HEROES OF MIGHT & MAGIC II / New World / PC
Heroes 2 uses pretty much the same engine that the first game did, but makes a slew of little improvements that add up to make the game more fun and enjoyable than its predecessor. Unfortunately, one of the core problems from the first game - a weak campaign mode and limited single-player game experience - isn't really adressed all that well.
The four factions of the original return - knight, barbarian, sorceress and warlock - and are joined here by two newcomers, the necromancer and the wizard. The wizard is kind of the "good guy" counterpart to the warlock, while the necromancer is another evil magic-using type that has undead units and can raise dead from each battle they win as animated skeletons.
The gameplay is really no different at all from the previous game, but there's lots of little tweaks and additions. Instead of having one inherent special skill, Heroes now learn up to eight secondary skills with each new level, such as Archery (bonus to ranged attacks) and Logistics (increased movement), and these skills can be upgraded from Basic to Expert. Each of the returning factions comes back with their six troop types, but their abilities have been juggled up a bit and some of them can also be upgraded to a more advanced version with better stats. Castles can be defended with a Garrison Commander, who is basically a low-level hero who is permanently there without taking up the "parking space" for real Heroes to come in and visit. You can also build a slew of new support structures, such as a Marketplace to trade resources (works like the Trading Post, except the more you control the better of an exchange rate you get.) The graphics are also much improved - the game still is not visually impressive, but it looks a lot cleaner and more professional, and sprite size has been scaled down to allow for bigger battlefields. There's also some really beautiful German opera (lieder) in the towns, something I can't say I've ever heard in any other game. The magic system has also been changed so that the computer has a much harder time spamming Armaggedon like a little bitch in the late stages of a map.
Playing in multiplayer hot-seat rates an Awesome rating alone, but the rest of the game drags it down to a merely Good rating. The biggest problem is campaigns. They really did try to improve these, adding a more in-depth story with animated cut-scenes and voice acting, as well as unique scenarios for whatever side you pick. Unfortunately, the whole thing is nearly wrecked by consistent poor map design - the computer always starts out with a shit ton of resources at hand plus "free troop" houses conveniently near their bases. Some campaign maps are virtually impossible without cheating, but even when you come up with a winning strategy, its very often a sloggy, boring war of attrition that takes hours. You also still can't carry stuff in between campaign maps, despite all the other improvements. The Price of Loyalty expansion pack offers four new campaigns, but it's kind of a rip - all four are just as poorly/boringly designed as the included campaigns, and for some reason they changed some of the town music to inferior songs that can't be un-installed without removing the expansion pack (and if you get the Heroes Compendium version, the expansion pack is forced on you whether you like it or not.) Price of Loyalty also adds recruitable Ghosts to the game, which completely destroy the balance of any map they show up in. A map editor/creator is included with all versions of this one, but there's still no campaign creator at this point in the series. The AI also still seems to be using the same awful routines it was in the previous game.
As with the previous game, playing other people is a much better experience than playing the computer - which is unfortunate, since it devalues about half of the game. There's LAN and modem play available in this one, and there's a fan-made hack that allows you to play over the internet (see links below.) Laziness about improving the story quality, campaign map design and AI routines holds this one back from greatness, unfortunately; if you plan to be playing solo most of the time, the game effectively loses its value once you've worn out all the solo maps that you enjoy.
* Celestial Heavens - fansite
* How to fix CD music problems in newer Windows
* Gameplay Video