Heroes of Might and Magic III is simply breathtaking

Heroes of Might and Magic III
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While I have played Heroes of Might and Magic I and II, I have really not played this series extensively since King’s Bounty. In the interim I had been enjoying a similar turn based game called Warlord’s II. As you may know Warlord’s III is out, and I do have a copy and it is a lot of fun, but I was — and still am — partial to the second game in that series. I used the past tense when talking about warlord’s II on purpose. I have not played the game since my editor plopped Heroes of Might and Magic III on my desk one morning.

For those of you who are not familiar with the series, let me explain briefly. The main focus of the game is of course the Hero. You can have eight heroes active on the map at any time, but you can have more commanding troops garrisoned in your towns. There are 16 types of heroes, two for each of the eight types of towns that exist in the world. Your heroes lead your armies into battle, but do not fight. They can cast one spell per round, if they have the ability, and they also influence the combat in other ways, but I will delve more into combat later.

Troops can be recruited from towns and special locations. As you explore the area of the map you will discover mines that you need to capture as well as loose resources. These resources help you build up the town or towns under your control.

To win, you need to capture and hold other towns and mines, while also completing the required mission objectives. That’s it in a nut shell, but as you can imagine, the game is a lot more complex and comes with a thick manual. Most of the booklet is helpful, but not required reading. I skimmed the first third of the manual and was good to go.

My first impression of playing the game was "Wow, this looks fantastic." I clicked on my hero and up popped a very complete paper doll. Looking around, I don’t think they missed a thing when they created this screen. Everything you could possibly want to know about your hero is easily accessible from this one screen. You can check on your experience, moral, luck, skills, magic or armies, as well as rearrange your armies or what magic items you are holding verses what you are carrying in your backpack.

While I am on the subject of the hero, I want to mention a few other features that really sold me on this game. Each hero always has the same four primary skills, but what is new is the addition of eight secondary skill slots, allowing you to make each of your heros somewhat different from one another.

One hero can be better at diplomacy while another can be a great leader in battle with tactics, leadership, and luck. The thing that I was most pleased to see was the addition of quests. It is a feature that I always enjoyed while playing Warlords II and I was happy to see its inclusion here. In HOMM3, quests mainly involve finding an item for someone. Once you have it you can decide to keep it if you like its power, or return it for the reward.

After I checked out the hero I started to explore my surroundings. Everything has been redone for HOMM3. I am not sure were to start because it is all so beautiful. The landscape, the cities, the buildings and the monsters look clear and crisp. There are a number of different types of terrain including forest, snow, and desert (also the underworld).

There are eight different types of cities each with its own unique building. I am not sure what else can be said besides saying that the cities were designed with as much detail as the landscape. I don’t think anyone will be disappointed, everything just looks so good.

My only complaint with the cites is that it is hard to remember what each building looks like in the different cities, and it always took me a while to find what I needed.

Despite what I have said so far, the monsters are by far my favorite improvement. Watching them, especially as they were moving in combat, really impressed me.

But with all of these improvements, fear not, the interface is the same simple easy to use point and click system it has always been. The nicest part is if you leave your arrow over a button for a couple seconds a little help note pops up and tells you what that button does, I love games that do that. The only thing that I missed from playing Warlords II was the combat assessment system, which was basically a way to tell if I was way over matched before I got into a combat. But the more I play the game the less I miss this feature. Still, it sure would have been nice when I started playing.

The best part of the interface is a button to move between cities. Instead of searching across the map for them you can flip around with the click of a button. It made my life a whole lot easier. This is a feature that I hope to see in every game of this type in the future.

Playing around with the map editor, I was surprised to see simple to use terrain options. I was expecting a very complex editor given the beauty and detail of the finished product. So that was a nice surprise.

As with the interface, the combat system is also a relatively unchanged point and click system. You could easily step from playing a game of Kings bounty into a game of HOMM3 with little real difficulty.

The first improvement that I noticed was the addition of a first aid tent on the combat map. A big help in long combats. I thought the AI was pretty good, especially when someone I was playing with online pointed out to me that the computer was picking its attack times to coincide with the acquisition of new armies in cities.

The hero influences combat by both his or her presence and when applicable the ability to cast magic. The hero always influences the moral and luck of the army under his or her command. This is also where special skills come into play. Tactics is one of the skills a hero can learn. This skill allows the hero to arrange his or her army in a beneficial way before combat begins. The more skilled the hero, the farther from the starting position the troops can be placed. Or as another example, how accurately the hero can fire the ballista.

Magic in combat has improved greatly from what I remember. Magic is cast from an easy to read spell book of available spells. Hero’s either start with a spell book or they may purchase one at the mage guild once it has been constructed. New spells can be picked up in the countryside or at mage guilds. The guild is also where spells are traded between heros. There are four areas of magic — air, earth, water, and fire and each spell has five levels of power. The last few levels improve as the hero improves his or her secondary skill of wisdom.

I found the magic system to be easy to use both in and out of combat. To put it another way, it’s a complex system with a good looking and easy to use interface.

The absolute best way to play HOMM3 is multiplayer. Even with the best AI in the world, there is no substitute for playing with real people. There are several options including hotseat, modem and across the Internet for multiplayer gaming. The only thing that is missing is play by email (PBEM). I am not a big fan of PBEM, but the game takes so long to play by your self, and adding a couple of other people to that really increases the time. Making PBEM an option is something I would hope to see in HOMM4.

The best complement I can say about the sound track is that I did not notice it. That might sound like a horrible thing to say, but truly the best music in this type of game is the kind that you never notice. Consider this, your playing for two or three hours and you keep hearing the same tunes and sounds over and over again. After a while you just want to scream. In this case, I actually had to play the game once just for the purpose of listening to the sound track.

When you are exploring, the game has a nice little tune with brooks babbling and birds chirping in the background and when you enter combat the music changes to fit the mood. Each creature has its own movement and attack theme, which is really cool.

The thing that impressed me the most about this game was the overall beauty of the title. I have to follow that up with the sounds. The way you could hear things that were around you reminded me a great deal of Knights and Merchants, where as you moved around town the different sounds faded in and out depending on how close they were to you.

The only real negative is the long play time. I have the same problem with this game that I have with Civilization, Alpha Centauri and other games of that type. If I get too tired and have to quit, it takes me forever to figure out what I was doing the last time I played. The other problem I have is that I am easily addicted to those same games, but that is more of a personal issue.

Seriously though, if you are into turn based games, I rate this as a must have with 4 GiN Gems.

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