Heroes of Might and Magic IV
Review by Steerpike
The HOMM pedigree isn't as glorious as that of, say, Pongbut
a game with ancestry spanning twelve years seems pretty august all
the same. Heroes of Might and Magic spawned from King's
Bounty, a multiplatform title that I originally played on my
Sega Genesis in 1991. If there's one lesson to be learned from the
Heroes quadruplet, it's that "more of the same"
is no more a bad thing than "big government." It all depends
on how you implement it. Because the truth is, Heroes 4 is
pretty much a direct Punnet Square descendant of King's Bounty,
and it's just as great as ever.
Heroes of Might and Magic IV is a turn-based strategy game
with adventurous/roleplaying elements. You take the role of a commander
of heroes (recruited at local taverns, where all heroes hang out),
who in turn command armies of fantastic creatures. In addition to
stampeding over death-deserving enemies, you get to capture towns
and direct the construction of facilities that improve your chances
of winning the game by providing resources, more creatures for your
armies, or skill improvement.
An ungodly amount of playtime is available here. Six massive campaigns
represent the bulk of the single-player experience, while more than
a dozen individual scenarios are available, not to mention a campaign
editor that allows you to build your own adventures. Multiplay is
currently available only in a hotseat format, but a true online
patch is in the works.
The game is effectively divided into three activities: manipulating
towns, roaming the countryside in search of adventure, and crushing
your enemies in combat. Like its predecessors, HOMM4 elegantly
blends these facets to produce a friendly, turn-based atmosphere
so addictive that you may find yourself late for your own wedding
if you start playing on the morning of.
You choose an alignment to start, and this alignment dictates not
only what creatures you'll be able to work with, and which structures
are available to you, but the disposition of the rest of the world
and your hero roster as well. While you can feel free to recruit
heroes of other alignments, rest assured that Tree Sprites are not
going to enjoy serving under a general who's been a walking corpse
for three thousand years. If you want heroes of opposing alignments,
either make sure they're able to control the morale of their people
or build them an army that matches their disposition.
Dyed-in-the-wool strategists scoff at games like this, just as
they sneer at "real-time strategy." As in that vaunted
genre, success in HOMM4 is based largely on numbers and careful
attention to the needs of your armies. Issues such as morale, luck,
and (of course) some amount of strategy certainly play a part, but
the real strategy of the game is mastering the art and science of
manipulating your corner of the world to produce big numbers of
Much of this is dependent on your ability to quickly gather and
protect your resource flow. Gold, mercury, gems, crystals, ore,
and wood are all necessary in varying amounts, and if you don't
snap up the structures that produce them, you're going to find yourself
out of the game. Even the most experienced players will operate
at a deficit of something, which is a sign of very good play balancing.
You can recruit creatures from structures you build in town (you'd
think they'd build dragon pens outside of town, just because
of the manure problem, but you'd be wrong) or from neutral structures
on the landscape. Other facilities in town manufacture equipment
or provide valuable training for your heroes. While city management
is nowhere near as demanding as overseeing a base in Starcraft,
it's imperative that you always play with one eye on the needs
of your cities. Ignore them at their (and your) peril. But while
there are lots of buildings for each alignment, and few duplicates,
town management in general has always seemed somewhat tacked on
to me. Eventually towns get everything they need, and the game may
only be half over.
Ready to Rumble
Game turns are divided into days, with each day seeing the production
of some resources and creatures. You move about, fight battles,
give build orders, and then end your turn for the day. Players can
always head back to town and beef up their army after a nasty defeat,
and the longer you let your creatures breed, the more fresh troops
The majority of gameplay takes place in the world screen, where
you and enemy heroes roam a colorful landscape chock full of high-fantasy
experiences. You can scarcely move an onscreen inch without running
into some bizarre encounter or another, all of which serve to improve
(or reduce) some aspect of your hero or army. If you're into high-fantasy
exploration, HOMM4 is a game for you.
Control on the world screen is generally acceptable, though the
pathing is occasionally peculiarI've had heroes do figure
eights around a structure before reaching the doorand a less-cluttered
toolbar would have meant more screen real estate for the game. I
realize that iconic buttons are appealing, but poorly made ones
take up way too much space. Despite a few minor drawbacks, however,
the lion's share of play in this environment is endless fun as you
explore the world and experience strange events.
The universe of HOMM4 is so brightly colored and cheerful
that it's hard to think of it as a gritty strategy game. Imagine
the offspring of an unholy union between Fantasy Zone and
The Ancient Art of War for an idea of HOMM4's world
screen visuals. They'd better slide the HOMM graphics engine
through a 3D accelerator in the next versionnot because the
sprite based graphics are unappealing (they're among the best I've
seen) but because 3D is not just the future, it's the presentand
the HOMM series has to join it.
Earth Versus the Monsters
Combat is also turn-based. In a grand departure from its ancestry,
heroes in HOMM4 are directly involved in combat and, at high
levels, can make the difference between victory and defeat. It's
not the end of the world if you lose a hero, but I don't recommend
it; even if you win the battle, you may face a long trip back to
town to resurrect your poor dead champion.
For combat, HOMM4 provides a handy poster-sized reference
chart with pictures and relevant statistics for each troop type
in the game. This is especially helpful to newcomers, who may not
recognize the benefits and drawbacks of choosing Venom Spawns over
Vampires or may be wondering whether a Peasant has a shot at defeating
a Dragon Skeleton in single combat (don't even try it).
Creature animations and graphics in combat are both lovely and
enjoyable. The animations range from the whimsical to the fierce.
Rich, high-color graphics really bring out a Faerie Dragon's eyes,
and the liberal dollops of brilliant color are a welcome departure
in a world overused to the brown, brown, brown, brown, and brown
color scheme of Quake 3 or Return to Wolfenstein.
You win a battle when your troops have eliminated all the enemy
forces (or when the enemy drops their weapons and heads for the
hills). Victory or loss, you're treated to a nice cinematic with
a statistical breakdown of how things went for you.
Control in combat, too, is generally goodthough more than
once I've accidentally attacked the wrong creature in a cluster
of opponents or moved my archers forward when I intended to shoot
at something. It's hard coming up with serious complaints about
HOMM4, and control is my only major gripe. Seriously, though,
the worst I can say about it is that it could be better. I suspect
some of the flaws in the control structure are the result of an
attempt to make the game as similar, mechanics-wise, to its predecessors;
it may be time to abandon that scheme.
Game audio flows effortlessly between what sounds to me like a
dozen or so different musical piecesorchestral, jazzy, choraland
is so good that I wonder how much of the HOMM4 development
budget was blown on hiring music talent. Audio is aggressively present
and very much at the forefront throughout the game, which may irritate
some players; but for those who appreciate good game audio, you're
not likely to get bored by the score in this one any time soon.
Hero Takes a Bow
Victory conditions are different for each campaign and scenario,
and the open nature of play encourages gamers to develop their own
strategy. There is no surefire way to dominate; obviously, having
tons of powerful troops is the key to the game, but getting to that
point and then using them correctly is a nonlinear path.
Hotseat multiplay will keep gamers occupied until the real multiplayer
patch ships; however, there are too few team-based scenario maps
for hotseat to be a long-term solution. Working together is as much
fun as working against one another in HOMM4, and it would
have been nice if the designers took this into account when doing
their world-building. Meanwhile, fan-made maps are already appearing
online, and considering the longevity of HOMM3, it's only
a matter of time before we see official expansion packs to what
has already turned out to be one of the best-selling games of the
HOMM4 will infect you with what I like to call the "Turn
Based Sickness." Symptoms include loss of temporal perception
and inability to perform other functions (including bodily) until
"just one more turn" has been completed. It's only a matter
of time before someone starves to death playing a computer game,
because they're so enthralled that they can't stop for a taco. Police
will discover a corpse clutching a mouse, staring blindly at the
"End Turn?" screen, an empty can of Cokethe last
sustenance this poor soul ever consumedbalanced on a speaker.
HOMM4 is so addictive and so darned cheerful that, when you're
playing it, feeding the cat (or yourself) just doesn't seem like
a critical issue. In Maszlow's Hierarchy of Needs, HOMM4 falls
just above "shelter."
Developer: New World Computing
Release Date: March 2002
Four Fat Chicks Links
PII 300 (PII 450 recommended)
128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended)
4 MB video card
750 MB free hard disk space
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