Published in The National on November 24, 2000

Heroes to the fore


By Daniel Lam
Most computer game companies specialise in games of a particular genre. We have, say Blizzard Entertainment, which now specialises in hack-and-slash computer role-playing games. Then we have others, like New World Computing (NWC), which excels on two fronts: computer role-playing games and turn-based strategy games. It has the long-running Might and Magic role-playing series (now entering its NINTH instalment). 

NWC has since created the offshoot Heroes of Might and Magic turn-based strategy series, which has nearly eclipsed its role-playing progenitor with the sheer amount of critical and popular acclaim it's earned. Now in its third incarnation (and one expansion), Heroes of Might and Magic III (Heroes III), like the previous two, remains a brilliant game with a blend of micro and macromanagement within a fantasy setting.

A little background
The current setting began with Heroes of Might and Magic II. The king of Enroth is dead, and his sons Roland (good) and Archibald (evil) fight for the crown. In the end Roland wins, and becomes king. Then the story continues in Might & Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven (a pretty cool CRPG). 

The realm of Enroth is in trouble from some alien invaders, Roland is missing (kidnapped by the aliens), his queen Catherine has left for her homeland Erathia because her father has died. The people are restless, thinking that the crown prince had lost the Mandate of Heaven, the divine right to rule. So you have to make sure Enroth doesn't crumble. 

You rescue Roland and beat the aliens. End of story ... yeah, right. Then came Heroes III: The Restoration of Erathia


Bad news in Erathia

The intro shows Catherine arriving at a port city to find it sacked. Forces of darkness are threatening to overwhelm the forces of good (yes, the same old line). She vows to restore her father's kingdom. You, the player, must help her vanquish the forces of evil (led by Catherine's undead father!). 


What you need

Heroes III
will run on any IBM PC and 100% compatibles with a Pentium 133MHz processor of better. The PC must run on Windows 95/98 or NT4.0, have a minimum 32MB of RAM, a 4-speed CD-ROM drive, and a DirectX 6.0 compatible video card (most are) capable of 800x600 16-bit display. And of course, 200MB of hard disk space. 


Playing Heroes III

The turn-based gameplay has you recruiting mercenary heroes, whom you then guide about an overhead map jam-packed with resources, treasure, magical artifacts, mysterious landmarks, monsters, and more. Using the resources your heroes acquire, you upgrade your towns so that they can produce more powerful units, or still more resources. Meanwhile, your heroes gain experience, skills, and spells, and you put them in command of the largest armies that you can afford in an ultimate effort to defeat the enemy mercenaries looking to conquer you first. In this game you need to balance resources between recruiting new troops and heroes, and building new facilities in your towns. 


It's not all war

Half the game is spent exploring and building, and the other half is spent in battle. The overhead map switches to a side view when you engage in combat, at which point you must command your various creatures against their enemies, taking turns moving unit stacks one by one depending on their speed. You can have up to seven types of creatures serving under a hero (as opposed to five in the previous games), with seven unique creatures available in each of the eight town types. 

Every creature can also be upgraded, making it more powerful yet more expensive to recruit. For example, the Gremlin unit is a pretty weak "infantry" unit. Once upgraded to Master Gremlin, it gains the ability to hurl leg irons at the enemy! 

Each town is well balanced, and although the units roughly correlate between towns, most of them are unique. In fact, many of the creatures (both old and new) now have special abilities; archangels can resurrect their fallen comrades, unicorns create a defensive anti-magic aura, and cavaliers deal more damage if they charge their target, vampires can regenerate, etc. 

Combat plays out simply, but a great deal of complexity lies beneath the surface, as your hero's attributes and spells tend to sway the course of a battle. 


The single player game

The single player game spans six campaigns detailing the war to claim the kingdom of Erathia from the perspective of good, evil, and mercenary leaders alike. The story isn't played up too much, but the campaign missions themselves are well designed and appear deceptively small. In fact, many contain subterranean caverns as well as the usual overworld territory, often demanding hundreds of turns across many hours of play. And if you can finish the campaigns, you still have dozens of single player maps to try, with the promise of many more to come thanks to the map editor included with the game. 


Multiplayer

Meanwhile, Heroes III is a much better multiplayer game than its predecessors, as you can scroll around the map and review your forces when it's not your turn.
Heroes III doesn't alter the formula set forth by its ancestors, but represents a refinement and improvement on caliber with the finest sequels ever released. The promise of much more of everything - heroes, towns, creatures, artifacts, skills, spells - is gracefully accomplished so as to accentuate the game's complexity, style, and strategy without making it feel excessive. Much like its predecessors, Heroes III successfully combines a number of elements that are enjoyable and accessible on their own, but when combined and weighed as a whole, they add up to a game that's both entertaining and rewarding. 

Expanding on your heroes

Armageddon's Blade
is one BIG expansion pack. It offers a handful of great campaigns and introduces just enough new innovations to make the same old, same old seem like brand new fun. In short, Armageddon's Blade is an excellent single-player expansion.
If you've played Heroes III to death, then Armageddon's Blade will be a true treat. 

The game has one full-size grand campaign and five smaller ones; the grand campaign tells the story of the expansion's title, Armageddon's Blade, which refers to the powerful magical weapon the evil ones seek to bring into being. Should the blade be forged, the world of Erathia will be destroyed. Each scenario of the campaign revolves around some aspect of the forging of this superweapon, and you'll play on both the good and evil sides depending on the scenario. 

There are two new hero types, the Planeswalkers and the Elementalists; 23 new creatures to hire and deal with (such as elfin sharpshooters); and three new kinds of dragons. This story also introduces a new town type, the elemental Conflux, and the various creatures that spawn in it. 

As far as gameplay goes, there are 38 new single scenarios and a bunch of modifications to the map, campaign, and random scenario generator systems. The new additions continue to help the series blur the line between RPG and strategy to good effect. 


Nota bene:
Heroes III has a another expansion now as at press time, entitled The Shadow of Death. Once we get our hands on it, we may write a review on it. 


How do they look

Heroes III
(plus the expansion Armageddon's Blade) looks great. The sprites look pretty good, and the overall game, like its predecessors, has a cartoonish feel to it.
After all, we are talking war here, and it actually looks cute when your Dread Knight units swing their scythes down on the enemy's Ogre units ... the level of gaming violence is minimal. The game cinematics are few ... one at the start of the game (the intro) and then there's the end scene (same with Armageddon's Blade). But they are a-okay (not exceptional). 

How do they sound

The music is good. One thing I missed from Heroes II was the opera singing. Well, never mind. The music changes from one town type to the other, and changes again when you enter battle. 


What's the verdict

If you have the upper, upper body strength for strategy games but not the dexterity needed for RTS games, Heroes III would be just be for you. In any case Heroes III is an excellent game, well worthy of all the awards it has been getting. 


Heroes of Might & Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia
Heroes of Might & Magic III: Armageddon's Blade

Pros: Great music, cute graphics, excellent gameplay
Cons: None, really
Publisher: 3DO
Developer: New World Computing
Platform: PC