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Heroes of Might of Magic IV

The methodical words of wisdom and cognizance are to be found in merely one book. A book written with the blood of the weak by the swords of the strong, assorted from the remnants of the frail by the muscles of the sturdy. Life doesn’t excuse the powerless or censure the mighty. Shining stars light out entire planets but faint ones are obscured behind eternal blackness. Such is whole life, survival is for the powerful and woe be to the mild. The fast outrun the tardy, the tough crush the defenseless and the smart outwit the obtuse. In such a world of glorious winners and reprehensible losers, we are always in need of them; we are always in need of Heroes!

Turn the pages of the book and a dreadful scene appears. Large battlefields smelling of death and concealed horrors materialize. In the midst, the two legendary swords confront. Armageddon’s blade and the sword of frost tower up in the hands of two leaders, they seek power and nothing will stop them, nothing but their own deaths. The two eye each other aggressively, as they slowly breathe the dank heavy air. Then instantly, the fight starts. Armageddon’s blade swings quickly in the air aiming towards the sword of frost and they meet. The two mythical swords of boundless powers clash. A blinding flash follows.

And Doom is unleashed upon us. Waves of devastation extend from the two swords, bringing out volcanoes, earthquakes and all sorts of disasters. Yet as the end draws near, the gods lay mercy on our world. Through magical portals many flee this retched world, to another lovely one waiting on the other side. Still, our story is not finished; many stories are yet to be made, tales too, ones of glorious cities to be founded, victorious battles to be fought and rising heroes to be witnessed.

This is nothing but a prolegomenon, an initiative plot, mainly put as a background to the other stories found in the campaigns. Each campaign looks at this matter from a certain angle and a different perspective. One has the story of two lovers, who have to defy the whole world and struggle to preserve their love. A second talks about a necromancer, who was betrayed by his own people, and thus raises the undead to help him take his revenge. And yet a third recounts the story of a pirate girl, who has to lead her crew through the dangers of the open seas. There is a total of six campaigns, each portraying a different plot, and is attractive in its own way. The six are undeniably interesting, and can easily keep you attached to the main characters during the campaigns, which of course makes for a good storyline.

Heroes IV follows the main principles of Heroes III. You hire and control heroes with varied sets of skills and abilities. Those heroes will be able to recruit different types of creatures from your cities and lead them in battle. Each turn, you will be able to move your heroes across the map, exploring the uncharted areas of it, while collecting resources and fighting groups of hostile monsters. You may occasionally stumble upon ancient artifacts which can strengthen your heroes when equipped, and you will most likely fight hostile enemy heroes while conquering more lands. After constant fighting, your heroes will rise in level to become more powerful and to gain new sets of skills and abilities. While the game follows this same basis, it changes much more.

Unlike before, your heroes now act as separate units in your army. They can melee, fire arrows, or cast spells in their individual turns. They also have a health meter of their own, and can drink different potions to empower themselves or support other units when necessary. On the other hand, they can be targeted by enemy units, and might die as well if exposed to heavy damage. Moreover, armies now may consist of one hero only, a group of creatures only, or even a group of creatures added to several heroes. This means, that there can be armies with any number of heroes, ranging from seven to none, or any number of creature types too. It is particularly important for it gives you more freedom in arranging your armies, and endows the game with a dimension of realism and free will.

The new leveling system for your heroes is now more complicated than before, but is also more fulfilling. Each hero can learn up to five major skills, and each major skill can drag up to three secondary skills with it. Every skill can rise in five ranks, starting with basic and ending with grandmaster. Your hero will then become specialized in the skills you concentrate on the most, which in turn gives him certain new characteristics and abilities. He may become a general skilled in combat and tactics, and get a bonus of morale, or maybe an archmage specialized in different schools of magic, and so get a bonus to his spell casting abilities. He may even become a lord, if trained in nobility. Obviously, such a system allows you to craft your hero as you wish, while giving him a unique identity and distinctiveness, subsequently allowing for more serious hero development.

Furthermore, the game is also more convincing in terms of organization than before. There are six main alignments included; each alignment comes with its own city, structures, creatures, magic spells and individual attributes. The barbarian alignment for example, concentrates mainly on brute power, and has no spells at all. While the life alignment on the other hand, has the angel creature, and its spells concentrate on supporting your units. Death’s most powerful creature is the devil, and its spells aim at weakening the adversary, and so forth. This diversity given for each alignment definitely is a step ahead, as different alignments apply different strategies and tactics, allowing for deeper more sophisticated plans to be deployed in combat.

More uniqueness has been given to each army as well. No longer can you recruit all the creatures your city has to offer, instead, you will have to choose between the different creatures present, which to include to your army. This, if added to the varied specialties given for each hero, and the diversity provided for each separate alignment would result in armies always having a distinguishable identity, which consequently enhances the overall feeling of the player when trying different sides.

Many small changes have been supplemented too to improve your gaming experience. You can now transport your armies in caravans between cities, saving you a lot of time and effort. You may also retreat in battle whenever possible with ease, unlike before where you had to lose your hero. Other than that, the interface is more comfortable than it was formerly, and is extremely easy to use.

Moreover, the battlefield has also been enhanced to provide more tactical tweaking. When besieging a city for example, not only will the enemy units hide behind walls, but they will also mount on towers and make sure their gates are closed until you can manage to knock them out. Such battles are probably the most thrilling fights in the game, because they need deep thinking and a keen perception to overcome. I remember once when I could have been utterly humiliated hadn’t I made one small move. I cast fly on my own units, enabling them to penetrate the fortress by air; flying right above the walls, simultaneously inverting the tide of battle!

As stated above, Heroes IV consists of a total of six campaigns, each for an alignment. All of them are at a pretty good length and can prove to be very fun to try. In addition, a large number of pre-made scenario maps is present, ranging from small to medium to extra large ones. The provided editor is also very useful, and is incredibly easy to utilize. Still not convinced? There is a multiplayer option to be released in the next patch that can boost the replay value up to even higher degrees. It’s a shame the random map generator is no longer present; but many other options complement for that, making for an insanely high life span.

The visual aspect of this game is equally great to its gameplay. Although in quality of texturing and such you might find better games, in beauty and inspiration this is the best. It’s much like Alice in Wonderland, with its extra beautiful colors and well animated objects. The Cities’ structures look outstandingly realistic and battle animations come to life with better 3D than before. Spells look amazingly convincing too, especially that meteor spell; you would think that a true meteor hit the target! Different lively visual effects are wonderfully stimulated as well, especially how creatures act in battle; you might actually feel the bump when that behemoth swings that huge hairy hand of his! I will say no more; visually, this game is a thriller!

When it comes to audio, it is breathtaking too! It is so cool that you might be caught humming one of its tunes while bathing, I know I was! The music parts differ from town to another, so you would hear calm lovely music in the nature town, hard-beating rhythms in the barbarian settlement, and yet a chilling tune in the death city. In-battle composition are pretty exciting to hear too, and might make your body shiver out of enthusiasm. The sound effects are accurately designed as well; you can hear the sounds of cheering and shouting when you pass near an arena, and you would enjoy some exceedingly beautiful rhythms near rainbows. You can even hear the sound of sea gulls near beach sand, and the lovely melodies of mermaids in the sea. There is no way I can describe it as well as it deserves; it’s simply inspirational.

What makes this game special between all turn-based strategy games is its relatively fast paced gameplay, which is both addicting and deep. Addicting because you can never get enough of it, especially with such wide possibilities and numerous options to try. And deep because it gives you too much space to form your army as you wish, besides the ability to think tactically and plan profoundly rather than rely on sheer numbers for winning. So in brief, it presents you with all what you can wish for from any strategy game.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2003.

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