I am always happy to see attempts by developers to come up with something new, a variation, if you wish, on traditional gaming themes. Heroes Quest is precisely that: it's not just an RPG; it's basically a clone of the popular Heroes of Might & Magic, a game with a ridiculously huge following. So far, many have attempted to recreate the RPG experience with varying degrees of success (the notable titles being Dragon's Bane II and Kyle's Quest II), but thus far, at least to my knowledge, nobody has attempted to recreate the Heroes of Might and Magic experience - which stands basically on a level of its own.
For those of you unfamiliar with HOMM, let me give you a quick rundown on how it works. While in traditional RPGs you travel around a large landscape doing quests and errands, collecting experience and items, HOMM puts a slight twist onto that. What you have as a party in a traditional RPG, i.e. two to four additional people in your team (depending on the rule-set the RPG obeys) that gain experience, get trained, and, most of all, are cherished throughout the journey because finding and training new team members is difficult and time-consuming. By contrast, HOMM says forget that: you, as the player, are the main Hero, and you drag along an army of all kinds of creatures and your responsibility is to make sure it's generally replenished from widely available levels of recruits. In HOMM, the emphasis is more on strategy of defeating large armies with other large armies (or, perhaps, large armies with smaller armies, depending on your fancy) rather than saving the world with four people. That's how Heroes Quest handles the situation as well.
The game starts off with you, the Hero, being given the major quest, "rid the kingdom of the Dark Wizard", as well as a variety of smaller quests, like "find the key to the gate", as you progress through the game. Obviously, you would not be able to defeat the Dark Wizard immediately because not only he himself is very strong but he is protected by a rather nasty army of bad evil creatures like orcs, skeletons and demons, which are very hard to beat with your initial allotment of 3 archers and 30 peasants (read: 3 useful units and 30 units of cannon fodder). On the upside, as you travel around the wilderness collecting treasure chests and helping out random little people, you will gain experience to advance levels (at which point you can improve your army's attack rating, defense rating, magic rating or your leadership skill), as well as collect various talismans, rings, magic spells and the like. There are lots of enemies to fight, too, of varying toughness levels; though they do all seem to behave roughly the same in battle (archers always attack your archers unless there is someone pounding at them from up close; and short-range units move in very predictable patterns). The upside of the predictability is that you can figure out strategies, because frequently, you will be rather outmatched, so the fact that they at least move predictably is not a bad thing at all.
The graphics in the game are rather nice, though (as I'm getting all too used to saying), the Sony Clie high-resolution mode is not supported. I'm not sure whether OS5 devices are supported either, since I don't have an OS5 device and couldn't try it with it (but after hearing rumours that the Sony NX70 forces everything to hi-res mode without being able to switch it off, I think the game might not function with it). There is too little animation for my humble taste (read: none), but it's not too bad. On the downside, I found the game to be rather slow: for some reason, unit movement is EXTREMELY lagged. I didn't want to overclock my Clie to see if things would improve, seeing as I was on a plane and did not want to waste battery (in fact, I would expect games to behave properly even when underclocked to 33MHz!...)
The world of HQ2 is reasonably sized - not too big and not too small. There are a few major areas in the game - the initial rocky area, the forest, the snowlands, the desert and the spooky dead mountains. As a rule of thumb, you proceed from one to the other sequentially, in a counter-clockwise order on the whole map - though sometimes you will have to backtrack to refill your army or to remove something from your inventory (see below). The game actually makes certain of that - some gates allow only certain level Heroes to pass through. And in order to reach that level, you have to kill literally every creature in the vicinity. That can be a bit of a pain if you are not sure where to look.
As you travel through the lands, you will liberate castles and towns from various bad things. There, you will be able to replenish your armies by hiring new personnel; and different towns have different specialties. Sometimes you will also find little huts where you can buy a single type of army unit, but at a significantly reduced cost. However, since money is really not an issue, the distance you have to cover to save a couple of gold pieces is really not worth it. Furthermore, you are limited to 5 slots in your army, so you have to plan wisely; and towns are limited to 5 slots as well. So if you have a species you want to get rid of and trade for someone else - you're out of luck. You will have to travel to a town with more free slots in order to be able to let go of someone. That annoyed me immensely because if I had *1* orc that I wanted to sell off to get some Reapers, I actually had to travel halfway across the map to find a place which accepted sales (not all towns do, incidentally), sell off my orcs, and then come back to pick up Reapers. What is a LOT worse, though, is the inventory system. You have 4 slots in your "pack". As you walk around, you will find various amulets and rings (there are about 6 of them in the world if I am not mistaken), as well as occasional quest items. The extremely annoying part is this: Suppose you are on a quest to get a cup of something for someone. You are carrying 2 rings and 2 amulets. You find the cup. You pick it up. The game says, "Your pack is full". You try to drop an amulet, then realize there is no function to do so. You have to travel all the way back to the beginning of the game to a town with what basically amounts to a locker, dump an amulet there, then come back, deliver the quest item, then come back to the town to fetch your amulet. Repeat ad infinitum (or as long as you are willing to do quests). Once you liberate the other castles, your trip time shortens, but (a) lockers are not shared between castles, and (b) who cares if it's a shorter trip, it's still ANNOYING! I understand the fact that inventory should be limited, but there really should have been a "drop" function.
Another thing I was a bit unhappy about was the level system. First off, level upgrades are rather rare (points required to go to the next level are really high), and when you do upgrade, you only get 3 points to distribute amongst Attack, Defence, Magic and Leadership. Just before the final boss of the game, I was at level 5 with 33,xxx experience points - with the level 6 upgrade being at 100,000 (and since monsters do not respawn, it was literally unattainable). Of course, I understand the balancing argument perfectly, but I still think that gaining just 4 levels over the course of the game is so seldom that it relegates the whole experience point system to the background. It's the same thing as pricing - $199.99 looks subjectively better than $200, so having more experience levels, but tougher monsters, would have probably been a better idea.
Overall, though, the small defects notwithstanding, I rather enjoyed this game. It supports expandable levels, so I expect level add-ons should become available sometime, and, perhaps things that I mentioned will no longer be present in them. The game, unfortunately, only supports one savegame slot, but, again, I found that it sort of balanced out since you don't really need to save THAT often. A big thumbs up to the developers for taking a direction nobody's really tried so far, and let's see what else they have in store!