It's been years since the last game in the illustrious Heroes of Might and Magic series. In that time, New World Computing, the venerable developer of the Heroes games as well as the Might and Magic role-playing series it spun off from, shuttered its doors. So the fate of subsequent Heroes games became uncertain at best, until publisher Ubisoft announced that it nabbed the rights to the Might and Magic brand last year. Then the question became one of quality. With development reins now in the hands of Moscow-based Nival Interactive, was there any chance that the next Heroes of Might and Magic could stack up to its predecessors? Apparently, yes. Underneath the fancy 3D graphics of this latest Heroes game is an underlying design that's very similar to that of the series' popular favorites, parts II and III. Even a lot of the stylistic touches, which fans probably expected to get lost in translation, are intact here. So, despite some bugs in the retail version, Heroes V comes across like an enhanced remake of a classic. Or if you're unfamiliar with the series, you should know that this is an addictive strategy game with a lot of depth, personality, and lasting value.
Best to carve out a good chunk of spare time. Heroes V is just about as fun, addictive, and long-lasting as the series has ever been.
The basics of Heroes V are the same as ever. You must command unique hero characters and their armies to explore maps filled with treasure, hostile enemies, castles, and much more. As heroes win battles and gain more experience points, they level up, which grants them new skills and abilities and also makes their armies even stronger. You'll also be taking in various resources with which you'll be training more creatures, as well as expanding your castles to support an ever-growing military and to stave off aggressors. Consider that you can have multiple heroes and castle types to manage, various subquests to undertake, a whole separate subterranean area to explore, and multiple enemy heroes to contend with all within a single scenario, and it should be clear that there's a lot to think about in Heroes V. Good thing this is a turn-based game.
Heroes V presents an intriguing and diverse cast of heroes and creature types to play around with. There are six playable factions, each of which should be more or less familiar to Heroes fans. They'll find a few omissions (the barbarians and their war boars and behemoths are notably absent, for instance), but the game still runs just about the whole gamut of fantasy archetypes: elves, undead, demons, wizards, and knights in shining armor are all in here. Each faction has its own colorful heroes, creatures, and castle type, and while the underlying gameplay is similar no matter which faction (or factions) you're controlling on a given map, each one has distinctive differences. For example, demonic heroes can gain the power to make many of their brethren units summon reinforcements, allowing them to overwhelm the enemy through sheer numbers. Meanwhile, undead heroes may raise some percentage of their defeated foes as skeletons, and they may also bring some of their own fallen creatures back to un-life after winning a battle.
These types of nuances aren't vastly different from what's been offered up by previous Heroes games. But Heroes V introduces many new skills and abilities, giving you more decisions about how to develop your characters as they get stronger, and creating more variety overall. It's too bad that the game's interface and manual don't do a better job of making all the variety more transparent. For instance, many creatures have unique special abilities that are listed in the game, but not explained. What exactly does the horned overseer's "enraged" ability do? Figure it out. Some special artifacts you find have no descriptions either, as if just having an important-sounding name makes it worth wearing a special helmet.
Fully 3D graphics are new to Heroes of Might and Magic, but thankfully the game's comical fantasy style carried over.
You'll have plenty of time to ponder these types of things since there's no shortage of sheer hours of gameplay in Heroes V. The bulk of the game consists of six interconnected sequential campaigns, each containing five missions--and most missions take more than a few hours to complete. The campaigns let you spend plenty of time focusing on each of the game's different factions, and they're sprinkled with decent 3D cutscenes that weave an engaging-enough story, which should help keep you going even when the missions get tough or start to drag on in spots. It's also nice getting to carry the same hero character through a given campaign, though you might be a little frustrated at having to rebuild your armies practically from scratch every time. Nevertheless, the campaign missions are generally interesting and well designed, in spite of their occasional rough spots or seeming imbalances.
Don't necessarily expect a gradually gentle increase in difficulty. You'll find that the campaign missions vary quite a bit in terms of challenge. You can choose from three difficulty settings for the computer's artificial intelligence, but a scenario's difficulty often comes from resource constraints and other factors, so the aggressiveness of enemy heroes isn't the only thing to worry about. Overall, the game's AI is pretty good, offering up a respectable challenge under most normal circumstances, but acting rather bone-headed under special circumstances. So no, the computer isn't as unpredictable or as intelligent as a human player could be.
In addition to the campaigns, Heroes V features a number of stand-alone scenarios, each of which is given context with fully voiced 3D cutscenes much like in the campaign missions. You can also opt to play the multiplayer maps against the computer, or against other players in a hot-seat mode, over a LAN, or online through Ubisoft's ubi.com service. Turn-based games such as this don't necessarily lend themselves well to online play, but Heroes V makes a few efforts to speed things up by offering options for quick stat-based combat resolution, timed turns, straight hero-versus-hero duels, and something called "ghost mode." In ghost mode, you get to control ghost units during your opponent's phase, and you'll use these guys to muck things up for everyone else. Ghosts can be used to tamper with enemy units and resources, but more importantly, they give you something to do when you're waiting for your next turn to come around. As for the duel mode, it lets you throw two high-level heroes and their armies against each other, if you're looking for relatively quick multiplayer fix.