Remember those days, back in the 90s, playing the classic turn-based fantasy strategy RPGs? There were quite a few of those! There was the famous Heroes of Might and Magic series, of course; and I also remember spending some very quality time with Age of Wonders and its sequel. But why all these vintage fantasy references? Because it seems like Hero’s Hour has set out to take the best of those experiences, trim the fat and serve the player only the juicy meaty parts.
IT IS THE MAGIC HOUR, THE HOUR OF THE HERO
Right from the start, Benjamin Hauer designed Hero’s Hour as a spiritual successor to HoMM. The goal was to stay as true as possible to the style of those great classics. With such emphasis on the mechanics and the gameplay, the developer decided to not even bother with a story. The main game begins as soon as the tutorial ends. Hero’s Hour wastes no time to explain the how and why of its setting and the origin of the creatures. Why would it? Anyone who’s played a fantasy title in the past is likely to feel right at home with its fantastic universe.
At the same time, Hauer didn’t just copy and paste the design sheet for Heroes of Might & Magic. That would hardly make any sense in 2022. Instead, he carefully selected those elements that would work in a modern setting, and got rid of those that wouldn’t. Hero’s Hour is indeed way more direct than those classic games – so much so that it feels almost perfect for mobile. The player commands a hero, who’s generated – mostly automatically – next to a city. The gameplay then consists of commanding the hero as they recruit warriors, explore the map, and upgrade the city with new buildings. The key to success is balancing those duties, while building up your attack and defense.
A strong garrison must defend the city and the various mines and sawmills. The latter to ensure that the vital, for the army, flow of resources stays uninterrupted. In addition, to have enough soldiers for the various defensive tasks, as well as for the exploration, a ruler must keep the town upgraded. After seven turns, a new week begins, bringing reinforcements, or fortifying hero powers.
PICK A MAP FIGHT ENEMIES
As there is – for now! – no actual campaign mode, there are, instead, a few rules for each match. Those dictate the size of the map and the strategic positions of the various cities. For example, we might have four islands with different players and a neutral stronghold in the middle to conquer. Or, alternatively, two players very close to each other – to duke it out and see who wins. The map sizes range from very small to quite big – to accommodate all tastes. Players can pick a theme for their army (like Horde for a Warcraft inspired orcish setting, or Decay for an undead vibe) – along with a pre-set or randomly generated hero. The matches can be fought against a computer or in a hot-seat multiplayer.
Getting into Hero’s Hour should be no problem for anyone who’s played those classic games I mentioned. Right click to move your hero around – gathering supplies (gold, oil, sulfur, stone), getting into battles and claiming structures. Ideally, the hero must guarantee a steady flow of resources, conquering mines as soon as the game begins. Easier said than done: Most of the time, the points of interests are under strong defense. Luckily, the game displays our winning chances with a basic text description: Anything above “challenging” is definitely a risky bet.
There’s quite a lot of variety in all the random things on the map. There’s even a Sphinx with a riddle and a prize for the correct answer. It’s also possible to place more than one hero on the map, saving them – or recruiting at the tavern – and assigning them some troops. In addition, each map hides a treasure. Leading to it are obelisks with clues – reminding me of the map pieces from Sid Meier’s Pirates. Battles are automatic – quite the change from the game’s inspirations. There’s an option to increase their speed by a lot (would be nice to increase it even more!) Although fights proceed on their own, the player can use spells to affect the outcome – shielding the troops, or raising the dead to help. These don’t seem to make a huge difference, but may be useful in a challenging battle.
VENI, VIDI, TURNI
Hero’s Hour is one of those titles that, behind a simple 8-bit pixelated exterior, hides many deep, engaging mechanics. There is a lot for the player to modify and control – to create the perfectly tailored match. It’s also possible to procedurally generate a new map from scratch. Exploring it and finding new events and challenges is always a joy. Although the pixelated graphics are okay – and feature some cute animations, like the victory jumping – the soundtrack is nothing special. However, with the game being so lightweight in resources, surely it’s possible to simply put something else in the background.
For what Hero’s Hour set out to do, it definitely succeeded in all regards: It is an endlessly replayable turn-based fantasy strategy – incredibly endearing. Hotseat and co-op multiplayer were also a good idea, and this would be the perfect title to play online, in the future. The only, minor complaints concern the lack of campaign (which the developer might still add) and some pathfinding issues – especially when gathering resources. Easy to pick up and play, hard to get out of, Hero’s Hour is the best gift for any fantasy turn-based fan out there.