Heroes of Might and Magic has always been a puzzling franchise to me and the fifth game in the series is no exception. Heroes of Might and Magic V is a turn based game that goes into a turn based (very turn based) combat system when you meet enemies in similar fashion to the Total War series.
A turn based battle system would be an entirely acceptable thing except that the game has so many variables and numbers that trying to get into it is endlessly confusing. In addition to that we have the fact that the "armies" are represented by mere numbers and a single unit model. It does seem like the game could have supported far more models on screen but sadly the user interface hinders you from having more than 7 stacks of units on field, this makes the game's presentation of allowing you to command vast armies seem very dishonest to me. It's always fun to stack numbers up but a game has far more potential for visual presentation that the game truly takes advantage of.
What really strikes me with the game is it's fantasy. The basic game of Heroes of Might and Magic offers 6 different factions: Haven (Humans), Sylvian (Elves), Dungeon (Dark Elves), Necropolis (Undead), Inferno (Demons) and my favorite Academy (Wizards)! All of these factions feature classic mythological and fantasy creatures and gives them stats to reflect their strength. Every race is relatively well balanced as well I would say, at least for first appearance. Every single race has 7 available unit types and each of them can be upgraded once (or twice of you got one of the expansions). Haven's units starts off with the lowly peasants and end with bloody angels, in-between they have a sweet mix of medieval flavored units. How these armies are built up are pure genius and there seem to be little to no redundancy in the units neither.
I also need to praise the city screen with looks glorious and the upgrades to it is amazing eye-candy.
I cannot keep praising the game much longer though. I have a real problem with some of it's gameplay mechanics. First off is the unit growth system. In order to get together an army the player must build special buildings for each type. You even need to upgrade these buildings in order to upgrade your troops. Fair enough. However, there's a serious flaw that your units numbers don't grow without the buildings. So potentially another player could end up with far more units than another, and there's no way as far as I'm aware to even such a setback out, short off trying to win a battle early on. It seems to be then that unless you get a perfect start a game isn't truly worth playing to the end.
The heroes do have magic powers that could be used in an attempt to even the odds between the players but these spells mostly cannot be learned (at least not over 2nd circle of spells) without the respective skills in the magic field. This becomes problematic due to the fact that these skills are awarded to heroes at seemingly random. In addition to that the magic spells are also rewarded at random in different Mages' Guilds in different cities. Due to these facts it seems like the game is controlled solely by luck of the draw and little of good skills. In battle the randomness seems to take far less importance, instead the amount of randomness is mostly determined by creature characteristics.
The RPG elements in the game seems to amount solely to stacking stats. A hero with plenty of artifacts and a large army seems to be a force of nature and entirely unstoppable. There seem to be no apparent penalty for having large armies like having logistics problems or slow progress, instead large armies travel with the same ease as small armies, making taking on more powerful opponents very tricky and seemingly impossible.
There's a lot to admire in Heroes of Might and Magic V. You might have noticed that I like using uncertain words like "seem" a lot and that's because I have only played this game for approx. 15 hours yet and I'm still figuring out the quirks of the game. This pretty astonishing to me really as I've been annoyed at several core things in this bloody game and I still keep playing it for some reason. I guess it's extremely addicting and it shows giant amounts of potential. I still think that the greatest flaw as far as I'm concerned is it's presentation. There's never any real big army feel and as time goes on you, as a player only end up to feel more vulnerable. Don't think I haven't searched for any gameplay guides for this game, there isn't any! There's no good documentation either and pretty lousy "tutorials" and it shows that this game was made mainly for the fans of Might and Magic and few others.
The gameplay in itself is bad enough and due to the lacking gameplay, the dishonest presentation but also that it's very addicting, potential and fantasy: I hereby give this game a rating of 3 out of 6. Definably only average for the average player.