|Publisher: Freeverse Genre: Adventure & RPG
|Min OS X: 10.4 CPU: Intel RAM: 512 MB Hard Disk: 2048 MB DVD-ROM
Excitement... anticipation... frustration... disappointment... controversy... addiction... satisfaction. Seven nouns, perhaps even arranged in that sequence, seem to sum up the reaction to Heroes of Might and Magic V and its rather protracted development and eventual arrival.
The appearance of this game on the Mac is big news for a number of reasons. It's a major title that represents an important development of a well-loved series that has been on the go for many years. All the previous Heroes games have made it to the Mac (though, in many cases, in a far from unscathed form), so clearly hopes were high that the latest member of the series would make the transition too. But it's certainly taken some time to happen (the PC original already has its first expansion pack at this stage), and anticipation among certain members of the Mac gaming community has been feverish. Indeed, IMG has contributed to the hype by publishing a significant number of news stories about the game over the last year.
There's a good reason for this. Although the Heroes series may not have achieved quite the fame and cult status of other strategy series such as Warcraft, this has really been due more to commercial and marketing concerns than to any lack of quality in the games themselves. Devotees of the Heroes series, in fact, would contend that there's simply nothing to touch Heroes (edition number unimportant) for sheer addictive playability. There are those of us who contend, in fact, that Heroes III was not just the pinnacle of the series but very probably the closest thing yet seen to the best game of all time. (Certainly, Heroes IV was a big let-down after it, though it still had its good points. It suffered because of its developers' financial difficulties, and it was released before it was really finished.)
Heroes V is, in fact, a brand new, ground-up production by an almost entirely new team of developers. Luckily, those developers were huge fans of the existing Heroes series (especially Heroes III), and in many ways it really shows: whilst Heroes V represents a new broom that sweeps the series clean of old dust and baggage, it's a game that clearly aims to retain the best of what went before it in the series.
Even during its development on the PC, therefore, Heroes V was surrounded by excitement, anticipation and controversy. On the Mac, though, the controversy extends to the decision to make the game work only on new Intel-based Macs. This decision was taken after a universal port had already been started, and aimed to bring the game to market within a reasonable timescale. However, it remains to be seen whether it will pay off in the long run; there will be many very serviceable PowerPC-based Macs in everyday use for a long time to come, and consequently there will be many frustrated users who would have liked to play Heroes V on them. (I'm one of them myself. My fairly recent acquisition of a MacBook at least allows me to play the game, but I'd much rather have experienced it on my G5 with its powerful graphics card and 23" monitor.) But Heroes V is at least a milestone on the Mac: it's the first mainstream Intel-only game to be released, and the first to be converted via Cider transgaming technology.
For this review I'm going to assume a certain level of familiarity with at least one member of the existing Heroes series, because comparison with Heroes V's predecessors is unavoidable. For players who really have never experienced any of the previous games, though, here's a quick summary of what they're all about. In any Heroes game (they all work on the same basic premise) you will be in control of one or more heroes and zero or more towns. The heroes will explore a richly populated game-world and will acquire, during their travels, various resources to allow the game's economy to progress and various abilities and artifacts to enhance their performance. Armies of mythical creatures travel with the heroes and help them to fight battles against enemy troops and towns. The towns can contain many different types of building, from creature dwellings (which generate troops) to magic guilds that teach your hero spells. Although the precise game objectives can vary, the aim of the game is usually to wipe out all the opposing forces on the map by defeating all of your opponents' heroes and capturing all their towns. A brief paragraph may not make it sound terribly enthralling, but it really is. The sheer variety in the game, the subtlety of it nuances and the sheer charm of the mythological setting makes the experience utterly compelling. Heroes is extremely easy to pick up, but takes a very long time to truly master.
Enough background information! Let's see which aspects of Heroes V are new and which uphold the fine traditions of the series.
Note that this is an extremely long review; however, it has been broken into well-defined sections so that it can be skimmed more easily. Fans of the Heroes series will probably want to read all of it, because there's a lot of comparative analysis of Heroes V in relation to its predecessors, but readers who are new to the series will find that they can skim over much of the middle section of the article.