There are three main franchises in the fantasy-themed, turn-based strategy genre -- Heroes of Might and Magic, Age of Wonders, and Disciples. By and large, all of the games in the three franchises have been excellent, but they’ve also been fairly similar to each other. New World Computing tried to change the Heroes franchise slightly in Heroes IV, primarily by putting its heroes directly onto the battlefield, but most reviewers didn’t like this change, or perhaps they didn’t like how the opponent AI took a serious hit, to the point where computer-controlled players barely put up a fight.
Now we have Heroes of Might and Magic V. New World Computing is no longer the developer. Instead we have Nival Interactive, probably best known for games like Silent Storm and Rage of Mages. I’ve enjoyed the Nival Interactive games that I’ve played in the past, and so I was optimistic when they took over. But unfortunately, the switch in developer is the only major change in the game.
See if any of this sounds familiar. There are six factions in Heroes V, such as the Arabian-themed Academy faction, which uses gremlins, djinns and titans, and the human-themed Haven faction, which uses peasants, paladins and angels. Heroes can learn a variety of skills in the game, such as estates, which gives them a quantity of gold at the start of every turn, and logistics, which allows them to move farther. There are also several schools of magic, such as destructive magic, which allows heroes to cast spells like chain lighting and the all-powerful armageddon.
Without actually going back and checking the manuals for the first four Heroes games, I think the sentences in the previous paragraph describe them all. Really, since heroes are once again relegated to the sidelines in battles (where their stats influence their armies, and where they can cast spells), Heroes V seems like a carbon copy of Heroes III, just with a more powerful graphics engine.
That’s not to say that Heroes V is a bad game; it’s just a familiar one. Everything that worked in the earlier Heroes games also works here. It’s still fun to build up your heroes and your cities, and to put together a huge army to devastate your enemies. It’s still fun to watch your units in action, and groan when they attack a stack of ghosts and miss, and cheer when they make their luck roll and double their damage. And it’s still fun to explore the world, which is as colorful and varied as ever.
The game mechanics also still work well. Everything is still turn-based. During your turn, which lasts a game day, you can move your heroes around the world, where they can pick up resources, capture cities, and fight enemy armies. You can also build structures in your cities and train units. Each unit comes in two forms, a basic form and a veteran form, and you have to decide whether the veteran form is price-effective for your army. For some units this is a no-brainer, but the top tier units can crippled your economy, and so you have to be careful when using them.
The battles are still turn-based as well. The interface shows the order for the troops to move, and the higher your morale is, the more often your troops take a turn. If your troops use a melee attack, then enemies can retaliate against them, and so battles are mostly an optimization problem, where you try to kill all of the enemies without them damaging your troops in return. That makes magic (primarily from your hero) and ranged troops of key importance, although fast moving melee units are useful as well.
The main difference between Heroes V and the other Heroes games is the set of included campaigns. Instead of telling six different stories, the campaigns are linked together and describe what happens when the king of the Griffin Empire is killed by demons. First his betrothed names herself queen, then a necromancer decides to make a power play, and finally the demons try to take over the world (as demons are wont to do). The writing isn’t as good here as in Heroes IV, but it’s serviceable, and I liked how the heroes worked together (or against each other) and sometimes showed up in multiple campaigns.
Overall, if you liked the earlier Heroes games, then you’re bound to like Heroes of Might and Magic V as well. Sometimes I say that in my conclusions anyway, but in this case it’s because Heroes V is almost an identical game. There isn’t anything new here, but the format works as well as ever, and the 30 campaign missions are good for over 60 hours of playing time. If you haven’t played any of the first four Heroes games, you might want to start with them first, since they should be cheaper and more likely to work on your computer, but otherwise Heroes V is a solid buy at its $40 SRP.