Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Heroes of Might and Magic II (PC)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great gameplay and replay value, great sound, very customizable
Cons: AI is none too bright, graphics rather simple

The Bottom Line: An awesome game that will keep you entertained for months, Heroes of Might and Magic II is a must have title.

New World Computing's Heroes of Might and Magic II (HoMM2), is an excellent turn-based strategy game. Developed by PopTop Software, it was released in November of 1996, but it has aged really well, and is still popular today.

In the first game, you fought hard to conquer a kingdom. In HoMM2, that same kingdom is engaged in a mighty a war of succession. Two brothers, one good and one evil, fight for the right to rule. It is up to you to choose which brother you will follow, and thus choose which campaign you will undertake.

In addition to the campaign mode, where you go through a multitude of increasingly difficult scenarios, you can also play a scenario separately. This is a normal game, and the one you will find yourself playing constantly after you have beaten the campaign mode a couple of times.

If multiplayer games are your forte, you can also have up to six players play at once via modem, LAN, or direct connect. Also, if you don't mind switching seats after every turn, HoMM2 also supports multiplayer games of up to six players on the same computer, taking turns... something you don't see often.

The game is really customizable, to provide just the right amount of difficulty for whom ever happens to be playing. In a normal game, you can choose the map size, number of opponents, the difficulty setting, and choose between six different character classes. You can play as a knight, barbarian, wizard, warlock, sorcerer, or necromancer.

Each character class has different attributes, with the magic type classes obviously having a bonus in spell power and knowledge, and the physical class having more power and guard. In addition, each of the six classes starts in a different type of town, and can thus produce different types of creatures for its army.

You can hire new heroes at your castle, and you will find yourself doing this often, as your army cannot move without a hero. When you fight, your hero stands back and casts magic spells (one per turn), while your army does all the fighting. If you are defeated, your hero goes free agent, and can be recruited again later (even by your enemies).

If you are about to lose, it is usually best to run away, because then you have the option to recruit your hero again on the next turn, before your enemies have a chance. This is especially useful if your hero was holding artifacts or had obtained a higher level. Your enemy, on the verge of being defeated, all of a sudden gets to recruit your level 26 hero, who by chance was holding onto some good stat-boosting artifacts. That wouldn't really be a good thing.

If you win, however, you gain a certain amount of experience. You also come away with whatever artifacts the enemy was carrying, providing you have enough room to carry more artifacts. You can also find artifacts scattered across the map, though they are usually guarded by monsters.

You will also find mines and mills across the map. Controlling these will gain you various resources, which can be used to create more creatures for your army. They can also be used to build buildings inside your towns and castles, or to upgrade existing buildings.

There are also various buildings on the map, some of which will teach you magic spells, while others will give you resources. Some may even increase your power or knowledge. My advice is to try and visit all of these places with each hero you have, that way each hero can benefit from the stat boosters and learn the new spells. Buildings that give you resources only do so once per week.

The other place for heroes to learn spells (and this is where you will learn the majority of them) is in the mage guild of your castle. Your mage guild can be built, then upgraded all the way to level 5. Each level requires more resources, and it does get expensive, but it is very much worth it. Each of the six different types of castles produces some different spells in it's mage guild, so it is in your best interest to visit one of each with each of your characters. This way, they get a huge variety in their spells. The more the merrier, I say.

Spells range from a simple fireball or lighting spell, to paralyze and blind spells, all the way to meteor shower and armageddon. Some of the more powerful spells also damage your own army, so be careful when casting. Some of my favorite spells are mirror image, mass bless, and chain lighting. Mirror image creates an exact copy of one army (so use it on your strongest army), but if it gets hit one time it dies. Mass bless makes every army under your control do the maximum amount of damage possible. Finally, chain lighting hits a creature with lighting, then hits the next nearest creature with half power, until it is no longer effective. Hitting the middle of an enemy line with this will usually damage each of their units, at least slightly.

Monsters on the world map do not move. They stand in one place (usually guarding treasure) until you engage them in combat and defeat them. Opponents, however, move around freely. The artificial intelligence is good for the most part, but is gullible when it comes to undefended towns.

You can leave your castle and walk half a screen away, and your computer controlled opponents will always make a move to take it for their own. Using this to your advantage, you can lay in wait for him to move, then attack him before he gets to your castle. Using this simple trap, you can gain lots of experience and artifacts. In the mean time, build up an army in the castle, and when your hero is leveled up enough, hire a new one to take his place. This way, you can level up multiple heroes, and send some off to raid enemy castles and capture enemy mines.

There are no 3D graphics in HoMM2. That in no way detracts from this game though. This 1996 game features 2D graphics that are beautiful. Most things are stationary, and don't move around much, so they are kind of simple, and a little flat...and if that is the worst that I can say about them, then who am I to complain?

The movie scenes are nice, and do a good job of helping the story along. The vocals by Grant Youngblood and Kareen Meshagan are clear and easy to understand, and have a nice sound to them that just works with this game. The musical score is also great, and if you enable the Opera setting in the game options, it gets even better. The sound effects aren't really that terrific, but they are also not bad enough to get on your nerves.

Minimum system requirements are low:
486/66 MHz processor
2x CD-ROM drive, Keyboard, Mouse
60 MB free Hard Drive Space

If you are a fan of turn based strategy games, or even if you are new to the genre, then this title is a must-have. If you prefer real time strategy, you still must get this game. If you like this game, you also might enjoy playing Warcraft, Daggerfall, Civilization II, or any game from the Warlords series.

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