Heroes of Might and Magic III
Review by grasu
"Heroes 3: A game that won't ever be duplicated, much like the era it came from."
Heroes 3: A game that won't ever be duplicated, much like the era it came from.
I'm a Heroes junkie. Ever since one faithful day when I was 10 or 11 and my brother installed Heroes 1 on my computer I was hooked. With every new Heroes entry I would obsess over it for months at an end imagining the new possibilities of the upcoming game.
Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is the best entry in the venerable saga. HOMM3 is an orchestra of battlin', experience gatherin', artifact searchin' and story tellin' choreographed on beautiful maps with over 140 mythological creatures. Heroes 3 is perfect from a gameplay perspective and is easily 2nd only to Half-Life in the world of gaming for ANY platform!
What makes Heroes games graphically competent isn't their uber-high resolution of multi-million polygon counts but, rather, their style. That being said, Heroes 3 demonstrates both particular style AND graphical competence.
Let's talk numbers: more than 140 creatures, so many heroes I don't even care to count, 10s of tile sets, hundreds of animation frames for every creature, etc. Sound good? That's the easy way to sum up Heroes 3's graphics. The designer and artists that worked on this game must've bent backwards to figure out the all of the individual creature designs and then to program them in such a way that every one of their actions is perfectly animated. To boot, Heroes 3 is fully 3D now, including all of the creatures, heroes and displays.
The animation in Heroes 3 is the best part of the graphics... by far! All of the creatures, heroes and terrains feel alive and have hundreds of frames of animation even when not involved in combat. This is combined, to great effect, with a ton of tile sets ranging from your average snow, desert, and jungle to the totally bizarre including dead lands and aerial battlefields. Needless to say, when displayed in the battle screen these sorts of terrain will take your breath away for a few moments.
Alas, Heroes 3's graphics aren't perfect. Their biggest flaw comes from special effects: Lighting, explosions, etc. which all seem sub par when compared to the animation, character and hero design. And, in all fairness, despite the fact that this game looked good when it came out it can't be compared with other games that came out in 1999, most notably Unreal Tournament, Quake 3 or even Total Annihilation (which came out in 1997).
If Heroes 3 is not quite up to par in terms of graphics it more than makes it up with its sound.
The soundtrack in Heroes games has been unanimously named to be among the best ever to come out in a game and Heroes 3 doesn't disappoint. Grand, sweeping orchestral themes, quick "war chants" to keep you pumped, individual themes for all the castles available in the game, and so much more! The whole soundtrack is recorded at an extremely high level of quality, which, when exported to Winamp comes out to some 312 kb/s. That is astounding for even RIPPING the sound track.
On the other hand, the sound effects in HOMM3 range from good to bad. Some of the sound effects like the screeching of the medusas or the deep growl of the dragons are very appropriate for the creature. However, some other effects such as the chicken-like reaction of an almighty Roc when hit sound pathetic by comparison. Bottom line: Sound effects could use some work, perhaps even in the quality level, when compare to the music.
In simple, technical terms: The gameplay in this game is PERFECT! Heroes 3 is so well balanced, so addictive and so huge that it simply isn't even influenced by some of the weaker spots of its game engine. Simply put: there has never been a single game with such perfect gameplay ever, on any platform.
Heroes 3's story centers around the land of Erathia, a mystical land which has been at peace for some time now thanks to its wise ruler. When he dies Erathia slips into chaos however and, sure enough, 8 factions rise to attempt to take control of the mythical land. Throughout the game these factions clubber, kill, and sabotage each other in order to reach their goal and, someday, mold Erathia to their own tastes.
Most of Heroes 3's story actually unfolds during its campaigns. There are 3 beginner campaigns when you start playing Heroes 3: one for the good guys, one for the evil guys, and one for the neutral people. As you finish these campaigns you unlock more and so on. Each campaign is strung together by a story detailing the actions taken by each faction to stabilize itself on Erathia, its inner struggles and its conflicts. The scenarios of each campaign are extremely varied and can rage from anything like "build a castle and kill all" to "capture a specific hero" or "find an artifact". Chances are that you won't get bored easily with the campaigns, if for nothing else, because they're pretty damn hard especially when taking into consideration what Heroes 3 sometimes makes you face with a minuscule or weakling army.
Honestly though, few people play Heroes for campaigns or story. In all fairness the story is a bit wordy and it sometimes gets on my nerves with its absurd attention to detail. The campaigns are here to give you a purpose but the real game time here is spent in the scenarios, not the campaigns.
Now, on to the scenarios and the BEST part of Heroes 3. The individual, stand-alone, scenarios are where most of your game time will be spent. These massive maps on one or even TWO levels might take you anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete depending on who you're facing. Most of what makes Heroes a great game happens during these scenarios. Scenarios in Heroes 3 can range from your average annihilate all that moves to the more peaceful, annihilate all that moves or capture an artifact. The variety of maps, objectives and ways to go about completing them is astounding and simply leaves the campaigns in the dust.
The basic gameplay premise of Heroes 3, obviously enough, revolves around your hero: The commander of your troops in battle, the magician or the warrior, the barbarian or the warlock. As your hero gains experience, troops and artifacts he/she/it becomes more and more powerful and more and more feared when his little icon appears in your enemy's territory. Heroes 3 feature of plethora of heroes to choose from, starting from your average barbarian types and going into the more bizarre with beast masters or necromancers. Finally, in Heroes 3 the hero is not defined by the castle, rather, the castle is defined by the hero as specific castles can only build specific heroes.
Each hero has 4 basic attributes: attack, defense, knowledge, and spell power. The first two are self explanatory, knowledge is the amount of mana you have and spell power is the amount of damage your spells cause to enemies. Each of these stats increase automatically each time you gain a level. Of course, as you might've guessed, some heroes are more prone to learn one type of skill than another. For example, a barbarian is more likely to develop his attack skill while a beast master is more likely to develop his defense skill. The same way, a wizard develops his knowledge more and a warlock his spell power. Luckily though, now you can build two types of heroes from every castle: One that's more inclined towards magic and another towards might. Of course, that doesn't mean that a battle mage (comes from a might castle) will beat a wizard (comes from a magic castle) but it does give you a nice alternative if you like the troops but detest the "ME SMASH!!"-mentality.
But wait, there's more! Heroes can also develop secondary skills and/or acquire a wealth of powerful artifacts. Secondary skills come in 3 flavors (basic, advanced, expert) and range from the banal (Eagle Eye, learn a spell used in combat by your enemy), to movement (Logistic), to brutal melee (Armored), to magic (Wisdom) to whatever else you might think of. There are dozens of secondary skills in the game, but your hero can only acquire 8 of them, so pick carefully: These skills can determine the outcome of a battle very easily. As for artifacts, Heroes 3 has so many of them that I won't even bother to hit you with numbers. Lets just say however that they range from swords, to bows, to armor, to gloves, to rings, and even to pouches of gold and have a series of beneficial effects (there are no more "negative" artifacts) ranging from more hitpoints for your creatures, to more attack/defense, or even resource bonuses. In order to balance things out though, your hero can only equip a limited amount of artifacts this time. So you can't hold 5 swords with +20 attack each anymore, your hero can only equip ONE weapon or piece of armor at a time. The rest of the unequippable artifacts now go in the hero's backpack which is seemingly bottomless so you won't have the frustration on loosing out on artifacts like in Heroes 2.
However, heroes don't amount to anything if they don't have troops... SOME troops. What the average player has to get about Heroes 3 is that it doesn't matter how many troops you have but how you use them! You can have 2-3 times the amount of troops that your enemy does but if he has the better spells, the better defense or attack, or the better wits you stand a good chance of getting your ass kicked. This substrat of strategy is, by far, the best thing about Heroes 3. The way that this game makes you think on your feet with the weaker nations like the Fortress, for example, and encourages you to find a way to deal with the slow and weak troops available to you by using magic or trickery is GREAT! However, this doesn't mean that you can just create superheroes with all the best troops from every faction since other things such as morale and luck also play into the game. If you have too many factions on one battlefield morale will go down so drastically that most of your troops won't even get to move. Luck, on the other hand, is based on luck charms, shrines visited, or skills learned by your hero and is not influenced by troop alignment.
And while we're talking about "visiting", let's talk about the 3-screen-approach that Heroes is so famous for. A typical game of Heroes takes place in one of 3 screens: the map, the battle screen and the castle screen. The battle and castle screens are pretty self explanatory. In your castle you can build new troops or new structures which can grant you anything from a gold bonus to more troops or even resources. The castle screen has gone through some serious modifications in Heroes 3 as you can now increase your income in such a way that you can actually BUILD all the troops from week to week, there are more faction-specific buildings, more resource buildings, and, generally just more and better than in previous games. The battle screen has also gone through some modifications, as it's now 60% larger and is influenced by the terrain you are in. Say for example that you happen to fight on a very rocky ground. You might find yourself surprised when half the battlefield is impassable because of terrain features. Generally however, the battle screen is exactly what you'd expect from such a screen: Here you do battle, cast spells, or bombard castles. Just be careful however, as the new broken-arrow approach now forces you to close in with your archers in order to deal full damage.
The map screen, on the other hand, is a whole new ball game. This is where most of the game takes place. During exploration sequences you do EVERYTHING that's required to make the game move forward: collect resources, battle monsters, flag mines or castles, acquire artifacts, visit structures on the map, etc. To the novice player, the most important thing about the map is definitely the myriad of structures that a hero can visit. These structures, ranging from dragon pens to gazebos, grant you all kinds of things in the form of luck or morale bonuses, more troops, secondary skills, primary skill bonuses, etc., etc., etc.!! The map view is also used to flag mines or castles which will, therefore, grant you either more troops or more resources. Oh, and while we're on the topic of resources there are 7 in all: ore, wood, sulfur, gems, crystal, mercury and gold. You can gather these resources from either mines, structures on the map or just from small packs sprinkled around the map.
However once you get your resources, towns and heroes all moving and beating crap it's time to think about units... oh God, the units! Heroes 3 features 8 distinct factions ranging from Warlocks, to Castle (they have angels) to Demons to whatever you might think or even NOT think about! There are some 140 units in Heroes 3, including the upgraded versions. Yes, I said upgrades. Each castle can build 7 creature dwellings but you can now upgrade ALL of them to a "second level" which means more hitpoints, more bonuses, more of everything! There are also units that don't show up in castles, like the elementals. Of course, some units are weaker than others at their respective levels but they all balance out nicely since the weaker a unit is the more of it you get. So while a Castle player gets 2 angles a Fortress player gets 4 hydras instead. With a bit of magic and some good strategy, 4 hydras will kick the ass of 2 angles any day.
That's not to say however that Heroes 3 is perfect. Yes, if we must be analytical, some of the factions are totally useless when compared to their counterparts. A Fortress player will have a horribly hard time beating a Castle player with their weak and slow units. On the other hand, this usually is balanced out so nicely that it really cannot be considered a problem. The AI, which isn't the brightest kid on the block is a much bigger problem however. Fortunately though, this too is solved when you actually have to face the AI in battle. Sure, outside the AI looks like an idiot, but come time to battle him and you'll find out that you might be eating you-know-what before you even get a chance to open your mouth, especially on the higher difficulty levels.
Heroes 3 would be much lower on the list of Greatest Games of All Times if it wouldn't have multiplayer... but, it does! Any AI or faction problems are virtually solved by fighting human players and the experience is second to NONE on any platform!
I spent hundreds of hours playing Heroes 3 with friends, staying for hours around a PC playing hot seat until we all realized we had exams the next morning and we hadn't slept in days. Everything choreographs so nicely in multiplayer that it becomes an INSTANT success, which is more than one can say about other TBS games like Civilization.
As if that all wouldn't be a good enough reason to earn this game a 10 in this category it also has online multiplayer, LAN and even Play-by-Email. Oh, and did I mention there are people who still PLAY this game online?! Oh yeah, that's what I call a "community".
Heroes 3 is a vestige of an era long gone, an era in which PCs and consoles were fighting for every inch of the market and they were almost at a stand still. It was a time when we got the best of both worlds. However, just like PC gaming, the Heroes series slipped into oblivion faster and faster over the next years with the horrendous excuse for a game called Heroes 4 and the upcoming piece-du-garbage called Heroes 5.
Fans, gamers, and humans alike: This is the game of a great golden age that will never come to pass. If you respect go out and buy this game if you don't already have it!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/10/05
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