Heroes of Might and Magic IV Preview

Read our impressions of Heroes IV and watch executive producer Jeff Blattner describe the game in depth.

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Jeff Blattner, executive producer at New World Computing, talks about Heroes IV and summarizes some of its most essential changes.56K

The foundation of New World Computing's extremely popular Heroes of Might and Magic turn-based strategy series, and the Might & Magic role-playing series that inspired it, is balance. Just as the "might" and the "magic" in the titles evokes a sense of conflict between two powerful diametrically opposed forces, so is the Heroes of Might and Magic series best known for its deceptively simple-looking yet very deep strategic gameplay. The charming graphics, excellent audio, and rich fantasy settings of these games have also played no small part in their success, and as a result, the Heroes of Might and Magic series now commands an extremely loyal following of fans. Late this fall, these and other players will be treated to the next installment in the series. Like its predecessors, Heroes of Might and Magic IV is a carefully crafted turn-based strategy game set in a highly detailed fantasy world. Yet the designers aren't taking the easy route by just adding more to the successful formula; instead, they're making many meaningful, interesting changes in Heroes of Might and Magic IV. It'll still be a turn-based game, and the fundamental design will remain closely akin to its predecessors. Yet the differences in Heroes IV promise to reinvent the accomplishments of the series rather than simply reproduce them. The resulting game should be very engaging both for Heroes of Might and Magic fans and those getting into the series for the first time.

Isometric combat is one of the most notable changes in Heroes IV.
Isometric combat is one of the most notable changes in Heroes IV.

As in its predecessors, in Heroes of Might and Magic IV, you'll have to build a thriving, well-fortified town as you field armies of fantastical creatures led by your hero characters, with whom you'll expand your kingdom. The game will feature seven distinct single-player campaigns, multiple single-skirmish scenarios, multiplayer support, and a full-on campaign editor. There will be more than 60 different types of creatures in the game, six different town types, more than 10 different starting hero classes, 27 different skills heroes can learn, as well as spells in five discreetly different schools of magic. The game will support screen resolutions up to 1280x1024, and the graphics and sound will be brand new. Of course, the most interesting aspects of Heroes IV aren't in the raw numbers--they're in the details themselves.

One of the new towns in Heroes IV.
One of the new towns in Heroes IV.

For example, the combat in Heroes IV will be completely revamped. The biggest difference will be immediately obvious to Heroes fans: Combat now takes place on an isometric battlefield, rather than from a side view as in the previous games. In addition, your hero characters won't just stand on the sidelines shooting off spells every now and then. They're now in the thick of it along with all your other units, and can engage in battle directly. There are other more subtle but equally significant changes to the combat, such as the inclusion of some basic line-of-sight rules, as well as major changes to the way retaliation attacks now work. And of course, the actual creatures on the battlefield will be quite different as well. Read to learn what will be so special about each of them.

Creature Comforts

 Heroes of Heroes IV
 
Each of the following pages will show you one of the many types of hero characters in Heroes of Might and Magic IV. This is the barbarian, the best warrior in the game--but she can't use magic at all.
 
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Blattner discusses the creatures of Heroes IV in this movie clip.

Every creature in Heroes of Might and Magic IV, from the tiniest sprite to the hugest behemoth, will now be distinctly different from all the rest. Rather than simply increase the total number of creatures in the game, the designers decided instead to focus on making all the creatures interesting, memorable, and unusual. You'll no doubt recognize some of the creatures in Heroes IV either from previous games in the series or from their mythological namesakes--creatures such as minotaurs, cyclopes, orcs, hydras, genies, and black dragons will all be in the game. But even the returning creatures will in some cases perform quite differently in battle. At the same time, expect to encounter plenty of new types of creatures, such as the mighty dragon golems, the ferocious white tigers, mirthful satyrs, and salty pirates. And remember that leprechaun you used to steal gold from once a week? Let's just say he's fighting mad now.

In Heroes II and Heroes III, most every creature could be upgraded, which generally made them stronger and tougher. Minotaurs became minotaur kings, angels became archangels, and so on. Obviously, upgraded units were typically superior to their more ordinary counterparts, which caused a lot of the ordinary units to have little or no actual use. Recognizing this, New World Computing has abandoned the idea of letting players upgrade their units, instead concentrating on carefully designing and balancing all the core units.

Pirates like this one will have bonuses when fighting at sea. Yare!
Pirates like this one will have bonuses when fighting at sea. Yare!

Specifically, in Heroes IV, every single unit will now have its own unique special ability, such that even the weaker ones may prove useful in support of more powerful creatures. In previous Heroes games, only some creatures had certain unique special abilities. For instance, an ogre upgraded to an ogre mage could cast a bloodlust spell on any friendly unit, rather than take his regular attack turn. Archangels could resurrect their fallen brethren, goblin wolf riders could attack twice in one round, and so on. Their special abilities generally made these more interesting than some of the more mundane units in the game, such as the basic pike men or the dog-headed gnolls. But now every unit will get the special treatment. Some units' special abilities will be quite complex--for example, genies will have their very own spell books, and they'll be able to cast a variety of different spells in battle, rather than just a random protection spell as in the previous Heroes game. And as for those leprechauns, needless to say they'll be able to bestow a good-luck bonus on their friends.

Of course, they'll have to contend with these sea monsters and other indigenous sea life.
Of course, they'll have to contend with these sea monsters and other indigenous sea life.

Not only will you have more strategic options using all your units, but you'll also have to make certain key tactical decisions as you build up your towns. In previous Heroes games, you'd typically upgrade your town linearly, such that you kept gaining access to stronger and stronger creatures turn after turn, until you finally had creatures of every level. In Heroes IV, you won't be so lucky--you'll have to make some really tough choices, both with your creatures and your heroes. Find out about them next.

If You Want to Win, Choose Me

 Heroes of Heroes IV
 
This is the enchanter, one of the best magic-users in the game. She'll be able to use both offensive and defensive magic spells to good effect--but she'll have to learn the spells in her own school before she can learn those of other schools.
 
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Find out about the heroes of Heroes IV, and how they'll be different.

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Each of the six town types in Heroes of Might and Magic IV will offer two different types of creature generators for most creature levels--and once you commit to one type over the other, you're stuck with it. That is, unless you take control of another town and build the other upgrade option there. So, for instance, in your haven town, you'll only be able to produce angels or crusaders--not both. Angels may be faster and able to fly, but crusaders may be hardier and stronger. You'll need to decide what's more important to your strategy, and New World will balance analogous creatures such that these decisions shouldn't be obvious. So, while the new "either or" upgrade scheme will obviously put more pressure on you to make the right call as you upgrade your town, it'll also help you keep your opponents guessing.

You might be wondering how the heroes themselves will figure into all this--after all, they'll be on the battlefield in the thick of it just like everything else. As mentioned, in Heroes of Might and Magic IV, your hero characters will appear on the battlefield in the midst of their forces. That means you'll be able to attack enemy heroes directly--yet they'll also be able to fight back. The designers of the game see this as the single most significant change to the combat in Heroes of Might and Magic IV, though this new approach isn't unheard of. Other turn-based fantasy-themed strategy games, such as Disciples: Sacred Lands and Age of Wonders, already let you directly control your heroes in battle. In fact, Disciples also forces you to make "either or" upgrade decisions much like Heroes IV will. Regardless of whether such design shifts in Heroes IV are original or borrowed, the fact is, they will have a significant impact on the way the game plays--one that will force veterans of the previous games to rethink their combat strategies.

The new asylum town all built up...
The new asylum town all built up...

In previous installments, heroes impacted battles in two ways: They could cast spells, and they could confer bonuses to their creatures' attack and defense ratings. In general, heroes were proficient in one way or the other. For example, a warlock hero could cast powerful spells, while a barbarian hero's forces would be much hardier than those not under his or her direct influence. Still, magic tended to be more important than might--a high-level magic-using hero with a small force could often decimate much larger armies. But things won't be quite so simple this time around, since that pesky high-level magic-using hero will make a juicy target on the battlefield. However, sword-wielding heroes will have also have to take some new issues into account, such as their command radius--now, units who're physically beyond a hero's command radius will not reap the benefits of their commanding officer's experience.

And another asylum all built up, with three different creature generators...
And another asylum all built up, with three different creature generators...

Don't worry, though--heroes won't exactly be pushovers in battle. You'll be thankful for it when you've got just one stinking goblin with you to keep your hero company, since your heroes will be able to fend for themselves should they run into any trouble heading home for reinforcements. There's a lot more to say about the heroes in Heroes IV, most notably about how they'll grow and develop differently than in the previous games. No surprise by now, right? Read on to find out what you can expect.

A Hero in the Making

 Heroes of Heroes IV
 
The necromancer is the master of the undead, and, as such, not one for social discourse. But the mindless hordes of long-deceased warriors and mages at her command pose a fearsome threat to any who would stand against her.
 
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Blattner discusses the complex skill system in Heroes IV.

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In Heroes IV, all heroes are created equal. Unlike in the previous games, you'll no longer be able to recruit certain heroes who have uniquely powerful abilities that give you an early-game advantage. Now, all heroes will start off with a basic set of skills as defined by their starting class. There are 11 starting classes: archer, barbarian, enchanter, fighter, lord, necromancer, priest, rogue, shaman, sorcerer, and warrior. These classes determine the hero's proficiency, if any, in the game's nine primary skills: nobility, tactics, combat, scouting, life magic, death magic, order magic, chaos magic, and nature magic. Previous Heroes games let you gain up to three levels of proficiency in any skill: basic, advanced, and expert. Now, a total of five levels of proficiency, including master and grandmaster levels, will be available for all skills.

As your hero gains experience, he or she can learn up to five of these nine skills. In turn, each of the nine skills gives your hero the ability to learn the three secondary skills that the primary skill comprises. For instance, the combat skill affects your hero's own military prowess, such that gaining more combat skill will allow your hero to gain bonuses to his or her offense, defense, and magic resistance. Meanwhile, the tactics skill affects your hero's ability to bestow bonuses on other units. Nobility allows your hero to do things like boost creature growth or increase the flow of resources in his or her towns, and scouting lets your hero move about the world more quickly and glean more information from the environment. Meanwhile, the five magical skills represent the hero's knowledge of that particular school.

The undead will once again prove to be a powerful force.
The undead will once again prove to be a powerful force.

Based on your character's class, you'll be more or less likely to get the opportunity to learn certain skills. Most notably, barbarians can't use magic at all. As your hero gains levels and proficiency in certain skills, he or she may grow to become one of 37 different advanced classes, which are essentially based on different combinations of whatever skills you chose. For instance, if your enchanter learns all five different magic skills, then he or she may become an archmage.

As in Heroes III, battles can take place above ground, or below it.
As in Heroes III, battles can take place above ground, or below it.

So, what happens if your archmage kicks the bucket when a throng of goblins gangs up on him or her in the middle of battle? Actually, though New World is still working out whether heroes should regain all of their lost hit points if their armies end up winning the battle, if your entire army is defeated, then the victor gets a choice as to what to do with the enemy hero. One option is to execute him or her on the spot. Fortunately, you can recover your fallen heroes and take them back to your town to be resurrected. To prevent this from happening, your opponent can instead incarcerate your defeated hero in his or her town dungeon. You can then rescue your hero only by conquering the enemy town, which is typically easier said than done.

Actually, laying siege to enemy towns will also be completely different in Heroes IV than in previous installments. You'll learn more about sieges, reinforcements, and some of the game's other combat features on the next page.

No More Catapults

 Heroes of Heroes IV
 
One of the new hero classes in Heroes IV, the lord is a stately knight whose armies march proudly in his name. Not only is he a great tactician, but the lord's nobility brings wealth and prestige to his kingdom.
 
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Learn more about how town sieges will be completely different in Heroes IV.

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That's right, there will no longer be siege engines in Heroes of Might and Magic IV. Not as such, anyway--a powerful ballista manned by a little halfling will be available for recruitment, for example. But in the previous games, when you attacked an enemy town, your hero would all of a sudden be armed with a catapult that would automatically fire on the town's walls as your opponent's archers rained deadly fire down on your forces from the parapets. That's all gone in Heroes IV. Now, defending players will be able to position their forces in fortified areas and will otherwise receive defensive bonuses while attacking from within their town. Meanwhile, attacking players will have to break through the city gate before getting inside the enemy town. This promises to make siege combat rather more balanced than in the previous games, wherein a deeply entrenched player stood little chance of losing his or her castle to the enemy. Otherwise, it's worth noting that New World hasn't finalized the details of siege combat as yet, so we weren't able to see it in action.

Other changes to the combat in Heroes IV are also intended to lend the game more toward pitched battles rather than the sorts of all-or-nothing slaughters typical of the previous installments. For instance, in earlier Heroes games, unit morale and luck could easily make or break you. Morale could either cause a group of creatures to move twice in one round or be paralyzed in fear and not move at all. Similarly, luck could make groups of units automatically inflict maximum damage for devastating results. Now, morale just determines unit initiative--good morale will make the unit act sooner than the enemy, while bad morale will make it act later. Similarly, luck now confers a defensive bonus rather than an offensive one. Units with good luck have a chance to take less damage from their attackers, while units with bad luck will be more vulnerable.

There will be plenty of interesting places to explore on the high seas.
There will be plenty of interesting places to explore on the high seas.

Heroes IV will also change the way counterattacks work. In earlier Heroes games, when one group of creatures attacked another, the group on the receiving end would retaliate once the damage was done. Thus, if my black dragon kills 400 of your 403 peasants in its first attack, only those three remaining peasants would be available to hit the dragon back. This made initiative completely essential--if your forces were faster, you could decimate the enemy. However, in Heroes IV, enemy retaliations will occur simultaneously with the initial attack--all 403 peasants will strike the black dragon even as it ends up killing most of them. This means battles will now be closer than before, and less of an advantage will be given to the more powerful army, who'll invariably end up suffering losses in its hard-fought victory.

Different types of terrain may affect the outcome of battles.
Different types of terrain may affect the outcome of battles.

Fortunately, caravans will be available to send you reinforcements between battles. In previous Heroes games, you'd typically have just a few powerful heroes running around the map while a bunch of weakling heroes swarmed around the area, ferrying troops from your towns to the front lines. Heroes IV's caravans will let you put a stop to this, so you won't need to have powerless heroes escorting creatures but can instead concentrate on building up all your heroes into powerful leaders. After all, you'll need a variety of heroes to survive in the game's seven campaigns, which you'll learn more about on the next page.

An Epic in Seven Parts

 Heroes of Heroes IV
 
The sorcerer is another powerful magic user, whose combat spells can decimate entire armies of enemy creatures. But keep him safely away from his enemies.
 
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See a work-in-progress cinematic from Heroes IV.

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The largest of the game's seven campaigns will focus on the trials and tribulations of Emilia Nighthaven, who's luckily whisked away to a frontier world when her own world is destroyed in a huge cataclysm. Now, Emilia's ambition will lead her to become the ruler of this new world of Axeoth--but not if the evil immortal King Gavin Magnus has anything to say about it. He'll try to quell Emilia's rebellious uprising against his tyrannical rule. In general, each of the seven campaigns will focus on a particular type of town, meaning that you'll become intimately familiar with the particular strengths and weaknesses of each of the game's different types of strategic factions.

As in earlier Heroes games, the adventure maps in Heroes of Might and Magic IV promise to abound with detailed locations to explore. You'll still be able to go on quests, gain control of resource mines, find treasure, uncover lost artifacts, battle wandering monsters, and more. Actually, unlike in the earlier games, those wandering monsters might

King Gavin Magnus will employ these dragon golems to do his dirty work.
King Gavin Magnus will employ these dragon golems to do his dirty work.
not just stand still and block your path--they might take the initiative and attack you if they think they'll win. That's because in Heroes IV, neutral factions will have their own turn to move after you do. There will even be neutral heroes wandering around some scenarios, and they may pose an additional threat you didn't count on. As in Heroes III, many Heroes IV scenarios will also feature a subterranean level below the main map surface, effectively doubling the size of the scenario map and enabling plenty of strategic possibilities. Also, veterans of the Heroes series should expect to see some of their old favorite heroes, such as Sandro the lich and Solmyr the genie, make a return in the new game.

Will Heroes IV live up to its predecessors?
Will Heroes IV live up to its predecessors?

Clearly, there's a lot to say about Heroes of Might and Magic IV. It will be the next in a series of games that has continued to grow and evolve over the years--and continued to garner public and critical acclaim. The last of the major installments, Heroes of Might and Magic III, was released in early 1999--more than two years ago--and while it was lauded for its enjoyable gameplay, some were also quick to point out the game's abundant similarities to its predecessors. By contrast, Heroes IV is deviating from many aspects of the formula set forth in the previous games. These changes are deliberate--between all the user feedback received by New World Computing, as well as the successful feature implementations of other recent turn-based strategy games, the developers of Heroes IV had a lot of good ideas to draw from. How all these ideas will finally fit together in the fourth chapter of the series remains to be seen. But judging from the intentions behind all the changes, the past accomplishments of the Heroes of Might and Magic series, and the developers' many years of experience creating these popular and addictive games, it seems likely that Heroes of Might and Magic IV will live up to the high expectations of its fans when it's finally released later this year.

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