The Best turn-based strategy!
It is hard (or even impossible) to find amongst turn-based strategy games the series better then that of Heroes of Might and Magic. One can love it, one can hate it, but nevertheless it is the most popular hardcore strategy of all times and all nations.
The forth game in the series have been discussed for a long time. But factually, the only things we know are reports by those who managed to take a look at the game. Although today we can gladden all of you with material full of details and illustrations.
We have to make a reservation from the very beginning though - for now the game is far from being finished as far as there are more then three months till its release. That is why I am going to tell you only about things that have already taken more or less solid shape (I know about some features which not implement at this moment but will be done in final version).
The first look is at the appearance...
The first thing you'll see is that the appearance of the game has been totally changed. Truly speaking it was hard to imagine that. 3D landscape really impresses. I mean not mountains and trees, but the ground - it's done as a curved plane covered with textures of the highest quality. And all objects on the plane have different coordinates in the space.
Sprites and textures were rendered with the highest quality, while the most part of objects is animated: the water flows, flags on castle's towers flutter, gems sparkle with play of fire and colors, fountains gush out: it's hard to number all the amenities.
As before you can choose between four types of game maps - small, medium, large and extra large ones; each one can be of two levels. But here even the smallest map is bigger then the medium one of the third game in the series. Partly, extension of maps is connected with support of three basic resolutions - from 800x600 to 1280x1024.
...while the second one is at the content!
Economy in the game has suffered considerable changes, although as before it is based on seven foundations: gold, wood, ore, crystals, gems, sulfur and mercury. But now you can also barter with your neighbors for these materials not only buy them as before. It will not be easy though - there are some deposits on maps, you have to find them and, for example, only after spending some gold you can build Gold mine. Resources will come to the end gradually and this very moment will push the player to the territorial expansion and will not let him do nothing but accumulating funds and monsters as well.
Water space has become more beautiful and more functional. Besides such sea surprises of the game like chests, sunken ships and other stuff you now can see dolphins, system of whirlpools, pirates' islands and so on. You will also find magical ports, between which you can travel without ships, and safe ports, which are berthing, where your enemy cannot take your vessels from.
The strategist's look
Maneuver system on the strategic map has been also changed - now you can, for example, send groups of your monsters to some places without a hero. From now on you can protect your mines with separate detachments or place or posy sentries on frontiers of your domains. Of course, monsters cannot use artifacts while the leader is away (but they can transport them from place to place).
Besides, according to the new rules, you can choose a tactical formation before every battle - rank, close rank and a ring around the leader. Although the most important peculiarity is the possibility to join several heroes in one detachment what allows creating excellent duets like a mage and a warrior.
There are six castles in the game, i.e. as many as there are races in the game. Each of them has their own way of monster breeding, but they have one ting in common - non-linearity. Of eight species, which form aboriginal menagerie, six species are mutually exclusive in pairs. So you'll have to choose whether to have black dragons or hydras, mages or dragon golems, archangels or champions. NB: there will be no possibility to upgrade creatures and interim subspecies to toughest monsters.
Growth of the population goes as before in week cycles with the only difference - creatures come into being not once a week but during the entire week, i.e. if two titans come into being during one week, then the first one will see the light of the day on the third day, while the second one - on the sixth one. Small creatures breed in bunches, but they're of 'easy-come-easy-go' kind and die very quickly.
The changes, which the developers have done with the Mage guild, are quite interesting. Now it is a five-storied building, and the last story can contain, ideally, up to three spells. The quantity of spells on each level of the guild is defined with additional buildings; while the most advanced spells appear only to certain races. Bearing in mind how many resources one must spend to erect a five-storied building, it is easy to imagine how hard it is to obtain some really powerful spells, with paying no attention to armaments build-up and infrastructure development.
Moreover in castles there are other units - like, for example, Caravans with help of which one can send troops to certain points. Caravans have taken place of "secondary Heroes" system from the previous games. Do you remember how many low-trained heroes you used only for taking some 'luggage' to the main 'pick-up-all-on-the-level' character? In taverns one can hire heroes, although prices may vary from 1500 to 2500 in gold depending on the hero's level. Together with a bigger 'assortment' (from now on, you can choose from 11 types of heroes), the developers have added a limitation - you can hire heroes only once a week (say good buy to the tactics of sucking the mana with help of tens of zero-leveled heroes out of the mage approached to the castle). That is why there is a possibility to resurrect a hero (that is it! - being defeated he/she does not return to the place where you can hire him again) not only in towns but also in places, specially designed for this purpose, which are dispersed within maps.
Versatile buildings took place of the Thieves Guild. They give opportunities to heroes to obtain certain skills for a certain amount of money, or they're functioning as shops for magical potions and items, which increase battle characteristics. As to the building that was providing the player with information on opponents (Remember the old Thieves Guild!), then it was removed.
Training of heroes deserves of being paid attention. Theoretically, each hero can learn up to 20 skills, two of them are given to a hero with him seeing the light of the day, and it is these two ones that remain primary all the game long. Now, there are four stages of mastership to any skill, i.e. from Basic to Grand-Master. The developers have already added a complicated tree of skill development, i.e. to advance one skill to the next stage another certain skill must be advanced to a certain level: kind of complicated it is, but I can hardly explain it in another way. In other words, to advance to the stage of Grand-Master in the field of Death Magic, it is necessary to advance in some other auxiliary skills to certain ranks. Moreover, for advancing of the primary skill to the next stage, you can hardly predict what the auxiliary skills will be, and it is bearing this in mind, you'll be able to realize how hard it is to create a demigod-hero.
Each hero has 8 basic parameters: damage, health, mana, number of movement points, experience, morale and luck (to any of these inborn bonuses can be attached). Most of these parameters are regulated with special skills, the army structure, magic and other factors. Specially for detail lovers the developers made heroes' biographies, which contain some details from their past (It's just a small, but a nice thing I should say - when the hero advances to a peak of his career he will be bestowed with titles: for example - of the general, of the king or of the knight).
In the hero's profile you can easily notice that there is a possibility to use up to 13 artifacts placing them in different slots. Some items can be combined into one thus getting a new item. The selection, I should say, is very large - already now there are 160 different relicts realized in the game. Moreover you can drop in to the smithy and buy there some swords, crossbows, shields and armors, which will affect positively and negatively as well. For instance, heavy platemail increases armor up to 50%, while decreasing mobility of the hero.
One more striking change is that now absolutely every hero directly participates in skirmish. They affect their monsters with their spells and are quite good in fighting itself: they can thrust a hard crossbow's bolt into the enemy or to tickle vulnerable places of some bad guys with their swords.
Something about magic
The Magic system was seriously rebuilt. The authors aimed to combining world of Heroes and that of Might & Magic. Do you remember versatile potions in bottles? Now in the game there are 11 of them, and each one effects in its own way. The spells are distributed among numerous schools of magic, and the most lethal of them (Divine Intervention, Armageddon etc.) are divided between the Dark and the Light. Learning of the most-advanced spells depends on certain skills as well as on a certain way of training to the Grand-Master rank.
Use of magic requires mana; the magic is available only to heroes, while some units possess their own inborn spells. Among novelties of the fifth level I would note the possibility of summoning monsters of the highest rank - phoenixes, devils and the like. Now it's kind of hard to say that Armageddon and Chain Lightning are half the battle.
War is war
And the culmination is the battle. It is kind of hard to describe all novelties the game has suffered. Let's start from place of combating - it's impossible to say that it has become bigger, but it's not a flat surface anymore though. As well as on the strategic map, the tactical engine takes into consideration whether the army is in the lowland or on the hill. It affects the visibility range and, thus, determines a possibility to strike the enemy with arrows.
Battlefield topology also affects the possibility for an archer to hit his co-combatant who is on the arrow's way. Moreover, according to the new rules, it is supposed that the attacked party will strike back before the injury points will be deducted from their health points. So, 10 Black Dragons cannot injure a low-trained monsters' crowd of many thousands without serious consequences as far as the latter all together will give them a big bunch of "strike-back".
All warriors have several modes of action. If they can use bows, swords and magic at the same time, you can always choose a certain type of attack what allows use archers and heroes more conveniently. One more improvement is not only that you'll have the limited 'ammunition' for archers, but also a limited range of arrow, bolt and Orc's axe attack. Maximum injury goes down depending on the distance - minimum is 1/8 of the maximal points.
As to the armor calculations, then there are two parameters affecting it- protection from arrows and protection from ordinary injury (in percentage terms). Hence, damage weaken monsters' armor and lowers ability of the armor to absorb damage.
Morals and Luck took a more principal position (they affect when the hero is attacked and when he attacks), and now, over the heads of the loosing characters you can see ominous birds with their wings down more often: these birds mean that the hero misses his turn.
As it has been already stressed, the heroes take direct part in battles. The presence of the hero on the map does not mean that his skills will be spread over all your warriors. Each skill has a certain 'range', counted in yards (in cells) and this very feature makes the general's maneuvers important. It is here you need to foresee as far the "in-the-right-time-in-the-right-place" principle can bring you a victory.
Magic still affects the result of the fight, and in this game even more then in previous ones. But the heroes can learn some skills and increase their resistance to some magical attacks. Your heroes can drink versatile potions, which can grant some magic to 'non-magic' heroes.
We're looking forward!
Heroes have not yet demonstrated anything in the field of multiplayer gameplay and campaigns. It's hard now to evaluate how interesting will it be to search for hidden treasures. Although it is hard to imagine that now hidden elements of the game will make this game worse then previous ones! We can state that it bears sequels in itself, at least it has a big field for breeding new races, making new campaigns and so on.
We have to wait, but not too long - HoMM IV must be released in March of the next year!
- Yuri Bushin (Yurg-Aga)