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Heroes of Might and Magic 4 Review

GAME INFO
publisher: 3DO
developer: New World Computing
genre: Strategy

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PII 300, 128MB RAM, 4MB Video Card, 750MB HD
ESRB rating: E
homepage:
www.mightandmagicguild.com/

release date: Mar 30, 02
» All About Heroes of Might and Magic 4 on ActionTrip


April 04, 2002
Ranko "Arjuna" Trifkovic

I have to admit that Heroes of Might and Magic 2 are probably the best game I have ever played. As I spent countless nights sitting in the dark computer room on my campus, my eyes constantly focused on the myriads of Halflings, hydras and dragons fighting each other. I lived to see someone develop such a sophisticated gameplay system (based on their superior knowledge in math and their persistent spirit obsessed with statistics!), that it simply could not fail. Those were the days when we used to download custom scenarios from the net; I even remember a rendition of the Star Wars saga set in the Heroes of Might & Magic 2 universe and engine. The main technical trump of this game was its music, which was way better than its graphics (the official add-on brought somewhat better visuals). A lot of time has passed and our computers had to run an endless array of HMM clones which kept appearing every six months or so, usually offering slightly better graphics than its predecessor. And as soon as the first decent Pentium computers appeared, 3DO had another treat in store for us: Heroes of M&M 3. It moved boundaries that nobody expected to be moved, as most people expected that good-old Heroes could be improved in no other way than to be given a 3D engine. On the other hand, I have to admit that HMM 3 never managed to keep me glued to the screen as much as HMM 2 due to the fact that I was never much of a fan of megalomaniacal macho trips with angels and devils fighting in the fields, and ridiculously powerful mages and necromancers destroy all of creation with their omnipotent farts.

Well, me old muccas, it's time to celebrate! Time to raise our glasses to Heroes of Might & Magic 4, to the return to the old values, to the living (or at least resurrected) legend! Hang on, we're off... Heroes 4 rule! Now what would you say if somebody offered you a sweet turn-based strategy game on two CD's claiming that it has no 3D graphics in this GeForce 4 era? OK stop swearing! Heroes of Might & Magic 4 ARE what I just described, a good old turn-based RPG-strategy, which is designed and devised well enough to remain competent in the age of 3D multiplayer shooters like Ghost Recon. (Die CTs!!!)

So what's the catch?

Thing is that HMM4 present a great combination of the old addictive gameplay, a new spell, combat and hero system and perfectly designed 2D isometric (the so-called 2D) graphics, inspiring music and magical atmosphere which kept me glued to the screen constantly for thirty hours until I finished the first of the ten campaigns.

For those of you who had your head stuck in an oven somewhere for the last decade, let's just summarize. You start the game on a map crammed with various fortifications, mines, riches and enemies. Your capital supplies your hero with spells, weapons and units. The hero leads his army across the map, conquering resources, and gathering riches and experience. Heroes face enemy armies in seemingly simple turn-based combat sequences which are influenced by a large number of things ranging from special skills, items and spells to unit stats. Now when you take into consideration that this combat system features six army types with over seventy units, and five spell systems, each with five levels and thirty spells, you get the picture what Heroes of Might &Magic 4 is all about.

Heroes

In this sequel, heroes can act as units and participate in combat. The advantages are obvious, but this also increases the possibility for the hero to get slain. Every alignment has its default hero classes; Life (knight & priest), Death (necromancer & dark knight), Order (lord & mage), Chaos (thief & sorcerer), Nature (archer & druid), Might (barbarian). There are nine groups each containing four skills with four levels of knowledge. Depending on the choice of skills, a hero can change his class into one of the remaining 47 classes. A priest who learns warrior skills will for instance turn into a paladin, and a lord who learns spells becomes a warlord, etc. These aren't mere titles; many of the 37 advanced classes bring class specific bonuses. A Field Marshal will for instance, give your units +10% attack bonus, and a Monk gains protection from Chaos spells. The new combat system also allows one of the eight possible armies to be composed out of heroes only (up to seven of them). Armies without heroes are now also capable of moving around the map (important novelty), which makes gameplay far more tactically flexible. These army formations are still incapable of capturing resources, but they can steal artifacts and gold.

Maps & Campaigns

These are far more versatile and rich than they ever were. There is a large number of buildings we are already used to (mines, stations, schools, libraries, fountains, treasure, etc.) and a certain amount of new ones. The campaigns are beautiful, and they always use the space on the map to full extent. This means that you have to uncover all Fog of War, before you can finish a scenario. Movement on the map functions the same as it did in the old Heroes - the units are not exactly slow but they are far from a Messerschmitt. Each campaign has an excellent background story which unravels as you progress through it. For instance, in the first campaign, we follow the sexually challenged squire Milton, who gets to save the day and win a nice lassie. Maps now have a "reset" date -- if you wonder around the map for too long, the "one-use only" structures and monsters will start to re-spawn. Before playing each map, you can set whether you want neutral armies to act like guards, or whether you would like them to roam the map. This is a very interesting option that can make the game far more difficult.

Might & Magic

The tactical map is now also presented in isometric 2D graphics with no hexagons, which leaves an impression of real-time gameplay. I have to say that I missed the old hexagons as they let you precisely determine the path your armies take. The parameters which influence the outcome of battles are as complicated as ever: unit speed, hit points, number of fighters, attack skill, strength, type of damage, retaliation, initiative, moral, luck and many others. The somewhat modified hero and unit system makes tactical combat far more interesting. In previous installments, you could always find a winning format; it would either be one extremely powerful unit or immense numbers of small, weak ones. Here, on the other hand, during the first forty hours of playing the game, I never even thought of using the "auto-combat" option. Not because I thought little of it (on the contrary, the AI is very good), but because I found each of the fights challenging and involving. The game features quite a lot of spells, only, now they seem, somehow...benign. There are but a few of the really tough spells from Heroes 2, which is good as magic no longer dominates the battlefield. On the other hand, many spells can modify different unit stats, and still significantly influence the outcome of the battle. The new interface will automatically suggest the optimal type of attack when you set a target for your hero. Now when you combine different schools of magic (maybe you become an arch mage?) your wizard becomes really powerful and capable of dealing personally with serious opponents.

Cities & Buildings

City development has, fortunately, been simplified, and the number of different units you can spawn in a city varies between eight and twelve. Some units and buildings can exclude others, which means that you have to carefully plan the development of each city. Caravan presents a great asset here, as it can be used to acquire units from other cities or recruitment locations, without the need to drag them around the map. Of course, caravan's route must not be blocked by enemy armies. Your resources, mines, quarries, sawmills, fortifications, etc. can now hold up to eight units which protect them from enemy attacks. Each town can have a governor (a hero who visited the town at least once, and doesn't have to reside in the town). Characters with Nobility skills increase resource and unit production in towns under their jurisdiction. The entire gameplay has been perfectly balanced and the interface will give you all the data you may require at any given time, so that you can simply relax and enjoy combat and conquering.

The end?

No, this is hardly the end. This is but a start of the madness. Now rush off to get your copy of the Heroes, and see you in a MP game! Oh, and two more things. First: the music. I didn't write too much about it as I want you to experience it first hand, and enjoy it all the way from the crystal clear sound of the accordion to the mighty rumble of the waterfall. Second, most of the enemy beasts are female. Now this is quite becoming for sirens and harpies, but genies, nagas and zombies are also women. Is this just a macho trip, or a gay conspiracy? I leave that to you to decide, but it's just the way things are in Heroes of Might & Magic 4.

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USER SCORE
9.0
YOUR SCORE
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ACTIONTRIP SCORE
9.2   Excellent


HIGHS
A beautiful game; all we used to love returns in a new shiny armor;

LOWS
Campaigns have few missions, which are very long and at times quite tiresome; the game could use some more music.

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