Time: 9/6/09 11:30AM
Progress: Campaign 1 complete
There are many western RPGs RPGamer "covers" but you wouldn't know it because they don't have reviews or game pages. Most of the reviewers over the years have been strictly console gamers, and wasting time to write up a review for a game that came out ages ago is a selfless task with even less of a payoff than the normal volunteer reviews we write.
I bought a PC recently and thought now would be a good time to play a couple of the PC RPGs I've owned for a while. When I realized that the PC RPG genre was dead a few years back, I held on to the last unplayed RPGs I had and chose to save them for a rainy day. Since then, some more RPGs have come out (of course), and Heroes of Might and Magic V is one I bought for cheap in 2007 and added to my collection of "games to play later." I'll write a review for it when I'm done.
My history with the series is this: I got HoMM 2 several years after it came out. I enjoyed it, but it was too hard for me toward the end. I got stuck, and this was when a new awesome PC RPG came out monthly, so I quickly tossed it back in my game wallet and figured I might retry it later. My game wallet and the dozens of games in it was stolen in 2004, so I never went back to it.
I had an eye on HoMM 4 -- I liked the idea behind the HoMM gameplay -- but reviews were negative. HoMM 5 was well reviewed so I bought it and here I am. I like RPGs, duh, but I also like strategy games and simulations. I figured HoMM 5 should be a good tactical RPG set in a western fantasy world.
I've finished the first campaign, and so far I'm disappointed. It's mindnumbingly easy, and I think the entire campaign was meant to be like a tutorial. A tutorial that felt like it lasted 20 hours. The premise still seems cool to me, and hopefully the challenge will pick up later. The graphics are awful when you consider that it came out in the same year as Oblivion. The cutscenes don't move past a head-bobbing person whose lips don't move "talking" to another head-bobbing person whose lips don't move, and all the cinematographic camera swoops in the world can't save them. Also, when you can see at the start that the last level is named "The Fall of a King," it's a serious plot spoiler for how the campaign will end.
Nitpicking aside, it has been mildly enjoyable. Sure, the first campaign won't win any Mensa awards, but I still like the ideas behind it. You control a hero with an army of creatures. You move around the map in a turn-based manner, looking for goodies and killing anything that won't flee or join you. Encounters with an enemy on the map take you to a battlefield view where units move and attack in a turn based manner until one army is vanquished.
Eventually, you get control of a town, and then resource management is important. You build structures to let you recruit new units -- which only replenish once a week -- and also spend money on the units when you recruit them. As I said, there was no challenge or need to be hasty in the first campaign, so I took my time with all of it.
Where HoMM 2 failed me as a tactics game was when I hit a map where I started way behind the enemies in terms of awesomeness, and their AI was on full aggro. I'm hoping HoMM 5 settles somewhere between the ease of this opening campaign and the wall I hit in HoMM 2.
Time: 9/8/09 12:30PM
Progress: Campaign 2, Mission 3
Oh Hubris! For so long have You been my enemy!
After dissing the game's difficulty, I promptly died at the first mission of the second campaign. Not at the beginning, mind you, but at the final battle, and these stages are long. The game is kind enough to autosave frequently, but heartless enough to only keep three autosaves. All three of mine were too close to the end to consider using.
To step back a bit, this mission was the first one that took a specific strategy to beat. I'm now controlling a demon army. The stage starts with the powerful human I just controlled at the end of the first campaign chasing me down. He's impossibly strong. So I spend the whole mission keeping as much distance between us as possible, fleeing like a sissy, gathering troops when I can. When I get to the end of the map -- YAY! IT'S OVER! -- No. Wait. There's another large army sitting at the exit, waiting for me. And it crushed me.
So I did what any hardcore gamer would do. I didn't touch the game for the rest of the day. I cleaned the apartment instead. I went out on a date. I drank red wine until I fell asleep. Okay, so I'm a bit girly for a hardcore gamer, but the next day I was ready to dive back into HoMM. I had made a quicksave near the end of the mission. I loaded it, spent my gold more wisely now that I was expecting the final battle, and that was really all it took to win this time.
The next mission was crazy long, though. I feel like I played it all day yesterday. No challenge at all. Again, there seemed to be a specific way you are supposed to play it -- namely, take your time and don't push the exploration too soon. At least, that's what I did and the level was easy.
An odd quirk to the game is that it gives you a hint regarding the difficulty of a fight. When you put the cursor over a foe, a text box will approximate the units in the opposing force and let you know how tough the fight will be. This estimation is usually accurate, but in this mission I went into a fight that the game thought would be a "Normal" challenge and I got totally owned. It wasn't even close. Later in the stage, I went into a "Normal" challenge and didn't lose a single unit. It's sort of funny. One thing I've missed about PC gaming is the ability to save anywhere, anytime. I'm much more likely to take risks by leaping into fights where I'm sure how it'll go.
Time: 9/12/09 3:00AM
Progress: Campaign 2, Mission 4
My PSU and video card arrived today. So a little background info about me. While I am a nerd and I do love me some video games, I've never built, taken apart, or upgraded a desktop before. Back when I was in college and it was trendy to build your own desktop, I was too poor to do it. I was gifted a laptop, which I needed to play games at work, and didn't have enough of my own money to build a gaming rig. A few weeks ago I decided to finally get a gaming PC. Without the experience of building a computer from pieces -- and based on the nerds I knew in college, a self-built PC has a 75% chance of melting sometime, somewhere -- I opted to buy a bare bones PC for $300, then buy a video card and slap it in there myself. Of course, the bare bones PC's PSU could only power crappy cards, so I had to buy a new power supply too.
So today I found out that upgrading a computer is actually easy. Very easy. And now with a 4870 Radeon running HoMM 5 instead of the poor processor on the motherboard, I can pump the graphics to the max. And yeah. It doesn't look so ugly anymore. I still say it's a few steps down the ladder from Oblivion, which came out around the same time, but at 1900x1080 HoMM 5 is much, much easier on the eyes.
As for the gameplay itself, these missions are so long! I played for several hours today and must have been having fun since it seems to be 3am now. I beat 0 missions today. None. I had to reload a couple of times -- I made the mistake of exploring at the start of this stage and blindly ran into a gigantic enemy army. Curse you fog of war! So I had to restart from the beginning once. Aside from that I haven't lost much time.
You definitely have to think in this game. Being reckless is a fast path to a game over. This map is pretty big, so I kept my if-he-dies-I-get-a-game-over hero in safe places, recruited a second hero to lead a large army into risky places, and then recruited a third hero to generally suck and die. She escaped from a bad battle once, but lost a later one before I could flee so she's gone for good now. She did stall the bad guys enough to serve her purpose. I've pretty much won this mission -- I own every town on the map except for the one I need to win the stage -- but it might take another hour just to get to that point. This game plays slowly.
Time: 10/3/09 2:00AM
Progress: Campaign 3, Mission 3
The game has gotten easier, but missions are certainly no shorter. I spent my entire evening on the third mission of the necromancer's campaign just to hit a bug at the end of it that keeps me from finishing the stage. I know PC gaming and bugs go together like Square Enix and lazy remakes, but hitting one that makes you replay a several hour long mission is ridiculous, especially for a game that's been patched many times. Tomorrow I'll research it and see if I can use a cheat code or something to get around it without restarting. For now, a quick google search showed me that this is a bug many people have encountered and whined about.
This is just a guess, but I think I glitched my game by being too good at it. The current map has 3 mandatory towns to conquer and 1 optional one. One of the mandatory towns is the nation's capitol, and the mission's scripts anticipate that you'll take over that city last. It's surrounded by tough garrisons full of foes, but I was able to take them out with a medium-sized army and take over the capitol 2nd instead of last. I think this is what broke the game. It's an odd bit of level design anyway. Once you've taken over the entire map, this mission comes up with a contrived condition that suddenly needs to be met. For some reason, once your army contains 20 dragons, an invisible wall lifts and then you get a big mission successful banner on your screen. My problem was that I met this criteria before I had taken over the entire map, and the invisible wall didn't lift when I did the objectives out of order.
And as a strategy game, this is one of HoMM V's regular flaws. It often finds extra tasks for you to complete after a stage is clearly won. Chances are that by the time you've completed the original objectives, you've probably destroyed your enemies and taken all or most of the map in the process. Then the game will tell you to take over one more town, or make a bigger army, or defeat one more hero, or whatever, using barriers to enforce the new objectives. It draws out the gameplay and makes the levels boring. When I know a challenge is over and I've won, I don't want to play for two more hours to meet some new objectives. HoMM 5's pacing is way, way too slow for that.
I'm less than halfway through HoMM 5, and I'm not sure if I'm going to finish it. It bores me as often as it interests me. Time does fly by while I play it, but more because it takes so long to do anything worthwhile than because I'm having fun. There was a time in my life when any game that made me lose track of the clock was a game worth playing. As an adult now with one of those job things, if I'm going to lose a day to a video game, I want it to also be a blast to play, and HoMM 5 is not. I'd guess that I've sunk over 60 hours into it already, and like I said, I'm less than halfway done.
Time: 10/9/09 6:15PM
Progress: Campaign 3, Mission 3 Cheaty-Complete
After five minutes of research and .cfg changes, this:
And now I don't have to replay a stage because of a bug. Yay! When PC nuts drone on and on and on about how PC games are superior to console games, they need to emphasize this wonderful feature more often.
The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.