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by 3D0

Ups: Great campaigns, new towns, it's HoMM. Downs: Some bugs, some dull level design. System Reqs: Pentium-166, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, SVGA

arm1.jpg (6364 bytes)New World Computing has once again supplemented the Might and Magic realm and storyline with Heroes of Might and Magic III: Armageddon’s Blade. Armageddon’s Blade is an expansion for Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia. While you may access any of the features of the original from the Armageddon’s Blade CD, including all scenarios and the campaigns, it is still required that you have HOMM3 installed on your computer prior to installation. Because Armageddon’s Blade is not a stand-alone product, I will assume that you are familiar with HOMM3. If this is not the case, please take a look at the excellent review on GamesFirst! to familiarize yourself with the basics.

Armageddon’s Blade contains six new campaigns, thirty-eight new scenarios, a random map generator, a new town type with a bevy of new heroes, many "new" neutral creatures, and a few other goodies. Quests are more prevalent, with several additional types of quests made available, as well as Quest Gates that may not be passed until quest completion. Mines may now be guarded by creatures to thwart pesky resource gatherers (the puny heroes that are sent out with a miniscule army to wreak havoc upon resource production). An excellent addition in Armageddon’s Blade is the ability to hire either the standard or upgraded creature from any upgraded creature dwelling. This is particularly useful when resources are in short supply, or if there are tactical advantages associated with utilizing the standard creature (as in Gogs vs. Magogs).

Initially, I was not terribly excited by the prospect of a new town populated by elementals. In HOMM3, the standard Air, Water, Fire, and Earth Elementals were only effective when continuously summoned in battle by a powerful hero. Fortunately, the upgraded elementals are much more useful, featuring Storm and Ice Elementals with ranged attacks, flying Energy Elementals, and more powerful Magma elementals. The Conflux town features these elementals for creature ranks two through five, with the Sprites reappearing from HOMM2 in the horde rank. While the Storm Elementals are easily the most powerful level two creatures in the game, they are expensive and are not available in the same numbers as other level two creatures. To provide additional balancing, the Magma Elementals are arguably the weakest level five creatures available.

The final two creatures in the Conflux arsenal are much more interesting, with Psychic/Magic Elementals appearing for the first time, and Firebirds/Phoenixes rising from the ashes of the Sorceress town in HOMM2. The Magic Elemental is a powerful upgraded level six creature with complete immunity to magic, and the ability to attack all adjacent enemies without retaliation—a miniature Hydra. The Phoenixes are roughly comparable to Ghost Dragons in terms of base strength and hit points, but they are once again the fastest units in the game, and have a two-hex breath attack. If obliterated, approximately a quarter of the Phoenixes rise from the ashes of their fallen brethren. Most importantly, the Pyre that produces these creatures is twice as prolific as all of the other level seven creature generators, and the Phoenixes are quite inexpensive. With two Phoenixes for every level seven creature on the opposing army, the Phoenix can most certainly hold its own.

The Conflux town itself is very colorful, with architecture seemingly inspired by mosques and the Taj Mahal. The music is enjoyable, although I still miss the inspirational operatic music of earlier incarnations of HOMM. The Conflux town also contains several useful supporting structures, including the Artifacts Merchant, Shipyard, a ballista-building blacksmith, and the new Magic University. The Magic University allows visiting heroes to learn any or all of the four schools of magic as skills, providing they still have skill slots remaining. Each skill costs 2000 gold, but Earth and Air are almost always crucial skills, and Water and Fire have their uses as well. It is not surprising that the Conflux spell guild may be built to level five, which becomes even more crucial after building the grail structure for a Conflux town, as it makes all spells in the game available.

The random map generator included in Armageddon’s Blade is something that many people have been looking forward to. The ability to enter how many heroes, teams, computer opponents, and the map size and type and play a randomly generated map is appealing. Unfortunately, the process is a long one on my 300 MHz machine, and is plagued by bugs. Most importantly, the generated maps lack the flavor of a scenario lovingly crafted by the New World Computing team, or by fellow enthusiasts utilizing the bundled map editor. The maps created by peers are often well-constructed, and already do a sufficient job of expanding the HOMM3 world to Herculean proportions.

I was most impressed by the campaigns provided by this expansion. The seven standard HOMM3 campaigns were all fairly easy, especially the first three or four. Fortunately, Armageddon’s Blade takes up where HOMM3 left off, in terms of difficulty. The campaign of the same name tells the story of Kreegan expansion following Might and Magic VII. Armageddon’s Blade itself is a powerful artifact which utilizes one of the most effective tried-and-true combos available in the HOMM universe. You have the opportunity to utilize veteran campaign heroes, such as Queen Catherine, King Roland and Gelu, in a race against the Demoniac Xeron and his Kreegan hordes to find the powerful blade. It is a rather long campaign, and I found it to be quite enjoyable. Gelu’s special ability is the creation of one of the new creature types, Sharpshooters, from Archer, Marksman, Wood Elf, and Grand Elf recruits. The Sharpshooters are very powerful ranged creatures, and figure prominently throughout the campaign. My only complaints regarding this campaign deal with the Conflux towns and the level design in two of the scenarios. The Conflux towns are introduced in this campaign, yet are only required in one of the missions—making for not much of an introduction. The level design was good, but in two of the scenarios, through the use of Town Portal and Dimension Door I was able to advance to the next scenario within a week or two.

The other campaigns primarily employ army-types which were under-utilized in the HOMM3 campaigns. Dungeon, Tower, Stronghold, and Fortress armies make their presence known throughout the remainder of the campaigns. I was particularly fond of the Dragon Slayer campaign, which carefully denies Dimension Door from the hero Dracon, who creates Enchanters in a similar manner to Gelu’s creation of Sharpshooters. All of the new dragons are introduced in this campaign, and some provide quite difficult encounters indeed. In the final campaign, Foolhardy Waywardness, humor is utilized very effectively, but again I had a complaint regarding the level design of the final scenario. You are told that the scenario is impossible, and that you must hold out for four months in order to win. After only six weeks, victory was mine, but I still had to continually advance the time until all four months had passed in order to "defeat" the scenario. Nonetheless, I felt that all of the Armageddon’s Blade campaigns provided a much better challenge than the original HOMM3 campaigns.

As an expansion, Armageddon’s Blade does not improve HOMM3 to the same extent that The Price of Loyalty improved HOMM2. Nonetheless, despite some bugs and a few lapses in level design, Armageddon’s Blade provides a very solid improvement to the HOMM3 world, and the Conflux town and its denizens are welcome additions. I am certain that the instabilities that popped up after installing this expansion will soon be addressed by NWC and 3D0, and therefore I wholeheartedly recommend this expansion (and the original) to any fan of turn-based fantasy strategy

--Jeffrey Petersen