Heroes of Might and Magic V review

23 Jun 2006

The great grandaddy of role-playing games gets a much-needed kick into the world of 3D

Price when reviewed: 
25inc VAT
4

There aren't many games that have managed to keep going for over a decade, and fewer still can honestly claim that the gameplay principles they had in 1994 aren't that different in 2006. So Heroes of Might and Magic V stands out in more ways than one. It's a shining example of the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", which is why, after 12 years, it's still king of the turn-based role-playing genre. In fairness, this is hardly a crowded market. With its sedentary gameplay and uber-geek themes, it's anathema to adrenaline junkies the world over.

Starting off with a solitary hero (with magical powers) and a handful of troops, you must explore the land, liberating towns, discovering hidden areas and objects, and clearing out hostile enemies, with the eventual goal of conquering the land and putting your foes to the sword. It's your standard RPG fare, and is as popular today as it was 20 years ago, when Dungeons & Dragons ruled the roost.

In truth, it's a minor miracle that this latest version ever saw the light of day. After the release of the third instalment, players (and there were lots) clamoured for a full 3D version. What they got in the fourth instalment was a rather lacklustre isometric game, which, while not dire, was hardly going to set the world on fire. Not long after, the parent company 3DO went into liquidation. Thankfully for fans of the series, the game was resurrected by Nival, and the end result is a 3D game light years ahead of its previous outings.

From the outset, you realise that, aesthetically at least, they've taken the game to a whole new level. From the vivid colours and textures, through to the detailed character animations, you actually feel like you're playing in some magical world rather than a piece of green baize with monsters stuck on.

Scattered across the map are various objects - from small farms that provide you with peasants to recruit for your army through to mines that give you resources - essential when you want to upgrade your city. Initially, all are neutral, so off you trot with your army in tow to bring them to your cause. On the way, you'll encounter groups of neutral or enemy creatures, who'll either join your cause or fight to the death, although once you've built up a large enough army cowardice becomes the better part of valour and they run away.

As you explore, you'll come across various towns, which you can capture and upgrade to produce more and better quality troops for your army, from fireball-throwing wizards to archers.

Of course, upgrades aren't free: your hero generates money, and hidden in various places are bars of gold and other bonus items, along with resources that need to be found or mined. And, as you'd expect, the more significant the upgrade, the steeper the price.

However, we haven't touched on the other aspect of the game: fighting. While the strategic element is all 3D turn based, combat is a little different. Think of it as uber-complex chess. You start off with the two sides facing each other, with no-man's-land in the middle. The two armies take it in turn to either move their troops into a better position or attack, using magic or ranged weapons. It's here that your hero's magical powers come into play: from morale and attack bonuses through to conferring magic resistance to your troops. And as your heroes level up, they can choose from a vast range of new skills. Eventually, one side is wiped out and the winner has a little cheer (unless you're the loser, in which case you can reload from a previous saved position).