Heroes IV impressions, new screens

We go hands-on with a preview build of 3DO's upcoming turn-based strategy sequel.

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We recently received a preview build of 3DO's upcoming fantasy-themed strategy sequel, Heroes of Might and Magic IV, and have managed to log in a bit of time with it. Heroes IV takes place after the events of the last episode of the Might and Magic role-playing game series and the events in Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Shadow of Death. The world of Erathia, in which Heroes III took place, has been completely destroyed, and only a few heroes managed to escape certain death by fleeing to a completely new world.

One of the most notable things about Heroes IV right off the bat is how different its overworld maps and interface look. Though Heroes IV offers most of the same options and landmarks as the previous games, everything looks radically different. The build we've received runs at resolutions up to and including 1280x1024, and everything on the maps, including treasure caches, event items (like the old Heroes favorite, the learning stone, which grants 1,000 free experience points), and artifacts look completely different and far more detailed and colorful than they did in previous games. Though the town interface is generally similar to that of Heroes III, it also looks different than it used to--specifically, it's more detailed. Heroes IV's towns have a few new features, including mage guilds that only offer magic from a limited number of different schools, prisons to hold captive enemy heroes, and larger taverns that let will apparently you choose from up to 10 different heroes to hire at one time, rather than only two heroes, as was the case in the previous two games. This preview build of Heroes IV features the same sort of subdued symphonic music of Heroes III, though presumably some if not most of it is still subject to change.

The other tremendous change that Heroes IV makes to the series is its new combat system, which seems more tactical than in previous games. Players will view Heroes IV's battles from an isometric overhead view, rather than the simple side view of the previous games. Heroes IV's different units tend to have more options than they did in previous games--for instance, several units, like mages, have the innate ability to use magic and may cast their own spells rather than simply attacking, advancing, or defending. Also, Heroes IV's hero units actually engage in combat, and since Heroes IV lets you create a stack with multiple heroes (or none at all), it seems as though you can create an army of considerable power and variety depending on how many different units and heroes you decide to add to your leading hero's retinue, especially if you decide to include magic-using heroes and units. But that isn't the only decision that Heroes IV forces you to make, since the game also features a modified technology tree in which some units are mutually exclusive. For instance, in academy town (formerly known as the wizard's tower), when you build your second-level unit buildings, you have to choose between the golem factory, which produces hard-hitting but slow gold golems, or the mage tower, which produces fragile but powerful mages. As a result, each town's armies can actually be extremely varied, rather than always containing the same roster of the most powerful units available.

Will Heroes IV be even better than the outstanding Heroes III? We'll have to wait until the game's final release, which is scheduled for the end of March, to truly find out. But we'll have more on Heroes IV before then, so keep an eye out for more information soon. In the meantime, take a look at our preview coverage of the game.

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