September 30th, 2007
Heroes of Might and Magic V (HoMM5) was developed at French studios Nival Interactive and released by Ubisoft on May 24, 2006. Dear reader, I’m letting you know from the start that this is a slightly biased review, filled with Heroes fanboyism, and will richly relate the strong points of the game while casting a shadow on the bad parts. Maybe I’m not the only one who played Heroes of Might and Magic II with his high school friends on game launch. Just maybe there are some of you who even played the franchise in its infancy, before Might and Magic 6 even hit the market, making a stir with its then revolutionary 640x480 graphics. But if you’re not, I’ll keep a long story short and let you know that Might and Magic was a first person, party style, fantasy role playing game which evolved into Heroes of Might and Magic, the turn based strategy game I came to love. Both titles share the same game-world; feature the same lore and hero characters.
<-125x125 Button - left->HoMM V: Tribes of the East is the second expansion and the first stand alone expansion pack being released for the series since Heroes IV. It is currently developed by Nival Interactive and is scheduled for release by Ubisoft Entertainment on October 9 in Europe, three days later in the US and afterwards other major World countries releases will follow. The demo features a key episode in the HoMM V storyline where you guide the young Orc Warchief Gotai in his quest for revenge against the Griffin Empire in a full scale invasion.
First off you must understand that starting with Tribes of the East, each creature dwelling upgrade provides two actual creatures. Thus you can upgrade your lowly Shaman into a devastating caster to wreak havoc from a safe distance, or turn it into a powerful melee to supplement for the lack of close combat warriors. It’s a far more efficient solution compared to the alternate upgrades Heroes 4 offered. You can at any time re-upgrade your troops for one third of the price, so don’t think too much about the end game situation. Just upgrade your troops as your current needs demand. This change is available for all races, but the demo is fairly limited in this regard and shows only so much.
You’ll notice straight away the new Stronghold faction featured in Tribes of the East exclusively. I must admit this addition was needed, since there can be no Heroes of Might and Magic without the might component, namely the good old Barbarians. With a mixed lineup mostly taken from the old series you will meet the Goblins, Centaurs, Warriors, Shaman women, Slayers, Wyverns, and the most fearsome vision of Cyclops you have ever seen. They are strong on lumber use, along with sulphur so be sure to quickly get all these resources available in the vicinity.
Introducing Goblins, they are the equivalent of peasants - having incredibly low life and damage, now even weaker since they possess this skill called cowardice. These useless creatures will run away whenever they get hit, and that counts for retaliation strikes too. It’s pretty embarrassing, since you can’t use them to defend your archers, all lined up in a perfect row. However, Goblins have their uses when upgraded to lay traps or even dispel enemy creatures as Which Doctors. Trappers will use the combat turn to lay a hidden bear trap on a selected place in the battlefield, lowering enemy movement points by half. A hidden and hilarious use will be detailed later on.
Centaurs are your standard large creatures using now and arrows, with a relatively high hit point pool which makes them better than average. One upgrade enables them no melee penalty which is a big plus in end game battles when numbers add-up.
Warriors will pretty much represent the bulk of your army within the first week, complementing your Centaur ranks with much needed defense. With help from their good health pool and decent damage, you will fill in the hole presented by your weakling goblins.
Shaman women are the first casters you’re going to see. Although they lack offensive spells in the beginning, Haste and Slow will just increase Centaur efficiency while waiting for your enemy to approach. Rage gains are huge and they hit very hard in melee, so don’t be afraid to push shamans in front and let them work their magic. The upgrades feature the heavy melee Earth Daughter and the Chain Lightning Casting Sky Daughter. The trick is you need to sacrifice Goblins in order to get mana and attack power. Nobody likes goblins.
Slayers come next and can deliver more pain to the enemy through cleave as they attack twice for a world of hurt. You can see by their looks that they’re mean and you can be sure their Mauler and Warmonger upgraded versions are even tougher. For instance, Warmongers have 20 hit points, up from 12.
Wyverns, unlike their previous incarnations which prompted them as obvious flying units, now look more demonic and have no rider. It’s a great creature for fast attacks due to its high initiative and speed, a perfect archer stopper. Through regeneration they will receive 30 hit points each turn, thus you might get lucky and resurrect one before the battle is over. Unfortunately this ability does not scale well with greater numbers of wyverns so it’s basically useless in massive fights.
The paramount Stronghold unit is the might Cyclops, large creatures with a massive 220 hit points without any upgrades and good damage. They are also known as the goblin’s best friend. In the course of battle, Cyclops will occasionally grab a nearby goblin and eat him to restore full life. Sometime you might want to launch a goblin stack into orbit, or just to a faraway enemy archer. Cyclops will do that, since they love to play catch. On a side note, I’d suggest you rush the city development to level 15 and get Cyclops as soon as possible since they have no building restrictions and are cheap to attain.
Tribes of the East showcase the addition of rage mechanics since all barbarian creatures’ gain rage when attacking; killing enemy stacks or from faction heroes’ shouts. Units gradually reach rage level one, two and three respectively after topping a certain rage threshold. The higher the rage level, the more effective your unit will be. I should warn you that waiting, defending or being attacked causes your creatures to lose rage. I love this system because it’s consisted with the barbarian lore (we’re dealing with orcs mostly), a great way to help people get under the character’s skin. While playing Stronghold you’ll find it’s more advantageous to go all out and attack that turtling and waiting for the enemy to reach your defensive positions.
The special abilities Barbarians possess follow the trend set by runes in the Hammers of Fate expansion. Stronghold heroes learn Shouts, abilities unique to their faction which grant rage, morale and other benefits to your troops, not unlike spell casters use magic to the same end. Blood Rage is their specialty, enabling creatures to reach higher rage levels. The Shout skill has similar effect as Sorcery for Casters, enabling barbarians to use shouts up to 30% more often. They also have Dark Shatter, a group of skills designed to limit the influence of enemy spells. All in all, the stronghold is “THE” might faction, all brawn, with creatures resilient to spells and heavy handed.
Sound and Video
Overall the graphics are the same as in the previous installments of HoMM5, but the interface has been redesigned and incorporates better access to the Might and Rune abilities. I was saddened to notice the poor voice acting in the original release, but voices in Tribes of the East are far superior. For once, orcs sound as they should and the lore connections are thicker. Unfortunately cut scenes still show “Orc1” is saying this, and “Orc2” is saying that. It’s a bit of a turnoff, don’t you think? But I’m talking about the demo here, so the final release might see some improvement.
HoMM5: Tribes of the East is a stand alone expansion thus looks like a really good deal if you’re new to the title, or held out thus far in acquiring a copy. Unless you’re keen on playing the two previous campaigns, this expansion will provide all that you need to start your way into the Heroes universe or simply clash with your friends in lengthy multiplayer battles. With optional upgrades to each and every unit in the game and the addition of the barbarian Stronghold, you can be sure that the game just got 100% more challenging. Get ready for the October 9th launch with a taste of things to come and play the demo now.