Heroes of Might and Magic IV

Heroes of Might and Magic IV
OS X Compatible

Company: 3DO
Price: $44.95

I’ve got no idea what’s going on, I have no idea what any of this stuff does or why it’s useful but, most importantly, I can’t stop playing. That pretty much covers Heroes of Might and Magic IV for someone who missed out on Heroes of Might and Magic I through III. I am sure there are a ton of folks who understand the vagaries of this particular incarnation of Heroes of Might and Magic, people who are truly glad when they stumble upon a potion of choking gas or spell fountain. The difference between the folks who understand and appreciate every aspect of the game and your present humble servant is the starting place. I’m sorry I missed HMM 1-3, I bet they were plenty o fun, but apparently by missing 1-3 I’m also missing a goodly chunk of HMM IV.

Heroes of Might and Magic IV is a turn based strategy game (ala Civilization) set in some mythical world full of monsters and magic. It is also a resource management game (ala Warcraft II) as well as a lot of features found in Dungeons and Dragons (ala Pools of Radiance). And don’t forget we’ve got castles (ala Stronghold) and you pretty much have every possible bit of gaming thrown in at some point (I bet there’s a secret flight simulator in Heroes of Might and Magic somewhere). While it might seem like such a chimera would be nearly impossible to play the basic game play is fairly straightforward: You roll around looking for resources while passing the occasional whooping.

I like Heroes of Might and Magic IV quite a bit, in fact it became a near addiction. When playing I would curse the fact my two month old son was (according to the label) too young for Benadryl (also known as Sominex or Daddy’s best friend). What I would give for 96 hours of straight game play without the annoying interruptions of biology and responsibility. The graphics are splendid, the map (main) screen is very detailed with a bunch of beautifully rendered graphics, even a tiny crocodile opens and closes it mouth. All this glorious detail runs smoothly at 1024X768 on my iBook making simply staring at the screen a pretty worthwhile diversion. The combat screen is not as pleasing to look at but the combat is engaging in a strange sort of way. It’s kind of hard to explain but you’re a single character surrounded by armies. The strange part comes in when we note that the armies’ looks like a single character. This sounds confusing but you get used to it in a very short period of time.

The representations of the individual characters (heroes) are also a bit daunting owing to the fact that all the heroes look the same according to class. So if you have two Paladins it’s easy to wonder just which hero is which. Heroes of Might and Magic IV is not really a game with a plot like Baldurs Gate but there are few included campaigns and the story lines found within are fairly compelling. There is a lot to like about Heroes of Might and Magic IV that I haven’t mentioned but nothing as outstanding as the previously discussed strengths.

For every good thing about Heroes of Might and Magic there is some obvious flaw. The tutorial game is horrible. For example: I found myself stuck the first three times because I didn’t know I had to end my turn and the computer wasn’t going to tell me. I suppose clicking the hourglass is rudimentary for those who have played previous installments but things like that are very frustrating for the first timer. I’d feel semi bad criticizing the game for the lame tutorial if a quick trip to the help section revealed the dilemma, except there is no help section, none, nada, zip. Bad tutorial and no help don’t really make for a friendly “jump on in” new user experience. A trip to the manual won’t help either, as it’s mostly a listing of spells and their effects. Which is a nice segue to another annoyance: the strangeness of the spells. What’s strange about the oh so cool looking spells? Well sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It’s not a random failure of the spell it’s an integral part of the game unfortunately it’s never explained exactly why this behavior is integral or how to predict which monsters are susceptible to which spells. The poor tutorial and quirky spell casting coupled with the lack of help can leave the player in a state of befuddlement. Befuddlement is precisely what some folks want (those folks play Myst) but in Heroes of Might and Magic IV you’re after hack and slash strategizing not head scratching puzzlement.

Games are meant to be entertaining and diverting therefore I hold the “fun factor” to be the most important aspect when judging any game. On the plus sided Heroes of Might and Magic IV has the “fun factor” thing down cold. Coupled with the beautiful graphics and eclectic game play Heroes of Might and Magic IV would be a slam-dunk winner if it were a more accessible to new players. The lack of help and explanations diminish the game’s value greatly and in the hands of a new player this weakness may render the game unplayable.

Bottom Line: Ranks well on fun factor replay value and graphics but very low on help and documentation.

MacMice Rating: 3 out of 5

Chris Seibold

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