Turn-based strategy remains, for me, the most addictive game type around...but this one simply falls short.
I gnawed my fingernails to the quick in anticipation for the release of Heroes IV, and sweated through the first delay of the release date. Finally the game was released, and I bought it the first day it came out. I loaded it up and tried to get right into it. And tried, and tried...and tried. Within a week or so I had shelved it and there it sat for these past few years.
Recently, I started playing Disciples 2 (which is excellent), and for some reason it gave me the urge to pull Heroes IV back off the shelf and give it another go. Perhaps my tastes had changed, I thought, or maybe I had missed something the first time around. Perhaps I would discover the *real* Heroes IV this time, the one I had eagerly anticipated several years ago. Wouldn't that be nice? I re-installed the game, applied the patches, and loaded it up.
Man, is this game dry. Gameplay really leaves something to be desired. While Heroes III had the formula down cold, this one seems to be thrown together and released with little or no quality testing. It is not balanced all that well, and many of the elements do not make much sense. The new magic system , and the skill system, take steps backwards, and sometimes seem quite silly. ( Why does the "healing" skill affect spell point regeneration, and have nothing to do with curing troops? Wouldn't the game be better served with more logical concepts?) And the business of throwing the hero into the melee does absolutely nothing for me. Each hero is the carrier of spells, special skills, and combat adjustment factors affecting his troops; strutting the heroes out into the center of combat, just does not work for this game franchise. It's a real fly in the ointment.
And the game seems unfinished. The graphics on the adventure map are very pretty, but the hero movement drives me nuts. He gallops toward the edge of the screen, and the map snaps into position as he nears an edge. It does not scroll with the hero remaining centered, as it should; the hero moves relative to the stationary map, and the map snaps to accommodate his movement as needed. It drives me up the wall, and it's hard on the eyes. It has the feel of something that is unrefined. And, for instance, at the conclusion of a combat sequence, you get this abrupt segue that just seems like it was jammed in sideways, because something needed to fill a gap. It's not smooth. Little things like that make the game feel less than polished. The graphics and artwork for the adventure map and the interface had the potential to be quite breathtaking, but I couldn't get past the annoying snap-movement of the map when traveling across it, and the interface was not altogether streamlined.
The combat is pretty disastrous. After the beautiful, gamepiece-style combat of Heroes III, where every move sequence had ramifications, and the animations and effects had that certain satisfying "crunch" (it was like chess and poetry combined), the combat scene here falls flat. They seem to have scrapped a combat system that really had class and style and mathematical beauty, simply for the sake of reverting to an isometric playing field. Change only for the sake of change, really. It loses everything that made the previous game a joy to play. Combat in this game is cumbersome, confusing, annoying, and frustrating. And I preferred the artwork and animations of the previous game's combat system, hands down; in this game, going with the whole isometric-view theme, they went with figures that look more like something from a real-time strategy game, rather than the colorful, charming, often cartoonish characters that worked so well in Heroes III. They could have went far with newer, higher-res versions of the same style of combat representations. It would have been much preferable.
And furthermore, *what happend to the catapult ? ? ?* Siege combat in this game is the silliest thing about it. To get into a town, your guys walk up to the fortification and beat on the walls (presumably with their swords or claws or whatever their weapon may be). Also, the arrow towers are gone. Instead, the defender's ranged units sit atop these goofy platforms behind the walls. And you can do a melee strike on enemies behind a wall as long as both parties are right next to either side of the wall. Compared to the elegant, sensible style of siege combat in the previous game, this has been degraded to the point of being outright pathetic. It really points to the obvious fact that this game was rushed out the door and onto the shelves. There is no way that anyone in their right mind would have honestly thought that the siege combat system was an improvement on (or at least comparable to) the previous game's.
Some Russian company has obtained the rights to make Heroes V. I hope they take into consideration the elements that made this series great. It was Heroes I, II, and III which defined this franchise. Heroes IV was definitely a step in the wrong direction.