Monday, July 9, 2012

Heroes Two Retrospective

Let me start by saying that this game is by far my favorite in the series. Due to the fact that I've played this game hardcore since middle school, I find very difficult to approach this review from an objective standpoint. Every time I've sat down to play it for the sake of reviewing, I quickly forget what I'm doing and get sucked right into the game. A big reason for this absorption is the fact that the art style and sound direction is so appealing to me. There's a few reasons why they are so damn polished and pristine. The art was developed by the same company that created the pixel art for Warcraft II. Note the similarities:

Also, Heroes II sound was designed by the venerable composer, Paul Romero. His sound direction gave the game a lot more personality than the typical midi sound of the time. The big reason why there sufficient time to polish the hell out of the feel of the game was due to the fact that Heroes II was developed using Heroes I as a base. It was just the same engine, it was in large part the same game. Heroes II was released in 1996, a year after Heroes I was released. Given the quality of the game, the development time was relatively short.

Mechanically speaking, you could view Heroes II, in large part, a strict upgrade of Heroes I. And while technologically, that statement is incredibly true, in terms of mechanics I would argue that game only grew more complex. While complexity is not at all a bad thing, it significantly changed the game-play experience from the first one. Heroes II gave the players far more choices to make. There were two main new features: Secondary skills for heroes and upgrades for creatures.


In the original heroes, every time a hero leveled up, he just got a stat increase. While the stat boosts rewarded the player for acquiring experience and gave each hero class personality (4 hero classes each one specializing in a primary stat), the level-ups felt insubstantial. Unlike the rest of the game, no decision making was involved. Beyond their stats, Heroes had nothing to make them unique and strategic. For a game called Heroes, the heroes themselves lacked personality and strategic depth. 

Heroes II added the new skill system to incentivize players to level and to make the heroes themselves more than just generals on horses barking orders. Each time upon leveling up, your hero would be given the choice between two skills. Oftentimes, you would left with the choice between further specializing in a known skill or branching out to a new one.  This skill system made the Heroes a much larger focus of the gameplay.  Even to this day people still debate which skills are the most useful (Though, everyone agrees unanimously that Eagle Eye is totally useless.) Heroes III would take the skills even further and make them more powerful in the next game.

2)Creature Upgrades:
                Introducing creature upgrades into the mix lead to a lot interesting strategic choices, which were very economic in nature. Do I want quantity or quality? Are these extra stats worth the money? How much do I benefit from building a creature dwelling twice? I still have an old print out of the Astral Wizard site (courtesy of Phil printing them off in 1998), which debated ad nauseam about the merits of every creature upgrade. When you upgrade a creature dwelling you have to worry about two costs: the cost of the upgraded building and the price increase in the creature. Upgrading would often times make a weak creature into a powerhouse (as is the case with Ogres) or make an overpriced creature even more costly (as is the case with Liches).

                These economic concerns lead the player to weigh the risk vs. reward of fighting to obtain a resource. Getting a certain resource earlier meant gaining access to better creatures.  These economic concerns slowed down the game somewhat and put much greater emphasis on building up your town. In Heroes II gold was very limited (you only got 1000 per castle plus 250 for a statue.), so the player had to be ecumenical.
Again, Heroes II is just a different spin on the formula established in Heroes I. Games in Heroes I tended to move pretty fast and favored aggressive play over more reserved strategies. The game rewarded you for aggressive play due to both economics and the computer's cheating (They're rather stupid, but they seemed to get far more gold than the player did.) Economically speaking, getting fifth and sixth level creatures weren't always the best play since both dwellings ate up a lot of money that could otherwise go towards buying lower level troops. The computer continuously barreled right into  your territory so you would need to be able to afford troops or else your towns and mines would get snatched from right under your nose.

Heroes II changed this formula pretty significantly with the advent of creature upgrades. The Creature upgrades added a whole new level of strategy to town building.  Now the player had to decide between three different options when town building: save money for troops, build up to the next level of troops, or buy upgrades for your already built troops.  Upgrading a dwelling and its creatures was oftentimes cheaper and more beneficial than jumping up to the next tier. While there are definitely fairly rigid build orders for each town, the player still has to work around a fairly sparse amount of gold.

Between the expense of building into the next tier, the low creature production per week, and scarcity of gold, my armies feel very valuable. Aside from the necromancers, whose low level creatures are slowish walkers you acquire en mass, each creature felt necessary and useful, fitting right into its time and place. Whenever I watch my sprites die, I feel sort of a fatherly twinge of regret for throwing them into harms way. Peasants, however, are completely worthless. Much like their real world counterparts, not single tear rolls down my cheek as I toss them into my furnace. Energy isn't cheap kids.