The pack was developed by Cyberlore Studios, who created the 'Beyond the Dark Portal' add-on for similar game Warcraft II. It received a mixed reception, as a lot of players had been hoping for an extra character class or two, but the improvements were mainly new levels and extra map features. Some also thought it was a little pricey (RRP £19.99), but even still, it had enough to keep the fans happy for quite some time.
The pack contains two new 'full length' campaigns (each made up of 8 levels), and 2 'mini' campaigns (4 levels), as well as 30 new stand alone maps. These are all much harder than the ones in the original game and on the Desecrated Lands CD, and should keep even the most experienced HoMM2 player busy for several weeks.
The new map locations are probably the most noticeable feature. Some of the new levels have barriers, which you can only pass if you know the password which you have to get from another new location - the tent. This can completely change the direction of a map, as a resource heavy area may require a password for entry. There are a few new recruitment locations, such as the elemental altars, where you can recruit earth/air/fire/water elementals, and the barrow mounds, where you can add ghosts to your army. This particular addition caused a little concern among some of the PC reviewers, because as any HoMM2 player will know, any creatures that ghosts kill also become ghosts, allowing you to built up a sizeable force quite quickly. However, your opponents can also recruit ghosts so I can't see that it would affect the balance of the game too much.
Other new locations include the jail, where you can rescue a hero who will then join your cause; the alchemist tower, where you can pay the alchemist to take cursed artifacts off your hands; the stables, where you gain temporarily improved movement, and an upgrade for your cavalry.
The only new castle structure goes to the necromancer, who can now add an evil shrine to his castle grounds. This gives him a few more skeletons for every battle, which will help a little, but skeletons are so weak that they are only really useful in large numbers anyway.
There are several new artifacts, but nothing revolutionary. Some of them give penalties as well as benefits, which is interesting as it'll make you more inclined to swap your artifacts around between heroes to try and cancel out the negatives. There are various attack and defence bonus artifacts, which are generally more powerful than the standard ones, such as the Holy Hammer, which gives you +5 attack. Another interesting one is the Spell Scrolls artifact, which allows you to find spells in scrolls (which usually just give you some gold or resources). There's also the Sphere of Negation, which prevents anyone from casting spells in battle. This might be handy for the barbarian to carry around, but perhaps not a particularly helpful addition for a wizard.
|Some of the new hero portraits|
This expansion pack might not add a completely new side to the game, but it does appear to give you lots of subtle extras which will add additional depth to an already deep game. The new campaigns should give the real Heroes fans even more reason to stay up until the early hours of the morning, and the new map features will give players and level designers something else to explore (providing the updated level editor is included in RCI's pack).
When the pack will become available is currently a little unclear. RCI apparently sent the order through to 3DO quite a while ago, but they have yet to be told how much it's going to cost them. The current HoMM2 player will play the expansion pack, but stills have to be made of the cutscenes (which won't run under the RISC OS version) before it is released.