In the gaming world, "Gold" editions tend to be the equivalent of "Greatest Hits" albums -- not for the die-hard fans who've bought all the previously released titles. Rather, these editions offer latecomers some of the best there is -- all at one reasonable price. In this sense, Heroes of Might and Magic II Gold (which bundles Heroes of Might and Magic II, Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Price of Loyalty and 25 new maps) doesn't disappoint and will quickly familiarize new players to the HoMM scene.
When first starting out in Heroes of Might and Magic II Gold, you have the choice of a standard or campaign game. The main difference is the latter allows a customization-type adventure where you choose the setting and factors (special aids or resources) that affect you from one stage to the next. The standard game sets you up in a single scenario where you win after reaching your objective. Both standard and campaign games offer a range of difficulties (easy to difficult) and map sizes (small to large). Special to this Gold edition are the 25 new maps that provide more scenarios in which to adventure.
You navigate through Heroes of Might and Magic II Gold by means of the title characters: heroes, an odd motley divided mainly into two categories -- fighter or magic user, although it's relatively easy to blend one into the other as you gain experience. You decide which heroes to recruit, though only two are available at a time. The same two are available weekly unless you recruit one; at that point a new hero will immediately fill the open slot. You can check their stats and accompanying equipment before making a commitment.
This 2D world is all about resource management but that's one of its charms. There's plenty of instant gratification as your chosen heroes gallop across the countryside discovering unclaimed resources or magical artifacts. They can also pick up experience points by finding little treasure chests or visiting huts housing mysterious benefactors. The strategy is fairly simple. Try to accumulate as much stuff (fighters, wealth or resources) as you can so that you can reach your objective while, at the same time, staying alive.
Adding a little spice to the mix are the kinds of castles you can develop based on the available hero types: knight, wizard, necromancer, barbarian, sorceress and warlock. The different castles produce varied creatures and spells. For example, in the wizard's castle, the mage guild will let you learn a spell that inflicts damage on dragons, the toughest creatures in the game. A necromancer's castle has other good fun in store such as vampires that say "blah, blah" when they attack. Fun, humorous elements like these add the something extra that speaks directly to seen-it-all, done-it-all players. And I like the feature that allows you to get creative with your armies by stacking weak, cheap characters together -- a ploy that turns them into powerhouse attackers. A map editor lets you easily create your own worlds and parameters that you can save and play.
However, the inability to really personalize your heroes or select from more than the two available for recruiting at any given time cuts into the enjoyment factor. Even when choosing your level-up bonuses, you have only two options at a time from which to choose. This lack of variety vastly simplifies the game. And without personal development challenges, I found that I relied on the more active computer players to provide the motivation I needed to keep going.
Saving your "pennies" for a good resource, say, a nice mage-guild upgrade, is all well and good and there's a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing your hard work develop into a Titan or Black Dragon -- but these will only stretch so far. Without the challenge of actively working against opponents and no substantial ultimate motivating goal (the Ultimate Artifact notwithstanding), the game is about as exhilarating and as strangely addictive as a well-played game of solitaire. Multi-player options raise the bar a little higher but hope that your connection to the Internet and your cohorts can survive the many long hours required to complete a scenario.
The storylines are creative and thorough but they tend not to factor well into gameplay that involves very little character interaction. The concept that I had to get off a desert island (by killing pirates) had about as much weight as the scenario where I had to reclaim the Northern lands (by killing barbarians). For me, this game spelled addiction but the kind where the withdrawal is mild and the recovery time is quick.
Graphics: The graphics in Heroes of Might and Magic II Gold aren't stunning but they're not bad either. Little animations complement the scenery -- for example, waterfalls that sparkle every two seconds and billowing sails on ships. The turn-based fighting takes place on zoomed-in battlefields and you'll see your hero's head shake as members of your army die. Character details aren't great but they're reasonably distinctive between hero types.
Sound: The swelling music was suitably inspiring. Nothing to brag home about but more tolerable than the typical score.
Enjoyment: The game initially drew me in while I explored new features and wondered what the next improvement or upgrade would accomplish. The lure of new territory or artifacts provided good motivation.
Replay Value: After a good while, the novelty of the game in general began to wear off and the gameplay settled into predictability. I might play again sometime but, then again, my hard drive only has so much room to spare.
People who downloaded Heroes of Might and Magic 2: Gold Edition have also downloaded:
Heroes of Might and Magic II (Deluxe Edition), Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Heroes of Might and Magic 4, Heroes of Might and Magic, Heroes of Might and Magic V, Warcraft 2, Heroes Chronicles, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings
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