Game Over Online ~ Heroes of Might and Magic III

GameOver Game Reviews - Heroes of Might and Magic III (c) 3DO, Reviewed by - DToxR

Game & Publisher Heroes of Might and Magic III (c) 3DO
System Requirements Pentium 133, 32 MB Ram, DirectX 6.0+, 4X CD-ROM
Overall Rating 85%
Date Published Tuesday, March 2nd, 1999 at 03:01 PM

Divider Left By: DToxR Divider Right

With a long standing tradition for making highly addictive role playing and turn based strategy games, New World Computing (NWC) has unleashed Heroes of Might and Magic III (HOMM3) on an unsuspecting population. Boasting new heroes, new maps, new spells, new EVERYTHING, this game has a feature list that will make your head spin. But hype is hype and homey don't play dat, so let's dig in and see what the game is really like.

The story is set in the kingdom of Erathia which should be familiar to anyone who played the earlier HOMM games. Apparently the good king has died leaving his kingdom is up for grabs. In true evil tradition the baddies occupying neighboring territories waste no time in jumping on the unprotected region. Things really start to get messy when the ex-kings daughter Catharine Ironfist shows up on the scene to claim the throne. As you would expect in any good HOMM game, all out war ensues with the winner taking the kingdom of Erathia.

The overall packaging of the game is very polished. A simple yet effective autorun menu system is used to install the game and preview other upcoming products from 3DO (check out the Requiem demo sometime when you're bored, it's pretty cool). Also included is a map editor and after using it, I have to say this is by far the easiest editor I have ever used. Not only can you whip up new maps in no time, but you can also make *good looking, functional* maps. This is a far cry from some of the unusable garbage editors that seem to find their way onto game CDs these days (Total Annihilation anybody?). Thumbs up for the map editor – it certainly adds to the replay value.

The game types are quite varied in HOMM3. Single player options include training missions, single scenario, and campaign mode. Campaign mode is certainly the most interesting of the bunch and you have the choice of six different campaigns – each from a different perspective. This is a interesting twist as it lets you see the game from the shoes of the good guys or the cloven boots of the baddies. Before each campaign mission you are treated to a nice rendered cutscene while a voice actor runs down the background storyline and the terms of victory for the map. In addition to this you can choose from one of three "bonuses" to take into the mission which can range from an artifact to extra troops to bonus skills. I initially expected the campaigns to be rather epic in length but I was rather disappointed to find out they are only a few missions long (perhaps the later campaigns are longer?). Multiplayer is a different story however. Kudos to NWC for the wide variety of multiplayer options. Choices include IPX, TCP/IP, modem to modem, direct cable connect,,,, and a "hotseat" option where more than one player can play on a single machine by switching places between turns. The game style is quite customizable with different size maps and victory conditions as well as the ability to ally with other players or even backstab an ally. I wish more game companies would put this kind of effort into multiplayer gaming. Admittedly a turn-based game can seem to drag out as you wait for the other player. To combat this, NWC has added a timer limit option and the ability to scroll around the map to look at your cities and heroes while you are waiting for your turn. This goes a long way towards keeping all players occupied and involved. One addition that would be really nice with a turn-based game is a play-by-email option so the gamers can take turns at their leisure.

There have been some solid modifications to the gameplay since the last HOMM release. Hero inventories have been changed over to a "paper doll" inventory system whereby you can only equip one weapon and one shield and so on as opposed to the old system which just gave you a certain number of slots that you could fill with any type of artifact (yeah like my hero can swing eight swords at once…). The hero types have also been diversified – there are now sixteen flavours of heroes such as Death Knight, Necromancer, Heretic, Beastmaster, and Alchemist. For every two types of hero there is aalso a corresponding type of fortress where than hero can recruit more troops specific to their class (eg. Skeletons for the Death Knight and Archers for the Cleric). There have been a number of new war machines added, so now you can control a first aid tent, a catapult, a ballista, and an ammo cart. Unfortunately these toys seemed to play a very limited role and I would have liked to see the ability to control a whole army of ballistas instead of just a single wimpy dart chucker. One of my favorite new additions was the "tactics" skill which allows you to position all your creatures before a battle starts which is a huge strategic advantage. Another significant addition is that of the underworld; by entering various portals placed around the map, you can enter an underground realm with its own set of treasures and obstacles. This makes for an interesting tactic of sneaking behind enemy lines through these tunnels.

To steal a quote from 3DO's website, "expect not a revolution, but an evolution" and as far as the graphics go, this is certainly the case. NWC has long been (in)famous for their hand drawn artwork; if you have played any of the Might and Magic RPG’s you will know exactly what I mean. I’ve never been a big fan of this style of artwork so I was relieved to learn that in keeping up with the times NWC has changed all of the characters over to pre-rendered 3D models. On screen resolution has also been jacked up a little as you can now play in 800x600 with 65,000 colours. I have one burning question for NWC though: why not let the user pick their own resolution from a list instead of writing it in stone? 800x600 is just swell on a 14" or 15" monitor but even that gets ugly on anything 17" or bigger… something to keep in mind for HOMM4. Aside from this minor issue, I found all of the in-game graphics to be sharp and colourful (NWC calls this "bright and polite" whatever that means) and HOMM series veterans will feel right at home. Gameplay alternates between the overhead map view dubbed "the adventure screen" where you navigate your heroes around a large map and the zoomed in battle scene whenever you go into combat. Both screens have been enlarged to keep in line with the increased screen resolution. Character animation in battle is pretty straightforward and I was certainly happy to see that all of Erathias creatures are good sports so when you go to attack from behind, your victim will turn around first to enable you to get a solid whack at their face (sic).

I have always seen NWC as a rather conservative company that sticks with proven technology rather than pushing the envelope so I was very surprised to see that all of the HOMM3 in-game music is in .mp3 format. The resulting tracks are very high quality and make all the old midi tracks sound pretty lame. The songs are diverse and context sensitive so the music will change as you enter specific areas or go into battle. The only problem with .mp3’s is they use a fair bit of CPU time so if you have anything less than a p2 you may want to switch the music off after you've heard a few tracks because it really lags the game. One change I would recommend as far as music goes: get some choral music in there! The battle hymns in SSI’s Fantasy General were fantastic and I’d like to hear more tracks like that. Just make sure you hire professionals to do the job – I don’t want to hear NWC programmers singing Ave Maria off key. Sound effects are quite functional and although not as crucial in a turn based game as a shooter (you can’t be surprised from behind when it’s your turn), they keep you in the action. I would have liked the FX to be a little darker and less cartoony. When a Bone Dragon sounds tears the side out of a Serpicore, I wanna KNOW it! Oh and in case you were wondering, yes - the sound effect for a flying creature still sounds like a pair of corduroy pants rubbing together. Then again, until I’ve had lunch with an Archangel or chilled out with a Cyclops lord, I can’t say too much about realism in "fantasy sounds".

You can’t go wrong with Heroes of Might and Magic III. New World Computing has created a solid, well rounded game with great multiplayer options that will hold the interest of any strategy gamer. No doubt there will be some complaints that the game is too similar to HOMM2 and I would agree that it does look to be very similar at first glance but there have been a lot of changes made that really add to the depth of the game. Overall a very solid effort. One note to NWC though – let’s see you take some chances next time instead of playing it conservative. Using a tried and true game recipe makes a good game, coming up with something revolutionary makes a GREAT game.

Thanks to Kizer for his help with this review.

Highs: excellent multiplayer options, sharp rendered graphics, almost every aspect of the game has been improved.

Lows: no earth-shattering changes, users can’t select their own resolution, mp3’s lag slower systems.


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