Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Heroes of Might & Magic 3 Complete Review

I recently felt the urge to play a 4X game, and invariably, Heroes of Might & Magic 3 found it's way onto my hard drive. Made for the PC, this game was released in 1999. I should probably note that the version I played was HoMM 3 Complete, which comes with both the expansions in addition to the base game.

Heroes of Might & Magic 3 is one of the most dangerous games anyone in college or working full-time can play. You'll start off with just trying it a little, and by the time you learned how to do everything (which doesn't take long), you'll all of a sudden find that you played straight through the night and are now late for work. I'm not even kidding, anybody with large time commitments should probably stay away from this game. With that said, let me go on to the review. Heroes of Might & Magic 3 (which I'll abbreviate HoMM 3) is one of the best games you'll ever play. It's addictive, it's fun, it's easy to play, it's packed with content, it's got a great depth to it, and it even looks nice. There is really nothing not to love.

Just like me, you'll win at life (and this game) if you buy (and beat) this game

In keeping with my current M.O. the first aspect I'll talk about is gameplay. The game takes place on a world map that may or may not include an underground map. The world map has an isometric view, coupled with a top down mini-map.

World Map

The battle screen, by contrast, has a mixed isometric-flat 2D view.

Battle Map (the hex grid and movement shadow can be turned off)

The gameplay is very simple. You upgrade your town, buy units, kill enemies with said units, have your hero gain experience for killing said units, and eventually. you'll be strong enough to take out all the other players, which generally means you win the game (sometimes there are certain objectives, such as capturing a specific city). The gameplay is also very fun. Extremely accessible and easy to pick up, the game will immediately suck you in. Even playing this game at its most base level -- buying your units every week and immediately attacking the enemy castle -- is immensely fun. The more complex aspects of the game, such as taking only fast units to get lots of move or placing strategic garrisons, serve only to make the game even better. This highlights what is quite possibly the greatest thing about HoMM 3: it can be played by anyone. I started playing this around the age of 7, and I understood (for the most part) how to play. That's how simple and easy to pick up the game is. At the same time, however, there is a lot of depth to the game. You can focus on the attack, defense, and special abilities of all the creatures and pit them against each other accordingly, or charge one point of the map in an attempt to cluster enemies in preparation for a big spell, or focus only on ranged units that can attack at a distance, but suffer a disadvantage at range. There are enough different strategies and units that the game will never really bore you. The greatest thing about the game, however, is that no one strategy is better than the others. Even if you just use a simple charge tactic, if you have a strong hero and enough units, you can still win. By the same token, clever positioning of units and waiting for the opportune moment to strike can result in a victory against greater numbers. You can pretty much play however you want, and you'll still be able to win. Which is not to say that a more strategic approach is not better, simply that even an inexperienced player will be able to win as well.
     Next thing is the races. There are 9 different races in the game: Castle, Rampart, Tower, Inferno, Necropolis, Dungeon, Stronghold, Fortress, and Conflux (Conflux is only included in the expansions). Every race has its own specific town, with 7 unit structures, a few basic town structures (blacksmith, marketplace, mage guild, etc.), and 2 or 3 unique structures.

A Stronghold town with all structures fully built.

The races (with the exception of the Conflux) are all very well balanced, with no particular race being better than the others. Each has their own unique advantages and play styles (Inferno can teleport between towns, Tower can get more spells than anyone else, and so on), but at the same time are similar enough that playing a new race isn't like playing an entirely different game. The units, too, are simple to understand, yet have depth. Every race has 7 units which can be upgraded once, in essence giving them 14 units. There's usually a flying unit, a ranged unit, a sturdy, hard to kill unit, and so on. However, because their differing special abilities and how high a tier they are (1st tier would be the first and least expensive unit one can get, 2nd tier would be slightly better and more expensive, and so on), no unit feels like a copy of another. One can focus on flying units to get over castle walls, but may have to forgo the slower, but harder to kill units. Alternatively, they can focus on units that can't get over the walls by themselves, but once inside will dominate combat. All the races are unique, balanced, and approachable.
     On the topic of units, I also want to mention the amount of content this game has. Heroes of Might and Magic 3 Complete comes with an astonishing 18 campaigns, 176 scenarios, a random map generator, and a map creator which allows users to make their own scenarios and campaigns. There is enough content that you'll probably never even feel the need to touch the map creator, and you probably won't even finish all the campaigns.
     The next thing to talk about is the music. The music in HoMM 3 is what I'm going to call dynamic music; it changes depending on race, location, and whether or not your in battle, and its done excellently. Suppose you're in a section of badlands. The music is forlorn, almost sorrowful, and somewhat dreary. Now suppose you move out of the badlands onto a grassy plain. In a matter of less than 2 seconds, the music becomes arid, open, and it has a feel of "plains." The change is extremely subtle. If you don't know about it and aren't expecting it, you may not even notice. But it really helps set the mood and feel of the individual areas. The music changes in cities, too, depending on what race the city is. As for the music itself, most of it has a classical bent to it, not that I'd call the music explicitly "classical" (as in, the classical genre). The best way to explain it is with an example. Take the Inferno race, for example, who are basically demons. Their music starts with dull horns, and is then accompanied by tension building, high-pitched string instruments, then another horn starts playing higher as it moves into the main theme. I'm going into this perhaps a little more thoroughly than I need to, but the bottom line is that the Inferno's music feels natural to their race, and it really fits the mood. The same goes for the other races. Overall, the music implementation is very well done, with subtle, mood-setting changes and a wide variety of music that all feels like it belongs in the game.
     Next, let's talk about the setting. Honestly, with the many premise-bending scenarios that come with the game, the world HoMM takes place in has never really been set in stone. So why am I talking about it? Well, what I want to talk about is not so much the setting of the game itself, but the aspects of the maps. There are a lot of nice embellishments in the setting. There are obelisks, which reveal parts of a puzzle map that shows the location of the grail, an artifact that gives a massive bonus to whatever city hosts it. Additionally, there are little things like windmills and water wheels that give you resources, mercenary camps and magical gardens that strengthen your hero, and Imp Caches and Cyclops Dens that can give you artifacts. These are just nice little touches that make the maps more interesting, but they really help bring the game to life. The best thing about the setting, however, are the races and their units. There are classic mythical elements from pretty much every era, including angels, demons, dragons, stone colossus, hydras, centaurs, unicorns, cyclops, medusas & gorgons, beholders, orcs, vampires, gargoyles, and so on. It's just great seeing them all exist at the same time as each other. It feels sort of natural to see them all together, with is not something you find all the time in games. In fact, is quite rare for such a wide variety of fantasy and mythical elements to be blended so perfectly. I just find it very cool.
     And finally, let's talk about the multiplayer. The multiplayer in Heroes 3 is pretty awesome. Pretty much every multiplayer option you can think is available: Hotseat (which is excellent), IPX, TCP/IP, Modem, Direct Connect, and Online. The hotseat multiplayer takes first place. It's fast paced (it's hard to take long turns when the other people are whining at you to hurry up), engaging even when it's not your turn (because you're whining and/or watching what the other player is doing), and very well designed and implemented. The numerous other options are great for head-to-head games with your friends or large games with lots of people. Multiplayer games are also easy to save and resume.
     There are only two bad things about HoMM 3, and they are very minor. The first is the inability to delete savegames in-game. This is a fairly minor interface problem, and one that many games suffer from, but it is an annoyance none the less. There is no in-game option to delete saves, so in order to get rid of them, you have to use windows explorer. Since deleting them at that point is fairly straightforward, and since you can save over other saved games, this isn't a real problem, per se. Just a minor annoyance.
     The second "bad" thing about the game is the Conflux race. This race, added in one of the expansions, is simply inferior to the others. All of their buildings and units are very powerful and very expensive (at least, for their tier). This basically means that the difference between success and failure is determined not by the player themselves, but by their starting position (how many resources are nearby) and how often enemies raid their mines. They simply aren't as well balanced. Also, the race units didn't fit in quite as well. The Conflux units are as follows:

Can you find the 2 units who are out of place?

So as you can see, the Conflux is a race of elementals, which is pretty cool. Oh, and pixies. And Phoenixes. My main problems with the Conflux units are:
a.) The Pixies and Phoenixes, although they fit with the other mythical creatures of the game, do not fit with the elementals at all.
b.) The elementals, while cool, don't really fit in with the rest of the game very well. They're fantasy creatures, and opposed to mythical creatures. I mean, they aren't totally out of place, but they just don't feel as natural to the world.
The thing to realize about the Conflux, however, is that they are an extra, slapped together as an "exciting new race" for the expansion. The expansions already added enough that this probably wasn't necessary, But the fact remains that they are an extra, one that is largely optional (they might appear if one picks random, but otherwise their involvement is the game is quite controllable), and furthermore are not a total failure. They aren't terrible, they just aren't as good or cool as any of the other races.

     I could sing my praises for this game from the rooftops. It's got a ton of content, the gameplay is simple, fun, and addictive, and it's very well balanced.
     Gameplay: The gameplay in HoMM 3 is perfect. Anybody can play the game and anybody can beat the game, but at the same time there is enough complexity that players looking for a slightly deeper experience will be satisfied. The gameplay in this is what makes it so addictive. You'll become so absorbed in it that you'll want to play "just one more turn" over and over and over again.
     Visuals: The visuals in HoMM 3 are really quite impressive, especially when one considers that it's over a decade old and has a file size of about 870 MB. I didn't go into this much in my review, but the visuals are clean and good looking. Nothing gets in the way of playing the game, the map terrain blends seamlessly, the towns look cool, and, as you can see, the battle maps are really pretty nice looking. Everything looks nice, and there's really not much else to say. the only complaint is that each race has two hero models, one for a "melee (or might) hero" and one for a "magic hero." Since these make no provisions for gender or race, it can just be a little weird. An example of this can actually be seen in the battle map picture above: the hero in the top left corner is actually supposed to be a green orc, but instead he looks like a barbarian man. Since I was sort of playing as barbarians, it works, but it's just a slight annoyance.
     Sound: The sound in this game is great. Great music, great use of music, great sound effects, and excellent use of sound for setting the mood and atmosphere. Very well done.
     Game Content: There are lots of single player options, with tons of scenarios with a good 3-4 different types of objectives. In addition, there are also quite a large number of campaigns, as well as a random map generator. Lastly, there is nearly every multiple player option you can think of, and they work quite well. You'll become bored with the game before you play through all the content. I've been playing the game for over 10 years, and I've yet to be bored (and I've barely even scratched the surface of all the content).

Overall: Heroes of Might and Magic 3 Complete is an amazing game. It's loads of fun, it's addictive, it's well designed, it looks and sounds nice, and it's got more content than most people would ever want. This is what every turn-based strategy game should aspire to be, at least in one aspect, if not more. I would recommend this game to anyone and everyone who likes games, especially to those who would question whether or not a game from the 90's could be good (the answer is yes, by the way).

Any suggestions/requests for my next reviews? Leave a comment!


  1. Lol, dangerous game? Might have to try it out. I heard of it before, but never played - although, it does remind me of Disciples II by reading some of the features. Sort of.

    1. I've actually played Disciples II before, and in fact just re-installed it on my computer. And yeah, they are pretty similar, especially graphics-wise. Disciples II is a little more atmospheric and individual unit based, while Heroes III is more strategy based and has a slightly faster pace, but if you liked Disciples, chances are you'll like Heroes as well.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. "... The first is the inability to delete savegames in-game. ..."

    You can delete savegames in-game very easy: After choosing "Load game" just click on the savegame you wish to delete and press the delete button on your keyboard - that's all ;)

    1. Ah ha, I stand corrected then! Thanks for pointing that out!

  3. one of the best games ever made.And I agree,it's wonderfully addictive.

    1. Totally. I personally think it's the pinnacle of the Heroes series, if not the 4X TBS genre as a whole.

  4. Wait, what? Conflux is the most OVERpowered, not UNDERpowered race in the game...