Archived Pages from 20th Century!!
|Reviewed by: Tim Chown|
|Author:||New World Computing||Price:||Street: $30 US|
|Category:||Turn-based fantasy strategy||Released:||November 1996|
|Platform:||DOS, Windows 95 (DirectX 3)||Version:||CD version, Nov'96|
|Multiplayer:||Direct, Modem, IPX or TCP/IP||Under Win95:||Autoruns from CD|
|Graphic modes:||SVGA 640x480, 256 colours|
|Computer||Memory||HD space||CD speed||Reviewer's hardware:|
|Minimum||486/66||8M||55M||2x||Windows 95, Sound Blaster 16, 1Mb Diamond Stealth 64 DRAM, Panasonic 563 double speed CD|
|Reviewed on||Pentium 100||32M||55M||2x|
Every so often a game comes along that grabs you by the scruff off the neck and drags you helplessly into that twilight zone, the one where you glance at your watch to find that it's 4am, nearly dawn, and seemingly only 10 minutes ago you were sipping that midnight coffee. Mulder and Scully might blame alien abduction for the time loss, but in reality the reason is that Heroes of Might and Magic 2 is an all-too-engrossing game. Like the authors of Civilization II and Masters of Magic, it seems New World Computing have a lot to answer for. HoMM 2 is a compulsive late-nighter, one evolved exceptionally well from its forefather, which itself has remained an Internet Top 20 title for a surprisingly long time.
The game is one of heroic conquest. It has a passing similarity in some aspects to Masters of Magic, sacrificing the larger variety of spells for more emphasis on hero and army development. Whereas in Masters of Magic the game inevitably degenerates into a procession by a single "super-stack" of units from city to city as you whittle down the enemy, HoMM 2 forces every army to have a hero, and just one hero, as a leader. And enemy leaders are, in general, very proactive in their movements and attacks.
A chance to defect in the evil campaign tree ...
The central thrust of the game is a choice of two campaigns, from either the good or bad side, depending on which of two pretenders to the throne you follow - Roland or Archibald. Each campaign has around a dozen missions, or you can fight any one of a number of standalone scenarios provided. Sadly there's no random scenario generator (one is possibly due in a forthcoming patch), but there are enough pre-made battles to keep you playing for weeks, even if you choose not to make your own with the flexible scenario editor. While in most campaign missions you can't carry troops forward, you do get other long-term benefits from choosing who to help in which missions. To help the game theme along, between each mission is a reasonably impressive video clip with some decent voice-overs.
The quality of both the graphics and the music in HoMM 2 is excellent. It is rare for game music to stand out more than visuals, but HoMM 2 has music the like of which I've not heard before in a game of this type. Various CD Audio or MIDI tunes play, themed to the type of castle you're visiting, or the land you're in, and most impressive are the opera tracks which are simply wonderful. If that isn't music to your ears, which I appreciate it may not be, you can have the same music with no vocals.
A knight's castle, with a number of building improvements added.
Sound effects are good, and combat sequences are enhanced by the clarity and quality of the spell and creature noises. Each monster type has unique animation and sounds, from the rickety skeletons which are right out of the Jason And The Argonauts movie, through to the slithering medusas. The graphics are indeed gorgeous, and in clear SVGA are a joy to behold. The main map screen is very clear to view, as are all the other screens presented, and, most importantly, clicking on things gets you just the info or screens you expect, and right-clicks give you useful help texts. In combat, vampires transform to bats to move across the screen, zombies stagger slowly, thieves shuffle quickly and dragons flap their wings menacingly as they bear down on you.
Each mission, whether in a campaign or standalone, will pit you against a number of possible computer opponents. Your aim is to gain control of castles and resources, and to use these to produce castle improvements and fighting units to aid you in your quest, all the time building up the abilities of your vital heroes.
The main map view, showing a hero about to attack a castle.
The main view shows the whole game map, and the bits you've explored. Here you can see castles, towns, heroes, monsters, resources, mines (for all resources - crystals, sulphur, gold, ore, wood and gems and mercury) and artifacts. Typically the mines you need to visit to gain control of are guarded by monster armies, as are important "passes" through mountains and woods. In some cases it pays to leave these monsters in place as a defence against aggressive enemy heroes. Movement on map is done by days, with each hero moving his or her allowance per day. Mines produce each day, so every day is vital.
Each week new fighting units become available at castles with appropriate buildings (unless a plague should hit!). For example, a mansion in a necromancer's castle will generate 3 vampires per week for hire. If you have the gold you can buy them into your army by visiting the castle, assuming you own it. Castle upgrades mean new buildings and new units available, as well as other powers to the castle - eg. you can build arrow-firing towers, moats, marketplaces to trade goods, statues to boost income, taverns to gain rumours, and much much more. The six castle types mirror the six hero classes available (see below).
Inevitably you'll have a battle, either meeting an enemy hero, attacking a monster stack, or assaulting an enemy castle, with or without a defending hero. Here the game switches to a super turn-based tactical combat mini-game. Each unit stack in your army fights in the battle, using all its abilities while the non-fighting hero sits back and directs the action, casting spells when available. This part of the game is great fun in its own right, just like the mini-games in Masters of Magic, only with much chunkier and prettier SVGA graphics.
A HoMM 2 hero, or heroine, has four basic stats: attack skill, defence skill, spell power and knowledge. As each hero may be from one of six classes (barbarian, knight, necromancer, sorceress, warlock or wizard) he, or she, will have different starting stats to reflect that. And when the hero gains enough experience through combat to gain a level, the stat that is boosted will be weighted by their class, so a knight is more likely to gain in defence than spell power, for example. Attack and defence skills add to your fighting unit's stats in combat, while spell power affects spell quality (duration and power) and knowledge dictates your spell point maximum (10 spell points per knowledge point).
Heroes lead up to 5 stacks of units in their army. This means you can have at most five different unit types in one army. Further, each unit type is "aligned" to a hero class, and mixing unit types can be bad for morale, causing units to freeze in combat. Mixing undead can be particularly bad, unless the hero has a good leadership secondary skill. Luck can also bless, or hamper, an army, and it pays to visit shrines to boost your favour with the gods.
An extension from HoMM 1 is that heroes can also "learn" up to 8 secondary skills from a pool of 14. The skills are: archery, ballistics, diplomacy, eagle eye, estates, leadership, logistics, mysticism, navigation, necromancy, pathfinding, scouting and wisdom. Each has three levels of knowledge - basic, advanced and expert which will offer increasing benefits. Starting skills vary with class, and you're offered a choice of two skills to boost which again are weighted by class (eg. a wizard is more likely to get mysticism while a barbarian is likely to develop scouting more readily).
The hero summary screen; all your heroes at a glance.
There's a similar screen for town and castle summaries.
Heroes can learn spells. These are either combat spells (such as "cold ray" or "blind") or adventuring spells (like "view artifacts"). Spells are learnt by visiting castles with mage towers or by finding them in map locations (buildings, chests, or the like). A castle's mage tower will have a number of spells available depending on how many levels it's had added, and not all spells of all levels will be accessible. A level 2 tower may only offer three level 1 and level 2 spells, while there are around 12 spells in the game at each of those levels. The most powerful level 5 spells include dimension door, resurrection true, summon elementals and armageddon. A high-level magic-casting hero is a tough cookie, and will likely have a fair selection of the 65 available game spells. Once expended, spell points return with time, or via visits to mage towers or magic wells.
Finally, a hero can collect artifacts found on the game map. There are a lot of these, all with different effects, from giving free resources, through protection against certain spell types, to major stat bonuses, like the Scroll of +3 Knowledge. Artifacts are inevitably guarded by some fearsome creatures, but are usually worth the effort to get. Each has a unique icon, so after a while you know which ones you want to go for (Boots of Mobility are very handy, for example). When two friendly heroes meet, they can trade army units and artifacts, including cursed ones.
Defeating enemy heroes has many benefits. You can destroy their valuable army units, important as new monsters are only available once per week, ie. once per 7 game turns. Beating them forces them back into the available hero pool, though if they surrender (by paying you gold) they are able to return to their owner for rehiring (at a further 2500 gold per hero). A defeated hero (who loses all his/her units in battle) loses their artifacts to the victor, a high price to pay, and thus it is good practise to keep enough gold in reserve to be able to surrender before you are fully defeated in combat. Timing a castle attack for day 7 of a week is ideal as you can immediately hire new forces the next day. And, of course, every victory earns valuable experience to help raise hero stats and skills.
A lone giant is defending an artifact. He's dragon-toast.
Combat itself is turn-based on a largeish hex grid (you can turn hexes off if you wish) - units each move once per combat turn, and the fastest units move first. As your hero can only cast one spell per turn when one of your units is due to move, it pays to have at least one fast unit in your army. Ranged units (archers, bowmen, slingers, etc) can fire at any other unit on the screen, and flying units can move the whole screen each turn. Foot units may be hampered by terrain and/or their movement rate; dwarves for example move only two hexes per turn. Luckily there are many spells which affect combat movement and abilities!
Units in combat can generally make one hit per turn, plus one retaliation against an enemy hit. Damage is based on the number of units in a stack, the damage they do (eg. 1-3HP, 20-25HP), and their attack and defence ratings (modified by the hero attack and defence skills). A good defence will reduce damage by 5% per point of defence over attack, while if the attacker has the edge he'll do 10% more damage per point of attack above defence. Spells can modify these skills, good luck can allow second hits, while bad morale can "freeze" a unit making it unable to do anything.
Castle assaults are helped by ballistic skills and flying/ranged units.
The presentation of the combat is excellent. The enemy AI is rather too preoccupied with eliminating ranged units when bigger threats are present, and will make unnecessary attacks at times. AI spell choice could often be better, but the enemy is no worse than those in Masters of Magic and is reasonable enough, especially if the odds are in its favour. There could be more work put into the combat AI though.
Castle assaults require you to break a hole in the castle wall before foot units can enter to attack defenders. Ranged attacks are halved against castle occupants, and only flying units can have full effectiveness. Castles may have arrow towers and moats for added protection, but if the defender gets confident he/she can lower their drawbridge and go on the counter-attack.
As I said, the combat AI could be better. On the main map the AI heroes sometimes have odd behaviour, as they travel around buildings and visit locations to gain bonuses at the expense of potentially good attacking chances. Sometimes the AI is impressively good, ramming home coordinated attacks, while other times heroes flit like headless chickens in one direction then the next. The computer player usually has a resource advantage (like the scenario designer puts a sulphur mine outside a warlock castle as warlock dragons require sulphur to generate and hire), and that makes your task that bit harder.
A selection of pop-up windows that appear in the game.
Overall the campaign missions are quite tough, and while the AI has occassional hiccups it doesn't seem to cheat too much. Any advantages likely come from the scenario starting conditions (as can be seen from the options in the map editor) rather than outright cheating. I do suepect however that the AI has little regard for the "fog of war" rules which apply to the human player ... but, all told, it makes battles more challenging and, once engaged, apparently on the level.
There's quite a depth in what in many ways is a very simple game to learn. Each hero type has it's strengths and weaknesses. Barbarians, who can recruit ogres very early in the game are good for attacks early in a scenario, necromancers have the ability to raise the enemy dead to boost their skeleton hordes, while warlocks have the potential to recruit fearsome dragons, if they can find the resources and cash while surviving long enough to produce them.
Each hero castle type can recruit six different monsters, and their are also "neutral" monsters like thieves and genies, around 40-45 monster types in all. Each has strengths - eg. the hydra can attack all adjacent enemies with one attack, thieves are not subject to retaliation hits, vampires can suck back health from enemies. It can pay to split your units into the maximum five stacks even if they're all the same type - eg. with 100 archers you can have 5 stacks of 20 archers in combat, reducing the ability of an enemy heros to put one spell on all your men (and you also shouldn't lose in one turn, so you will most likely be able to surrender before a full and disastrous defeat).
Experimenting with different forces and different enemies is great fun, and the game graphics and sound/music keeps the interest alive that much better. It'll be a fair while before you see all the 65 spells the game has to offer in action. Being able to then make your own scenarios is a nice bonus.
An example spellbook menu available in combat.
An interesting design decision is that all resources you have are both immediately available when found on the map and also available in all your castles - no ferrying of goods is required. This makes real "seiges" impossible, but probably makes gameplay a lot less tedious. A version where heroes carried what they found until they went to a castle, and each castle's supply was separate, might be intruiging, but probably unnecessarily complicated.
Multiplayer play looks promising, but I was unable to try it out. The game claims you only need one master CD for a game with as many players as the scenario allows, ie. you can do a multiplayer hard disk install - this is confirmed when you run with no CD inserted as you only get the multiplayer option enabled. TCP/IP networking is only available under Windows 95.
I found very few bugs. Very few indeed considering some of the game's subtle complexities. The only major one was when saving a game with a name like "xxx.1" the game crashed without saving - so until a patch is out don't use that format of save game name!
The editor is run separately from the game, and features a "standard" paintbox type tool to let you place ground terrain (grass, mud, swamp, desert, ice, water, etc) as well as terrain features like hills, trees, roads, ponds and rivers. You can build maps from very small sizes through to very big (over 100x100 terrain squares). Some of the presupplied maps are dauntingly huge, but make for great battles.
The editor is good - here's one of my own maps.
You can also place resource mines, treasures, armies, castles, towns (which may or may not be upgradable to castles), heroes and artifacts on the map. The "cell mode" then allows you to fine tune the sizes of monster stacks, the occupants and buildings in castles, and the stats, skills and other attributes of any heroes. This is all quite slick bar the very annoying feature that artifact/hero/monster icons in the "select" screens are way too small to make out clearly. After some practise you learn what is what, but a right-click help here, when present everywhere else in the main game, would be ever so useful!
Finally you can set scenario parameters - win conditions (kill hero X, capture castle X, get X amount of gold, etc) as well as loss conditions (like losing castle X, hero X or taking too much time). Thus an "assassinate enemy hero within 3 months" mission is easy to devise. Being able to add a scenario description and rumours for castle taverns is a neat final touch.
I've thoroughly enjoyed playing many evenings on this game; it's got that magic something which so few games have. If you're into turn-based strategy games then, like Civilization 2, this is one to most definately pick up, and the price, particularly in the USA, is very attractive at around $30 or better. There's enough new stuff in here to please HoMM 1 fanatics too.
Heroes of Might and Magic 2 is a contender for the Strategy Game of '96. Certainly a winner of the GDR Gold Award, which in our view puts the game up there with the best. In short HoMM 2 offers both beauty and a horde of beasts in a game of dangerous addictiveness.
|Appeal:||Any fantasy-setting strategists.|
|Originality & Storyline:||Good against evil, an old storyline but a safe one.|
|Graphics & Video:||Beautiful in-game, with good cut-scene video.|
|Audio:||One of the best in any strategy game I've played.|
|Longevity:||Hours and hours ... and hours.|
|Presentation:||Everything fits like a tailored silk glove.|
|Packaging & Docs:||Well-written with all the info you need including combat odds.|
|Bugs & Problems:||As sound as a steel golem.|