While I probably should start off the series with an earlier version of Heroes of Might and Magic, I wanted to do 5 first mostly because I don’t recall enough of the earlier versions where I could belt out a fair review. However, I played 5 fairly extensively and had it on my list of games I wanted to review for a while. It wasn’t the best overall in the series nor the most polished, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Truthfully, Heroes of Might and Magic 5 was nothing more than Ubisoft’s remake of Heroes of Might and Magic 3. 4 was the last 3DO version and it lost its way somehow, even though I felt it was still a fun game. 5 really was upgraded graphics and larger scaled version of 3 but nothing truly remarkable beyond the modernization.
The game had managed to secure the essence of what made Heroes of Might and Magic 3 great with the various factions, turn based combat, resource collection and battles. The map felt bigger with more detail as a result of the upgraded graphics and you could take hours to explore the largest maps.
On top of the basic game, there were two expansions that provided a few more features but most importantly the addition of two more factions (dwarves and orcs/tribes). The campaign mode had a solid story with some gating that allowed you to experience the viewpoints of each faction. Eventually, you would get the opportunity to band up with a few factions for some epic end game battles.
For me the real fun of this type of game is seeing how much of the world you can conquer. I love gathering resources and seeing my castles, armies and heroes grow from pleb status to brute overlord. And with a good map, you could have the opportunity of employing every single faction and having an army composed of the best menagerie in the game.
Of course, being a supreme conqueror has its negative sides too because there’s a shit ton of micro managing. Initially, the game starts off quickly as you will have a limited number of resources, heroes and just 1-2 castles to handle. Over time, as you increase in power and collect more castles, you will spend the vast majority of the time visiting each castle, upgrading or purchasing new buildings and increasing the base’s local garrison. That’s on top of roaming around the world with your heroes in collecting resources, beating monsters and ensuring that your enemy remains fairly deficient. If you fight against multiple AI NPCs, the situation multiplies in the chaos of fending off your opposition.
One of the best assets in the Heroes of Might and Magic series have been the map editors. This version isn’t much different although the editor itself has become more cumbersome because of terrain. But having a map editor prolongs the life of the game as you can create your own scenarios. Unfortunately, I felt that the ease of building solid maps have decreased since the world has evolved with the ubiquitous terrain. My main trick for building a map is to run a randomly generated map, save it and edit that one. You won’t be able to create that complex of a scenario, but you can save on time since you might not have issues with blockages. Instead, by doing this, you can just add the resources, monsters and castles you want without having to deal with the complexities of terrains and levels except where you really want them.
Despite the upgrades the true downside of this game was the lengthy turn based AI mode. On my old computer, large games that went for numerous turns could take hours before the AI made any progress, leaving you hoping that the game wouldn’t crash. And crash it would on some maps that were too big. It felt as though the AI were examining every single path before making a single, simple move. You could easily order a pizza, finish it and read a chapter from a George RR Martin book before the AI would complete a turn.
However, this is a game I like to return to periodically because it is fun. The turn based style ironically allows me to be semi-productive since I can finish my turn, do another activity (say read 25 pages from a book) then return once the AI completes its turn. I did get an updated version from Gog.com recently but don’t know if it’s patched. Also, I don’t know if the game will run smoother on my gaming machine’s hardware since its far superior to my ancient Dell that I used to play on. Either way, it’s a great game to check out if you did enjoy the old series and is up at a reasonable price at Gog.com.