If comfort can be found in familiarity, then Heroes of Might and Magic VII is the "blanket Grandma knitted you when you were small" equivalent of the strategy genre. The last time I approached this series was earlier this very year, playing through the woefully underwhelming package that was Heroes 3 HD. A bare bones package, that, while slightly better looking, was out done by it's original release from '99, when I both originally played, and sat for hours watching others play, a true strategy classic. It was with mixed emotions, then, that I came into this preview. Having missed the previous three releases, I expected to see a product far different then the nostalgia trip I recently took, given the way most games this high in a numbered series iterate upon themselves. What I found instead was a game that, polished exterior aside, was essentially the same as its earlier model. Had I stepped in a time machine? No, no, had the developers stepped in a time machine?
Going off of nothing but the preview disk afforded us, it seemed like an all too familiar world from the onset. A group of leaders, each the head of a different faction of humans, elves, dwarves and some darker denizens, gather around a large table with a map set up, different points flagged to show different points of time in an escalating conflict embroiling all the realms. These points, like orcs breaking free of their enslavement, or a young human commander rising to the challenge of his station, each play out like the series' standard campaigns.
You start with a small army, and as you cross the map, collecting supplies from static points, you fight groups of monsters until you reach a city. Once in the city, you begin to construct specialty buildings that kick out specialty troops, which eventually form a specialty army to trounce whatever the map or campaign seeks to stifle your rise to power.
Kicking around the map, the difference in looks is immediate, with lush colors and 3D constructs ushering your hero onward and upwards. Every so often, upon completing an objective, the game would take over, rendering out a scene to either bring more of the map into view or highlight a new problem. There was even some voiced conversations fleshing out the campaign champion's individual story, playing out in very Metal Gear codec fashion: each participant housed in their own animated box on their own side of the screen as words flashed between them. Inside the town, changes could be made by selecting individual buildings, as in the older games, or by working straight from the town menu.
The biggest visual change that I saw in my time with Heroes VII, though, was with the battles themselves. Stretched over a gorgeous representation of whatever environment the enemy was standing on, movement of the various armies takes place on a square grid, with the armies of the opposing factions lined up on either side. As before, a unit on the battlefield can represent both a large and small force, with the number of actual units affecting the battlefield math. Larger units, like griffins or ogres, take up multiple boxes and move across the map with authority.
Small changes to the leveling system came mostly in the layout of the available skills. Heroes start with certain trees open to them, but with the proper appropriation of points, any hero can move down any tree. Sadly, the campaign maps still employed the same level-locking techniques of its previous incarnation, so a full map clearing “I HAVE THE POWER” run could only be made on one of the skirmish maps present in the build. Still, for what was there, it seemed to hold the course quite well.
That probably the best thing I can say about Heroes of Might and Magic VII. It holds the course well, neither deviating nor innovating much from what has come before it. It seems, from the information out there, that this move was quite deliberate, a way to give the fans exactly what they want, even if it means providing something they previously had, though done up in a far prettier package. Whether or not this safe approach works remains to be seen, but stressing fundamentals as opposed to flash feels like an interesting choice in a land filled to the brim with overly flashy, completely underwhelming sequels.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!