Let's make "Did I Ever Talk About" a recurring thing. Here, I'll talk about old but good games I've played years ago and never got around to sharing, or else newer games I played and never ended up reviewing until long after they stopped being relevant. It is my hope that I can show you a few forgotten gems this way. This time I bring you Heroes of Might and Magic V, which I consider to be by FAR the best in the entire series and possibly one of the best turn-based strategy games of all time. The HOMM (Heroes of Might and Magic) series is sort of hit-and-miss, so if you see Heroes of Might and Magic IV or VI on Steam, I'd suggest avoiding it like the plague. So let's get into it.
Heroes of Might and Magic V is a turn-based strategy game with a heavy focus on semi-turn-based tactical combat, resource management and city-building, although it has a pretty extensive RPG-like element to it, as well. In broad terms, the game gives you a town from which you can recruit "heroes" who can lead armies of creatures also recruited at the town. With these heroes you clear the land of monsters and bandits, control your territory and eventually lay siege to the towns of other players. It's set in a sort of Western medieval fantasy setting with a great deal of variety to it and easily the best art style of any HOMM game, possibly one of the best art styles in gaming history. So let's talk about that.
Graphics and Design:
Heroes of Might and Magic V won't blow you away with its graphical technology. It's a 2006 game so it pretty much looks the part. Unlike the old standalone version, however, the Steam version has fixed all of the compatibility issues. HOMM V supports widescreen resolutions with the proper aspect ratio and runs in 1080p (i.e. 1920x1080) without any issues. You're obviously going to run into a few low-poly models here and there, some of the animations could use a tad more polish, textures are generally lower-resolution as compared to contemporary titles - it IS a 2006 game. However, if you can get past the slightly dated technology, the game actually holds up remarkably well. In no single aspect is it anything like "that bad." Even better - the dated graphics mean this will run smooth on anything, so feel free to crank up the anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtring for nicer experience.
The reason HOMM V still holds up today, though, is the art style. Every single creature is individually modelled and animated, every single creature is visually distinct and very unique. Someone sat down and poured a tremendous amount of effort into each separate design, trying to give even the lowliest, most expendable grunts some degree of character and personality. The towns look amazing, from the towering fort of the Griffin empire to the Academy in the sky, to the giant spirit tree of the Elves to the column of rock over a lake of lava of the Inferno and beyond. Everything in HOMM V simply oozes personality. You take one look at how a creature looks and the way it fights, you're ready to write a whole story about it just from the visuals. Hell, each critter HAS a story written about it if you care to read it. No other HOMM game... Hell, basically no other strategy game has ever had this much memorable character in its basic combat units.
Visually, I'd liken combat in HOMM V to something like XCOM, and for a very simple reason - Heroes of Might and Magic V did the Cinematic camera, XCOM's selling feature... In 2006 Generally speaking you fight on a grid seen from a bird's eye view, but whenever units attack, you get a close-up of the action for the most cinematic impact. The in-game models are stunningly beautiful, especially for the distance at which the game typically plays, so there's a lot to be gained from zooming in on them in action. Animations can be a bit clunky, though, as the game uses the MMO mode of combat. That is to say, units have pre-baked movement and attack animations, so they'll swing at the general direction of an enemy unit, produce a particle effect to hide the fact the swing didn't connect and the enemy unit will react. As I said, however, this is a turn-based game, so that sort of thing is to be expected. Suffice it to say that it makes turn-based combat look very cool.
Gameplay and Systems:
This one will be long, just because Heroes of Might and Magic in general is something like three games rolled into one. So let's break this down into categories:
Towns and Strategy:
At the top-most level of gameplay is the strategic layer. Here, you manage one or more towns and control the area around them. Each town has a specific set of buildings that can be purchased. Some facilitate army production, some contribute to your economy, some offer hero buffs. The trick to the strategic game, really, is to build up your town as quickly and efficiently as possible, so you can produce larger number of stronger army units. This, of course, costs resources, and HOMM V has seven of them - gold, wood, stone, crystal, mercury, sulphur and gems. Sometimes you can trade for those, sometimes you fan find them lying around the overworld, but for the most part you'll need production buildings.
This is where controlling the surrounding lands comes into play. Resource production buildings are not part of the towns themselves. They're separate structures dotted around the map. You need to find them, kill the monsters guarding them and capture the buildings. They will then produce resources for you each day, unless an enemy player's hero captures them from you. You need resources to create structures and hire monsters, so having a steady supply is vital.
Heroes and Armies:
Heroes of Might and Magic revolves - as you'd expect - around heroes. A hero is a special entity, a sort of leader for his or her own army. Heroes are the only units which can move around the map, and the only way to move armies from place to place is to attach them to a hero. You can hire heroes from town taverns for a small fee. From there on, heroes will proceed to level up like RPG characters. They have a collection of stats which determine their performance, they have an inventory of magical items with various effects and they have a system of skills and sub-skills that's actually pretty cool. Each hero can earn up to 6 major skills, one of which is their "racial skill" that they start with. Each skill then be upgraded, and leads to three sub-skills that can be picked-up on level-up.
Heroes level up from combat, they can earn experience from treasure chests and so on. (Some) Heroes also wield magic. Spells are learned from town Mage Guilds or from random world encounters, though a hero may need a magic specialisation skill to learn the more devastating ones. Heroes can visit a great variety of random locations, as well, such as haunted ruins, coliseum arenas, elemental shrines and so forth, which are usually guarded. Killing the guards can grant experience, resources or an artefact, though artefacts can also sometimes be found just lying on the ground (and still guarded).
However, for heroes to fight anything, they need an army of "creatures." Each town has its own types of heroes and its own army units. Basic production buildings create basic units while upgraded buildings give you two branching paths of upgrade for your army units, usually with opposite benefits. Moreover, each creature is heavily unique in not just its stats, but also its special characteristics, and this is where HOMM V really shines. Every little aspect of your creature translates to a trait. Does your knight have a large shield? Well, he has the "Large Shield" trait which protects him from ranged attacks. Are your Goblins cowardly? Well, they have the "Coward" trait, which means they'll run away when attacked. They also have the "Traitor" trait, which means they'll switch sides if they drop to below 30% of their starting numbers. You have a three-headed Cerberus monster? It attacks three adjacent grid blocks at once. Every creature's unique design plays directly into the way it fights.
Combat in HOMM V is semi-turn based. Creatures in combat do move in turns, but those turns are not specific to each side, but rather to each creature. At all times, combat shows you a specific queue of units in the order they'll attack, where units with higher initiative will show up in the queue more often. It's "your turn" when one of your creatures is next to act, but it's entirely possible for you and your enemy to alternate moving a single unit at a time. What that means is you don't pick which of your creatures you want to move. You can only control the one whose turn it is right now, and if you don't - say if you ask it to wait or defend - then that expends their turn. Choose wisely.
Heroes don't take part in combat directly, by which I mean they're not a combat unit on the field. Instead, your hero stays off to the side and mostly casts magic. Heroes can also attack directly by charging in or firing from range, but they always return to ourside the field once that's done. Heroes have a mana pool from which they draw to cast magic and that DOES NOT replenish during combat. They can also only attack or cast magic when it's their turn.
Combat in HOMM V is set on a square grid with your forces starting on one side and the enemy's starting on the other. For a melee unit to attack, it needs to stand on an adjacent square to its target. And yes - units can attack diagonally. Units can move and attack on the same turn, except ranged units who don't move to attack. Said ranged units can attack any unit on the map, though firing at anything past half the map's size gives them a damage penalty. Most rangers can't fire at range if a unit is in melee range of them, as well. Most units occupy a single grid square, though "large" units occupy a 2x2 area. Each unit has a specific "movement range" measured in squares, and this varies drastically.
Maps usually have random "impassible" terrain in the form of trees, holes in the ground, etc. Nobody can stand on these tiles. Ground units have to walk around them, flying units can move over them and ranged units can shoot over them. Castle sieges are the prime example of this, where a built-up town will come with an impassible wall that needs to be torn down and a moat which ends a creature's turn for going into it. Speaking of which, area effect spells and attacks in this game do not discriminate between friend and foe. A fireball will blow up your own units just as easily as it will the enemy's if you place it wrong and creatures with penetrating attacks (say, dragon's breath) WILL hurt friendly units if you aim it wrong.
Story and Characters:
Frankly, I don't play Heroes of Might and Magic for the story campaign. Campaings aren't bad at all, but they basically play out like a series of skirmishes strung together with a guiding narrative. Might as well just play a skirmish and let gameplay tell the story. So... I don't know much about the setting's lore, history or events. Instead, I want to talk about just how much "character" the game has just in terms of its visual presentation and game mechanics.
Let's take a simple example - humans (from the Haven) and demons (from the Inferno). They hate each other. How does the game model this? Well, having both Haven and Inferno units in the same army destroys the morale of both, so you end up with an ineffective army, though this can be mitigated. Or how about the Necropolis and its undead units? Well, for one, undead units are immune to morale - you can't inspire zombies, you can't scare skeletons. Moreover, Necropolis heroes can raise a certain number of their slain foes as skeletons after the fight. Putting undead creatures in the same army as practically anybody else destroys the others' morale because everyone hates the undead. They smell, if nothing else.
Many - if not most - of the units in Heroes of Might and Magic are "living." This means a few things. For one, they can be resurrected using resurrection spells. For another, they're subject to poison and necromancy curses. Contrast this against the "undead," who cannot be resurrected and are outright immune to their own master's offensive spells. Sometimes they can be brought back to un-life via undead-specific reanimation spells, but that's about it.
Each of the various towns has a Mage Guild building of its own, which exists to teach your hero magical spells... Except for the Stronghold town or Orcs and Goblins. They're such thick-skulled barbarians that they don't HAVE magic of any kind. So how does a Barbarian fight a regular magic-wielding hero? By using a "Might Over Magic" skill which has the effect of debuffing the mana and magical potency of any hero the Barbarian fights. It doesn't always even the playing field, but a smattering of warcries and a "Bloodlust" racial skill make up the difference.
Let's go for the one example that impressed me the most, personally. Let's take a basic, run-of-the-mill human peasant. They're the "cannon fodder" unit type of the Haven and they have very little that's special about them. The one special thing, though? They're peasants and tax payers, so for each one you have in your army, you earn a bit of gold every day. Even something as simple as pitchfork-wielding medieval serfs have a unique trait that exists nowhere else in the game.
Basically what I'm saying is that every single creature in Heroes of Might and Magic V is unique. Every single town is unique. Everything in this game has an identity wholly its own both in the way it looks and in the way it behaves. You don't need a campaign to tell you stories when the game itself tells all the stories you need simply by playing it.
Expansions and Standalones:
Heroes of Might and Magic V came out before the age of DLCs, so you'll find three versions of it on Steam if you go to buy it. You have the base "Heroes of Might and Magic V" game which I would advise against getting. It's not bad, but it lacks a lot of features, such as branching unit upgrades and a couple of towns. You then have "Heroes of Might and Magic V: The Hammer of Fate." This is an expansion pack to the original HOMMV and requires that you own both games. I'd advise against getting this one, as well. For one, you need the original to play it so that's a double purchase. For another, that mostly adds extra campaigns and one town. It still lacks the other additional town AND branching unit upgrades.
No, what I would suggest you get is Heroes of Might and Magic V: Tribes of the East. That's actually a standalone game which requires neither of the other two versions. It has everything from the original game AND everything from The Hammer of Fate, except for the campaigns (which you probably won't care about anyway). Unless you have enough money to make it rain, just get Tribes of the East and you'll have all the content and mechanics Heroes of Might and Magic V has to offer.
Buy this game. Seriously, it's dirt cheap right now at 6 Euro, down from 10. It's a great game, it runs well, it plays well and it still looks gorgeous. It's imaginative, it's different and it's a hell of a lot of fun alone or with friends. It has online multiplayer and even local one-PC hotseat multiplayer. Though the game lacks a tutorial, it has SUCH an extensive system of tooltips with SO much information in them you don't really need one. Plus, it's a very pretty turn-based strategy in a world where you really don't have that many options unless you want to go whole-hog and play a "4X" complicated experience like straight-up Civilisation.
If you're at all a fan of turn-based strategy games, get this game. You won't regret it. If you care about unique art design and a wealth of visual variety, definitely get this game. You won't see more variety very often. If you prefer your strategy games more combat-focused and less culture- and diplomacy-focused, this is definitely up your alley. Frankly, looking at Heroes of Might and Magic... This is what XCOM was trying to be without even realising it.
Now, obviously, give this one a miss if you just don't like strategy games. That goes without saying. Short of that, though, I really can't come up with a reason for why you wouldn't want Heroes of Might and Magic 5, aside from maybe the cost? Unless you just don't enjoy the entire gosh-dang genre, then try this game out and see what you think.
I played this game long ago when it came out, and I bought it first chance I got when it came to steam. I've not regretted it since, even if I haven't played it all that much since then. REALLY entertaining game. I heartily recommend it.