TGC Review Series

HEROES OF MIGHT AND MAGIC® III

Reviewed for The Guild Companion by Lowell R. Matthews (© 1999)

 

Heroes of Might and Magic®III (® 1999) was created by Jon Van Caneghem and is distributed by The 3DO Company of Redwood City, CA. HeroesTMIII is actually the fourth in a series of strategic adventure games that began with King's Bounty (® 1990) and continued with Heroes of Might and Magic (® 1995), and HeroesII (® 1997). This series is the companion to the Might and Magic® tactical adventure series which now boasts seven versions, but where the MM series focuses on four or so individual characters, the HMM series focuses on hero-led fantastic armies. Personally, I prefer strategic games, so....

As the creator recounts in the manual's introduction, nine years is practically forever in the computer-game business:

When I sat down to create King's Bounty®, the precursor to Heroes of Might and Magic, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would grow into the phenomenon the series has become. I had just finished Might and Magic®II. At the time, King's Bounty was state of the art: 16 colors and used up both sides of the floppy disk. I had one programmer and one artist to make my design real, and it took us about a year to finish.

Nine years later, the HeroesTMIII game is state of the art. The Heroes III game has 65,000 colors and fills an entire CD. I had over 30 people work on the project: programmers, artists, voice actors, and level designers, and it took us about 18 months to finish.

Mr. Van Caneghem's hyperbole aside, the HMM series games are indeed visually appealing. In my opinion, they are more appealing than most of their competitors for the given year. The advances in picture quality between the years 1995, 1997, and 1999 are apparent but subtle, and have probably reached the point of diminishing returns. Advances in other features, however, particularly sound and animation, are much more pronounced. The introduction to HMM III is really more of a beautifully detailed, computer-animated short feature nearly worth the purchase price in itself. Nevertheless, strategic games, no matter how sophisticated the special effects, cannot compare to real-time simulations—nor should they, really.

KB and HMM I–III all feature the recruitment, maintenance, and movement of fantasy–medieval armies on the strategic level, with battles fought on separate tactical maps. (Those concepts are similar to those used in the old Avalon Hill board game TitanTM and such computer games as Master of OrionTM and Master of MagicTM.)

While I cannot speak for KB, HMM I–III all feature army recruitment and maintenance based on the construction of a particular type of city, four types in HMM I, six in II, and eight in III. The number of individual creatures available for recruitment in each city type is based on the "if you build it, they will come" principle. On the first day of each game week, if a particular dwelling exists in a city, a set number of individuals become available for recruitment. Each city type has its own construction hierarchy of creature dwellings (six each in I and II, seven each in III), fortifications, and other buildings. Therefore, an understanding of the basic economics of the game is crucial, because the players must marshal resources both to build up their cities and to mobilize recruits once they become available. The six or seven classes of creatures within each city progress in power and cost, while maintaining rough parity within each class. That is, while all "Class III" creatures have variances in power, the differences are much greater between creatures of Classes III and IV than between two Class III creatures from different city types.

One key difference between the HMM series and other strategic adventure games like the WarlordsTM series or Master of MagicTM; is the function of the heroes. In the other games, heroes are military units like all the others, sometimes with greater power and additional functions, but all of the units can operate independently and kill or be killed. In the HMM series, heroes can kill (through spell use) but cannot be killed. They serve as the mercenary commanders of the players' armies. The losing hero in a battle, i.e., the first to run out of troops, retreat, or surrender, does not die; instead, he leaves the losing player's service and returns to the recruitment pool. (In the latter two outcomes he returns to the head of the line.) Most importantly, HMM armies cannot move without a hero to command them.

The heroes' major attributes are Attack and Defense Factors, Spell Knowledge, and Spell Power. The first two directly modify the factors of the creatures led by the hero. Spell Power determines how much damage spells do or how long they last, while Knowledge determines how many spells may be cast. HMM I uses a memorization system reminiscent of AD&DTM, while II and III use a power-point system like RolemasterTM. HMM II also introduced a "secondary skills" system refined in III. One of the better changes between II and III is the set of four Spell Familiarity secondary skills, one for each alchemical element.

Now comes the time to answer the question, is HMM III worth the money, typically $50? This reviewer replies, yes! Especially since it would likely be possible to buy it now at reduced prices (it was released this spring). It is also frequently possible to buy the older versions as "gold" editions in a boxed set or perhaps in conjunction with the new release. Of course, no game is perfect. HMM III and its predecessors lack the customizability of such games as Warlords II DeluxeTM (v. 2.22), in which it is possible to create not only custom maps but army sets (both pictures and values), city pictures, and terrain sets. Customization in the HMM series is for the most part limited to scenarios, i.e., maps. For that reason, the HMM games do not hold my interest as tightly as the Warlords series. Nevertheless, I plan to buy the next installment whenever it comes out (2001 if the trend continues).

Editor's Note

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