Ruining my Childhood (Heroes of Might and Magic IV)


      Not so much ruining my childhood now as it ruined it then
 Not so much ruining my childhood now as it ruined it then
In one of the more random things for me to do since I stopped playing Dragon Age 2, I've been playing a surprising amount of this game. Which gave me the inspiration to blog about it, as well as the fact that it is now available for $10 from GOG.com For those who couldn't tell, Heroes of Might and Magic (hell, Might and Magic in general) is one of my favorite game franchises. Ever. Of all time. Why do I like Strategy games so much? Heroes. Where is my icon of the skeleton dude from? Heroes. Bad PS2 game I bought because it had the name and not much else? You guessed it. Man, was that game bad
 
So anyways, perhaps some more context is in order. Heroes III is generally considered the highlight of the series, and I wouldn't disagree. It came out in 1999, sold very well, and other than an unfortunate incident involving the expansion (basically, the internet is full of idiots), is kind of amazing. Now cut to 2002. 3DO, the parent company of New World Computing is slowly sinking into the financial toilet (Oddly enough, Army Men games weren't doing so hot anymore) and in order to inject some revenue they have NWC release Heroes IV and Might and Magic IX early. But whereas M&M IX is universally considered to be a bad, unfinished game that is mediocre at best, Heroes IV was far more divisive. I wasn't really part of "The Internet" at that point, but as far as I understand there were two pretty distinct camps, those who liked the changes and those who didn't. My 10 year old self was mostly in the second camp. However, looking back, with the virtue of time and Ubisoft's Heroes V for comparison, I have to say the game is actually pretty good. It's not fundamentally flawed, but it is in execution. Whatever, let's just do the lazy thing where I list the good things and the bad things.  Bad things first because I'm a negative person.
 
Be warned. This will take a while.

The aforementioned bad things

 

Pretty much the entire art style

 
Heroes IV is not a good looking game. It's not any sort of statement regarding the graphical power, which I assume was pretty good for 2002. No, it's the art style. Whereas Heroes 1 and 2 relied on a cartoony sprite art style and Heroes 3 took the Donkey Kong Country technique of digitizing 3D models into sprites that still animated and looked good. In contrast Heroes IV has a really stiff, almost marionette-like design that permeates the entire game (the overuse of isometeric camera angles not helping one bit.) Comparison Time?
      Heroes 1. Nice clean cartoony sprites. Sort of embarrassingly cheesy creature design though
 Heroes 1. Nice clean cartoony sprites. Sort of embarrassingly cheesy creature design though

      Heroes 2. Larger battlefield means smaller sprites. On the plus, far less embarrassing creatures
 Heroes 2. Larger battlefield means smaller sprites. On the plus, far less embarrassing creatures


      Heroes 3. Digitized Sprites, but still charming.
 Heroes 3. Digitized Sprites, but still charming.


     Heroes IV. Dude. What the hell is going on? On a side note, the isometeric battlefield kind of sucked because it ditched the hex grid of the prior games
Heroes IV. Dude. What the hell is going on? On a side note, the isometeric battlefield kind of sucked because it ditched the hex grid of the prior games

Aaaannddd... I hope my point is made. This bad art also continues into the town design, which look more like a random assortment of buildings than any structured civilization or faction. Once again, plastic-y is the best way to describe it, in both looks and animations. 
 

The Soundtrack

 
In order to just get all the screen-fillingly large stuff out of the way quickly, let's just take some time to talk about the soundtrack. While it was composed by the same duo of guys who have done every Heroes game, Heroes IV suffers from the Arcanum syndrome of using the same instruments and/or vocals so that it all kind of sounds very similar. Even now, as I'm searching Youtube for embedded music, I can't exactly remember which terrain theme is which, unlike all the other games in the series.   
          
  
Now imagine those playing at all times. All times.  And with the exception of the underground, lava, and sea themes, they all sound exactly like these two. Once again, for comparison    
  
 
 However, I genuinely like a lot of the Town themes, Heroes 2 style overbearing opera included.  This also goes back to my complaints about town design in the previous section 
  

Balance, AI and other "small" issues

 
However, the presentational aspects of Heroes IV aren't really the reason why people don't like it. Certainly, there's the group that hates it because it's different, but there's a lot of validity to saying that you don't like it because, from a balance perspective, it's kind of a mess. Same with the totally brain dead, straight up retarded AI. Because one of the features of Heroes IV is that you choose between two creature dwellings for each level except the first (for example, the level 2 Life creatures are pikemen and ballistas. You can only have one. Pikemen are alright melee dudes with a long reach, and Ballistas are stupid slow ranged units with no range or obstacle penalties. Because they slow down your army so much, It's usually better to pick pikemen.) While it would be pointless to go into detail, a lot of these creature choices are straight up skewed in favor of one over the other. Like the aforementioned pikemen example, Vampires are way better than plaguespawn, Nightmares are better than Efreet, Dragon Golems are better than Titans and so on and so forth. Similarly, since your Heroes can actually fight in combat now, investing even a few points into the combat line is the difference between a spellcaster that breaks like a twig and a durable caster who at the very least can hold his own, not to mention character built to favor the combat tree. 
 
On the other hand, the computer routinely proves that it has down syndrome or something. It's not aggressive at all, instead usually turtling like a mo-fo and occasionally poking its head where it doesn't belong, not to mention having some weird building preferences (9 out of 10 times, they will build Ogre Mages instead of Cyclopsi. Ogre mages kind of suck) Thankfully, this and some of the balance issues I discussed are fixed with the equilibris mod, which rebalances a lot of the aspects of the game and makes the AI somewhat more willing to murder you. That's good, by the way.  
 

Not so great expansions

 
The Gathering Storm and The Winds of War are, at best, map packs. Yeah, they add a few more creatures to the mix that you can recruit on the adventure map, but both offer fairly shallow sets of connected campaigns, Gathering Storm being more RPGish and Winds of War being more strategic. It's just a sign of where 3DO was at the time, because they declared bankruptcy not soon after
 

The good stuff. Even if technically all this is subjective.

 

At least it bothered to try something different and wasn't horrible in the process

 
Kind of self explanitory. Heroes IV tried different stuff, and while not all of it works (i.e. choosing between two creature types. The way skills are set up that you'll never be able to get Level 5 spells in a one-off scenario map unless its huge. Maybe the Fog of War). Yeah, I guess it borrows some of the more RPG-ish stuff from Age of Wonders and Disciples, but in concept it's pretty ambitious with the multiple ways you can spec out your hero (indeed, the only truly questionable skill tree is Scouting, which increases your view radius and... gives your hero stealth? Link to the entire list for those who are interested.) It's more concept than execution, sure, but the execution is perfectly fine on its own merits. Even Heroes V, for as much as it tried to be Heroes III again, still borrowed some ideas from this game's skill system.
 

The Campaigns for the base game are very good

 
While I have no real love for the old Might and Magic lore, and laugh whenever people discuss it on fansites that I occasionally frequent, most of the campaigns in Heroes IV deal with the aftermath of the old world exploding and what people do to rebuild from the ashes. While not all of them are winners, the nature campaign being a fairly rote love story, they're usually well written and varied enough to be something other than a string of combat maps like some of the older titles. Order and Life especially. I actually finished quite a few of them, and at the very least, they're better than what similar games strategy games are offering, the new Ubisoft Might and Magic world included. I mean, have you actually listened to the laughably bad story of Heroes V? It's bad
 

It serves as a rallying point for people who hate Heroes V, though maybe that's not a good thing.

 
I like Heroes V quite a bit, but there are some who have declared the series Ruined FOREVER (oddly enough, not on that list.), even though Heroes IV originally ruined it forever, and now Heroes VI is going to ruin it forever. If anything, people hating that game have made them like this game more. Which I'm cool with, even though I like Heroes V. You want a genuinely bad strategy sequel? Try Disciples III
 

I obviously like it enough to write this stupidly huge blog.

 
Yeah. I'm going to stop while I'm ahead. Needless to say, Heroes IV is a good game that I like more now than I did when it came out. It's $10, which is a perfectly acceptable price, though since Might and Magic VII is out on GOG as well, you should also pick that up because that's the best Might and Magic RPG. I hope someone will read this. Maybe I should start Icewind Dale 2 over. Monks get the shaft in that game. The end.
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