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Heroes of Might and Magic III

The main focus of HOMM3 is the heroes. Heroes lead stacks, or groups, of armies that they obtain from castles they own and other special locations on the map. You obtain armies, and build the structures at castles you own necessary to get them, by gathering resources. Gold is the main currency, but you also will need raw materials like wood and gems. These can be found scattered around the map in little piles that you can pick up and are also gotten through mines that you control. Mines will provide a set number of a given raw material each turn. Inevitably, each scenario you play is about strengthening your forces by capturing castles and adding heroes to your army so you can cover more ground.

Heroes don't actually participate physically in combat, but their influence is very great. Heroes can be proficient in the use of magic, which can be cast during combat to improve the abilities of your armies or weaken/damage your enemies. Heroes have four main skills (attack, defense, knowledge, and power) that are used in combat to determine how well your units will attack and defend and how powerful your spells will be. There are eight different castles in the game and each has a battle-oriented and magic-oriented hero associated with it.

Combat-oriented heroes see greater increases to attack and defense as they move up experience levels, while heroes that use more magic will see their knowledge and power levels increase. In addition, they can have up to eight secondary skills that can be basic, advanced, or expert level. The skills allow them increasing proficiency in the use of certain spell schools, movement across land or sea, or other such abilities. Finally, artifacts give more bonuses to heroes and can be found throughout each map, although they are never gained without at least a little fight.

New to HOMM3 are quests that can be accomplished during the course of a scenario. Individuals will usually ask you to find and return some precious artifact to them in exchange for a reward of some kind. Once you find the artifact you can decide to keep it and use its powers or return it for your reward

So much has been changed and improved since HOMM2 that I really don't know where to begin. Graphically speaking, the changes in the game are almost unbelievable. Every single part of the game, from the battlefields and monsters to the cutscenes and game maps, has been completely overhauled. The resulting graphics are much clearer and crisper than ever before. The detail and animations for the monsters is quite welcome and nicely complements all of the new armies in the game. Similarly, the town views are completely revamped and are much more interesting than the template look used in HOMM2; each town has both distinct buildings and settings.

Speaking of distinct towns, I like the fact that the different town types have some new structures that are unique to each: the castle's lighthouse, the stronghold's escape tunnel (a great feature), and the necropolis' skeleton transformer. Of course, the new town and hero types add a new dimension to the game, as do the many new creatures. Not only are there new types of heroes with new abilities, but the game manual provides a comprehensive list of each and every individual hero in the game, complete with stats. Unlike its predecessor, HOMM3 allows you to have eight heroes wandering about plus a hero garrisoned at each town you own. Also, the work you put into building your heroes up during a given scenario doesn't go to waste when you play a campaign. You get to take up to eight of your best heroes with you to the next scenario. They won't have their artifacts and armies, but will keep their skills and abilities and I think it's a truly excellent idea.

The interface has been tweaked somewhat but is not dramatically different (I thought it was excellent in HOMM2 anyway). The biggest change is the new paper doll screen for heroes, which allows for more intuitive use of artifacts than before and restricts it at the same time. In HOMM2, one hero could have numerous artifacts of the same kind (ie, special weapons that gave attack bonuses). Now you must choose which artifact you want to use based on the slots available. If you have too many of one kind, you need to give them to another hero that can use them or maybe trade them in at one of the special locations on the map. The exchange screens are better than before and the ability to exchange spells -- provided one of the two heroes has the scholar secondary skill -- makes a huge difference and eliminates the need to return a hero all the way to a given town when you've upgraded the mage guild there. Speaking of spells, the spells have now been split up according to the different elements and you can have your heroes become proficient in one or more of the spell schools as a secondary skill, making them cheaper to cast and more powerful.

From a gameplay standpoint I've found the new campaigns to be very enjoyable, particularly because each has a different focus and allows me to use heroes of different types while fighting against varied enemies. I like the way it's set up in stages so that you play the first three campaigns, each from a different viewpoint, then move to the next stage of the "good vs. evil" battle, and finally duke it out to see who will reign in Erathia. The single-player campaigns were even more entertaining than those in HOMM2 and the standalone scenarios were great as well. I found the map editor is easier to use than ever and look forward to seeing all the maps HOMM3 fans will churn out (I know they will since I'm still playing new HOMM2 maps to this day).

Other key additions to the game are the restricted movement during combat of all armies, particularly those that can fly. Also, obstacles now play an actual role in trying to use ranged weapons, as does the distance between the army doing the shooting and the target. While the catapult was around in the last game, a ballista has been added as well as a first aid tent. Heroes with the corresponding secondary skills can actually control these war machines. If the hero doesn't have the appropriate skill, they will act on their own on your behalf.

One of the improvements I'm most excited about is a true co-op mode for multiplayer games. I love playing multiplayer games with someone against amassed enemy forces, but in HOMM2 the computer didn't really recognize allies and there was no real benefit to working together. In HOMM3 multiplayer games you can share units and resources with your ally and the computer actually recognizes you're working together and are not enemies, which is a big enough change in itself. No sign of PBEM support in this version, but I still manage it just fine sending the Hot Seat file. The only problem with this method is that it virtually eliminates the ability to play against other human players because of combat, which is why I like the co-op features so much.


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