Sometimes it's good to be late to the party. As I mentioned, I recently installed Heroes of Might and Magic V on my computer, having had the shrink-wrapped box on my shelf for some time. Installation consisted of installing from CD, then downloading the patches 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3, installing those patches in the right order, and then running the patched-in auto-updater to download and install patch 1.4. I was playing with that version, but in fact I need to run the auto-updater *again* and download and install patch 1.5 to get to the current version.
With 5 patches in one year, you can guess that the launch of HOMM5 wasn't without problems. And the reviews you can find on the game often reflect the bugged status and missing features of the earlier versions. But playing HOMM5 *now*, in it's patched version with all the missing features added, I found the game to be bug-free, polished, and enjoyable.
The main attraction of HOMM5 is that it *feels* very much like earlier versions of the series, especially like HOMM3. It is coming back to its roots as a great game, from the somewhat cluttered and less good HOMM4. But while keeping all the old appeal, the game has undergone significant updates, both in introducing 3D graphics, and in reworking the gameplay of the different factions, building trees, and the heroes skill system. While I've been playing this series since King's Bounty, the "HOMM Zero", I'm not a purist. Yes, the 3D graphics take some time to get used to, but they are undoubtedly pretty, and having the ability to rotate the camera freely allows me to look into corners which would be hard to see with a fixed angle camera. I even like the 3D cutscenes. Yeah, the story couldn't be any more cliché, but I'm playing fantasy-themed computer games for too long to expect anything more. I rather have a well-told fantasy soap opera giving some background to the different maps than no story-telling at old and random maps.
One definitely strong point of Heroes of Might and Magic V is that it is newbie-friendly. An "easy" difficulty setting has been patched in, and the first campaign is basically the world's longest tutorial. You can't really do much wrong, and more and more features get introduced with each map of the campaign. There isn't exactly an abundance of good new turn-based strategy games around, so for anyone trying to get into this genre HOMM5 is ideal. (Although I'd be grateful for hints about other recent good turn-based strategy games.)
I'm currently trying to get hold of the first expansion pack, Hammers of Fate, which is out of stock in many places in Europe. In the US you can buy it as download, but that option isn't available elsewhere. And the second expansion, Tribes of the East, has been announced for the end of this year. Reviews I've seen praise the Hammers of Fate expansion highly, the dwarves seem fun to play.
But for the moment I'll still be busy for some time just playing the 30 campaign maps of the original game. And now that there is a map editor, player-made maps are available as well on various fansites. I started at the default "easy" setting and played through the first 3 maps, but I think I'll restart tonight with a higher difficulty setting, and choosing the skills of my main hero more wisely. Last night I was glued to my screen in the old "just one more turn" way, and enjoying myself very much. What more can you want from a game? Recommended.