Heroes of Might and Magic Review
When the game first began, the old familiar New World Computing logo popped up, and fond memories whizzed through my mind. Then I got to the main menu, and noticed something was amiss, there was no multi-player mode anywhere to be seen. The game was never a strong single-player experience to begin with, and things began to go south from there. A short, but nice looking FMV sequence begins, showing an old man in a cabin telling of the dangers of taking on Dragons and some mindless tale of the DragonBone Staff. When starting the game however, your main objective is to save the life of your king because he has been poisoned. I think the old man told me this, but I was mesmerized by his Hair Club For Men follicles to pay attention. Back to the king - I don't know the first thing about this guy and I'm supposed to fight dragons to save him? I don't think so.
This review wouldn't be very long if I didn't at least try and save the precious king, so being the hero that I am, I took on the challenge. To start the game there are four different classes of hero to choose from: Knight, Paladin, Barbarian, or Sorceress. Each one has certain skills and characteristics that are supposed to vary the way you'll play. I say "supposed to vary" because the character you choose has almost no effect on the game. One might be stronger with leadership while another can cast some weak spells, but it doesn't really matter.
After selecting your person, it's off to the overworld map where you will try to capture villains, defeat monsters, find pieces of a map, retrieve the Dragon Staff, and ultimately save the life of the king. Depending on what level you choose to play, there are a certain amount of days in which to accomplish your objectives before the king dies. I think my first time playing I had 999 days, which begs me to ask the question "What kind of poison takes 999 days to kill a person, and what kind of pitiful assassin would use such a poison?" At this point you begin to assemble a ragtag army while searching the land trying not to get killed.
The graphics found in Might And Magic aren't very flashy, but this sort of game doesn't require too much pomp and circumstance to get the point across. The first thing I noticed was how large everything is, much larger than what was previously seen in the home versions. Your character is huge and rides a horse of equally large proportions. The land through which you travel isn't much to look at, but it's not hideous. Mountains and caves pepper the landscape, while an occasional castle or dwelling appears for you to visit.
While the overworld map is respectable looking, the combat screens fall a bit short. Again each combatant is a large polygonal model that is easy to identify by a quick look. Of course it's not too difficult to confuse a colorful little fairy with a big ugly ogre, but we've all seen games where the difference isn't quite as clear. The backgrounds vary depending on your location (mountain, field, and coast), but they are so plain looking you'll never even notice them. When the fighting first begins is when things begin to fall apart. The view from which the battle is viewed is very poor, but the good news is the game gives you the ability to change it. The bad news is that the other views aren't an improvement. As your army moves closer to the enemies things become too crowded and it becomes difficult to tell who is who. If you've got some skeletons fighting skeletons you'll be at a loss to tell what is going on, and if you rotate the screen to look at something else you can forget ever getting your bearings back.
Each member of your army has specific attack capabilities, and each has their own unique animations while executing them. The correct term for what they do should really be called "unique choppy animations". Who knows why a little archer guy raising his bow and shooting an arrow is so hard to animate properly, but apparently it is. This game doesn't cry out for great graphics and maybe the developers chose to utilize their resources elsewhere.
If you thought this paragraph was going to tell you they put all of their efforts into the audio, you couldn't be further off. It's been a long, long time since I can remember sound having such little impact on a game. There's some light medieval-sounding music that plays in the background and not much else. Some standard sword clanging, the sound of an arrow whooshing by when you attack, some death noises, and that is it. Other than the average voice acting during the opening FMV this game could have shipped with no audio and I never would have noticed. I'm not sure what could have been done to make things sound better or more interesting, but that's what these developers get paid the big bucks for.
It's been established that the game's bland graphics and sound don't really hurt the Might And Magic experience, so that means it's all about the gameplay. Too bad the gameplay is just as vanilla as what is found in the other categories. Gone are the principal elements that made the PC games so addicting - strategy and RPG elements. Back in the day your movements were turn based, making you choose carefully what path you took when heading back to your castle to defend it. If you strayed too far away you'd leave yourself open to an attack because you were two days away from the castle and the enemy was only one. Now all movement happens in real time, and while this speeds up gameplay quite a bit, it's not as fun.
The RPG elements of the game are also nonexistent. Instead of building up your castle with different buildings which create certain warriors, they are now already at the castle. Sure this speeds up the game, but having to pick and choose what you were going to build added a lot to this game. It was tough to decide whether or not you want to build something that makes affordable fighters or one that makes very expensive but strong attackers. Now it's like heading off to the grocery store to pick out what you want in your army because they are all laid out in front of you, waiting to be picked.
The last crucial thing that was removed from Heroes Of Might And Magic is the multi-player mode. Even six years ago the single-player game wasn't all that great and the real fun was in multiplayer. It wasn't a fast paced game however, you'd wait for your friends to build up their castle, move their armies, and then fight, but it was great fun. I know PC gamers and console gamers are a different breed, but it seems to me that 3DO thought just making the game take less time was the key to a successful console conversion.
As you wander around the map you encounter groups of creatures that are itching for a fight. Thankfully these encounters aren't random or this game would be near impossible to play. Each opposing army is clearly visible on the map usually guarding the path to a new area. One nice touch that I hadn't seen in the series before was that the bad guys will chase you if you get too close. I learned pretty quickly that if I wasn't looking for a fight I'd better keep my distance.
There are castles that you can take over provided you have a large army and some siege weapons, but it's just not the same when it's not your friend's castle that you are storming. As you progress through the game you can accumulate gold that can be used either to purchase new troops or distributed amongst them which will increase your leadership. No matter how you manage your gold you seem to spend the game dirt poor, waiting for the next payday.
It's a strategy game so it should have plenty of replay value, but there are a few things to consider when determining this. The first is that this game is only a single player affair now, so playing with friends is out of the question. Second, and most important is that this game is not fun. It's tremendously boring, extremely repetitive, and very disappointing.
I know I have spent most of the review harping on what is not in the game rather than what is, but there's so much missing that it all bears mentioning. Endless comparisons to a five-year-old computer game may not seem fair, but this game is a sequel and it should be better. Imagine the next Red Alert game and then imagine it with no multi-player, lame mission objectives, a different method of moving your troops, but it's on the PS2 instead of the PC. It would suck, and people would compare it to the old game on the PC. In fact, here are two of the quotes on 3DO's own web page for the game:
"Heroes of Might and Magic™ I and II were two of the best time-sucking games ever created."
- Computer Games Magazine
"Heroes of Might and Magic™ III and Heroes of Might and Magic™ II have been honored in the Readers' All-Time Top 50 list by PC Gamer Magazine for four years running."
For better or worse they are comparing it to the old-school titles. That's what I'm trying to do here, not relive the glory days of my old 486-66mhz computer.
The bottom line is that we have a formula that looks a bit like this: (Great game - Great) + (Bad + No fun) + $50 = Bad, no fun game that costs $50. Anyone who hasn't played any of the Heroes games before might want to rent this one since they won't know what they are missing, but old-school fans should stay far away. As for me, I dug out my old scratched up copy of the PC game and had a blast.
6/26/2004 Aaron Thomas