You're my hero!
Erathia is dead. The Armageddon's Blade, once constructed, proved too powerful an artifact to control. As a wave of fire engulfed the entire world, a lucky few were able to slip through magical portals that brought them to a brand new land. However, this new land would bring its own share of conflict.
Heroes of Might & Magic IV is the long awaited sequel to one of the most addictive games ever made. With improved graphics, updated magic, new rules, and the fact that your Heroes are actually on the battlefield this time, Heroes IV is exactly the game that fans of the series have been waiting for. Thank the gods it's not just another King's Bounty remake.
First off, let's clear something up. This is Heroes of Might & Magic IV, not Warriors of Might & Magic (third-person action), not Legends of Might & Magic (first-person shooter), and not Might & Magic (RPG). Leave it to 3DO to expand a brand to the point of confusion (*cough* Army Men *cough*). The Heroes franchise is turn-based strategy gaming at its finest, a genre in which graphics take a backseat to gameplay.
Speaking of the graphics, don't expect a drastic change, though things are certainly better. Graphics have never been the defining feature of the Heroes series. Still played from an isometric perspective, the look and feel of the game hasn't changed much at all - expect colorful sprites, repetitive animations and neat spell effects. It just goes to show that pushing 80,000 polygons is not necessary for a good game.
The gameplay is where Heroes IV truly shines. For those not familiar with the series, it's your job to maintain a kingdom where you upgrade towns, buy armies, and recruit heroes to lead said armies. Turn-based strategy is just that - you have your turn, then your opponents have theirs; it's just that easy. Or is it?
There are over 60 types of creatures that exist in the world of Heroes IV, each with its own stats and special abilities. The heroes themselves have 11 basic classes, which can progress into 37 different advanced classes depending on how you play the game. With 6 campaigns (each can take 20 hours or more), a ton of single scenarios and an included map editor, this game is deeper than Loch Ness.
The changes in the gameplay between Heroes IV and its predecessors are numerous, and all of them good. First off, the heroes actually fight in battle this time around. Counting as units, you can have an army solely made up of heroes, but the heroes are not necessary in an 'army' anymore. Armies can travel about the map without anyone in charge. Neutral armies wander the map now too, no longer stuck in one place. Also, units no longer spawn only on the first day of every week. They spawn throughout the week, meaning you don't have to pass turns and wait till the next week to increase the size of your army. The magic has been reorganized into five different disciplines, though it still works basically the same way as before.
The best change, however, sounds boring when I say it, but any fan of the series will jump for joy. The resource collection has been automated. In Heroes III, you always had to have a couple weak armies to collect resources. You'd lead them to every windmill, creature home, and resource generator you had, just to collect what was made that week. In Heroes IV, that's all automated.
In fact, there's even a caravan setup to move armies between towns and better gather your forces without having to do it manually. Don't get me wrong; there's still a good amount of micromanaging for those who are fond of that sort of thing. The designers just got rid of the more tedious aspects of the game.
Frankly, this game is heroin to its fans. Though seemingly simple, its complex depth will lead to many lost hours. You'll intend to only play for 15 minutes, and before you know it, two hours have passed. Maybe there should be help groups for this type of thing.
Currently, the only way to play multiplayer Heroes IV is to set up a "hot seat" game. You and up to 5 friends can alternate playing on the same computer, much in the vein of games like Worms. Internet multiplayer is coming in a later patch, which isn't too much of a loss since each game takes so long to play. Honestly, I never actually finished an Internet game of Heroes III.
Note to designers at 3DO/New World Computing: Please include multiplayer over email. This is a TURN-based game - it shouldn't be too hard to send turn data in a small attachment over email. People do this with chess all the time...why not with Heroes IV? Everyone I know who played Heroes III longed for this option.
With all these positive changes, are there any negatives? Well, just minor ones. Stupid mistakes can lead you to lose a map right when you think things are going great. Luckily, the auto-save is there to bring you back a step. Also, scenarios that require destroying every last enemy unit end with you scouring the entire map for a hidden troll or something. Annoying to say the least.
The game is also a little steep on the system requirements considering its relatively simple delivery. 128MB of RAM? While RAM is pretty cheap now, older computers, especially laptops (which every previous Heroes game has been perfect for), just don't have that kind of memory.
All in all, Heroes of Might and Magic IV is a more than worthy sequel to Heroes III, improving many aspects of the gameplay without losing the core of the game. Though 3DO may get blamed for pallid skin and loss of a social life, addicts of the Heroes series are sure to love this game. Now, if you excuse me, I've got a kingdom to conquer.