Winds of War is the newest expansion pack for developer New World Computing's long-lived Heroes of Might and Magic series. The series has enjoyed such longevity because of its relatively simple but addictive formula: You create armies of heroes and fantastic monsters from your home castle, then explore and conquer colorful maps laden with treasures and enemy strongholds. However, the Heroes series seems to be running out of steam. The previous edition of the series, Heroes III, was followed by what seemed like an endless series of unremarkable expansion packs and repackaged "special editions." Heroes IV went on to make many fundamental changes to the series, and for many fans, these changes weren't for the better. Heroes IV was then followed by the unremarkable The Gathering Storm expansion pack, which added a substantial number of playable campaigns and stand-alone scenarios, but only a few new features. For better or for worse, the same can be said of the latest expansion pack, Winds of War.
You can count the new additions that Winds of War makes to Heroes IV on the fingers of one hand: six new campaigns, a respectable 25 new scenario maps, a few new creatures, a few new structures to find on the map, and an updated map editor that includes the new creatures and structures. That's about it. Some of the campaign and scenario maps feature the same kind of unusual objectives and conditions that previously characterized the campaigns of Heroes IV and The Gathering Storm, such as missions in which you start without a stronghold and are simply tasked with freely exploring and fighting monsters.
Winds of War's new campaign and scenario maps are fairly substantial and should keep most interested Heroes fans occupied for many hours, and though they're generally quite solid, they don't offer much in the way of new experiences. The expansion's three new monsters are very powerful and they're expensive to recruit, but they don't appear in every mission. Other than that, Winds of War plays more or less the same as Heroes IV did; there are no new playable factions, no significant rebalancing of the existing playable factions, and no real improvements to speak of. The game's campaign editor has been updated, but only to include the few new features, and it makes maps that can be played only by players who own Winds of War--just like The Gathering Storm's editor.
Furthermore, Winds of War looks and sounds more or less exactly the same as Heroes IV before it. The game's colorful monsters and hero units are still represented by the same colorful, prerendered sprites and are still based out of the same colorful strongholds on the same colorful overland (and subterranean) maps. Fortunately, the game's graphics, and its grandiose orchestral and symphonic soundtrack, have held up well over time; however, if you're a Heroes fan who has already spent many hours playing through Heroes IV (and possibly The Gathering Storm), you may be disappointed to see and hear pretty much the same thing you've been seeing and hearing for over a year now.
Even though it packs in a lot of value, if you weren't particularly enchanted by Heroes IV, the new expansion probably won't change your mind. Then again, if you're enough of a Heroes fan to have played Heroes IV and The Gathering Storm, and you can't wait to play more, you should consider picking up Winds of War. The expansion is extremely similar to the previous games, but if you care more about the series' engaging turn-based gameplay and colorful presentation, you'll find enough in Winds of War to keep you busy for some time.