Review by AAtreides

"One of the best turn-based strategy games in existence"

Hello again, my fellow gamers. I have a review for you from your friendly neighborhood St.-Alia-of-the-Knife: "Heroes of Might and Magic III" by New World Computing and 3DO. I must say, I have been a fan from the first of this series, and I was as excited to play the game as I was to review it.

STORY

The story is a continuation of the Might and Magic story line started largely in Heroes of Might and Magic II and continued through to Might and Magic VI. Catherine, Queen to King Roland of Enroth and the daughter of King Gryphonheart of Erathia, returns to Erathia to combat the various forces converging upon her homeland. Soon, things become complicated when the Necromancers of Deyja have her father murdered and raise him back to lead their armies against Queen Catherine.

Expect zero character development, as this is a fantasy turn-based strategy game. Plot is what is developing here. And, the plot has its own twists and turns that will keep you interested, especially if you have followed the plot through the other games that I mentioned.

GAMEPLAY

The game is, as I have mentioned, a turn-based fantasy strategy game. For each scenario or campaign mission, you are given an objective to accomplish to win. There is also at least one losing condition. There is a map editor, so making scenarios is quite simple. The game is largely based on this unlimited replayability, so I shall not address the stand-alone scenarios too much. Much of what can be discussed about the game is done best through the main campaign.

The main campaign is actually a series of six smaller campaigns. It is done in a quite interesting fashion. Of the six mini-campaigns, there are three good ones, two evil ones, and one neutral one. You must play each one to progress to the end. It is suggested that they be played going from good to neutral to evil to allow the story line to remain continuous. Each alignment has their own objectives, and you will find yourself undoing your own work from one alignment with a mission in another.

Gameplay is a balance of city building, resource acquisition, defense, offense, gaining experience, and exploration. There are also many mini-quests that your heroes can do to get them items that may even carry-over to the next scenario. There are plenty of artifacts and creature generators around that can also help you in your quest. Trust me, the turns in which you have nothing to do are few and far between, indeed.

There are eight types of towns, each one with both shared and unique buildings. Each town has a different set of "Might" and "Magic" heroes, as well as different sets of creatures. Some towns are also more apt to require certain resources, such as the Inferno is more apt to require sulfur for buildings and creatures. Each town has a building progression, so that you cannot build a Forsaken Palace (the building that creates Devils and Arch-devils) without building several other buildings first. Part of the strategy of playing the game is how you spend your resources, and that usually depends on the scenario. If you start in close quarters, then building creature generators, creatures, and defenses are probably best. If the map is larger or you have plenty of room, then it may be better to start enriching your heroes with spells and bonuses first, as well as make resource generators.

Since this city building is so vital, it also follows that resource acquisition and retention is also vital. Not only must you claim resources such as gold mines, crystal mines, and gem ponds, but you also must make sure that they stay yours. One tactic of some players and computer enemies is to lure you out and deprive you of resources by claiming them while you are away. It does work quite well. There is no food resource, so you cannot starve out your enemies, but once their resources run dry, they cannot build or recruit any further. And that means that your armies will continue to grow as theirs stagnate.

Defense and offense are often one and the same. Your implements of battle are you heroes, who gain magic, experience, and items as any RPG character would. They each have their separate armies consisting of creatures from either creature generators or your towns. For each town, there is a "Might" and a "Magic" hero type, each with eight possible heroes. This makes a total of 16 hero types. "Might" heroes are warriors, and they tend to raise their attack and defense statistics faster, as well as are more likely to gain skills associated with combat. "Magic" heroes are mages and clerics, and their power and knowledge statistics tend to rise faster, and they are more likely to gain skills associated with magic. Each hero, i.e. Jenova the Ranger or Adelaide the Cleric, has their own specialty like first aid or a particular troop type, and each hero type also has different speeds at which statistics rise and chances to gain certain skills. For instance, heroes of the Tower town are the Alchemist and the Wizard. The Alchemist is the "Might" hero, but is also far more inclined to gain magic skills and statistics than the Knight of the Castle town. To mount a proper attack or defense, one must consider not only the hero types, but also the town itself. Each town is balanced out in some form or another. Whereas one town may have several flying creatures and lack ranged units, another may be quite the opposite. Every creature is unique and has one upgrade, as well as their own special advantages and disadvantages. There are fifty-six town creatures, each with an upgrade, and six neutral creatures. Unlike some other strategy games, this game was extremely well balanced and thought out. A given unit may be powerful, but it will always have a foil and a set of advantages and disadvantages. Morale and luck levels also play a key role in battle, and various things such as unit types, unit mixture, buildings, artifacts, and skills can affect these levels.

Gaining experience and exploration almost fall into the same category. Even with the most powerful units, a higher-level hero with fewer units can beat a low-level hero. Experience is vital to keeping a hero intact. Exploration is also key, because even if your castle is defended to the brim, if you lack exploration, your enemies will easily overwhelm you both in numbers and variety. Both exploration and gaining experience nets you artifacts that can greatly boost the powers of any given hero. These help tip the scales in many battles. You can also take on quests to gain artifacts. Certain buildings can also give you permanent skills or statistics, and they are also worth seeking out. With experience comes skill acquisition, which is also very vital in battle and out.

It is necessary that any turn-based strategy game be compared with the great one, one that any strategy gamer will be familiar with: "Master of Magic." Truly the first of its kind, "Master of Magic" began a legacy that had few imitators, and many of its imitators failed to stand up to the game that is now about five or six years old. The one thing that people who have played that game will notice in "Heroes of Might and Magic III" is the lack of diplomacy. To some degree, it is both a detraction and a boon. All enemies are equally liable to attack you as anyone else. To some degree, if you start to claim their lands, an enemy will concentrate on you, but, otherwise, there are no aggression levels or diplomacy. Though the game thankfully stays from being bogged down in options, an aggression level would be nice. Even some minor diplomacy could improve the game a little. A minor blemish on an otherwise excellent game.

Another option in the game that is not optimum is retreating. When your hero retreats from a fight, you lose the hero and all of the units. But, the hero returns to your castle and can be recruited again through the tavern. Now, this makes some sense, as a retreating army can be destroyed easily. It also makes sense that a retreating hero would go back to the castle. Considering the game mechanics, it would make sense that they would have to return to the tavern, as a hero cannot carry zero troops, but it makes little sense in real life. It does avoid the unfortunate effect that happened in "Master of Magic," where a hero could flee indefinitely, however. It does not bother me, personally, but I think that some people may be befuddled by it, so I mention it.

The game requires much thought and skill to excel in it. It is certainly far better, in my opinion, than other strategy games that are real time and require much less skill to win and have far less depth. Everything is very well thought out, and the units and towns are extremely well balanced. The only detraction for many people would be the lack of real-time play. I have seen a few reviewers downgrade the rating of this game simply based on this fact. The truth is that the game would not work as a real-time simulation. All of the magic that makes this game stand apart from every other strategy game would be gone. I found myself sorely disappointed with a great many reviewers, because they obviously had no sense of objectivity. I urge anyone to try to picture this game as an RTS, and you will realize how much the game would have to be downgraded to fit in that restrictive package. Although, multi-player games, especially large ones, can get very dull as you sit and wait for the turns of others to complete. You can now look at information about your possessions during the turns of others, but that is all. Though, completing the game versus a human opponent is far more rewarding than besting someone in a game like "Starcraft" or "Command & Conquer." Please keep that much in mind.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

The graphics are superb. Both the stills and creature sprites are very well done and move smoothly. Even the overhead maps are quite details and visually pleasing. The movies are quite smooth and fluid.

The music is also quite excellent. It is orchestral in nature, and each piece fits the situation very well. Sound effects are very good, as well. There is no speech beyond that in the movies, which is voice-acted well.

Though never truly at the top of my personal list when considering a game's value, this game should be commended for both its graphics and sound.

CONTROLS

The controls, mainly done through your mouse and one-button keyboard shortcuts, are quite easy to learn and are very intuitive. Some of the command buttons are not overtly obvious as to their function at first, but they will make sense once you know what they do. Most are, however, and are easy to locate.

REPLAYABILITY

Never quite a problem with computer strategy games, nor this particular series, "Heroes of Might and Magic III" continues to provide unlimited playability. The game is quite addictive, and you can lose track of time quite easily when playing it. The map editor and multi-player options, as well as an upcoming expansion pack, ensure that it will keep you busy indefinitely.

THE VERDICT

If you are a strategy game fan, then buy it without hesitation. For all other people, if turn-based does not sound too appealing to you, then I suggest borrowing it first. But, most everyone will be sucked into this game just the same.

THE GOOD - Fun and addictive gameplay; balance; unit, town, and hero selection; music; graphics.

THE BAD - For some, turn-based single- and multi-player; no diplomacy or aggression levels.

THE UGLY - The weeks of your life that are sucked away by this game!

That's all! Until next time...


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/01/99, Updated 11/01/99


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