Heroes of Might and Magic was a pretty big series for me. Not only did I play it a lot, but I used to write fanfiction on it. Yeah. I went there. The one I remember the most of was a story based on these two heroes, but called Catriona and Rasha. I don’t quite remember the plot, something about two mortal enemies working together, and then Rasha gets revived into a human again. I REALLY loved this game.
I got access to the latest beta build through EB Games Australia (@ebgamesAus), and thought this would be a good time to see how the game has changed from the late 90’s (HoMM3 was released 1999, with two expansions in 1999 and 2000). This is the second of a short series of posts on Heroes, my history playing it, the evolution of the game itself (from the perspective of someone who hasn’t played the last 3 adaptations of it), comparisons, and how the game itself plays (in beta). Missed part one? Here it is!
If there are any errors in this post, my bad! It has been a long time since I played, and I haven’t even touched 4, 5, or 6. I did make an effort to research things, but feel free to comment where I went wrong!
Just a quick note, this is not about nostalgia for me! It is impossible for me not to compare the differences, being that it is such a drastic change from HoMM 3 (released 1999) to 7 (2015), and I haven’t seen the evolution more slowly in the games between. This post is not about “which game is worth buying” but more about “can I figure out how to play HoMM7 using only my knowledge of HoMM3?”.
A very important factor when comparing is that HoMM has had quite a few different developers and rights owners. It was created and developed by New World Computing, then NWC was acquired by 3DO, then the rights sold to Ubisoft – who teamed up with Nival, Black Hole and then Limbic Entertainment to develop it. I’m not sure if anyone on the original team still works on it (except for the composers Rob King and Paul Romero apparently). So in this case, I’m comparing NWC/3DO=HoMM3 and Ubisoft/Limbic=HoMM7.
I found it particularly interesting that for the latest game, the developers opened up two faction choices to fans. The first was between Sylvan (ended with 66% of votes), an elvish faction, and Fortress (ended with 34%), a dwarven faction. The second was between Dungeon (56%), a dark elf faction, and Inferno (44%) a demonic faction. As I don’t really play campaigns or the more recent games in the series, I don’t really get the story behind them, but from my perspective I found the choices rather … curious. I consider the elvish faction Sylvan as equivalent to the sorceress/rampart/preserve factions of previous games, so for me that would be an obvious must-have choice. While I’ll miss Inferno, I feel the factions for HoMM7 are pretty tight in theme. Despite the changes for the Dungeon faction, the factions were identifiable immediately, which was particularly important to me.
For me, the familiarity of the total system was important, not just for the sake of continuity in the series, but because it’s been so long since I played. The core of the gameplay proved to be similar enough that there was no big learning curve. Perhaps the element that affected me most was that with the previous games, I had sheets/manuals or enough experience to know what units are weak or strong and how they work. While I played around a bit with different maps and starting faction, I played more with the Dungeon which as I mentioned in my previous post had changed from the traditional monsters to include dark elves, so I wasn’t familiar with the starting units at all. In my first battle, I was making ranged units run up to melee attack the enemy! (It’s okay to laugh, I’m laughing at me too).
The differences in graphics are just insanely obvious. The Heroes 3 I was playing included a fan created HD mod (apparently the recent Ubisoft created HD is not all that great and doesn’t include the expansions). The aesthetics of the map is really a personal thing, I quite like it, though there could be a tad more colour depth but that’s just me. I love the look of the water.
But more importantly to me, the user interface isn’t that dramatically different either, so it was easy enough to figure where everything was. I found it somewhat tricky to figure out the random mobs guarding locations and treasures. Partly this was because they were not recognisable – I couldn’t tell just by looking what level they’d likely be (or strengths/weaknesses/abilities/etc), but also because I didn’t get what the identifying text meant. “Threat: Modest” is one such example, but was a modest threat above or below an “average” threat? Previous games gave loose ideas about how many of the mob there were, and it was easier to decide from that about whether I’d be likely to win or not. I did actually lose a hero because of this (sorry, Jenova!).
Perhaps it was my lack of recent experience in the games that meant I kept clicking on location objects that were not interactable. For example, the windmills in the above picture – it took me a few clicks to realise they were merely decoration, unlike the windmill in HoMM3 (which my hero had a path to in the top picture). I also completely skipped over some of the obvious locations such as mines. Of course, hovering over the location gives information about what it is – I derped.
Speaking of Heroes, the Hero system in HoMM7 is a lot more customisable with traits and abilities. I really liked this change. I feel like it makes the hero seem more unique, where in HoMM3, I’d pretty much just send out anyone (with few exceptions, some traits such as necromancy were useful!). If you played more seriously, you probably tuned your heroes in HoMM3 more than I did, but hey, I was a kid. Overall, Heroes just seem to matter more in HoMM7.
While I can’t speak for a lot of the combat system in HoMM7 because I’m not familiar with these creatures, I did like that there was an information box that gave more precise details about, say, attacks from different angles. Being able to zoom in and out of the battleground, or move the camera around it, was not really that useful except for in the starting tactics phase (where you position your army before a battle begins). Still, it is prettier than the flat view.
Also there was a “coolcam”, which would zoom in on a critical attack by a unit (and the percentage chance of this happening can be changed in the settings, or the whole thing just turned off). That was interesting for a while, but I think it could get irritating. I’m not a fan of killshots/killcams/whatever you would like to call them, because I find it often distracts from the action and draws me away from the game when I lose control of a character who is busy showing off.
As well as the gorgeous design of the new Dungeon town, there were particular changes here, such as setting a hero as governor of a town (again, depending on their particular talents you choose). In HoMM3, you have to know which buildings to click, but in HoMM7, there’s an additional bar over the army slots to take you quickly to where all the units are recruited from, or the heroes. Probably wouldn’t make much difference to a regular player (Hall of Heroes is pretty obvious), but it’s a nice design feature that adds to the interface without making it too bloated.
Bonus pics of the Sylvan and Academy towns (again, with few buildings), because they are pretty!:
While there are more efficient patterns to build buildings in HoMM3, I really do like that in HoMM7 there are more dependencies between buildings and a few choices to be made. I haven’t played as much yet to have a full town, but the progression style and choice seems more relevant. Unlike in HoMM 3 on normal difficulty, I burned through resources (and armies!) pretty fast on HoMM 7 (normal as well). In my googling, I read that some resources were deliberately rare to draw out the building of your base.
While the layout of the interface is a lot cleaner, the design didn’t help much in figuring out what level the creatures were except by seeing how far down the building progression tree certain habitats were. I’d probably like the screen better once I got more units, because it just seemed so empty.
As I said previously, the design of HoMM7 was familiar enough that someone who hasn’t played for a few releases can get the hang of it pretty quick. All else that I had issues with is really comes down to becoming familiar with all the new units and buildings/places to explore.
I have to say that one of the things I was surprised by was that the original composers are still working on HoMM. I love Heroes 2, 3 and 4 music, but considered some of the 7 music to be quite bland (except for the Sylvan town, that was pretty).
I haven’t played much of it yet (beta being beta, I had to restart a few times and saving games seem bugged), but found it had quite a nice feel to it, something that is familiar and homely, while being more beautiful and adding interesting bits such as the building progression, rare resources, and the hero system.
I’m not certain if I’ll buy it yet, but I’m definitely interested and I really want to see what the Necropolis looks like! (Undead are totes the best).