Heroes of Might and Magic 2
The Succession Wars
Heroes of Might and Magic 2 is the latest release from R-Comp Interactive, now well into their mission to bring some of the cream of the PC back-catalogue of games over to the Acorn platform. It's not likely that they'll pick a turkey for the RISC OS oven, but there are always things that can go wrong in the conversion process, and of course not all games will be to everyone's taste - so how does this one measure up?
Heroes of Might and Magic 2 is, as the title suggests, a sequel to an earlier game in the same ilk; namely, a turn-based strategy game which doesn't run in real-time. You explore maps, visiting special sites and collecting resources, whilst fighting battles in order to win overall control of an area.
If you've played battle strategy games on other platforms before then the critical difference between this game and many others is that you can take as long as you like over your moves - like a board game you take it in turns with the computer players (or friends) to move. Whether you like this or not is a personal choice, but it does mean that there are no play-mechanics here that you couldn't simulate with an elaborate board game. It's a dice-based RPG writ large.
The game is fundamentally divided into two sections - exploration and battles. Each turn you have a certain number of moves you can make, and if these moves take you into a position where an enemy is already present then you progress into a battle with them - it's as simple as that. As you move your characters around the screen, journeying on a fixed square grid, you reveal new areas and build up a giant map which scrolls around the screen at your whim. At the start of a level you can see only the area immediately around you, but as you progress more of the land is opened up. On each level your overall aim is usually to locate and defeat specific enemies - generally speaking you must vanquish all enemies and capture their castles.
Each player controls a set of heroes, starting each map with just the one but also a stack of money with which to buy more. Unless you're playing against a friend on the same computer then all the opposing heroes will be controlled by the computer. But there's more to the game than just heroes - you also have a castle in which you can build various structures, some of which produce creatures which you can recruit for each hero's individual army, or for the castle's private army. As the game progresses you capture enemy castles, and then can produce creatures and build in those castles as well. The exact buildings you can construct vary depending upon the type of castle - there are six variants, all of which are completely different and produce totally separate creatures. You can also build structures which have other effects, such as increasing the amount of gold you obtain each turn. New creatures only appear once a week, with each player moving once per game day.
Each castle has a range of structures you can build
There are several materials you collect on a given map - wood, sulphur, precious stones and so forth - and different buildings require different combinations and amounts of material. You collect these both by picking up discrete piles of them and also by capturing mines (or wood-mills, or sulphur factories, or whatever) which produce a certain quantity each day. Opposing heroes can also claim mines, and whoever was the most recent to visit a given site is the current beneficiary.
There are various levels of subtlety built into this game structure, including varying abilities of creatures - most types can be 'upgraded' to produce more powerful varieties - and the heroes you control. You can find items to increase each hero's ability, and they also gain experience and learn skills as they fight battles and visit special sites. You must amass a separate army for each hero you control, and so along with the ability to control multiple heroes and castles there is a great deal of complexity inherent in the game, yet based around a structure which is simple to understand and start playing.
Some of the types of castle you encounter
Heroes can also learn spells, which are of two separate types - those used during exploration and those used during battles. Each spell has a level associated with it, and each hero has the ability to learn spells up to a specific level, which can be increased by gaining experience. To learn spells you must build mage guilds in your castles - the bigger the guild you construct the higher the levels of the spells your heroes can learn. You can also be taught spells by benevolent individuals you find in the various landscapes, or learn them during battles from observing enemies if you have a particular skill.
Each hero has their own spell book
Battles are always fought between exactly two opposing sides, with each side usually controlled by a general who doesn't themself take part in the battle - in the player's case the general is always the relevant hero, or a captain recruited specifically for a given castle. The general casts spells and decides where to move each creature and who to attack. Like the exploration it is turn-based, but with the order of turns based on the differing statistics of the various creatures engaged in the battle. Moves are made on a hexagonal grid (which can be visible or invisible) and each type of being can move a specific number of tiles per go, with some of them able to fly anywhere on the grid. Creatures can only attack adjacent beings, although some can fire projectiles at enemies which are not immediately next to them so long as there are not enemies or obstacles blocking them. If the two sides in a battle are reasonably-well matched then skill comes into it, but if one side is notably stronger than the other then the result is inevitably a foregone conclusion.
Battles are of three different types: battles with groups of wandering creatues on the map, fought simply for experience or for treasure; battles with other heroes, fought to vanquish the hero from the map; and battles to capture enemy castles, which take place with the defending team having the home advantage of castle ramparts and weaponry to aid them. If you're doing badly in a battle then you can either run away or pay to surrender.
Fleeing a battle
The game can be played in two different ways - either as a single battle over a given land, or as a series of themed battles accompanied by a story (the 'Succession Wars' of the game's subtitle). Unfortunately, however, the story mode is really just about ten completely separate battles all linked with a tenuous story thread, although you can choose to play the entire series on either the side of good or bad. Between battles you lose all the armies, heroes, spells and objects you have collected - I found this very disappointing, for it would have been nice for a decisive victory to be rewarded more than a weak one; in particular I would expect to retain special objects I had gained over and above the bare essentials of a level, but sadly this doesn't happen. The story mode is therefore just a weak attempt to provide continuity, and in reality each battle is a completely separate adventure. The trouble with this is that you tend to be introduced to many of the various features of the game all at once - the ability to travel over water; the various designs of castle and creature; the different spells; the different landscapes; the different map features.
The campaign mode
The above describes all the fundamental features of the game, but there is still more subtlety that could be described - for example there are multiple ending conditions and different weekly special events. The game just keeps the right side of being over-designed, with the depth being added in a way that you pick up on the new points automatically as they come along, rather than having to learn a bewildering array of options all from the very start - it may sound complex, but basically it is as simple as "move your pieces in turn; if you land on enemies you fight them".
Levels vary in size, but even the small ones can take hours to play through, and it is here that inherently the game's biggest flaw lies - if you are playing badly then you can play for a very long time before realising your mistakes. Whilst you can save at any point you won't necessarily know that a move was a bad one for quite some time afterwards. Devotees of this sort of game would argue that this is a fundamental part of the game design - and this is undoubtedly true - but all the same it is something you should be aware of before deciding to buy the game. You have to be able to commit many hours to the game, even for a 'single go' - there is no concept of a 10 minute level. By no stretch of the imagination is it an 'arcade' game.
Statistics galore if you want them
This isn't really my sort of game - I have an aversion to non-real-time turn-based games - and yet I have found myself wasting many hours with Heroes of Might and Magic 2. It really does suck you into its clutches, and I frequently found myself cursing the slow speed of game progress, as well as equally frequently bemoaning how early in the morning it had suddenly become. Be warned - wait until a holiday to start playing this.
Speed-wise, the game is inherently slow to play, but in particular if you don't have a StrongARM you will find yourself waiting for your opponents to make their moves. When there are a few of them, each with a few heroes, this can be minutes per move, and it does become rather tedious. It can also be annoying waiting for the end of a game week, unable to progress until you can buy more creatures. The game itself is controllable enough, although the scrolling is jerky and slow. The slow speed is accounted for by the resolution and quality of the graphics, most of which have their own little animations to bring the screen to life (all of the screenshots on this page have been reduced - the actual game runs in 640x480). Everything on the map casts a shadow on the things around it, too, which is properly drawn (although nothing in the game is actually to scale so this is only notionally so).
You can choose the difficulty of the game for a given level as well as a map which has the objectives you want to aim for, so you can tailor it to suit you - this doesn't apply to the campaign game option, but I managed to win the first few levels on my first attempt at each (and with only an hour's prior experience), so it can't be too hard.
In terms of implementation the Acorn version is a perfect conversion (even including bug fixes over the original!), although there are some very minor glitches mainly left over from the original PC version, and some rare bugs in the MIDI music - it gets stuck during battles sometimes. Talking of music, the game comes with various operatic tracks on a CD which are played during the game, so you don't need a MIDI setup for the musical accompaniment, which is context-sensitive in a crude way. I can't comment personally on the CD music since the CD wasn't supplied with my review copy, but I'm reliably informed that the music is extremely good.
The game has lots of configuration options
The game comes with many different levels to choose from - two CDs worth! - and an editor in which to create your own. If you don't have a StrongARM, however, then the editor is rather slow, albeit perfectly usable for random map generation. You can also obtain levels from the internet which other people have designed, although the game comes with more than enough!
It's nicely presented, with a comprehensive manual and a glossy reference card, and the game even has an attractive RISC OS frontend (although once in the game proper it runs full-screen outside the desktop).
Heroes of Might and Magic 2 comes highly-recommended. It helps, of course, if you like this sort of game, but even if you don't then it might be worth giving it a try - I was pleasantly surprised!
Review ©Gareth Moore 1998-9
Heroes of Might and Magic 2 requires 8Mb of RAM and a Risc PC, although will run faster if you have more memory and benefits from a StrongARM. You also need a CD-ROM drive and a hard-disc to install it to. It costs £35.
Heroes of Might and Magic 2 is published by:
22, Robert Moffat, High Legh, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6PS
Tel. (01925) 755043; Fax (01925) 757377; Email firstname.lastname@example.org
...this page last updated: 11/1/99...
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