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REVIEW: Heroes of Might and Magic III Complete (PC, 1999-2000)

Sunday, 17 July 2011



Heroes of Might and Magic III was third instalment in the HOMM computer turn-based strategy game series developed by New World Computing and published by 3DO at 1999 based on fantasy world setting, art-wise something a bit similar to dungeons and dragons setting with all high fantasy creatures from different mythologies that you could imagine. Two more expansions to the game were then released at 1999 (Armageddon's Blade) and 2000 (The Shadow of Death). There is a boxed set including all of these games with original and two expansions together - it is called Heroes of Might and Magic III Complete.

The game includes six campaigns on original box - and six more in each of the two expansions. Along to this there's several maps for single scenarios to create a single game of your liking, and a pretty good random map generator to spice up variety of game play more. Also great easy-to-use campaign/map editor is included to create your own dream scenarios and maps (even I can make decent maps with it).



(A standard city view in Inferno)

Heroes of Might And Magic III is totally turn-based (both battle- and combat-sequence) strategy game and game interface is quite simple, smooth and flowing, it's easy to understand and use. However, there are just many things and factors that affect to every scenario you play, so that every game, every map, is interesting and different experience. Heroes Of Might And Magic III is bit similar to Warlords III, although not quite as simplified, where it's greatness of features is well hidden behind it's easy and streamlined interface.

When each map (whether campaign or random map) begins, you typically start with one of the following eight cities which are divided in good and evil ones. Good alignments are Castle, Rampart, Tower, Fortress. Evil alignments are Stronghold, Inferno, Necropolis, Dungeon. Expansion packs also bring elemental city of Conflux into play. Every each city has it's unique buildings and units ranging from level one to seven, one unit per each level - which are recruited from their specific dwellings in town.

For example: Castle has human units from weak Peasants to competent Swordsmen, and to far superior Arch Angels. Castle is perhaps the most "boring" race for being so common, but Arch Angels are awesome units though. Fortress features units you could imagine living in a swamp-city, from Lizardmen to Hydras. Rampart is your typical elf-influenced city from Wood Elf archers to Unicorns and Gold Dragons.  Tower is northern themed city with Gremlins, Gargoyles, Golems, and Titans (perhaps best unit of the game). Stronghold is the barbarian town with Goblins, Orcs, Cyclops and finally huge Behemoths. Inferno is hell-influenced town ranging from Imps to Demons and Arch Devils. Necropolis is quite self explanatory from typical Skeletons to Vampires, Liches and Ghost Dragons. Dungeon perhaps is my favorite town with not so streamlined selection of Harpies, Medusas, Minotaurs, Manticores, Black Dragons and so on. Expansion brings Conflux into Heroes of Might And Magic III, which contains pretty much any type of elemental unit you can imagine, with Phoenix being the best level unit. Each building that produces troops, grants new units certain amount each week. Every city has also it's own building-tree/branch, whereas you have to build certain buildings first in order to unlock later stage buildings and higher level units.

The eight towns are well themed with memorable art, quite well balanced, and create perfect mood for the game. Unit sprites are nicely animated and memorable, as are lovable town-views of each of the eight different towns. Heroes of Might And Magic III makes us remember why drawn 2D sprites create so much more effective immersion of high class fantasy art than full 3D units.


(Infernos' building-tree)

In addition to dwellings in towns - some buildings that exist will give certain bonuses to resources, heroes, or increase city defence. Building up your own town requires gold and other resources like wood, ore, gems. Your city produces some gold daily, and can be upgraded to increase gold production by building it from city hall to capitol for instance, which is crucial. Minerals and extra gold can be achieved by conquering mines on the map, thus granting their ownership to you. Mines are mostly guarded by neutral monster groups which you have to defeat first in order to get the ownership, and computer opponents are also keen to run around stealing your mines if you left them undefended. Several different resources are a delight, because in Heroes of Might And Magic III they don't require micro-management, but rather a little knowledge depending of your current town you're playing with to know which resources you're going to need. It also gives a reason to explore and take risks, just to be rewarded when you finally get those sulfur mines and are able to build Dragon Caves for example to get the precious Green Dragons and Black Dragons.

Heroes are available for hire at each town's Taverns. They are major part of Heroes of Might And Magic III. Without heroes, you cannot explore, and without exploration, you cannot conquer. Single monster stacks cannot move away from the city without being joined to a hero's party. To be able to explore and roam over the world-map with your hero searching resources or conquering enemy cities, you will first need to buy troops from your city and attach them to your hero.

Heroes are the thing that brings an rpg element to this game. Each hero gains experience points during combat, and when they gain enough exp, they will level up. Every hero can learn eight different skills out of 28, and gets few basic skills granted when you recruit them. Extra skills are learnt by leveling up whereas you can each time pick a new skill or advance on existing one. You'll be then able to choose certain helpful skills such as Sorcery (increase magic effectiveness) or Intelligence (increases amount of spell points) to boost your hero up.

Along the skills, each level-up also raises some of hero's basic attributes Attack, Defense, Power, and Knowledge - which do basically influence everything combat-wise from your troops attack and defence bonuses to spell bonuses. You can also visit several buildings (in world map view) that grants several type of extra bonuses to your hero - this is also crucial because computer heroes are sure to circuit trough all bonus granting buildings in the map.

Along basic attributes and skills, there are two more factors affecting battle performance: morale and luck. Morale might grant extra turn in battle or make troop to miss its turn. Luck might grant extra damage on hit. 

(A hero chart showing up the skills and attributes of our hero as well as the troops he is leading)

In addition there are 64 different spells which are divided in four classic elements: fire, water, earth and air. These must be learnt separately by each hero by either finding spell scrolls from the world map, or building up your mages guild level in your city, which grants extra spells. However, your hero must also have high enough wisdom skill to be able to learn certain level spells. The higher the wisdom skill, the higher level spells you can learn, until you have it at "expert" level, where you can learn to cast any spell existing in the game. Spells are very understandable from the beginning if you've played any fantasy type games at all with magic and spell casting involved. Spell system in Heroes works nicely with fair amount of different interesting spells to use, that are easy to understand, but using the the most efficiently requires learning some game lore and it's tactics. Only spells that are bit out of hand are unnecessary fly- and teleport-type spells that should probably had left out to improve game play balance.  But there's nothing like having army of Black Dragons which are immune to most spells against tough opponent, then raining Armageddon-spell over whole battlefield, powerful spell which would normally wound heavily everyone on the field, but having Black Dragon spell immunity on your side.

One more thing granting hero and troops bonuses are "artifacts", which can be found hidden and guarded along the game world. All this brings fantastic adventuring element to Heroes Of Might And Magic III, because one feels the need to explore whole map - even if not necessary for a win - to find those most precious bonus granting artifacts.

(A map view is viewed top-down - may your adventure be glorious)


Heroes Of Might And Magic III features three main views, or sequences, of game play. First of all the city view which we already discussed about, secondly the world-map view where all adventuring takes place, and thirdly the combat view which is quite self explanatory.

On a "world-map" view you take control of your hero and adventure around the limited world map conquering mines for minerals, defeating monster groups that are either guarding something or blocking your way, conquering enemy cities, and searching for treasury. World-map view is turn-based and your heroes have certain amount of movement-points per turn. When your hero encounters a monster group, you enter in a "battle view". This sequence could be compared to a "chessboard" (except that it uses hexes) where you have a tiles to move in, and your troops have their own speed attribute defining how many tiles they can move forward per turn.  Your hero stands back and doesn't directly take part on the combat, but can cast a spell per turn to inflict damage to enemy hero's units, or grant a bonus for your own. Hero's presence is nice strategic element to the combat. His/hers own attributes, skills, spells and artifacts affect how much damage your troops do.

You basically move your units in turn-based mode like in a chess board, and decide either to defend current position or strike enemy unit of your will. However what makes this interesting is various unit types each with their own bonuses and special skills. For example Vampire Lords will drain life on a strike and raise from a dead. Wolf Raiders will strike twice. Hydra will strike to each direction around itself at once with 1-tile radius. There are much more to it, those are just to mention a few.

Only problem with battle is that fleeing from it has been made too easy. Computer will most often flee with one unit left, first shooting a lightning bolt to your ass. Any fleeing hero can be re-recruited from tavern on the same day and be reinforced with new units directly.

Despite fleeing-problem, combat's functionality is quite simple, but still lots of fun, with many factors to take in consideration if you want to win the battle. Combat view takes in consideration all different things from your hero's stats and spells to your troops, their special abilities, and stack sizes, that it's really pleasant experience, and smooth to play too, and it looks epic! In fact, Herores of Might And Magic III combat is one of my favorite combat sequences of all strategy games so far.


(It's regular battle view remiscent of a chessboard - and cyclops are tasting lightning bolt cast by hero!)



Along the single-player there are also different multiplayer options available which is a delight, since this game is great to play with your friends too. Especially with one friend, where waiting time for a turn is still decently short. You can either play regular TCP/IP - IPX game over internet or have a "hotseat" game with your friend turn-based on same computer. I remember that as teenagers me, my brother and some friends used to play hot seat games and it was fun. Still play with my brother once in a while.

The campaigns of Heroes And Might And Magic III nothing spectacular in terms of story, which mostly takes place only as a short prologue text between the maps rather than heavily involving within the game play on actual maps, some way yes but it happens quite superficially.  Nice little touch are some path choice options between campaign's scenarios, or bonus choices (different troops etc.) for scenarios you can select when you begin one. Sometimes campaigns also allow you to continue with a hero or two from previous scenario to the next, which gives a reason to play scenario as well as possible, and slight feeling that campaign's scenarios are some way linked together other than bit loose story. Campaigns do provide nice amount of challenge and long nights of top notch strategy-gaming even for a hardened PC gamer, and some of their scenarios are top-notch considering map quality and challenge. But in my opinion the heart of Heroes of Might And Magic III lies in replay-ability of single scenarios (non-campaign) and their random elements in each map, giving different challenge each time. Way or another, game play content is vast, and almost endless with Complete Edition and it's two expansions, tripling amount of campaigns, and adding a new level of neutral creatures into the game.

Despite all the praise I've given, HOMM III is not close to perfect and includes few average, but not game breaking problems. Starting out with minor: graphics that have a great art-style, yet all the menus and sprites have  kind of too "oiled up" look or bit washed out colors (which was not issue in HOMM II). Artistic style in monsters is quite cool though, especially the nice spites of monsters. Although I would claim that HOMM II had better graphics being more sharp and vibrant. Opera-like and middle-ages influenced music however fits to the game perfectly though and creates good atmopshere.

The main problems in the game are rooted in poor AI few average sized balance issues towards end-game (decent in combat though, if not counting the fleeing problem, just don't expect any genius moves). First of all enemy computers "cheat" in the most annoying way. They know when you lessen the defence in one of your cities when you take up your main hero along the majority of your city troops and go for a conquer - they even know when they cannot see your city at all. Expect enemy hero in your city gates within next few turns. It can turn into annoying cat-and-mouse-play sometimes. Move to west from your city and few turns later from east appears enemy's super hero with full army to conquer your city of which defence you just weakened. Turn back to the castle with your hero and the enemy turns around and flees, but take a new turn to west again and the enemy hero turns back towards your city. See the catch here? This combined to end-game teleport and fly-spells makes a bad combination that can cause big amount of rage once in a while. AI is quite weak and tends to just repeat same things over and over.

XL size maps bring another slight problem where it often might end up being a bit repetitive headless running around between your several cities like this: take your hero to conquer a new city - few turns later lose a the original city - conquer one more new city and lose the one conquered few turns back. Computer will conquer all your cities where you recruit all or most defending troops and take them out to conquer new town, and in XL maps this problem grows due amount of lots of cities. The same happens with your mines, which you can only set an elemental guard to if you have the spell, and it won't stop any decent hero. Way or another all your owned mines are up for grabs without protection and the game doesn't offer good solution to this.

In addition to headless town-/mine-running-fest on XL maps, end-game is often bit unbalanced in biggest maps. The problem arises especially in the largest maps with lots of bonus-granting elements such as world-map buildings giving powerful bonuses to hero's attributes, and too many powerful artifacts. Running through all of them and acquiring all the best artifacts, them combining the best ones to your (or computers) main hero will make it ridiculously over-powered killing-machine while any new hero recruited at this point is worthless even with best troops. Also AI is God of running through every building included within the map that gives bonuses, it's tireless in the task. Therefore unless you do the same thing, you're soon out powered, and visiting every building in the map is not really fun especially when largest maps have literally hundreds of them. Luckily not every scenario features overly big amount of the buildings.

The game includes possibility to level cap heroes, which would correct large part of balance problems in biggest maps, but it's sadly used in very rare occasions on pre-made stand-alone scenarios (campaigns use it quite often though). If it was used in more maps and set, to say level 16-20 or something sensible, then end-game would be much more balanced, and you wouldn't have to run endlessly through each building getting bonuses, but have ready finished up hero to say, in level 16. Having large map with heroes ranging from level 20 to 30 makes a big difference rendering the first mentioned often useless. Luckily there's map editor which does the task easily for single scenarios (doesn't work in random generator though).

One more complaint is that while the creatures between towns, and all eight town-lineups are well balanced themselves, the amount of troops may get out of hand (again, mostly in largest maps). Perhaps the worst criticism causing this goes for most over-powered skill of Heroes of Might And Magic III: diplomacy-skill. In the very end-game on large map you tend to have infinite amount of gold. That combined to Expert Diplomacy and large amount of troops leads you to get offers from neutral monster armies to join you (which stacks automatically grow in amount over time if they are not killed). This all means that you can go and with pretty high chance get the join offers from huge monsters stacks of Black Dragons or Titans, quickly acquiring armies of the best units in amounts that your towns never could produce, thus crushing your enemies too easily.

However, all these problems are not big enough to crush otherwise great game-experience. They're mostly minor annoyance on the background.

(A random map generator is okay and gives some replay value to single scenarios)


Bottomline

Heroes of Might And Magic III is just plain fun. Every scenario is a different story since there's a lot of random element in each map, especially non-campaign scenarios which are more flexible. Most often mines, monsters, other places of interest in map like buildings and treasures are at least partly random generated. In single scenario also enemy castle types can be randomized, but you can do a whole new map random map generator too if you like. The generator is actually quite decently good too giving Heroes of Might And Magic III some extra life span. Every game is just a different one. The campaigns themselves present loose story, but counter-wise lots of memorable scenarios too because of fun-to-play and challenging maps, and eighteen campaigns counted together is nothing short of game play material in size. Delightful is also "Hot Seat"-mode where you play similarly with your friends on the same computer. It works great and offers great time for some allied battles with friends over AI.

Heroes of Might and Magic III truly has it's way rewarding a player for exploring, since heroes have so many different skills, attributes and spells and such which can be boosted up. Developing your hero in a loose cRPG way is just rewarding experience when hitting the battlefields. Turn-based chessboard-like battle screen works very well without any major problems, and is just a joy to play with it's flowing game play mechanics and inspiring battle-music. And different type of cities within game are quite well balanced, although some are certainly bit more challenging to play.

Overall despite AI problems, some balance issues in largest maps end-game, and slight repetitiveness (after you've really grinded the game long!), Heroes of Might and Magic III is awesome and rewarding gaming experience. It has just so much greatness within: fluid memorable combat, rewarding exploration, loose but well implemented cRPG elements with hero leveling, fine stylish art-work with loads of epic creatures, and not forgetting great inspiring music. All the epic-ness in this game overcomes it's shortcomings and issues leaving great taste to a player in the end. After having a little break in the game, you'll be guaranteed to return to it and play another game despite you know you're going to chase that enemy hero all over a map again. Pure awesomeness and replay-ability value guaranteed - you can literally sink hours in this game thinking "just one more turn"... Recommended for any RPG/Adventure/Strategy games fan, especially if you like fantasy stuff. A classic!!

-www.thegamersdungeon.com

The Good
  • Perfect combination of Strategy, Adventure and RPG elements
  • Damn good chessboard-like combat system
  • The game's main theme and town alignments are fascinating
  • Hero stat- and leveling system
  • Rewarding world exploration with tons of bonuses to discover
  • Random map generator is decent
  • Map Editor to create tons of new scenarios
  • Multiplayer over network or hotseat-mode both work nicely



The Bad
  • Campaign's stories are bit of a lackluster
  • Unbalanced end-game in XL maps with either side potent developing "A Super-Hero" undefeateble by any troops
  • End-game in XL maps don't provide any new challenges or discoveries
  • Computer AI is quite poor, and cheats "knowing what you do by not even seeing" thus making...
  • ...Town Portal, Fly and Teleport spells to be unbalanced
  • Cat-and-mouse with fleeing enemy heroes



92




System requirements:

133 MHz or better, 32 MB of RAM,
2 MB SVGA-video card,
200 MB hard disk space,
4x-speed CD-ROM,
Windows 95 / Windows 98 or newer

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-You can buy this fantastic game (HOMM III complete includes expansions) from below-

PC CD-ROM:




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