Sunday, February 26, 2012

Heroes one Retrospecitve

Heroes one is the very overlooked game that started it all. For its time, Heroes was definitely a very original turn based strategy game. It had a few scant RPG elements, a big fantasy world to explore, and four different factions to utilize. Heroes 1 established the formula that all the successive games would build upon. However, Heroes was not New World Computing's first stab at turn based strategy. Their first successful stab at the genre was a fairly obscure game called King's Bounty.

While my first stabbing landed me in jail, when Jon Van Caneghem released King's Bounty, he was able to test the market on turn based strategy games. While I've only watched King's Bounty being played, I've got the gist of what the game was about. You need to collect the 24 map pieces to find the specter of power in order to save your countries ailing king. To get these map pieces you needed to defeat villains spread out across the continent and return to your main town to collect the king's bounty on the villains. King's Bounty created was to become the core of Heroes of Might and Magic. You had limited resources and had to choose what creatures to spend it on. You could pick from 4 different classes each with its own special abilities and stats. A lot of the meat was there. What was missing was the town screens and the emphasis on resource management since I think there was only gold as a resource. The big emphasis of the game was how you assembled your army, which according to Wikipedia, remains a hotly debated issue among fans to this day, which reminds me of the eternal debate of Heroes 2: Are Titans or Dragons the best creature?

So when NWC was making a sequel to King's Bounty, they decided to slap the Might and Magic namesake onto the product and have it very tenuously tie into the continuity of their famed RPG series. They greatly expanded the strategic elements in HoMM 1. They added all the non-gold resources and took all the creatures of their previous game and threw them into the various factions, which as a side-note is why the knight town, even in HoMM 1 is somewhat weaker than the other towns since King's Bounty made the basic human troops weak so that the player would be encouraged to use the creature they found while exploring.

Both the town screen and the non-gold resources left the player with a lot meaningful choice to make such as whether or not to sit back and wait for your army to grow, or to go out and explore to find resources and enemies. Also the player had to decide whether to buy creatures or to build the next dwelling structure in their town. Surprisingly, as I found out, building up your town isn't always the best decision. The computer plays very aggressively in HoMM 1. They will almost always buy troops before building new structures. Usually, the first opportunity I get, I will build the top tier structure and computer will proceed to take over my town with 3rd level troops. Another annoying thing about the AI, and this seems to be true of almost all Heroes games, but this one especially, is that they always have way more heroes than they need or can afford. This leads to irritating mind fuck situations where two of your castles are being approached and your main hero can only defend one of them. When you do choose a castle to defend, the enemy hero proceeds to skirt around your castle and to take half your mines while your other castle gets taken.

Annoying AI aside, HoMM is very simple and addicting. This game progenitated several key elements that gave the series its addictive gameplay:

1)Unique Factions-
Long before Starcraft and Warcraft existed, HoMM 1 had 4 distinctive factions that were fairly balanced without sacrificing personality *glares passive aggressively at Warcraft 2*. (BTW peasants don't suck nearly as much in HoMM1 since the battlefield is smaller their slow speed isn't nearly as big of a handicap).

2) Resource management-
So many Heroes games are decided by economics. Generally, whoever has the most gold production tends to win. However, the other resources prohibit from players from building up too quickly. The resources also help to give towns personality, in that certain towns tend to eat through certain resources more quickly. For example, I always remember the knight town eats through a ton of wood thanks to crusaders and cavalries.

3) RPG Elements- Being called Heroes, heroes are kind of the center of the game. A good hero can change the flow of combat. While there are no skills in Heroes 1, the heroes of each faction are distinguishable by their stats, with faction focusing on a different stat. Even without skills to choose between, watching your hero slowly level up is still very satisfying. The heroes act as the ego for the player to insert themselves into the game. Who wouldn't want to be a badassed warlock bent on world domination or an armor clad knight defending his kingdom?

4) Schweet Loot-
Artifacts help to reinforce the fantasy conceit and also provide your heroes with a wide range of different bonuses. Most of the artifacts in Heroes 1 are stat boosts, but even so, they provide motivation for players to explore and to take risks. While an artifact might be guarded by some fairly tough creatures, the pay off is that your hero get signifacant boost to his or her abilities.

Overall Heroes 1 is fairly simple, but still very fun and rewarding to play. Heroes 1 is very much overshadowed by 2 and 3, simply because they are filled with many more features and far superior interfaces and graphics. Without Heroes 1, none of the other games would exist nor would any of the cheap knock-offs that came out in the early 2000's have been made.


  1. Well, I'm off to the store to buy 4 liters of Mountain Dew since this makes me want to play some Heroes for like 48 hours straight. I like the amount of respect you give Heroes 1 even though many people probably tend to gloss over it in favor of 2 & 3. I remember playing Heroes 1 way back out of curiosity and liking it even though I thought 2 was better. King's Bounty, I had never heard of either but sounds like it's worth a try. I feel old saying this but why don't they make them like that any more? Also, is that a t-shirt with all the resources on it? Nice.

  2. Yeah the T-shirt is how all the resource Look in Heroes V. Just about every Heroes game can be totally addicting if you allow yourself to get sucked into it. Heroes 1 is definitely good for teaching people and getting them hooked on the series since it's the simplest one, but still has a good amount of depth and strategy without being overwhelming like say Heroes 4 or somewhat 5.

  3. I am definitely pumped about this retrospective now. I have only played Heroes 1 one time for about 5 minutes so I don't feel very qualified to comment much on it, but you did an excellent job doing an interesting overview of the series. I am excited for you to get to the games I have played more. I guess I have always been of the opinion that I should play the best game in the series at the exclusion of other games, which is why I only play heroes 3 and not any of the others even though I do like heroes 2, 4 & 5. My mentality is why play something inferior when I can play the best one.

    Also, are you gonna include anything about Heroes 6? What about the DRM in Heroes 5 & 6? That certainly seems like a big downside to those games to me.

  4. My attitude about the series in general is that each iteration has its own sort of core game-play. I prefer to view it, not so much as 3 being the superior one, more as it being the most balanced and best designed interpretation. I think a good metaphor would be that each Heroes game is a different Magic set. They all draw from the same basic toolbox, but each game puts it own spin on the rules. I would say Heroes 3 is the Ravinca block equivalent, Heroes 4 is the Time Spiral equivalent, and Heroes 1 lines up with alpha and beta.

    I've been kinda wondering how to approach Heroes 5 (I have no copy of six and my computer can't run it, but I hear it's rushed and sloppy). The DRM for Five was really annoying and prevented, me, a legitimate customer from purchasing the game. Ubisoft has a reputation for 2 things: rushing games and unnecessary DRM. I don't want that to color my analysis of the Game play, but it is, nevertheless, incredibly fucking annoying. Heroes V is somewhat of a beautiful mess. There's so many interesting directions they took the series, but at the same time, there's a lot of awkward quirks about the game. It's very easy to write it off as a clone of Heroes 3, and go play Heroes 3, but after about 20 patches and two expansions, there's definitely a few features that somewhat answer the question that has plagued the series since Heroes 3: "How do you improve upon the interpretation set by Heroes 3?" It's similar question to "How do you improve upon Civ 4?"

  5. I like your metaphor about magic sets. It does give a good sense of the different levels of quality of each game while still having it's own unique appeal. However, with magic sets you can mix and match the best parts of each one. With heroes you have to choose only one to play at a time (well, maybe you could play more than one at a time, but I'm just not that hardcore) and for my time I want to play the one that gives me that best warm fuzzy, where did the time go feeling, which is Heroes 3. I do still see all of the merit in the other games, but I guess I like to play what I am most comfortable with. Maybe I play the games more for an escape that gives me control over something and maybe you play it somewhat more to explore and appreciate how the game works and its design.