the individual spells, are like those of Heroes III; and the visual presentation of the spells, and several of the spells themselves, seem to be inherited from Heroes IV. Yet the reduction in the number of near-useless spells, and the refinements in the way that the remaining spells work, means that the Heroes V spell system actually works extremely well, and might in some ways be considered the best version yet.

On the down side, though, there were things I didn't like about magic casting in Heroes V, and some disappointment over spells. First of all, being able to see only six spells at a time means that you have to flick through the spell book to a rather excessive degree, and it's really fiddly to do this with the mouse. For quite a while, I thought that using the mouse was the only way to do it, too. As it turns out, you can flick the pages left and right with the A and D keys, but why they were picked is beyond me. In Heroes III you could use the left and right cursor keys to turn the pages, and the up and down ones to flick between spell schools: very convenient indeed. Why such a sensible system has been abandoned in Heroes V is beyond me, especially when the replacement work so much less well. I also didn't like the colouring of the spells. In Heroes III, the four spell schools, Earth, Air, Water, Fire, were colour-coded green, white, blue, orange respectively: very logical. Heroes V's colour coding is both less memorable and less attractive.

Most importantly, though, I was sorry to discover that most of my absolute favourite spells from earlier games had either gone or been severely compromised, as well as some other spells which, whilst not my favourites, I felt should have remained. Perhaps the pruning has been a touch ruthless? Adventure spells (the ones you use on the adventure map, when not in battle) seem to have suffered most. Summon Boat (now re-christened with a particularly stupid and unmemorable name, Vessel of Shalassa) is still there, but its counterpart, Scuttle Boat, has gone. Now, it wasn't necessary to destroy boats all that often in Heroes games, but there were times when it was a strategically important thing to be able to do; and you can't do it any more. My three favourite spells, Town Portal, Dimension Door and Fly, have all been hit badly, too. Town Portal now only takes you to the nearest town; gone is the ability to pick your destination. (Admittedly this did make the game too easy, and the spell was also removed from Heroes IV; but I loved it in Heroes III!) Dimension Door (now called Instant Travel) is all but useless, as it consumes half your movement points and lets you go only an extremely short distance. And Fly has gone completely. (You can still fly if you obtain the Angel Wings artifact, and the wingèd hero visuals that accompany flight are excellent, but the opportunities for flying are extremely rare.)

One of the criticisms that could be made of Heroes III was that it could become unbalanced if you had a very powerful spell-casting hero; the magic could overwhelm the might. In Heroes V, although the magic has been thought out very well, it also seems to have been down-played somewhat, with the result that the overall balance is better. I certainly regret the loss of certain spells, and also the reduction in variety, but on balance I'd have to say that the changes are improvements overall.


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