Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars (often abbreviated as HoMM2 or Heroes 2) is the sequel to the first Heroes of Might and Magic game, A Strategic Quest, that was covered a fortnight ago. While still developed by New World Computing Heroes of Might and Magic II was published by 3DO, which would also publish all of New World Computing’s future Heroes games. Heroes 2 did not innovate much upon the initial concept of Heroes of Might and Magic I, but it refined the ruleset and interface in a way that made it the first modern Heroes of Might and Magic game.
Heroes of Might and Magic II returns to the four, mostly unchanged factions featured in the previous game (the Knight, Barbarian, Sorceress and Warlock) with two new additions. The Wizards are a Magic faction, capable of learning more spells from their castles than other factions. They also boast the most ranged troops in the game (three of the six creatures in their roster) with only one slow creature. The Necromancers on the other hand, although identified as a Magic faction, relies more on its unique creatures with supportive spells. Although undead creatures tend to have weaker stats than their living brethren, they maintain an immunity to all mind influencing spells and morale affects. Furthermore all Necromancer Heroes resurrect a percentage of the casualties after battles as Skeletons, which allows them to snowball out of control on larger maps.
Aside from being either Might or Magic, these factions have been further divided between good (Knight, Sorceress and Wizard) and evil (Barbarian, Warlock and Necromancer). This is due to a completely revised campaign system. Unlike Heroes of Might and Magic I, where the player had to pick one of the four factions, in Heroes 2 the choice is whether you serve under Roland or Archibald, sons of Lord Ironfist who was playable in the first game. The main difference being that “Roland was good, kindly and honourable while Archibald was not so good”. Therefore if supporting Roland the player will have access to the good factions but while serving Archibald they will have the evil factions under their command. At the start of each scenario the player’s chosen lord briefs them through a magical amulet (to save on the animation budget), a significant improvement over the paragraph of text for each campaign scenario in Heroes of Might and Magic I. Players can then choose which of the three factions they want to control in that scenario as well as any other multiple choice benefits.
The campaign is not the only feature that receives an improving overhaul, the ‘Standard Game’ and ‘Multiplayer Game’ modes were made to be much more user friendly. A major gripe with the previous game was that in Standard and Multiplayer games there was no ability to choose a faction, each player was assigned one at random. This changed in Heroes 2 where players could choose which colour (and therefore location) they wanted to be, as well as their faction – with the option of it being randomised if so desired. Certain scenarios had static factions in order to maintain balance but the overwhelming majority let the player pick at least their own.
Furthermore, although all of the factions from Heroes of Might and Magic I were unchanged in their concept (the creature roster and hero pool is identical, with the exception of the lich Sandro who is a Necromancer instead of a Warlock), Heroes 2 introduced an upgrade system where some creatures could be upgraded. For example, the Knight could improve their Archery Range in order to train Rangers instead of Archers – who (among general stat upgrades) were faster and shot twice when attacking. A surprisingly much needed feature that was also implemented was the ability to split creatures into multiple groups in a Hero’s group to prevent overkills. A common tactic in Heroes 2 is, for example to split archers into two groups (one at the top while the other at the bottom) to split the enemy’s forces.
The combat system in general was also upgraded. A number of options have been included when a player enters battle. The speed can be adjusted between ‘Normal’, ‘Fast’ and ‘Very Fast’. Other options included drawing the hexes over the battlefield and providing a shadow to relay how far a creature can move and where the player is positioning it. The rules are identical to the prequel, the attacker (who is always on the left) has initiative and will take the first move if both sides have equally fast creatures. If there are multiple creatures with the same speed then the turns will alternate between sides. After the slowest creature on the defending side completes its turn, the next round of battle begins. Unlike in Heroes of Might and Magic I the Heroes have come out of their tents and may now be found mounted on the sidelines. Once again they do not directly participate in the battle but may cast one spell per round during any of their creatures’ turns. Magic, however, has received some changes. Firstly the AI seems to have been much improved in its use, no longer did they attack blind targets and dispelling the effect – unless there was nothing else. Secondly, instead of the previous number of memorised spells, Heroes 2 has introduced a mana system based on the Heroes’ knowledge; 10 mana for each point. Which spells a Hero may learn depends on their wisdom: with basic they can cast third level spells and below, advanced fourth level and expert fifth level.
Wisdom is one of many secondary skills, introduced in Heroes 2. In Heroes of Might and Magic I each Hero had their personal growth of skills: Attack, Defence, Spellpower and Knowledge. While the primary skills still exist and are randomly gained at each level, upon level up the player may choose between two random secondary skills for the Hero. It could be either a new skill or improving an existing one; secondary skills start as basic, improve into advance and are maxed when expert. What skills a Hero initially possesses depends on their faction (all Magic Heroes have at least basic wisdom for example) but all Heroes can only have eight different secondary skills in total. However, outside of several graphical improvements, the overworld map was relatively unchanged allowing for previous fans to easily transition into Heroes 2. Paul Romero returned once more to work on the music, creating masterpieces that have been remixed in later games. It was also possible to switch between midi and stereo (which featured opera of all things) while in game with no issues.
Although it didn’t introduce as many changes as its successors would, Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars was an important milestone for New World Computing in solidifying the Heroes series as its own franchise rather than one spin-off. In many ways Heroes 2 is the game that Heroes of Might and Magic I should have been, and it could be argued that it is the best in the series. However, this would be contested with fan favourite Heroes of Might and Magic III, which once again worked on the Heroes formula to create something new.