Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars, commonly known as Heroes II, is a turn-based strategy title released in 1996 during a golden era of PC gaming. It won numerous awards that year and remains popular with fans to this day due to its compelling gameplay and excellent balance between exploration, base building, combat, and resource management.
Over the years, fans have created mods and new campaigns, but a new team of dedicated Heroes players have come together to rebuild the entire game from scratch. The new project is called Free Heroes 2 Resurrection and adds multiple screen resolutions, language translations, improved AI and a host of other features. We spoke with two of the developers, Igor Tsivilko and Zense, about the project and what it means for fans of Heroes II.
We started by asking about why they enjoyed the original game so much. Zenze explains that he thinks Heroes II is such a loved game and still played by many fans because of its different features, including the adventure map, castle building, battles, and hero progression. "The combination of these gameplay features makes the game varied and replayable," he tells us. Tsivilko has fond memories of his first encounter with the game. "Heroes II was the first game I played on a computer," he says. "I was too young to play the game by myself, so I watched my older brother play it. It was a colourful fairy tale game with a brilliant soundtrack, and I immediately loved the game."
Tsivilko got involved in the remake when the project lead Ihar Hubchyk got in touch. "Ihar is my close friend, and he showed me an alpha build of Free Heroes 2 Resurrection at the end of 2019. He had already worked on the project for some time and knew the project needed help. After trying the alpha build, I was quite disappointed in its quality as I spotted many issues, but at the same time, I was intrigued. I offered my help in testing and searching for bugs since I didn't have strong enough programming skills. Since then, my role in the project has shifted from seeking issues and testing to project marketing and support where I try to spread the word about Free Heroes 2 Resurrection."
Zense had a similar experience. "I already knew about the precursor to Free Heroes 2 Resurrection called ‘Free Heroes 2’ but had never played it. I believe my first contribution was the descriptions of creature abilities following a discussion about what to call them. After a while, I decided to learn how to program since I wanted to contribute to that part of the project, too. Later, it became possible to translate the project, so I decided to translate the available text into Norwegian. After dozens of contributions and assisting with user support, I was asked if I wanted to officially join the Free Heroes 2 Resurrection team, and I gladly accepted."
There are many improvements over the original game, and, in many ways, it’s now much better. "The new user interface is, in general, a lot faster," Zense explains. "It allows for higher framerates, which makes for much smoother scrolling on the adventure map and less image tearing. The possibility of having an extended viewing area, with higher resolutions, makes it easier for many players to get a better overview of the map."
Tsivilko feels one of the biggest challenges is making sure fans of the game have a chance to find out about the project and try it for themselves. "Many existing players of Heroes II aren’t aware of the project and what advantages it has. Therefore, the hardest thing is to reach those players who are unaware of us. Most of the audience of Heroes II are people in their 30s and 40s, so we’re trying all possible ways to inform people and expand our community. We've done a great job posting about the project on old forums and websites dedicated to the series. I'm still convinced that we've only reached a tiny fraction of gamers who love this game and would like to dive into the world of Heroes II one more time but with an enhanced experience."
Tsivilko is also keen to point out why gamers should be interested in playing an old strategy game from the nineties. "The original game was released on Windows 95 and DOS, and nowadays, many players face a lot of problems with installation and running the game. Plus, players who don't use Windows are limited to using Windows OS emulators to play, which is not very convenient. Secondly, Free Heroes 2 Resurrection has a lot of game improvements. It brings not only a bunch of quality-of-life improvements but also fixes many bugs, rendering issues and flaws in the gameplay, that are present in the original Heroes II game. Some new features, like changing resolutions or quick battles, are things that many players have been dreaming of. Thirdly, the team created a very advanced AI which is superior to the original. To be honest, the original AI was too weak for many, and that's why most players always played on the ‘impossible’ difficulty. This is no more the case with Free Heroes 2 Resurrection."
Zense is hoping that the success of the project will bring this often-forgotten classic to new players. "For the team, the goal is to generate new interest in this game and to give new ways to enjoy it. Whether that is by allowing them to play it on their phone, fight a tougher opponent, or something as simple as hearing more of the town music than just the first five seconds on repeat. I want the next generation of gamers to be able to have the same experience and enthusiasm for this game and series as I’ve had. While I do enjoy playing the occasional scenario myself, I find much more enjoyment in seeing nieces, nephews, and kids discover what a great game this is for the first time."
While the main game is finished, the team have grand plans to add further improvements. "We have a project roadmap that we regularly update,” says Zense. “Our current focus is to get the new Free Heroes 2 Resurrection map editor ready for its initial release. We hope to see lots of new and interesting maps made with it and especially to see people using the new features they will be able to implement in their own scenarios. The map editor is also one of the stepping stones to releasing new campaigns, which we’ve already begun work on. Making a new campaign is very exciting, and it’s also a nice way to work on different things than the usual bugs and new features. In general, we want to see the Free Heroes 2 Resurrection project continue to provide both new and returning players with engaging new ways to play Heroes II."
The project is the product of dedicated fans who have come together through community and passion. Tsivilko sums up the ethos of the project. "I'm actually happy that people could dive into their childhood, into the times when the game was released. Lots of them were charmed by the quality of the original game and now the added quality of the Free Heroes 2 Resurrection project. It meant they became a part of our community of Heroes II fans. I feel great knowing that with me and my teammate’s help, we bring people warm and positive feelings by playing this great game again."