I was postponing to write this post for too long due to lack of my personal time. However, such amount of great effort and awesome work deserves to get few words here and there. I am fan of Heroes series and I started to play from Heroes 2, around year 1997 or so. By this time, I've played a lot of classic Heroes 1-4, with 2 and 3 played probably the most. I am playing the game even today, most of the time with my girlfriend, we usually play coop vs several AI's. We've played H3, WOG, HOTA a lot a lot a lot.
Few days after 0.8.0 January release, I've stumbled upon some random youtube movie that described H3SW mod. I remember it from the past, probably watched some youtube movies but I am not sure if previous versions were released to public. I remember mixed graphics and upgrades to every creature.
Anyway, we've installed our H3 Complete from our CDs again just to check the mod.
And it was blast. We've played many random maps with 2vs6 AI on impossible, enjoying every single moment. It's like a mixture of everything good from Heroes2 with everything good from Heroes3. We had a lot of fun and played over 100 hours, even though 0.8.0 version had several issues (crashes, very limited hero movement pool, heretic popping up on random maps, AI getting hundreds of knight units in garrisons out of nowhere, etc.). After a month, version 0.8.1 came out and we started to play immediately. Most of issues were fixed (only real issue we found is that necro town loves to crash a lot so we just play without necromancers and avoid capturing them).
As there are probably many players like me, who benefit from H3SW team hard work but are unspotted, I've decided to write H3SW personal review, to show how good the mod is and motivate authors to continue work around this gem.
First of all, I've fine-tuned game a bit to make it more enjoyable for myself; I've used HD mod and turned some quick army managment options; most of them work OK even though they use old H3 graphics (like transfer all creatures button). The other thing I've used is speedhack.dll ERA plugin I've written long time ago in FreePascal, it basically doubles game speed making animations smoother and game more enjoyable for eye (you can decrease animation speed to minimum to have exact same speed but with ~50 FPS; H3 original has really jerky framerate). I'll include plugin as attachment in this post, for anyone interested.
Lets start the review then!
First of all, the menu - it welcomes player with standard H2 menu in hi-res (big congrats for one who redrawn old menu screen in hi-res, awesome work!). The music is from Price of Loyalty despite mod title, but it plays briliantly. I was more than suprised that menu actually works like in Heroes 2, with all clickable areas and submenus on the right side - I believe it required a lot of low level assembly hacking to achieve this! From menus, the tutorial and campaing does not work - however its perfectly fine for 0.X release of course. I wish campaing editor to be included in the mod as I'd love to create some campaings but unfortunately it is not.
The UI for choosing game mode, maps, heroes etc is perfect. I see a lot of work put here to convert H3 UI to H2 one, and it really rocks. As for maps, we can play either pre-designed scenarios (converted from earlier heroes games) or random maps. As I was never a fan of H1/H2 scenarios, I've only checked a few. Random map feature works as good as in Heroes3 - that means with correct settings (template) it can generate nice map, but its possible to generate scattered-land mess filled with portals. This is not H3SW issue however; the thing that suprised me is that maps were looking good without graphical glitches even though all of objects are changed to H2 graphics.
For factions, we have standard H2 six factions plus two bonus ones - Dervish and Witch; there is also Heretic that is not yet finished. I'll cover new cities later on. Compared to Heroes 2, you can choose starting hero and they differ with skills and special ability, just like in Heroes 3. In original H3 all factions have might and magic heroes, in H3SW authors decided to stick with single type depending on faction - so knight and barbarian only have "might" heroes, while warlock and wizard only have "magic" heroes - I really like this approach and I think its great decision. NWC had addiction to balancing everything out in H3 - almost all spells must have its "mass" version on expert, all factions must have might/magic hero types (even barbarians), all units must have its upgraded counterpart even when upgrade is meaningless, all prim skill artifacts must follow the +2/+3/+4/+6/+12 scheme (or +1/+2/+3/+5/+10 for magic oriented ones), etc. I like how authors of H3SW did not take this appraoch and instead decided to go with original route - I belive it makes factions more personalized and fun. The personal special abilities works similar to H3 - there are few good ones, one overpowered and rest are just fillers - who will ever pick Sir Gallant with its Peasant specialty as starting hero? Especially when Crytus starts with logistics and has logistics specialty? Its not really H3SW issue, it just works like in original H3 - I don't like lack of viable choices. There are some nice specialties however that I found out to be interesting: Maximus (tactics), Arthurus (holy word), Astra (cold ring), Troyan (fireball), Astral (hypnotize), Kastore (lightning bolt). Some of specialties are not ready yet so no opinion here (and Mephista darkness ability looks like magic arrow
). Generally I like new specialties but there are still 1-2 viable choices per city, usually ones who start with nice offensive spell or logistic/sorcery/intelligence specialists. I like that heroes gets their armies based on their specialties instead of level 1 and level 2 units like in Heroes 2 - it adds some personality to them. What's worth noting is that every faction get new heroes with new names and faces; my girlfriend never played original Heroes2 and she was unable to distinguish old heroes from new ones - so very good work for graphic design here.
Town screens look really similar to Heroes 2 but they have some differences due to different buildings in Heroes 3. Some of deprecated Heroes 2 graphics were used as a base for new buildings and there is a lot of new graphics as well. Every town gets its town hall building that were not included in Heroes 2; new dwellings look really nice and fit with original seamlessly. There are some other improvements like different castle stages - really good work. About the city mechanic itself - it does very good job at mixing Heroes 2 playstyle with Heroes 3 possibilities. Town Hall, City Hall and Capitol income is reduced from 1000/2000/4000 too 1000/1500/3000 - I like the change as it feels more like Heroes 2 for me - it Heroes 2 you could get 1250$ from city at max (1750$ for warlock); you had to rely more on gold mines and other cities and own city income. What I miss from old Heroes 2 is that cities were simplier - they were a lot quicker to fully build and didnt forced player to have its "main city" that develops player's full power and instead you could rely on building several armies in several cities. In H3SW it takes ages to fully build one city, just like in H3. H3 is more "rpg" oriented (with city translating to one member of RPG party, the others being army and hero
) while I liked H2 more strategic approach for this. I am not sure if I like citadel->castle way to improve creature growth than original +8/1lv from generator and +2/all from well - I think I like both approaches. Perhaps I like H2 one more because it shortens city build path but I am perfectly okay with how it works now.
Spell system is almost exact copy of Heroes 3. I hope this will be changed in future as Heroes 3 spell system is probably the worst part of Heroes 3. Its completely illogical and requires to learn its quirks instead of following common sense. Most powerful spells in game are lv1 mass spells (slow, haste), level 2 has some good spells (lightning, cold blast, blind), level 3 is just placeholder as it does not contain any serious spell (perhaps animate dead for necromancer), level 4 and 5 are slot machines - either you get superpowerful OP spell (town portal, dd, resurrection, implosion) or total garbage (like sorrow). I believe developing better spell system could be a nice goal for this mod. Having magic schools expertise totally ruins balance in both of secondary skills and spells. You can't compare effectivness of exp. earth magic to exp. archery for example - earth magic yields much much more benefit and going from adv to exp level raises your hero power in a degree no other secondary skill in game can - its just too huge step. The same goes with spells - having exp. air magic turns medicore spell into one of the most powerful and overused spell in game (haste). Not sure if I am right here however, but it looks like its much harder to get expert magic school in H3SW compared to H3 - I've played H3SW hundred of hours already and I cant remember getting exp. magic below level 5, which was quite common in original H3. If this was intended - great decision that really balances gameplay. The spell points are also issue in Heroes 3 - after a certain point they stop being meaningful at all. Going from spellpower 20 to spellpower 30 makes your spells 50% stronger; going from 20 knowledge to 30 knowledge does not yield any real benefit as you have so much spellpoints so you can cast resurrection all day long and hop through map with dimension door, refilling in magic wells/cities without any trouble. It doesnt really matter if your character has 200 spell points max or 500 or 9000 anymore; knowledge only matter in early game.
About spell points I actually came with some solution long time ago - I'd propose to use 'charge' spells instead of spell points, in a similar fashion to Heroes 1. For those who didnt played Heroes 1 - you could not learn spell permamently there; instead when you visited mage guild (or other place that gives spell) you gained only few charges of that spell, depending on your knowledge level. If your hero with knowledge 5 visited a town with lightning bolt, you will end up with having 5x lightning bolts to use - after expending them you had to revisit the town to relearn some or all of the lost charges. I could snap some tweaks to this system however - I'd change amount of charges you get of certain spell depending on its level - for example you could get 2nd level spell charge for every 2 knowledge points, and level 5 spell charge every 5 knowledge points. So 12 knowledge Hero could learn 12x haste, 6x lightning bold and 2x dimension door spell for example. Intelligence could work as having +1/+2/+3 possible spell charges of every level and magic well could recover several of expended spell charges at a cost of remaining hero movement points. Why I believe this system is better? Because it leads to more nice strategic decisions - even when you have the dimension door spell in your guild, you would not be able to midnlessy jump all over map, you would have to plan your route so you can recover DD charges later on. Also, this balances spells more - now casting stone skin, sorrow, bless, curse comes with the same cost as casting lightning bold, blind or mass slow; why would you ever waste mana for sorrow if you can cast haste instead? With charge based system, those two spells do not share common resource (mana) so if you feel you dont want to waste your precious spells, you can spam your weaker spells like fireballs, cold rings, curse, mirth, shield, etc - it wont compromise your ability to cast powerful spells later on. I believe some underused spells would get more love with that.
Lets talk about factions now. For original ones, I will focus only over differences between original game. As a general rule, every classic faction gets one extra unit to fullfil H3 requirements and also, you can compose full army on your hero (original H2 had six creatures in town, but hero was only capable of taking 5 of them). In some old video about H3SW I saw that every creature got its upgrade but idea was probably scraped during development - I think it was good choice. I see no purpose of having every single unit recolored to its "better" version just for the sake of having it; it also increases strategic depth and diversity - units without upgrade are easier to carry around as you dont need to walk back to city to upgrade them. What also suprised me is that dragons have 3 upgrades like in original game - I expected only red->black draggys due to a technical reasons, but somehow H3SW team managed to overcome this.
Knight gets buffed up peasants and other units. Its nice to see that peasants are not totally useless anymore. Also, its was probably first time when I saw peasant "take hit" animation - in Heroes 2 the only one you could see realistically is "death" animation as peasants always died in single hit. With starting army of 5 archers you could easly oneshot 1st day neutral stack of peasants. I've also noticed that paladins and crusaders got more hitpoints - I think they needed it; while I loved the "its only human being, they dont have much hitpoints" theme, I think its the original H2 had too big gap between level 6 creatures (crusader 65 hps compared to dragon/titan 300). As for new units, knight gets crossbow man - their graphics are great, the idea for having additional shooter in knight army fills its gap nicely and I love the idea. I dont like they have H3 crossbowman sounds however, H3 creature/spell sounds are a bit "blunt", not recognizable as Heroes 2 creature sounds. Also I dont like that crossbowman is so similar to archer unit - it looks like a long range pounder and I would really love them to have no range/no wall penalty (plus balancing their numbers a bit probably) - this would make them more disctinct from archers/rangers and also help knight with sieges where they are really weak. The unit just "feels" that it should be good at dealing with long range targets.
Sorceress gets Satyr unit - nonupgradeable walking melee attacker. I do not like its design or theme - this creature just lacks any personality for me; just some random brown dude that punches enemies. From a mechanics point of view however I think it composes with sorceress army well - she lacked medicore melee unit, with dwarves being low cost effective and slow, and unicors being more late-game unit.
Wizard gets Gnomes - thematically they fit nice. Mechaically they are ok. Perhaps they also lack of personality but thats only my opinion.
Necromancers are very nice. First of all, Lich grenades no longer harm ally units which was stupid in Heroes 2. I think some balancing tweaks would be nice for liches however as they are really weak and not satisfying to play - they do not dish good damage compared to their growth rate and they die really easly. Necromancers also gain new unit - black knight. I just love their look and their audio (sounds are paladin's from Heroes1?). They look sturdy, strong and their stats reflect that. What I found funny is their lack of hit animation - its certainly a work-in-progress thing but they feel so tough when they dont even flinch after getting 300 damage lightning bolt in their face
Warlocks unit suffer the same problem as in original H2 - centaurs are useless no matter how much you have and hydras are useless due to their low speed and medicore stats. However, new unit for warlock is beholder. This unit is a-w-e-s-o-m-e in every way - it fills the gap for warlock having only one shooting creature (that is particulary weak) and its visual are perfect. They probably resemble beholders from Might and Magic VI game so they feel more "enrothish" for me than H3 beholders. They are just great, big thumbs up for this.
Barbarian new unit is a harpy - again awesome idea, awesome visual appearance and awesome gameplay. Harpies fill niche of having no flyers on barbarian army, they have really good damaage but they are fragile. Also, they are not upgradeable and H3SW ones let enemy retaliate after strike - which is great design mechanically because you must play out tactially with them or you will be losing a lot of them. Very, very good.
Also, we have two new factions to play. First one is witch, more magic oriented than knight and barbarian. Their inside-city appearance does not feel right - graphic is outdated and building shapes have no connection with units that can be recruited from them. As for units, its just a Heroes2-style version of H3 Fortress; units are more simple. I like all of units, their appearances and such. Perhaps frogs feel a bit out of place but I love their sounds and post-death appearance, lol. I like having Wyverns as last unit, very good choice. I think that overall its great city, but the army is quite too weak, especially lower level units. Lizardmans could get some love because they have no damage whatsoever. Also the city has only one upgradeable unit, I think there should be 1 or 2 more upgrades.
As for Dervish, city interior looks really nice. Probably looks too much '3d' than original cities but still its great design and awesome idea. Even though most of Dervish army come from H2 neutral creatures, they do not feel randomly "injected" into new city (like H3WOG neutral city feature) - they share common theme and for my girlfriend they all look consistent (she didnt even know that some of units came from H2 neutral armies). As for units, I think acolytes needs serious buff as they are too weak, even for 2nd level unit. Dervish just lacks distance firepower, it plays like Heroes 3 fortress. The animation and sound of acolyte tells me that it should do more harm than it actually does. I like upgrade for medusa and manticore design. I really like choice of Genie as 7th level unit, though its hp seems to be too low. Also removing stack-halving feature from them was the only reasonable decision here as it could be totally overpowered. I love design of anubites, they look great and they play great. Using MM6 sounds for them was great idea, they certainly feel "heroes2-ish". Perhaps giving them some sort of magic resistance could be nice? I remember in MM6 that they were mostly or totally immune to spells.
The combat system is from Heroes 3 which I think is a good change. I like wait feature, 1/2 damage from large distance, larger grid, flyers having limited movement range etc. Game has more depth without losing its original feeling. Awesome work here. The only problem I have here is that I've played thousands of hours with original Heroes 2 and I cannot get used to speed values. I've permament neuron connections in my brain that tell me that dwarf and peasant move 2, veteran pikeman moves 5, skeleton moves 4, etc. Its probably problem with me, not the mod, because as a designer I'd take exact same approach due to larger battlefield but well, I've made a lot of bad decision in combat due to my old habits.
I really love new artifact system. Artifacts are not in perfect balance when it comes to stats, they follow more of H2 approach. I like that 5 trinket-artifact slots from H3 serve some sort of joker-slot in H3SW. Its nice balance between Heroes 2 artifact system and Heroes 3 artifact system. Again, great decision! I remember a lot of decision-making about which artifacts to equip later game; Heroes 3 was "just equip strongest sword/helmet/whaever you have to correct slot". Artifacts give me exact same feeling in H3SW and H2 - I know which ones are good, which ones are medicore. I very like idea of having cursed artifacts - well crafted feature that makes game much more intersting. Having special red background under them is very nice, its very easy to distinguish good ones from bad ones. I'd not tread arm of martyr as negative artifact however, I almost always choose to equip it as magic hero, despite -1 morale penalty.
Game map is as beautiful as in original Heroes 2. Creature dwelling were changed and now work like H3 ones - they do not stack anymore but you have dwelling for all creature levels. I think its OK, I found some old huts in editor, probably these could work like in original game with stacking and reduced growth? Anyway I'm fine how it works now. Some dwelling do not look similar to their town counterparts but with a right-click you can figure out what are you looking at. I like H2-ifed objects from H3 like school of war/magic, subterraen gate, border guards, seer huts, new portals, everything is beautiful and perfect. I sometimes have problem with connecting tentmasters with gates of particular colors, but it was issue in H2POL too. I very like new blobs of terrains, like darker snow, ice and such. It opens more possibilities to develop nice looking maps. The creature banks have some problems in current state I think. H3SW is much different game than H3 and generally creature banks are much harder to take because you fight surrounded. Unfortunately, this means most of creature banks are left non-visited in our games because reward simply does not compensate loses you have to take in order to capture it. I think it would be better if we would fight in creature bank in a standard positions (your army on the left side, enemies on the right side) because in H3SW you dont have access to tools that allows you to pay off those battles.
Whats my final judgement about H3SW? I think its AWESOME. Its really huge amount of work to make this work and while there are some unfinished/worse looking things, 95% of game looks so good so its hard to treat is as a mod. New units, UI, new heroes, new map objects, everything fits original so good so its impossible for my GF to distinguish between new and old. When we were playing H3SW we've both realized that we like it more than original game or HOTA. H3 quickly turned into powercreep metagame where you must abuse quirks in order to proceed with gameplay. Things like rushing mass slow and wiping everything with spells/archers, abusing game mechanics make H3 boring, while in H3SW its a lot harder to abuse the mechanics. In original H3, almost every city has its own balance issues that you had to rely on in order to rush through the game; castle with single pikeman defending marskman stacks; rampart with grand elves and centaurs, tower with its archers and L4 chain lighting at the start of game, dungeon with cerbers and demon farming, necromancer with walking over everything with immortal vampires, dungeon with harpies, shooters and meteor shower, conflux with sprites, phoenixes, firewalls, etc. In H3SW when you combat, you almost always take some losses, you dont have "single trick" units or mechanics, everything feels more "raw" but also more balanced. Its much more fun for me to play H3SW than H3 or any of its expansions/mods.
This mod deserves much more hype than it currently gets, thats why I've decided to write this post. Because there are a lot of happy H3SW players that authors of the mod are not aware of. It took me over 3 hours to write this post but I want make sure that authors see that their hard work does not go in vain - its great mod, really fun to play and I am glad that you created this masterpiece. I am hoping for new releases and I'm checking H3SW facebook fanpage quite often to check if there's new version.
Thanks for making this,