Pros: Fun; sense of humor; some of the fun of Civ without the tedium
Cons: Combat is slow once you know you’re going to lose; learning curve
Rating: 4 out of 5
First published 2/23/2001
Previously published on Epinions.com
My fiancee just picked up a bunch of games for Linux, and they included a version of Heroes of Might and Magic III. He’s been too busy working to play it, so I made off with it. Ha! (Oh, it’s okay – I loved it so much he ordered another copy so we could play multiplayer.) I haven’t played the previous Heroes games, so I won’t be comparing this one to other versions. (Also note that I’m no expert on computer games–this is just my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth. Hopefully I’ve provided enough information that you can make up your own mind about the game.)
You hire heroes, who come with armies. You guard towns, where you can build structures, and recruit army material and more heroes. You go around picking up and claiming resources, which you need to build structures. You visit places and characters that teach you things (they have a great sense of humor about this. The description of witches teaching you things makes fun of the whole “random stranger teaching you things for no good reason” convention). You visit people who ask you to go on quests for them. You defeat monsters, take over more towns, find the Grail just because it’s spiffy, explore lots of land, and solve some sort of big campaign goal. There’s even a neat backstory to the world.
Scenario goals usually include taking enemy castles and defeating enemy heroes. But there are things like acquiring a specific artifact, accumulating a certain amount of creatures or resources, upgrading a certain town to a specified level, constructing a building to house the Grail, defeating a specific hero, capturing a specific town, defeating a specific creature, controlling all of the creature generators or mines in the game, or transporting a specific artifact to a certain location. There are also additional small quests that you’re given while in a scenario.
You can play a single scenario or an extended campaign complete with plot points. You can set your difficulty, play against human or computer opponents, choose your starting town or hero (more useful once you’ve had experience with the game), and set the maximum turn duration (yes, it does go up to “unlimited”). In multiplayer games you can handicap players varying amounts, so a skilled player can play against a much less skilled player.
The Learning Curve
Luckily it comes with a tutorial – you’ll probably need it. Remember to print out the tutorial manual before you start up the tutorial! It takes a little while to go through, but it really does help you get the basics. There’s still a lot to learn after that, but you can learn most of it as you go along. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. If you play the tutorial, then it is possible to learn as you play without reading the manual first, particularly if you don’t mind saving often and losing a few times!
Make sure you actually have the manual, though. It has things like the statistics and abilities of all those monsters you face. Since monsters of wildly varying ability can be found near each other, this is important. Otherwise you’ll send your pitiful first-level hero up against a bunch of fireball-wielding Magogs, and trust me, it’ll hurt. If, like me, you forget to find out that these things are in the manual before you play, just save before each combat so you can go back and reconsider your rash actions.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are good but not great. This is fine – it isn’t a 3D first-person shooter or anything! You do get to see your hero’s horse gallop around the screen, which is amusing for a while. The sound is better than most from such games – it hasn’t driven me stark raving mad yet, and I haven’t felt the need to turn it off yet. That must be a good sign.
The Fun of Civilization without the Tedium
On the surface this game looks nothing like Civ, so why am I comparing them? Well, actually, in a lot of ways they’re similar. They’re turn-based. They both involve collecting and managing resources, building up towns and units, and conquering your neighbors. Heroes also throws in lots of atmosphere, some interesting quests, a plot, and more interesting combat, but the basic idea is similar.
This is fantastic! See, I love Civ. But I need a break from the game. I’ve played it for so long that the fact that everything comes down to a few simple variables that get frobbed in various ways is becoming too transparent. And the one problem I always had with Civ was that certain parts of it, like micro-managing your towns, were too tedius. You don’t have that here. Town management is a much simpler thing here.
Combat is kind of interesting. The attackers (that’s usually you) generally line up on the left side of the screen, and the defenders on the right. (Sometimes the positioning is more interesting than that.) Your hero doesn’t actually fight. He sits back in a corner and flings spells (limited by his spell points and a set number of actions). The rest of your army does the actual fighting. Trust me here, and recruit as many critters with ranged attacks as possible. They don’t get hurt as much by the enemies with non-ranged weapons, and they don’t waste several rounds trying to catch up to the enemies with ranged weapons.
The creatures in the armies fight in groups. You can cast a spell on an entire group, and a group gets one attack in a round (two if your morale is particularly high). This does mean that you’re better off concentrating all of your firepower on one enemy group at a time, so that you reduce the number of attacks he can do. Some of the enemies are smart enough to target your folks with long-range attacks, or even your First Aid Tent. Once a round your First Aid Tent can heal one of your groups of creatures. It is capable of being destroyed, however.
My only complaint here is that combat can take a little while. The turns go a little slowly, and while this is okay when you’re in the thick of combat, it gets frustrating once you can tell that you’re going to lose and just want to get it over with. Luckily you can hit the “auto-combat” button so you can go get cake while it finishes the combat for you, or you can retreat. It’ll call you cowardly, but you do get to re-load your save game sooner.
Some of the Details
There are lots of interesting critters: pikemen, halbardiers, swordsmen, crusaders, monks, griffins, obsidian gargoyles, imps, angels, and more. Some of them are “upgraded” versions of others, which you can create once you upgrade certain structures in your towns. There are a wide variety of spells, like “Stone Skin” which protects your creatures, Lightning Bolt (which does the obvious), Protection from Water, Animate Dead, Earthquake, Implosion, Dispell, and more. You can cast spells in or out of combat-time.
Gold seems to be one of the limiting factors in the game. You can build structures in your town that give you gold each day, claim gold after defeating creatures (treasure chests give you the option of claiming gold or experience points, which is pretty cool), and so on. You need gold to build things, hire heroes, recruit armies, and so on.
It’s a lot of fun! Gone through all the campaigns? Do it again with different heroes, starting towns, and difficulties. Play with or against a human opponent. Play with all of the little quests… or not! You have the option of turning them down. You can go underground and find more interesting places to visit, wandering monsters sometimes join up with you, and it’s basically a rollicking good time for all.