8.6

An almost-triumphant return of the series to its classic from as displayed in Heroes 3. If only my machine were faster!

I have been playing games in the Might and Magic universe since the original Might and Magic RPG on my Commodore 64 back in 1988 or so. I love the universe, and was enthralled by the way the developers combined the fantasy universe and excellent turn-based strategy presented in the Heroes of Might and Magic series. Heroes II hooked me for good, and I have purchased all of them since, including their expansions, gold packs, etc. Heroes 4 was one I was very excited for, but eventually stopped playing. Though it was a good game, it didn't quite sit with the other games, and felt lacking, especially after heroes III and its excellent expansion packs. So bring in Nival Interactive and their experienced turn-based team. If you haven't played any of their other games, I would highly recommend Etherlords II (and the first, if you can find it). I knew the Heroes series was in good hands.

Buying the game on the first day, I rushed home to install it, only to find that I couldn't play it once I did. The graphics were smooth, but my mouse wouldn't move at all. It took me a few minutes just to get it to the quit menu. It took two days of searching forums and finally downloading the Microsoft DirectX update (which I had already installed with previous games) to get past the bug. A friend of mine couldn't even launch his copy because of the DirectX issue as well.

Once past this issue, I found the game a delight to play. The single player story is a good one, and the characters, armies, and races are beautifully rendered, and the artwork is fitting for the setting of the game. I was very pleased. However, in some cases, rotating the camera on the overland map brought the framerate down to about 5 fps. If I was ever in that angle on the map, I couldn't do much but rotate it back to speed up the gameplay. The only other complaint I have is with the combat camera. Unlike the overland camera where you have freedom to pan and scan and rotate and zoom, in combat, you can zoom and rotate, but not pan and scan. In other words, your camera is always focused on a center point on the battlefield, so you can never rotate to look directly at your hero or get a closeup view on the creatures unless they are right in the middle of the field.

The spell effects are excellent and the graphics are colorful and fun, and the creatures are imaginative and well-animated. I enjoy the combination of special creature powers, hero interaction on the battlefield, spells, castle management, etc. Some of the sounds get repetitive, especially in battle, but I didn't notice them too much. I did manage to play one Multiplayer match on the Internet using the new Ghost mode, and it is nice to have something to do while the other players work their way around the map. However, the ghost mode music is thoroughly annoying, and it plays the whole time while you wait for the other players to finish.

The final issue I have is the lack of any map editor. I know that the new 3D engine may make it more difficult, but the play life of the game will definitely fall flat, especially considering the extra maps included only number 8 or so. I don't think that does the fans much justice, and I keep hoping they will release an editor as a future free download. Who knows?

There are so many good things that I feel badly about pointing out the flaws. If you enjoy turn-based strategy and/or love the Heroes series, pick this up. If you might want to pick it up, I would make sure my computer meets more than the minimum specs (it is quite a system hog). There is so much on each map to explore and experience, it is worth the price of admission.

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