Oct 24, 2007
They say you don’t know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, and the same holds true for an Orcish horde. No matter how well you think you know combat in the world of Heroes of Might and Magic V, a quick run through the first mission in Tribes of the East makes it obvious that you still have much to learn.
Playing as the Orcs changes the strategy of battle in a fundamental way due in no small part to the new Blood Rage racial ability. Blood Rage is designed to encourage aggressive play and drive melee combat. Every time an Orc warrior attacks an opponent, his rage meter increases. Once the meter reaches a benchmark level a combat bonus is awarded for the rest of the fight. The rage meter can also absorb damage, effectively serving as a shield. The one thing an Orc army doesn’t want to do is turtle. Standing still actually causes the rage level to decrease which lowers your defenses.
Sadly the Orc appearance in Tribes of the East is something of a teaser, because after the first mission is completed it is back to playing with knights and necromancers as the story continues from the previous expansion's outing. Sure, you eventually get back to the Orcs, but not until the latter half of the game. Given that the new race is one of the main draws we would have appreciated a bit more Orc face time.
Other nifty new features include the alternative upgrade patch for units, the ability to retain your heroes, selling artifacts in the marketplace, collecting special artifact sets (hey didn’t Diablo do this a few years ago?) and sacrificing troops for experience. This last bit is nice if you’re trying to quickly race up the level tree, but most players will likely find that keeping peasants around as cannon fodder is more useful than a small experience boost.
The alternative upgrade allows you to choose from two different upgraded creature types when training new troops in town. This extra level of differentiation offers a bit more flexibility when designing an army for battle. If you end up with creatures of the wrong type, you can return to town and swap one upgraded type for another.
In an interesting twist, Ubisoft decided to release Tribes of the East as a standalone expansion pack. Unfortunately the presentation doesn’t take this into account as the story picks up mid-arc. Without a summary of events, it’s like walking into a movie in the third act. If the story is important to you, don’t start with the expansion.
Ultimately, Tribes of the East is a solid follow-up to an already engaging franchise. Players with a lot of time invested in Heroes of Might and Magic V are going to appreciate the engine tweaks and thoroughly enjoy giving it a go with the Orcs. Those new to the series however would probably be better served by looking for a copy of the original game and playing through that before moving on.