A few hours in
Ysadora ended up doing pretty well for himself! He explored three quarters of the world, fought monsters, gained a cool headpiece, and retired with a cool fancy warrior lady named Priscus in the last three years of his life.
Erroneously renamed to be the second of her generation — I guess tutorial levels don’t count in the grand scheme of things — Ravyana made a bit of a name for herself as well. Inheriting her father’s skill at building and significant lifespan genes, Ravyana re-explored her father’s world, learning that once past the tutorial, the world in general doesn’t change all that much from generation to generation. Every city, every shrine, every monster lair in the same place. Making full use of this knowledge, Ravyana quickly worked her way up to marrying a desirable mate. And because she still had twelve years left on the clock, she had plenty of time to pass her knowledge on to her daughter: every ten years left, it turns out, equals one additional card flip. And while I can’t be sure this isn’t some commentary on the genetic dangers associated with late childbirth, I can’t be sure it’s not, either.
After Ravyana came Theherogc, who explored most of the known world and broke the 5000 Fame ceiling. After Theherogc came Scoberg, who first walked the hidden paths to the other areas of the world, and learned of the rumbling of the Great Doom Volcano. After Scoberg came Tempest, first-born of the Meadows, who pulled the legendary tri-blade sword from the stone. After Tempest came Brandon, named after her great-great-great-great-grandmother, who took the blade and the scepter of kings into the dreaded Swamplands. And after Brandon came… nobody, actually: Brandon died in battle with a lowly goblin, rushing home to procreate before her time was done and paying the ultimate price for it.
Brandon’s death marked the end of her line and her world. Her final score, 12790 points, was added to the leaderboard. Just her score, not anything to do with any of her ancestors. And then, a new line was started, in a new world. All hail Nevla, first of her line.
I am currently on my fourth family line. I’ve already gone through thirteen generations of that line, matter of fact: Reginald the 14th, life-blooded golden child wielding the hammer and scythe of his father and his father’s mother before him, is currently standing around in McGee Metropolis. Waiting for the day I take him out to fight evil in the world. Waiting for a day that may possibly never come.
Hero Generations is a fun little game about balancing heroics with family life that runs out of steam really quickly. It tries to strike a balance between keeping the short-term gameplay interesting and making the long-term gameplay meaningful, but seemingly trips over its own design goals halfway in: the short-term gameplay is too samey from iteration to iteration to really keep its luster, and the long-term goals are set up in an obtuse and counterintuitive manner that will often lead you to understand how you’re supposed to be going about them about ten minutes after you irrevocably ruined your chances of doing so within your current family line. Add in a focus on grinding combat and city building and a weird inconsistency in what does and does not cause certain effects, and you have a game that fails to keep up the good impression it starts out with.
Taking it from the top:
Hero Generations starts off relatively strong. The first time you play past the tutorial, you’re thrown into this immense world of possibility and wonder. There’s so much to see, to do, to explore, to discover! Ooh, what does this building do? Ooh, delivering this monument to a city gets me bonus Fame. And check it: if I build a museum next to the city, I get extra bonus Fame. Wow, monster-spawning lairs! And shops, and traders, and forests, and evil bosses! And that’s all only in the Forest world. You’re telling me there’s five other worlds out there?
In what is a clever move the first time around, construction options gradually open up over generations. You can build almost all basic buildings in the first generation, but more advanced upgraded buildings take time to come into existence. And many of these buildings all change the dynamic of the short term in interesting ways. The Tavern provides you with new, rares mates. The Monument overrides the necessity for impressing mates. The Train Station allows you to build connections between cities, even cities in different world hubs, making travel near-instantaneous. And so on, and so forth.
And that’s not even counting the idea that building the ‘right’ buildings next to a city turns it into a special town with unique bonuses. Every city provides gold over time, but a Ranch (created by placing three Farms) also creates a Skill Book. A Hospital (three Temples) provides powerful life-enhancing medicine. A Fort (three Barracks) enhances many buildings next to it, and provides free training swords. And these are only the simple ones: I founded a Market once, which was created by a combination of three different buildings, and which did… something. I’ll be damned if I remember, but it was cool.
Between the new buildings, the card-flipping, and your own growing understanding of Hero Generations, there’s this clear increase in power in your first few heroes. Your second hero is the first one to get cards. Your third hero can access some cool new things. Maybe your fourth hero will start getting equipment and items handed down from their parents. Around the fifth hero, you’ll have figured out how useful it is to get traits like Strongblood and Lifeblood in yourself and your mates. Your sixth hero explores the Swamp, drinking from the witch’ cauldron. Your seventh hero finds the Meadow, the Sword in the Stone and the Fountain of Youth. You get the idea.
Every area has Fame-rewarding quests, often tied to beating bosses or exploring the whole area. As you get stronger, you’ll get better at dealing with these quests. Clearing quests nets you Fame. Fame gets you better mates, with more desirable traits, leading to stronger children. Stronger children can roam farther, explore new lands, and find new quests. And then complete those quests. Which gets you more Fame…
The world is your oyster in Hero Generations’ beginning: behind every nook is a new challenge, a monster lurks in every cranny, and when your current hero starts getting long in the teeth, you ship them off with a fancy mate and roll out the sequel for round N+1.
And then the well starts drying up.
You’ll start noticing certain patterns after a while. That the newness dries up is as inevitable as your characters’ countdown deaths: at some point, you’re going to have seen everything. But more than that, a few generations in, you’ll find yourself doing the same things over and over. I had my previous hero mate in the purple brother town, because that place has the best selection of mates. Then my hero has to go to the two forts, because that boosts their Combat Strength to the level it needs to be for them to survive. I’ll pass by the monument shrine on the way there, so might as well pick that up; their other item slot is bound, however, carrying the same broadsword that has been in the family for five generations. Then, after circling the fort towns twice, it’s time to get to the train station. Second half of the desert won’t explore itself. But be sure to get back before your hero’s precious life runs out!
The spontaneity of early Hero Generations is fun, but the harsh reality is that certain behaviour patterns just get your hero Strength. And the way the larger world works, you need Strength in order to get anywhere. Monsters in the later Swamp, Desert, and Volcano areas are significantly stronger than anything you’ll find in the Forest.
Routine seeps into your behaviour. Rather than sending every hero on their own personal adventure, you run each of them through the gauntlet. ‘Proving their worth’, if you will.
And do some upkeep while you’re at it, why don’t you? For reasons I won’t pretend I fully understand, hero-constructed building decay over time. Higher-level buildings have thousand-year decay timers, but the basic Farms and Barracks and such decay in only a few generations. And while a hero with a hammer item or the Builder trait can fix them right up — necessitating another few chore-like round trips to keep everything in working order — heroes that don’t have that luck will see their grandparents’ careful planning fall to dust. Or not see, if they’re in a different region. Nothing quite like returning to your ancestral home, only to find that the brothels where your grandfather used to work no longer provide free mates.
And you’ll be fighting off the same boring monsters while you’re at it, each and every time! Every generation, all the regular monsters and monster spawners on a given map reinstate themselves. And normal towns routinely disgorge other human heroes, similar to you, who apparently weren’t raised to be big on cooperation. The result? A whole lot of combat, everywhere you go. You can try to avoid it, but monsters have their own moves, and occasionally they just block wherever you need to be. And combat never really evolves beyond ‘roll the dice and hope you get lucky’. Certain items alter the set variables of combat, providing you with extra Attack Strength or Combat Damage or some armor mitigation. But the basic ebb and flow is the same for every battle: hope that your number comes up higher than their number.
But, hey, okay. The short term isn’t the only term! Maybe Hero Generations is one of those games where you’re supposed to take a longer view of things. Like Rogue Legacy, or Desktop Dungeons! Slowly leveling up your power base with every outing, growing more and more powerful and aware of the lay of the land, so that you can finally…
I’d love to take a long-term view of Hero Generations, but I’m not entirely sure what the long-term goal of Hero Generations is.
Traveling through the overworld, it can take a long time for anything resembling an end-game goal to even materialize. Apart from particular map challenges and higher power levels, there isn’t really much that differentiates the various worlds from each other. They all have towns, and artifacts, and monsters, and treasure… in my current family line, I basically have the Forest, the Meadow and the Swamp all cleaned out, interest-wise. And I would have the Island done too, if that place wasn’t so impossible to traverse.
A few generations into my first family line, I did get an enigmatic letter from my dead mother about a ‘monolith clock’ and a ‘prophecy of doom’ in the Volcano area. Now that, that was interesting. And even though my current hero wasn’t nearly strong enough to tackle that place, I had every intention to do so at the nearest possibility.
Then that family line died. And I figured that was the end of that subplot, right? But colour me surprised when the fourth hero of the second line received a similar letter. One that, apparently, had just kept counting down. Now we were only five generations away from disaster!
One big reason that I’m on my fourth family line now instead of my third is that the third hero of the third line was warned, in no uncertain terms, that it was now or never: a hero had to stop the doom ‘before the next generation’. So my woefully underequipped hero made their way out to the Volcano, immensely outclasses…
…and found nothing of interest. And died.
And every hero from then on out, from the first to the fourteenth, has received the same letter: “The prophecy was true! The Demon is unleashed in the Volcano area! It must be stopped before the world is destroyed!” Fourteen generations of that. The world is still intact, as you can tell. I’ve been to the Volcano area a few times, too: no Demon in sight.
The only really interesting thing I found in the Volcano area is this:
Let me tell you the story of Mike.
Mike was the greatest hero my game has ever known. The sixth family line of the fourth family line, Mike had the rare ‘Golden Child’ trait, which increased both his life expectancy and his Attack Strength by 30. And using this unprecedented genetic boost, and the infrastructure laid down by his five generations of Builder predecessors, Mike did great things. He traveled to the Meadow, and drank from the legendary Fountain of Youth, adding another 50 years to his centennial lifespan. He drank from the cursed cauldron of the swamp witches, trading his life force for the power necessary to defeat the roaming swamp beast. He was the first of his line to brave the desert, facing off against the burrowing sand worm and living to tell the tale, and the railroad he constructed from the Forest to the Desert still sees use today. He entered the Volcano lands and escaped with his life, an unprecedented feat in history. And in the end, he married the legendary warrior Colette to raise the orphan baby, Mr. Aaron, he rescued on his travels.
Mike ended his life with a little over 20000 Fame.
Mike, the man of every natural advantage, had 20000 Fame. To marry the Genie, you need 30000 Fame. Do you see where I’m going with this?
As far as I can tell, the only way to reliably gain enough Fame to ‘win’ this game is by gaming the system. Gaming the Quest system, specifically. Regular combat and ancient artifacts yield relatively low Fame rewards, but the big quests? The one involving killing boss-type monsters? That’s where the money is. There’s one ‘global’ quest, spanning multiple areas, that involves killing all boss monsters in a single lifespan, and that rewards 10000 Fame — and that’s not even counting the individual boss quests and combat rewards! It’s tricky, sure, but a dedicated hero like Mike could well be able to pull it off…
…except that in stark contradiction to everything else in this gameworld, boss monsters don’t respawn in the next generation.
Remember what I said earlier? “…the long-term goals are set up in an obtuse and counterintuitive manner that will often lead you to understand how you’re supposed to be going about them about ten minutes after you irrevocably ruined your chances of doing so within your current family line“. Now you see what I mean.
The reality of Hero Generations’ long-term sank in after I read this quest, really read this quest. Because… honestly, I only see one way about this. And that way is grinding. Careful, endless grinding: building the right buildings, the power boosters and the railroads, and then endlessly maintaining them while avoiding doing anything irrevocable. All in service of waiting for that one hero, the Chosen One, who spawns with good rare cards and the Golden Child trait: the hero who has the genes, the equipment, and the perfect circumstances to even have a shot at this ridiculously high number.
And, sure. Waiting for the One True Hero is true to genre-form, if nothing else. But given that I already fucked my current family line up, that would mean going all the way back to the beginning. Scouting out another six worlds, building another set of booster buildings and railroads, and sitting through the same tedious card-flipping over and over, waiting for my big payday jackpot hero like a particularly low-aiming gambler.
And… eh. I’d rather not.
I might be entirely wrong about Hero Generations. Maybe it is possible to ‘clear the game’ without extensive, soul-crushing preparation. Maybe there are other endgame possibilities. Maybe I’m just super bad at all of this. It could happen!
That still doesn’t negate the rest of my criticism, though. Hero Generations starts off as a fun puzzle game, but quickly falls into a grind. And a conflicted grind at that: the systems designed to keep short-term play interesting wear out their welcome over the long term, while the long-term goals can almost never meaningfully influence your short-term play. It relies on luck, persistence, a dull and unengaging combat mechanic, and deliberately obtuse city planning systems to draw its experience out to a reed.
Did I enjoy Hero Generations? Sure, for the first half hour. And it has good musical support and a unique art style, both of those things help. But would I recommend you pay fifteen dollars for the privilege… I don’t know. Maybe if you’re really into tackling the problems of the far future in small, often repeated steps. Or if you’re looking for a good way to generate material for a narrative Let’s Play about a family of heroes. That could work pretty well, actually… start a new game, deleted saves, so the doomsday clock mechanism reset… and then write every chapter from a new hero, in a new voice and writing style… I should probably write this idea down somewhere.
For the rest of you, I can’t put Hero Generations very high on my recommendations list.
Jarenth is clearly the legendary chosen hero of his own family line, and the expectations have always weighed on his shoulders. To trade stories of manifest fate and celestial destiny, follow him on Twitter or hang out with him on Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign? You’ll be the hero Ninja Blues needs.