(published originally as Newsletter #1)
Some of you might be familiar with earlier releases of the AI for Heroes V and you might have noted, or even played, with a setting that had neutral heroes supporting monsters on the adventure map. My reason for implementing this feature in 2011 was that in principle Heroes of Might and Magic is a game that prominently features the eponymous heroes but in a typical game you rarely have a handful of epic hero vs hero battles.
The idea was, by adding the neutral heroes to monsters that guarded valuable loot and adventure map sites, to give you opponents that were challenging. Battles between heroes are much more interesting, having spellcasters and special hero abilities added to the mix. Another intention was to give you a newly found appreciation of what those otherwise harmless creature stacks are capable of if supported by a skilled hero. In short, heroes totally change what happens on the battlefield. A well placed hostile mass-slow or deflect missile would completely render your run-of-the-mill tactics obsolete, not to mention all the stat boosts that the creatures receive from a hero on the battlefield.
But there were complaints. Some players complained about the losses they took in these battles, others said that it makes acquiring mines and resources difficult, dragging out the game. Plus the fact that these neutral heroes appeared randomly on the adventure map made the game feel too much like a lottery, whereas it is meant to be a strategy game. The destructive spells neutral heroes could draw on were nerfed subsequently, but the other complaints remained valid.
Going back to the drawing board, I had a thorough look what we desire from the game and what parts of the game could be improved. When you read this, build v3126 is live and it contains what I came up with, ready for you to play with. Enabled by default is the new option guards, which changes the gameplay in a few key adventure map sites: guarded treasure vaults, abandonded mines, and – which may be a surprise – the T7 dwellings of each faction.
The change to the treasure vaults is a straightforward one. A neutral hero joins the defending creatures. But there is more. Instead of having defenders with a fixed strength, the defending neutral hero's army is matched to yours to give you a fight between equals. Always. Remember, these are meant to be tough fights. You will inevitably suffer casualties. But if you persevere, the rewards will compensate you for the losses. You will have to find out how for yourself.
The abandonded mines work more or less the same way. On the surface this is also true for the T7 dwellings. Not only is the fight significantly more challenging, now it feels like a proper contest against the faction the T7 dwelling belongs to. It also addresses another flaw the vanilla game had, that in effect if you acquired a T7 dwelling and it provided a T7 creature, you had doubled your growth of top tier creatures in your main castle if it belonged to the same faction. Besides, you simply owned this dwelling, it did nothing to match the high status this building has. So the second change is that you will only keep this dwelling for the current week. After this it will revert back to neutral ownership and, you guessed it, you will have to fight again if you want more T7 creatures. Try it out and see how it changes your strategies. It may have a larger impact than you think.
There is another reason, why I think that this design changes the game for the better. Currently, you mostly build an army from the creatures of your main faction. This is in line with the tradition that HoMM has fostered over decades. But in Heroes V it is more pronounced, because you rarely go on forays deep into neutral territory to hunt for creatures that join you like in Heroes III. With the way the revised rewards from treasure vaults and T7 dwellings work this changes. You get much more diversity in your army because you suffer significant losses in these fights. You have to. And you will find it is much more balanced than the way Heroes III did it. All in all you may see this game in a different light and have to learn to adapt your strategies. There are many new possibilities coming with it. If you still don't know yet how the rewards work, you have to find it out yourself by playing the game.
Besides these changes I have reworked the custom game setup options. The bewildering neutral champion settings are gone. Instead you have two clean options: guards and hidden artifacts. The latter also has neutral champions support monsters that guard artifacts, but these are much more benign. Their level is limited, their access to destructive magic is very limited, and their armies are not boosted. It is just meant to give you an upgraded fight for a high value artifact. The neutral hero also uses this artifact in battle.
The lookahead setting is replaced by a slider that lets you choose between a fast and a quality AI gradually. This feature is not live in v3126 but it will give you a much faster AI if you desire it. More details will follow.
The equal resources option in the game setup has also been removed. Instead you can choose the amount of resources all players get in the setup. With the AI capable to deal with scarce resources properly, and not needing cheats, it makes more sense that the human player and the AI players will always start with the same amount of resources.