|This has been the year of the
sequel. Games like Starcraft, Alpha Centauri, Warlords III, and SimCity 3000 have all been
big hits. These games have all provided improved strategy, AI, interfaces, and graphics
while mostly maintaining their predecessors style and gameplay. Heroes of Might and
Magic III is the most recent addition to the very popular Heroes of Might and Magic
series, and like these other recent sequels it improves upon its original while keeping
the same popular style of play.
For those new to the series, Heroes III is a turn-based strategy game that takes place in the fantasy world of Enroth. Players outfit and improve their heroes, upgrade their towns, gather resources, and build armies. For those who have played the other games in the Heroes series, most aspects of the game will seem very similar, as the same gather resources, build castle, build huge unbeatable army strategy still applies.
The main difference in Heroes III is the little things. The music, the graphics, the interface, and the game system itself have all been tweaked and re-tweaked. Combat options, game options, menus, and even the map editor have all had small yet significant improvements. Individual heroes have more skills, each now has a unique ability, and each hero's artifacts are now displayed on a paper-doll template that prevents you from using an unlimited amount of magic necklaces or rings. The number of artifacts and creatures in the game has been increased, and the number of different city types has been expanded. The game map has been now includes an underworld, and play balance has been improved.
Among the most welcome additions is the increased number of city types. There are now eight types, and while some of these are very similar to Heroes II, some, like the Inferno and Fortress, are very original indeed. Each city also produces more units type than before, and the game introduces many new kinds of units to Erathia. The Tower, for example, now produces gargoyles, gremlins, nagas, and genies in addition to the titans, golems, and mages they cranked out before. Of the new cities, the hellish, fiery Inferno is home to demons, devils, pit fiends, and all sorts of evil nasties. The swampy Fortress contains mostly reptile-like monsters, nearly all of which has some special ability. For example, hydras can attack in many directions at once, basilisks can turn creatures to stone, and gorgons stare can kill the first unit in a enemy stack.
The best thing about all the different cities is that, despite their diversity, they all compete on an even level. For example, the Fortress player does have under-powered troops compared to other factions, and late in the game his or her troops will get stomped by high-powered creatures like dragons, titans, and angels. However, the Fortress builds up its city quicker than the other factions. Long before the Tower can produce its tough creatures, the Fortress player will be massing armies of hydras, gorgons, and basilisks on his borders. On the other hand, factions like the Dungeon may take a long time to produce powerful creatures, but once they are producing their Dragons and Septicores they are all but unbeatable. Although play balance has always been a strength of this series, in Heroes III this balance manifests itself in much subtler and deeper ways.
Another major improvement is the AI. The artificial intelligence controlling the computer players was a problem with Heroes II. While the basic AI was solid, the computer could occasionally act in a not-so-smart manner. For example, in Heroes II, the computer player would always try to attack the weakest nearby city. If a human player left a city completely empty, the computers armies would all rush straight for the city. Well, by leaving one city empty one turn, then another empty the next, the computers armies would march one way and then the other, turn after turn. Needless to say, this was a terrifically effective stall tactic. For Heroes III the computer movement and combat AIs are both greatly improved. In fact, when the levels are set to more difficult settings the computer player acts almost identically to an experienced player. For a game of this complexity, designing a perfect AI is a near impossibility, but the way HOMMIIIs AI emulates an experienced player is amazing.
Having a get-together to play Heroes has always been one of my favorite ways to spend an evening with friends. The Heroes games have always been simple to learn, and Heroes III is no exception. (So simple, in fact, that my five-year-old has taught himself the gameed.) Although the game does take quite some time to finish, the addictive gameplay keeps most players up long past their bedtime in hopes of just one more turn. Heroes III has all the standard multi-player modes that we have come to expect, including hotseat, IPX-network, TCP-IP internet, modem play and direct connections. Some improvements have been made here as well. The hotseat game, for example, now includes a much-needed feature that allows a player to replay the movements of all other players that are in his or her line of sight.
I did have one major problem with hotseat portion of the game, as there seems to be some sort of error that causes the game to crash during computer players move phases. The occurrence of this bug was somewhat random, but it happened no more frequently than once an hour. According to the Heroes III message board, there should be a patch for this problem shortly, but in the meantime those with this problem can get around it with a workaround. You can do this by reloading the autosaved game, turning off the "view computer players" option, ending their turn, and afterwards turning the "view computer players" option back on.
I also suggest that you check the website and message board with any other problems as a mail to 3DO support on this problem took over a week to get a response, not the two to three days that they suggested. In addition to taking a long time, their response to my problem was simply to ask me for information that I had provided in my first message. Im not completely sure anyone really read it.
On a happier note, the campaign game is excellent. The missions are introduced with incredibly detailed videos that use the new Bink video technology. This provides additional quality and color depth for videos, and helps to create an immersive experience. The campaign details the story of Queen Catherine retaking the land of Enroth. Enroth is in a state of constant war as many different factions are vying for control of the land. The campaign game features six different campaigns, each playing from the point of view of a different faction. Many of the campaign levels also allow you to take artifacts or heroes from level to level, giving almost a role-playing feel to some of the levels. I found myself getting attached to Yog, my favorite hero, as he traveled with me from level to level.
Overall, Heroes III is a great improvement on an already great game. With an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach to game design, 3DO has created a game that will stand the test of time and outlast many, more high tech, games. The thoughtful design and eye for detail will make Heroes III what games like Starcraft and Alpha Centauri already are to many. Heroes III is a successful sequel to a successful sequel and I expect to play it for years to come.