With Heroes of Might & Magic VII, developers Limbic did the unthinkable. And it may have been the best decision the series has made in a while. Over twenty years worth of games in your repertoire points to a level of success many games never even touch. And as developers do, they want to make adjustments to their product. Marketers would call it “improvements”, but the fans of the Heroes of Might & Magic series (HOMM) have loved these games for a long time now and any “improvements” must pass muster with the most diehard of the fold. So just what did Limbic do exactly? Nothing. They didn’t do anything at all. Heroes of Might & Magic VII is precisely the game it has been since the early days, but with way better graphics. And that is pretty nice, actually.
Heroes of Might & Magic VII offers six factions: the Academy Wizards, Haven Humans, Necropolis Necromancers, Stronghold Orcs, Sylvan Light Elves, and the Dungeon Dark Elves. The latter of the two were voted into the game by fans, which proves that gamers indeed love elves. Each faction offers four scenarios played across unique maps. The HOMM series has always struggled to maintain a coherent story with all of the factions beyond a giant war. While war is enough of a motivation, HOMM VII takes a slightly different approach. The story here centers around each of the factions approaching a Duke to gain his favor, as he will make the deciding choice as to which way the war will turn. Each faction tells their story and it is in these recaps that players play the game. So they are each interesting and offer a bit of an origin for the chosen faction.
Maps are packed with treasure, quests, and assorted resources
The gameplay is very much HOMM. Again, the developers chose this route to ensure fans of the series get exactly what they want: Questing around the map, whether it is overland, underground, or dungeon collecting randomly assorted resources, and battling or recruiting mobs scattered about the land. Battling enemy mobs and other players takes place in instances of turn-based combat. There is nothing new at all with HOMM VII that deviates from this tried and true formula. What Limbic does mix in are new visuals, dynamic events, and the aforementioned cleaner storyline. The dynamic events are really nice. I set off a flood in the Stronghold scenario, which showed the waters submerging my enemies in the valley below. Additional events range from an amazing looking avalanche to simply creating a bridge out of a knocked down statue.
Combat is one of the rather engaging aspects of the HOMM series and it remains largely unchanged as well. The visuals have been tweaked to make the affair look as nice as possible. Effects fill the screen and the camera moves about to give emphasis on certain attacks and takedowns. The battlefields are varied and the terrain offers some strategic choices for the player regardless of whether or not it is a boulder or an open field. Ranged units still seem to be a bit overpowered but none of the battles I engaged in left me feeling like I was cheated. I also found that the AI offered plenty of challenge. It was nice to know that I couldn’t just rush in and fight every available mob. A more tactical approach is needed in HOMM VII.
Build the perfect custom hero
The depth of the game is very nice as well. The heroes can assign points in the game’s skill tree as they level up. This presents new options from dealing additional damage to being more diplomatic. The customization doesn’t feel like it takes over too much of the base game’s core elements but does add enough to keep things fresh. As I leveled, I began focusing on one aspect of the tree to see just how powerful I could make my Orc. While I did find that it made it feel more like “my” hero, it never felt unlike what the game had defined already.
The city building is as good as it has always been. You select which building you want to add and watch as the vacant space transforms into your bustling headquarters of domination. Selecting different structures opens up new units as well as other benefits and features for your heroes. Many of the structures have prerequisites that must be unlocked before you access them. This gates the higher tier elements of the base, ensuring players can’t rush. It also creates a decision tree that drives the player’s strategy and tactics throughout the game. Cosmetic elements can be adjusted in each city, and the ability to send units to your hero via caravan has been introduced. This is a nice touch, as it still takes time, but allows the hero to stay out on the battlefield collecting treasure and fighting battles. And take care when sending a caravan because they might just get ambushed along the way.
For those interested in getting into the weeds of stats and story behind the denizens of the game, satisfaction awaits. The Lore tab offers a great deal of information about each faction and the units they employ. The world of HOMM VII is the same place adventurers have been hot-seating in since the early days of the series, which is great news for long-time fans.
HOMM looks quite good but there are several elements that Limbic needs to address. The cut scenes are nice except when they focus on the table of each faction leader. The narration plays as the faction leader begins to spin his or her tale, but the characters themselves remain unmoved. Like corpses posed for display. This is very unsettling to watch because the cut scenes that begin the actual gameplay of the level are wonderfully drawn still frames with narration and music driving them. These pieces are beautiful and made me instantly want a comic or graphic novel for the series. Why the CG scenes look so terrible is a mystery, but with these incredible stylized scenes, the CG intros look simply atrocious. I even thought it was an issue with the game engine and restarted initially to make sure it wasn’t just a bug. It wasn’t. The camera pans around the unmoving upper torsos as if to say, “Hey look at how bad these scenes can be!”
Destroy your enemies with frickin laser beams (OK, magic)
Additionally, the game’s load times are too long. The game boots up achingly slow. Once in, the scenarios take a bit to load, and, most unfortunate, loading into a battle takes too long. This is precisely one of the areas a game like HOMM should be able to address now at the 20th year in action. Load times should be fast and fluid. The transition between your hero roaming the map and stepping into battle should feel quick and smooth. Instead, I found myself looking at stained glass windows far too long.
Finally, the game’s balance is always tricky. Ranged units feel a bit over powered but not so much that they ruin the gameplay. And there is always that chance of forgetting your hero can use his or her ability to attack the enemy or heal and buff your units. This has been my personal problem throughout all the years HOMM has been ticking along. Although a giant warning box stares me in the face, I somehow manage to waste a hero move in just about every battle.
MIGHT & MAGIC HEROES VII VERDICT
All in all, Heroes of Might and Magic VII is a solid addition to the series. The game has plenty of content, beautiful visuals, and a terrific soundtrack to drive the story, but load times and unit balance need to be addressed if the game intends to be at the top of the series. And for goodness sake, do something about those scenario introduction cut scenes.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Watching a dam burst, flooding the valley below and drowning my enemies.
Tons of value with six factions and storylines. Multiplayer and AI Duel modes all available.
Terrific look and feel.
Keeping the gameplay solid and standard HOMM fair.
Load times are unacceptable.
Scenario cut scenes are terrible.
Unit balance is a bit shaky.