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All reviews - Games (3)

The Secret of Monkey Island review

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 12 February 2013 06:21 (A review of The Secret of Monkey Island)

My Background with this Game:

After briefly scanning the other reviews for this game thus far, I realized I simply had to review it, if nothing more than to provide a better insight into why this game is timeless. Yes, timeless. I know there are some out there who care first and foremost about graphics. And if that’s you, then stop reading. Seriously, you won’t enjoy this game, and it’s simply because the graphics are not cutting edge, graphics card accelerated masterpieces of technology. For you, there are plenty of other games out there. And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against such graphics. I just happen to appreciate great games, regardless of what level of graphics they have. And besides, I like the graphics of this game. In fact, for me, it’s a part of the charm for this game. Now, on to the actual game, beginning with a brief overview of my own background with this one.



I first played this game way back in the fourth grade. It’s hard to believe it was so long ago. In those days, my computer was a non-standard, custom PC built by a freelancer, and it operated exclusively on DOS. If you don’t know what DOS is, then this is long before your time. If you do, then you know it had its own unique issues, though it never crashed so consistently as the windows operating systems. And games, well, PC games anyway, they were still al relatively small industry compared with today’s games. Not that there weren’t some great games to be found on PCs, even some great text-based adventure games, such as Beyond Zork. And during this time, a type of game had its heyday that now is all but extinct—the adventure game. Among adventure games during this time period came The Secret of Monkey Island, and a classic was born. I cannot possibly recount how many hours I spent, alone and with friends, exploring this game, laughing at the ridiculous humor and the charmed by the odd and bizarre tale and the gritty graphics. In the same vein as another classic, Maniac Mansion, this one, for me at least, has a longer life. Not that I didn’t enjoy Maniac Mansion, but this one hit on every level for me, and created one I can still return to today and find enjoyable.

Plot:

While I could explicate the entire plot of the game here and now, I won’t. For one, this section would be very, very long, as there are many twists and turns to the story. But also, as with most adventure games, watching the story unfold as you explore and as you overcome puzzles is part of the fun. So I will be brief here, and save the story for your experience. In brief, then, you are Guybrush Threepwood. You want to be a pirate. But to do so, you must seek out the Pirate Leaders in the SCUMM Bar. You learn you must pass three tests. As you explore and attempt to complete these tasks, you encounter the ghost pirate LeChuck, the governor Marley, and will ultimately find yourself on Monkey Island, attempting to save Governor Marley. There is much more to it than this, I promise, but as I said, part of the fun here is in watching the plot unfold. So I will keep this section short, and move on to a more important section for this review, the Gameplay.

Gameplay:

The Basics

Anyone familiar with adventure games could tell you that the gaming interface is very simple, and compared to many gaming consoles today or even PC games today, I’d modify that and say ridiculously simple. As you begin the game, you have a simple pointer controlled by the mouse. You interact with the game entirely with point and click interfacing. As this is not an RPG or strategy game, and you have no hit points, attack, defense or stats of any kind. Below the main screen where you see your character you have a three column list of action/verb options. They allow you to interact with your environment. Curiosity plays a large role in this game. Explore everything in your environment. You can pick up items, break them, combine them, open and close objects, talk to people, any number of things. As you make your way down the lookout point and into the Scumm Bar, you’ll begin your quest to become a pirate, and begin to accumulate items. This does not end until the end of the game. So really, your gameplay is very simple interaction and much of it relies on your ability to solve strange and bizarre puzzles at times. The game doesn’t always tell you where to go, although that often can be fairly obvious. And so, there you have it, the basics of the gameplay. Not much to it, really, is there? So just what makes this game so timeless, so classic? Such a discussion inevitably includes an explanation, and you’ll find those below, in my Favorite Features section.



Features

Graphics: As I mentioned above, the graphics in this game are far from being cutting edge. In their day, perhaps they were around average for games, but they very quickly became dated. So we are not dealing with a game that relies on graphics for its main draw. Still, there’s something…something about the graphics that is charming. They’re gritty, they’re a bit dark, yet not cartoonish. I stress not cartoonish. After the sequel, the graphics take a turn for the worst, and I no longer enjoyed the series so much. The designers of the game left to another company, and the replacements decided to change the feel of the game, make them more cartoonish and Disneyesque. They still give me shivers to this day. But the original game and sequel, I love it. They really set the mood of the game, and for me, without them, the game just doesn’t feel right.

Obstacles and Puzzles: The obstacles in this game often take the form of puzzles, but there are a few other obstacles and situations that add, well, often an element of comedy to the game. At one point early on, you must learn to swordfight. I know, I said this is not an RPG, and so it’s not. You must swordfight by exchanging insults. You are woefully unlearned when you begin, and only over time do you learn enough to defeat the master swordsman. There are many such obstacles in your path, and these only add to the charm for me.



And then you have the puzzles. Many games have these. This one is hardly the first, especially for adventure games. Another well-known series utilizes the puzzle exploration to perfection, even if I’m not a huge fan; that is, the Myst series. But the puzzles in this one are designed to be both bizarre and hilarious. I’ll use an early example in the game, and hope I don’t ruin too much with spoilers here. At one point, you’re faced with crossing a ravine. There’s a long zip-line across it, but no way to use the line. No wheel or pulley system is in place. How do you cross? The ingenious solution in the game: use a chicken pulley to zip across  There are many, many such puzzles and obstacles, from fulfilling a recipe to unlock the path to Monkey Island to breaking into Governor Marley’s mansion. All of them have some element of the bizarre and comedy about them. All of them add to the amusement of the game.

But in all these obstacles, you will never die, not once. You will not have to restart the game, not once. This was a philosophical decision on the part of Lucas Arts, the production company. They wanted to create games that did not involve forced restarts and many, many deaths in the game, but rather, allow the gamer to take their time experiencing and enjoying the game. In many ways, this philosophy is a forerunner for such games as the Animal Crossing series, though in those games, there is no way to win. In this one, you are essentially taking part in a bizarre and hilarious interactive story. There really are not multiple solutions to problems in the game. There is often only one, but that one you have to figure out for yourself. With this first game, the puzzles are not so devious as to be frustrating. In the sequel, the puzzles do become a bit harder. Not impossible; I know, I have beaten both games, but certainly a step harder than in this first of the series.

Conclusion

That really is all there is to the gameplay. The game is all about storytelling, comedy and puzzles, with a somewhat linear sequence through the game. But that’s what this genre is built for. And this game does it remarkably well. I would highly recommend this game. You will not regret obtaining it, not in the list. As I mentioned about, the series does go beyond the first two, and for some, they don’t mind the cartoonish graphics. But not for me. No, to me, if you want to experience this game, at least start with this original and try the sequel next. You won’t be disappointed.


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Heroes of Might and Magic IV review

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 7 February 2013 07:36 (A review of Heroes of Might and Magic IV)

My Background with this Game:

With this installment of the Heroes of Might and Magic franchise, a huge schism was created among the fan base. On one side, there were the series traditionalists, those who loved the status quo of the traditional formula, who hated the large deviations this game took from those, and who cried foul to 3DO for creating this rendition of a Heroes game. For others, this game gave them so many of the features they had always wanted, always wondered how they would work, and created an entirely new feel to a franchise they already loved. I do not know how many were in the middle, how many loved both versions of the game, though I would venture that more on the side who loved the new version also loved the more traditional versions as well.



For myself and my friends, we embraced the changes, not as something better, but as something equally fun. Many of the same features that made the previous installments so replayable returned, including one of my favorites, hotseat mode. But there was much new to learn here, and not the least of it was the logistics of army movement, which were changed immensely. While there are many new features and changes, the formula I mentioned previously in my review of Heroes III is still intact: choose a faction in the chosen given for a scenario, or the one selected for the campaign you’re playing, building your town and gather resources, and conquer the map via one of a number of requirements. And while that is the same, many of the new features reveal new strategies, and old strategies that worked no longer function in this brave new world. And by brave new world, I mean that quite literally. The plot introduces us to a completely new world. But that explanation is for another section.

Plot:

As with the previous review, I’ll keep the plot for this game relatively brief, as a part of the fun, especially for the campaigns, is watching the plot unfold. To be brief, this world begins with the end of the Heroes Chronicles series. Gelu, the elf leade of Avlee, has sought out Kilgor, the barbarian leader, with the hope of destroying the Sword of Frost with the sword he claimed in the previous series, Armageddon’s Blade. The clashing of these two swords destroys Enroth, but luckily, refugees from each kingdom are able to escape its destruction by mysterious portals that lead them to Axeoth, an entirely new world.

And so this game’s plot really begins, with the six campaigns telling the stories of how each of the six factions great leaders emerged in this new world. Unlike the previous Heroes game, however, you’re able to play any of the campaigns from the very start, each telling its own self-contained tale. The plot for this Heroes game follows that of the Might and Magic IX game, a game with some various flaws and some major changes of its own from the previous Might and Magic games. I won’t say it’s my favorite of the series, but patched up, it’s an enjoyable enough game to play through at least once. My personal favorites were Might and Magic VII and VIII. Not really sure which I enjoyed more, but perhaps I’ll consider that in future reviews. In any case, I’d highly recommend any of those. For the Heroes IV game I’m reviewing here, the plot of the campaigns explores this new world, though much like previous Heroes games, the individual scenarios do not.

Gameplay:

The Basics

As mentioned in my previous review of Heroes III, this game changes some of the core values of the Heroes universe. But before I get into the specifics of those changes here, much does remain the same. As before, the actual starting positions and resources change from map to map, and the gameplay revolves around the same simple formula: build up a starting town (sometimes you have to claim an unoccupied town at the start) to unlock more powerful creatures. To build, you require resources beyond the gold your town generates. These are secured by a hero and army that you use to explore the map with, encountering random creatures to fight, resource mines to claim, random piles of resources or treasure chests to find, and town (both unoccupied and occupied) to claim. As your army and resources grow, you will likely have multiple armies. You will also encounter rivers and lakes to cross, by means of ships (these require all of your movement to board and disembark from, adding to your strategy overland).

Differences from Previous HoMM

However, even with these similarities, many, many changes exist. One controversial change was the growth of new creatures. Whereas in the previous games, creature growth occurred once a week, in this version, creature structures produce some creatures each day. Your town tells you how many to expect each week, and each day averages 1/7 of that number. This obviously changes the strategy of the game immensely. The urgency of claiming a town before an enemy receives a new influx of creatures at the beginning of the next week is gone. Being caught without any creatures in town becomes far less likely, although against a large army, the few creatures you receive in a day or two is not likely to do much. On the other hand, with some resourcefulness and luck, it can enable you to defeat armies you might not thought possible, and thus save your town, whereas in the other version, if you took all creatures out with you at the start of a week, you’re simply out of luck.
And the creature structures? They’ve received their own facelift in this game. Gone are the creature upgrades. There are none in this version of HoMM. In its place is an option choice. Except for level one creatures, in which you can build two, each of the other three level creatures (levels two through four), you can only build one of the two options. For example, in my favorite order castle, I can build either a titans structure or a dragon golem structure. I can never have both. This allows you to craft different strategies for your army based on creature choices within that particular town. Personally, I enjoy this feature, though I do admit, the choices you make are often the same, based on your preferred style of combat. But then, if you don’t have choices but have the same creature structures every time, it’s not really that large a change anyway. Of course, there are fewer creatures in this setup, and that I do mourn.



Along with choice of creatures was the option to have hero-less armies. No longer were heroes required in an army. You can have numerous armies roaming, collecting random resources lying about and exploring the map, or eliminating fog of war. And fog of war exists, even after you explore an area. Unlike previous Heroes games, where fog of war was gone once you explored an area (with the exception of the Necro town structure and a few other structures/spells that brought some of it back to a limited area), in this Heroes, once you explore an area, you can see whatever is there on the map, but you cannot see creatures or enemy heroes move. This creates a greater necessity to station creatures inside mines and at wall gateways to allow you to see movement at key locations on the map. Though of course, if you can have hero-less armies, the opposite is also true. You can have creature-less armies, composed of as few as a single hero. This was made possible in large part by another large change, and probably one of the most controversial of them all: heroes in combat.

Whereas in previous Heroes games, your hero was a sideline general, contributing stat boosters, spells, and some various other benefits from skills, heroes in this version are present on the actual battlefield. They battle alongside your creatures. This new feature brings with it many positives and some negatives as well. For one large negative, there can be a balance issue at times with the heroes. Heroes can develop into wrecking machines, capable to taking out an entire army by themselves, with some help from immortality potions. There are many on the one side who proclaimed this feature broken. Either your heroes were useless at the beginning, dying far too easily, or your heroes were overpowering. I won’t deny, there were some times where my hero was overpowering, or was overpowered by the enemy AI. But I am not one who believes this feature is broken. I believe this adds to possibilities of the game, but I will expound more on that in the section on Battling.

Along with heroes in battle, we have an entirely new system of skill development. It still utilizes a similar approach in having random skill options each level, but there are now 9 different primary skills and each of those has three subskills. To learn any of the subskills, you must learn the primary skill first. In addition, each skill has five levels of development, as opposed to the original three. Of the nine primary skills, five correspond to the five magics that now make up Axeoth’s world: life, nature, order, chaos, and death. The other for correspond to combat and other areas of the game, such as map movement, creature and resource growth, tactical advantages in battle. Heroes can now only have five groups of skills, so you must choose which you want for them. Each hero starts with the same skills for its alignment. If it’s an Order mage, it has order magic and a subskill. If an Order lord, it has Nobility and a subskill. As you level you have a random chance to learn more subskills or a new primary skill, as long as you have an open primary slot. But, in addition to all this, different combinations of skills evolve your hero into a new class. So your Order Mage could evolve into a Monk with Order and Life skills. Each advanced class provides an additional ability/bonus. With such a system, the choices are increased exponentially. Each town has two types of heroes, a magic class hero and a combat class hero. The exception to this is the might faction, which has only combat class heroes. All of this makes for an interesting development in the game. It’s true, you tend to find classes you like best, but that’s with any game. Personally, I love this feature, and enjoy trying different classes at times. My personal favorite is the Archmage, a hero who specializes in all magics. Quite tough to develop far enough, but also quite powerful.



Beyond skill development, there were some tweaks to spells available (gone is an old favorite, dimension door; still, I don’t really miss it much in this version), along with some bonuses for castle defenders, but those topics belong in another section, which I’ll turn to shortly: Battling. For now, I’ll round out this section with some discussion of the map choices and AI.

There are from 1 to as many as seven other computer opponents who will be exploring the map doing the same things. The AI on this game is not quite so difficult as that of the previous Heroes game. This could partly be a result of the AI making at times poor use of advanced strategies, poor use of hero skill development, but whatever the case, the AI is not quite so fearsome, at least not that I found. But, it is still light years ahead of the AI for Heroes V. I won’t even go there beyond to say that..no, in fact, I won’t go there. I won’t give that AI the benefit of a response. Disadvantages work much the same as in previous ones as well, with regards to harder difficulty equals less money, resources, and town structures. But town income is also lessened, as the max income from a town is now 1000, as opposed to up to 4000 for a capital in HoMM III. Winning requirements remain the same, however: To win, you complete whatever map requirements there are. These can range from conquering all the enemy towns to locating a specific artifact, finding a specific location, taking a specific town or defeating a specific hero, etc.

Alignments



Each map in HoMM IV will possess one of six possible faction, down from the nine possible in HoMM III. One of the biggest losses from this was the separate demonic and undead towns, which are now combined into one. Oddly enough, I was never much into the necro towns until Heroes V, after which it became my favorite. In this rendition, not so much. The six factions have their own strengths and weaknesses, and each specializes in a different magic, with the lone exception of the might faction. The six factions are: the Haven town, allied with Life magic, devoted to healing and protection spells. This is mostly the human faction, with a few non-human creatures; the Academy, allied with Order magic, devoted to counter magic and mind control spells. This is a mix of magical creatures, with some traditional races, such as halfings and dwarfs; the Necropolis, allied with Death magic, devoted to necromantic and curse spells. These creatures are either demonic or undead; the Asylum, allied with Chaos magic, devoted to damage and offensive spells. The creatures are a mix of swamp and underground dwelling creatures; the Preserve, allied with Nature magic, devoted to strengthening and summoning spells. The creatures are all of nature, often magical in nature; the Stronghold, allied with no magic and devoted to might heroes and creatures. Most towns have “neutral” creatures of their own alignment. These often possess creature structures outside of towns at times, though some do not and cannot be purchased anywhere. My personal favorite of these is the Academy. Seriously, give me an Order mage with a Ring of Greater Negation and the Hypnotize spell, and I can beat virtually any army. Okay, so that is a clear example of an overpower hero, but quite frankly, I don’t care =)

Battling

Fighting in this game is in many ways quite similar to previous renditions. You face off on opposite sides of a grid. The hexagon grid of the earlier HoMM games is gone, replaced by a square grid. Of all the changes, this one makes it most difficult to plan in combat. It is often difficult to tell if you are truly guarding a unit from arrow fire, or if they can see right past you to the back unit you are protecting, often times being your weak hero! This is one of the areas I did find a bit annoying at times, but overall, it’s not a huge deal. As before, creatures have speed, health, attack, and defense stats, and are either large or small (taking up one or more squares). Creatures can have from one to several unique abilities, much like the previous HoMM, but in this game, retaliation occurs at the same time, except for creatures with first strike abilities. This makes for far different strategies, since you can no longer counter on killing an enemy untouched each time. And with heroes in combat, it can also alter your strategy. A powerful combat hero can save you many creature lives, but a weak one must be protected at all cost, that is, if you want to claim mines or conquer towns. Dead heroes are not sent to prison unless the entire army is defeated. Otherwise they remain in the army, but well, dead. Unlike previous HoMM games, heroes are not sent to the tavern to be repurchased. They are either sent to prison, if defeated by an enemy army, or remain on the spot of your army’s defeat, if killed by a neutral random creature. This means having to take another army out to reclaim that hero, or cut your losses and leave him to his fate.



As mentioned, heroes fight in combat here. They do so quite well, if they have good combat skills and/or good equipment. In addition to spell effects, however, they also have skills that provide bonuses even beyond combat skills. One group, tactics, provides additional stat boosts to creatures, speed and movement boosts, and luck/morale boosts. These can provide huge advantages in battles. With some good equipment that can boost spell effectiveness or give other abilities, and some potions, such as the favorite immortality (only saves you from death once, but with enough of them..well, you get the picture), the heroes can turn the tide quite literally in more ways than previous HoMM games. Is this new style of battle with heroes better? Not necessarily, but nor is it worse. It’s simply different, and to my mind, it’s an insanely fun different. Spells are still a core part of the game; in fact, as I mentioned above, they can be quite devastating. A close friend of mine always preferred the damaging and powerful effects of Chaos magic, including a spell that incinerates your hero, erasing him completely, if he is killed by the spell. Beyond that, there are mass spells, just as in HoMM III, such as mass bless, mass luck, etc, but these are individual spells to be learned, and are not granted by advanced skills, as in previous HoMM games. All in all, I believe that hero skills and combat role expansion has added greatly to the depth of strategy in the game, while providing a differently feel. Again, not necessarily better, but certainly hugely enjoyable.

Last, before I end this section on Battling, I must mention sieges. In previous HoMM games, defending a castle was a huge advantage. Beating down the walls took time, all the while additional damage was down by archer towers from creatures you never had to buy! (well, beyond building the castle upgrade). In this version, there are tower structures, as in previous heroes games, but you must man them with your own creatures. Don’t have enough shooters to man them? Oh well for you. They do provide large defend and offense bonuses, even to melee combat, but they also expose your units to fire from the enemy. If your creatures are not in a tower and not next to the castle wall, you can’t be hit by enemy fire (well, some area damage spells can hit you, if they can hit another creature that is exposed). So yes, all in all, not nearly so many advantages. And the AI can be dumb in sieges as well. Have some awesome illusion spells? Go ahead and create a huge stack of illusionary titans while the enemy stays huddled up in the castle doing nothing. Granted, this is only if they don’t have any shooters or worthwhile creatures to bring out, and on harder settings, it’s not quite so bad, but all the same, it is a flaw that exists in the system.

Multi-player

Multiplayer works much the same here as it did in previous heroes games, and for me, that is just fine. I loved it in the earlier version. Again, I can’t speak to the online play of this version, as I never used it. My friends and I always gathered around one PC, playing much the same way we would a console game, and for this HoMM game, it works just as beautifully. You could also play LAN, though I don’t know anyone who did, but the hotseat option is amazing. Turns take a relatively short time in HoMM IV, much as in previous versions, and that makes this one playable in multiplayer, even for very long games. Personally, I wish there were more hotseat games that worked on PCs. I know MMOs are all the rage now, but quite honestly, even if I were into those, I know I would find it annoying to try coordinating so many various people to gather at the same time online. I don’t know how many hours another friend wasted on WoW just waiting for his clan members to show up for a raid! No, I’ll stick with local gatherings of friends to game in one place. I may be missing out on a larger world experience of MMOs, but I don’t really miss it. For me, this hotseat ability makes this one infinitely replayable.

Conclusion

I don’t believe I need to alter my conclusion from the other HoMM III review, so here it is:

Overall, I would highly recommend this game. I would list here all of the things I love about this game, but I believe I already have given a good measure of that above. This game is still available, including an updated version playable on newer systems courtesy of Ubisoft. I enjoyed some of Heroes V (Ubisoft’s first offering in the series), but have not played the newest version, Heroes VI, which has horrible reviews and issues, not the least of which is the Steam requirement.


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Heroes of Might and Magic III review

Posted : 4 years, 4 months ago on 4 February 2013 06:36 (A review of Heroes of Might and Magic III)

My Background with this Game:

This series has long been a staple for my friends and I, and for anyone who loves strategy games and RPG games, it’s not hard to see why. I believe the very first one I played was actually the second installment of this series, but this one has a far longer history with me than almost any, save perhaps the fourth one (a fairly controversial installment which changed the hero formula; more on this later). I first began playing this shortly after it came out in late 1999, with a close friend of mine, and I remember wondering if it would hold up to the second installment in the series.



I was not disappointed, and would spend many hours and months, no years, playing this solo and with friends in hotseat mode. In fact, it’s one of the few games in which hotseat play actually works well. This game stayed with me even with the release of HoMM IV in 2002, though it took a bit of a backseat for quite a while after that.
While seemingly a very traditional fantasy game (not something I mind, as I’m a huge fantasy fanatic), the level of depth and strategy goes far beyond its simplistic appearance. And what’s more, instead of one campaign trail that diverged at times, this one has multiple campaigns that all take part in the same story. I mentioned that it held up well to the second installment. In fact, the basics of the gameplay is much the same: choose a faction in the choices given for a scenario, or the one selected for the campaign you’re playing, building your town and gather resources, and conquer the map via one of a number of requirements. Sounds simple enough, yes? Only at first glance. Once you immerse yourself, you’ll find yourself unable to step away, as the depth of strategy begins to unfold.

Plot:

I’ll keep the plot for this game relatively brief, as a part of the fun, especially for the campaigns, is watching the plot unfold. In brief, the land is in chaos. With the death of King Gryphonheart, and the kidnapping of King Roland Ironfirst, Erathia and Enroth are overrun by outside kingdoms, and it’s up to you as Queen Catherine, King Ironfist’s wife, to rally the loyal factions and reclaim the kingdoms. There are many twists and turns, and for those who are at all familiar with the Might and Magic RPG that follows the same storyline, this will all be familiar to you (btw, the Might and Magic rpg series is another favorite of mine, and I’d highly recommend it; it’s next on my list of series to review). As I mentioned, there are several campaigns that explore this plot, including a bonus one that you only unlock after you’ve beaten all the others. The scenarios do not necessarily follow this plot, however, but mostly have their own self-contained plots.

Gameplay:

The Basics

While the actual starting positions and resources change from map to map, the gameplay revolves around a simple formula: build up a starting town (sometimes you have to claim an unoccupied town at the start) to unlock more powerful creatures. Each week you receive a new “crop” of creatures, based upon the level of the town castle. To build, you require resources beyond the gold your town generates. These are secured by a hero and army that you use to explore the map with, encountering random creatures to fight, resource mines to claim, random piles of resources or treasure chests to find, and town (both unoccupied and occupied) to claim. As your army and resources grow, you will likely have multiple armies. You will also encounter rivers and lakes to cross, by means of ships (these require all of your movement to board and disembark from, adding to your strategy overland).



Now, there are from 1 to as many as seven other computer opponents who will be exploring the map doing the same things. The AI on higher settings is actually difficult, and can easily kick your behind, although part of the challenge is also accomplished by the starting gold and resource allotment. On harder settings, you have less (gold, resources, lower level town structures) and the AI has more. I never quite liked this as the means of increasing difficulty as it’s often a short lived disadvantage, but it seems to work well enough. To win, you complete whatever map requirements there are. These can range from conquering all the enemy towns to locating a specific artifact, finding a specific location, taking a specific town or defeating a specific hero, etc.

Alignments



Each map will possess at least one of the eight (or nine, if you also have the expansion installed) available for play. Each town has its strengths and weakness, in terms of number of ranged vs melee units, speed of creatures, defensive vs offensive creatures, etc. The eight original towns are: castle, the human faction, rampart, the elven faction, tower, the wizard faction (my personal favorite), inferno, the demon faction, necropolis, the undead faction, dungeon, the underground faction (cave dwelling creatures, including the mighty black dragon), stronghold, the barbarian faction, and fortress, the swamp creature faction. A ninth was added later in an expansion, known as the Conflux, the elemental faction. Each faction has its own appearance and theme, as well as specializing in either magic based approaches (more spells available, spell abilities of creatures, etc.) or might. My own favorite faction, the wizard town, specializes in magic (obviously) and possesses the widest range of ranged units (including the best in the game) available.

Battling

Fighting itself takes place on a grid, turn-based map. Each player begins on opposite sides of the grid, and each creature moves a certain distance based on their speed stat. Creatures have a number of stats reflecting their power (health, attack, defense) and are either large or small (taking up one or more hexes). Each creature has its own unique abilities, from first strike to spell casting abilities. This makes for a large number of possible strategies, as you must know your own creatures' uses, while also anticipating the enemy creatures’ abilities and moves.



Heroes do not actually fight in combat as creatures do (this would change in Heroes of Might and Magic IV, a large source of that games controversy). However, the heroes’ own Attack and Defense stats are added to the creatures, to provide boosts to their toughness. In addition, heroes have a power and knowledge stat which affects their spell casting ability, which all heroes have to some degree. Some towns are geared more towards spell casting and have a wider range and higher level spells available, as you upgrade the magic towers in that particular town. Spells in and of themselves can be quite powerful and can turn the tide of a battle. But add to all this the unique skills that heroes learn as they level up, and those spells can become devastating. As your hero levels up, you’ll have the chance to choose from a randomly generated group of skills (such as Air magic, Resistance (magic), ballistae, etc). These skills will provide advantages to you in various ways, from allowing you to travel farther over the map each turn to boosting your attack and defense stats and increasing the power and effectiveness of your spells. So, the choices you make in developing your hero also have a major effect on your army’s effectiveness in battle.

Add to this the town sieges, which introduce archer towers, walls that need to be destroyed by your catapults, and mines and moats that slow your attack, and the battles can become quite intense. Unlike the newer renditions created by a different company, the AI does not run away 90 percent of the time (thus losing its army as well). If you flee, you lose your entire army or whatever remains of it, and your hero has to be repurchased in town (although your enemy can also purchase the hero, making losing him/her possibly quite costly).

Multi-player

There has been some complaint about the online multiplayer (at least when the online platform was still available. I’m not certain it still is; it is unlikely, as the company has long been gone. In any case, I never played online and had no desire to). The complaint seemed to be long delays in online turns, though I cannot confirm this. It also had the option to play via LAN connection or hotseat (one computer with each person taking their turns in succession). My friends and I played hotseat mode A LOT. Whereas the Civilization games hotseat can often become unplayable because of the sheer number of things to do per turn, in this game, hotseat remains viable and enjoyable because turns remain relatively short in duration, even in games that have been going on a long time. This makes it one of the few games you can gather your friends together with to play together at one location. I never much was into the online MMO type play, but I enjoy playing with friends in person, in much the same vein as so many of us has in gathering around gaming console. This is one of the few PC games that permit that same kind of experience. This, for me, increases the replayability exponentially.

Conclusion

Overall, I would highly recommend this game. I would list here all of the things I love about this game, but I believe I already have given a good measure of that above. This game is still available, including an updated version playable on newer systems courtesy of Ubisoft. I enjoyed some of Heroes V (Ubisoft’s first offering in the series), but have not played the newest version, Heroes VI, which has horrible reviews and issues, not the least of which is the Steam requirement.


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