Another year, another plodding step in the Might and Magic series. Tribes of the East is a stand-alone add-on for Heroes of Might and Magic V, which I feel compelled to tell you I have not played. I am perfectly well qualified to comment on it nonetheless, as I’ve played Heroes of Might and Magic III, and it’s practically the same game.
Saying “If you liked previous games in the series, you’ll like this” is like saying “If you enjoyed playing tennis last Thursday, you’ll probably enjoy playing tennis again today”. There are so few things to set this new outing apart from previous games in the series (and, I must assume, the most recent full game) that you may as well just re-install one you’ve not played for a couple of years and play it through again.
But it’s updated for the modern age, right? Pfft, if you say so. Personally, I didn’t see anything that looked like it’d put much of a strain on a 5-year old graphics card to be honest. Sure, you’re leading an enormous army of minions into combat, but the difference between a single shambling zombie and an unstoppable tide of undead warriors is the number above their head. Nothing else.
That’s number one in my list of ways in which the developers were unforgivably lazy. Well, that’s if you assume that number zero was ‘releasing the same game five times, plus add-ons’. The list would also include such eye-rolling oversights as lacklustre character levelling, characters who return to level one at the beginning of each new level, and combat animations entirely devoid of any personality.
So in case you don’t know, gameplay basically takes the form of a couple of little guys on horses (each of which could represent a massive army or, well, just a guy on a horse) riding around a map choosing which static group of arbitrary monsters to fight and which randomly scattered treasures to grab. New troops can be hired from cities you control, characters increase in level as they gain experience points, blah blah blah. Once you’re engaged in combat, the view changes to the side-on ‘chessboard’ familiar to any Heroes of Might and Magic player since the dawn of time. There is just enough tactical variety in units to fool simpletons into believing they’re playing a ‘strategy’ game, although it usually comes down to who has the largest number of tough troops – a ratio you’re given some idea of before you attack in most cases.
So the storyline presumably continues from HoMaM V, and “cleverly” ties in the story from 2006’s ‘Dark Messiah of Might and Magic’. There are… some necromancers? And I think there are some orcs as well. One of the necromancers hates… demons, is it? So he attacks a bunch of… uh… wizards. It all feels a bit like the worst kind of ‘plot design by committee’ that has so embarrassed the fantasy genre in recent years.
I generally like to think of myself as a positive guy, and there are things to like in this game. The city development screens look pretty, with each different faction’s settlements reflecting the look and theme of that particular group. Medieval city-fortresses, undead necropolises and floating desert academies all have different buildings and create different units. Pretty quickly they become limp and boring, of course, but at first the city-building is fun. Just like it was in every previous version of the series… OK, so that's all I can think of that's even remotely positive.
The voice acting is absolutely horrible, and makes it difficult to weather the cut-scenes long enough to make any sense of the plot. Battle scenes all run into one another without anything to really set them apart, and even the city sieges are little different to your everyday skirmishes. Magic items are, for the most part, a wasted opportunity on the developers’ part, and might add a +1 to this stat or that stat, that is usually more-or-less impossible to detect at work.
It’s time to stop re-hashing now, guys. Presumably, the development team assume that ‘fans of the series’ equate to ‘suckers’, who will rush out to buy the latest iteration, same as the last. It’s time for that quantum leap that moves the series forward. Because at the moment, the Heroes of Might and Magic series is an insult to the fantasy genre, and after “Dungeons and Dragons: The Movie 2”, that takes some work.
Or, in this case, pretty much no work at all. Lazy!