The Heroes of Might and Magic series has been delighting gaming strategists for more than a decade now with its turn-based fantasy warfare. The latest in the series takes us back to the land of Ashan where the Griffin Empire is preparing to celebrate the marriage of the young Emperor Nicolai to his betrothed Isabel. Things go awry however when the wedding party is crashed by some demons, and they didn't just show up to drink the free booze and hit on the bridesmaids. Nicolai sees them off with his sword, and afterwards decides to lead his Empire to war against them.
You start the game as his prospective bride Isabel, and are quested with the task of pulling together a militia made up of local peasants and a few trained soldiers to fight back the demon scourge.
The initial CG cinema sequence that tells this story has been beautifully rendered, but this doesn't extend to the in-game story. Unfortunately creating drama seems to have been the last thing on Nival's mind when developing Heroes V, the story is told entirely in some very ugly cut scenes where the characters remain almost motionless; no emotion, no lip-sync, just dialogue and poorly acted dialogue at that.
The lacklustre presentation of the plot is mostly forgivable, however, due to the fact that in general the game is graphically the best-looking entry in the Heroes series. Where previous games were presented from a two-dimensional isometric viewpoint, Heroes V is the first to introduce a complete 3-D world to the series. The world of Ashan looks better than ever and is filled with rippling lakes, swaying trees and other such embellishments, as well as some detailed character models for you to lead into battle.
Then there is the gameplay. If you haven't yet played a Heroes of Might and Magic game and are wondering if you'll like it there is one question you should ask yourself - and that is whether or not you like Chess, because that's what Heroes plays like. Of course, Chess never had persistent upgradeable characters, defensive and offensive spells to cast or towns and cities to invade, occupy and build upon, but the basic idea of taking turns to moving your pawns across a grid-like battlefield attempting to out-strategise your opponent (in either story mode or online multiplayer) is precisely what Heroes of Might and Magic provides.
The game can be slow and Heroes V's turn-based gameplay doesn't have the action or the feeling of urgency that most strategy games strive for these days. The game does include a "Dynamic battle" mode, that attempts to speed up the combat by adding a ten-second time limit to your moves, but while this may interest some players, we felt that it actually detracted from the game's feeling of contemplative strategy.
Understandably this style of game won't appeal to all gamers, but players who value a carefully thought out plan of attack over a Zerg rush will find exactly what they want in Heroes of Might and Magic V.
Verdict: Not for everyone, but Heroes of Might and Magic V retains everything that made previous instalments of the series such classics. It hasn't changed much and a few presentation issues let it down, but the new visuals and some great strategic gameplay keep it entertaining.
Score: 3 ½ /5