|Heroes of Might and Magic III
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Same compelling Heroes-style strategy; scads of new units, each with an upgrade; more heroes and artifacts; new hero abilities; bigger maps accommodate bigger conflicts
Can't load single scenarios from completed campaigns; pokey Internet play; uneven campaign pacing; unfriendly tutorial
System Requirements: Pentium-133 or equivalent; 32 MB RAM; 4X CD-ROM; SVGA with 2MB of video memory; 200 MB hard-drive space; sound board; Windows 95 Windows 98, or Windows NT
Multiplayer Support: Modem;direction connection (2 players);LAN;Internet;hot seat (2-8 players);one CD per player
Developer: New World Computing
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I'm ready for my neural implant now. Crack open my skull and stab that little microprocessor deep into my medulla oblongata. I happily embrace my cyborg future. At least as some unholy union of man and machine I'll actually be able to play Heroes of Might and Magic III every waking hour instead of just thinking about it every second that I'm away from my computer.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Heroes of Might and Magic III (HOMMIII) puts you in the position of commanding armies of dragons, vampires, knights, and the like in a traditional fantasy setting. The turn-based gameplay is divided in thirds: An expansive adventure map, where your heroes traverse the terrain in search of resources and enemies; city maps for each town, where players build structures and purchase units; and a hex-based combat map, where battles play out like elaborate, magic-enhanced chess matches.
In addition to resource management, building, and combat, gamers are charged with managing heroes who lead the armies. Heroes accrue experience with every successful battle, allowing them to gain and enhance a host of abilities that affect their performance. It's a delicately balanced, thoroughly engaging formula that has made the Heroes games a truly stellar series.
Bigger Than Life
HOMMIII expands upon the insanely addictive play of the previous edition, retaining the core gameplay while enhancing almost every facet of the game. This is first apparent in the size of all the maps. The adventure maps are frequently enormous, and several of them feature a new subterranean level that effectively doubles their size. Town maps have ballooned to hold a host of new buildings, and combat maps are about twice the size of their counterparts in the last game - all the better to accommodate the new armies that can now hold up to seven different unit types.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are now eight different types of towns, each generating a unique set of creatures requiring a specific combat strategy: The devastating hand-to-hand attacks of castle units demand a head-on assault, while the ranged attacks of units from tower towns benefit from a more defensive posture. Every monster in the game has an upgrade available, whereas Heroes II allowed only some of its units to be upgraded. Most units have special attacks/attributes that impact combat strategy. For example, incredibly powerful archangels can resurrect fallen comrades, while undead ghost dragons can age opponents, thus halving their hit points. Every unit is now rendered in 3D, with a more realistic look than the cartoonish units of the previous game.
Finally, a slew of new heroes and artifacts throws more strategic factors into the mix. Every hero has an innate special ability - such as being able to gain a bonus when commanding certain troops - and there are lots of new abilities to acquire as well. One new ability, tactics, lets heroes move their forces within a limited range immediately prior to a battle - it's great for offense-minded heroes, letting them move ranged units into prime positions while cutting down the distance melee units have to travel.
All this makes for a game that is mind-boggling in its depth, and the designers deserve praise for adding so much while managing to dodge the paralyzing feature bloat that could have easily sunk the title. Unfortunately, they also deserve a slap on the wrist for a tutorial that requires players to either print out a huge manual or constantly toggle between the game and a text file.
HOMMIII breaks from its predecessors in its campaign mode. Instead of a pair of linear campaigns with a few branches, the campaign is broken up into six minicampaigns of three to four scenarios apiece. While this lets the game tell a more interesting story, fans of the series will probably miss the either/or branches of Heroes II that rewarded them for taking on more challenging scenarios. The campaign mode's greatest drawback is that gamers can't load individual scenarios from completed minicampaigns - you have to save each scenario at its start to replay it. While the campaign game is loaded with more than 20 great, challenging scenarios featuring a variety of goals - including wiping out enemies, seizing specific towns, escort missions, and more - they're unevenly paced, with one cruelly hard mission finishing up the relatively easy second campaign (see sidebar for tips on beating this scenario) before lapsing into easy mode for the next campaign.
Fortunately, the game ships with an enormous number of mostly customizable single scenarios, giving the game remarkable replayability, while the map editor that's included ensures that tons of user-created maps will be available online.
HOMMIII has improved its multiplayer play, allowing for timed turns and letting strategists scan the map and their towns during an opponent's turn; while you can't issue orders during your enemy's turn, at least it's better than just staring at your monitor. A problem with DirectPlay makes Internet HOMMIII a sluggish experience, but that should be corrected in an upcoming patch.
Ultimately, the rewards of Heroes of Might and Magic III far outweigh its few drawbacks. Hopefully most of those shortcomings will be patched, but even as it stands now HOMMIII is a game that strategy fans should absolutely be playing.
By Robert Coffey
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