Released in 1999, Heroes of Might and Magic III immediately earned rave reviews and critical acclaim. Beautiful graphics, insanely addictive gameplay, and unfathomable depth combined to leave gamers around the world square-eyed, promising their parents – and themselves – that they were going to play “Just one more turn”. 13 years later, Impact’s Peter Klein remains more addicted than ever…
Despite the mind-numbing pleasure it undoubtedly brought to gamers far and wide, Heroes of Might and Magic III remains a hidden gem to some, and simply forgotten to others. Initially bursting onto the scene in early 1999, it was soon choked amidst the year’s more hyped releases, including behemoths Counter-Strike and Age of Empires II. To emphasise my point, in the past decade or so I’ve introduced dozens of friends to Heroes, but only met one fellow “user”. As you can probably guess, Heroes is more of a cult classic – loved by a small group of dedicated fans, but unknown or misunderstood by the majority. This article is essentially my effort to drag Heroes up from the footnotes to stand alongside the timeless classics we adored as kids. Age of Empires, Pokemon Red and Blue, Super Smash Bros – Heroes of Might and Magic III belongs in the same pantheon as these greats.
In a nutshell, Heroes is a turn-based strategy game played over a multitude of various maps. Each player picks a town, or race, and controls the armies and attributes unique to that particular alignment through a set of mercenary heroes, who can move around the gorgeously augmented map to explore and uncover hidden areas. As with most strategy games, the player must first collect and gain control of resource pools before they can spend them at their town. As the town develops, upgrades can be purchased to increase combat might, income, and hero skills. Scenarios are generally won by defeating all enemies, although some scenarios have an objective to complete, such as taking control of a certain artefact before the enemy, or defeating a particularly powerful monster before the opposition manages to.
Beneath this lies a world of complexity. As you begin to develop each of your heroes you’ll find that each hero and troop type has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, and you must accommodate for these accordingly. For example, loading all of your best troops onto the back of a single powerful hero and hoping to conquer the entire map will never work. The sheer size of the map, plus certain terrains which impede movement, will prevent your hero from conquering immense portions of enemy territory within a single turn. In the meantime, your town will be left virtually defenceless and ripe for the taking. Therefore it is vital to understand each of your hero’s abilities; those with the pathfinding and scouting skills will be more suited to exploration and far reaching conquests than those without. A hero whose talents are based upon magic could be less handy in a battle than those with extensive fighting experience. A limited number of abilities from a vast range can be learned by each hero, effectively allowing you to carefully tailor-make heroes based around your own style of play.
Similarly, each unit type has a set of stats, such as attack, defence, health and speed. Some of the stronger troops have skills unique to them; an Archangel can resurrect fallen comrades, whereas Dragons are resistant to magic. Needless to say, battles are much more complex than simply charging your troops forward and hoping for the best. Many battles can be swayed by terrains, spells or attribute boosting artefacts, which can be discovered across the map.
However, Heroes really shines when looked at in simple terms. The aesthetics, for instance, are delicious; you will soon find yourself playing the game more to explore a gorgeous map jam-packed with intriguing items and alluring landscapes rather than to defeat the enemy. Resources quickly become drained on upgrading monsters and towns as childish curiosity becomes dominant, the excitement of seeing your units and buildings transform overcoming strategic resolve.
The game’s various soundtracks are as enchanting as its aesthetics. Each town has a superb orchestral theme tune which ties in perfectly with the various aspects of the castle. For example, the Inferno town, home of Imps, Hellhounds and Devils, has a sinister yet undeniably beautiful arrangement which would function just as effectively in a Tim Burton film. In fact, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone reproduced various soundtracks and sound bites from the game in their cartoon. Like the cherry on top of a cake certain action spots on the map reveal delightful accompanying sound effects, such as logs being chopped at a lumber yard, or an Irish leprechaun goading and laughing in a lucky clover patch. Every time you encounter something new you’ll take a few seconds to stand by and listen before moving on.
That’s where the true allure of the game lies. There’s always a promise of something more, and that’s what makes it so addictive. Like a shot of heroin, or an annoying but gorgeous girlfriend, this game will have you telling yourself “Just one more turn” over and over.