The King of Erathia, Gryphonheart, has been assassinated. In his absence the underground empire of Nighon has teamed up with the, literally, hellish force of Eofol to take over the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Necromancers of Deyja are thinking of putting Gryphonheart’s corpse and it’s military experience to use. The kingdoms of Avlee and Bracada are trying to hold Erathia together but between the invasion from below and the barbarian land grabs, they’ve got their hands full. Catherine, the new queen, having heard of her father’s demise returns home. Having fought in Enroth’s brutal war for its throne, she expects only to bury her father. With her country in chaos it falls to her, and her talented commander, to fight for her homeland.
New World Computing had just been purchased by 3DO and they wanted a sequel for their successful Heroes of Might and Magic series. David Mullich, the director of the project, had worked on such games as Ducktales for the NES and I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream –two games that couldn’t be more different. He was accompanied by writer and assistant director Chris Vanover who wrote every character bio and most of the text for the game. Mullich’s goal was to take the basic systems of Heroes II but improve the visuals and tighten everything. To that end they used 3D sprites instead of 2D sprites. Mullich put together his team personally and said, “I was working with a dream team the likes of which I have never again experienced in my thirty-five years in game industry.”
Fun Fact: David Mullich appears in the level editor as an Erathian knight named Sir Mullich, who is “prone to spasmodic fits of uncoordinated excitement believed to intimidate his troops into working faster.”
Heroes of Might and Magic III was released on February 28, 1999. It’s competition was Baldur’s Gate: Tales From the Sword Coast (PC), Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance (PC), and Final Fantasy VIII (PS1).
Before I knew what Dungeons and Dragons was, before I knew about Tolkien, before Diablo, there was Heroes of Might and Magic. This is the game that taught me that Medusa turns things to stone and that wizards are awesome. I used to play this game when my mother would visit some of her friends. These guys were old-school nerds. These guys used to code in DOS and had played Betrayal at Krondor. This game sort of started my interest in nerd culture and I thank it for that.
The player assumes the role of a commander overseeing all affairs military and domestic in some sort of armed conflict. This commander hires heroes who take the battle to enemy heroes and cities. Heroes gain experience and level up, gaining new skills and improving the stats of units under their control. Cities produce military units, gold, and a mage’s guild that teaches heroes valuable spells, both combat and non-combat.
The game is split into scenarios which each have a certain goal. Sometimes it’s simply to destroy all enemies but sometimes it’s something more specific like taking a certain town or destroying a certain hero. Sometimes the goal is something as oddly specific as getting a particular artifact or enough resources before other players.
The game also comes packed with Hot seat and IP address multiplayer. So you and your friends can settle which is the better on the field of honor.
The music in this game is really awesome. It’s delightfully epic in its scope. It’s low budget grand fantasy, it’s nothing that an 8 track and a keyboard couldn’t put together but I think that just gives it charm. From the sweeping crescendos of the Stronghold’s rugged mountains to the dingy gloom of the Necropolis’ death filled halls the music fits wonderfully.
The campaign writing and voice acting is pretty good. My favorite writing is the incidental writing though. All of the artifact pick ups have a description and all of the heroes have little biographies. It’s usually really campy but occasionally there’s something unique and interesting. The story of the main campaign is also pretty good so I felt rewarded.
… because you’re dealing with motherfucking Solmyr, one of the most busted characters in the entire game. Anyone who likes the Tower knows that they hire this guy on sight. His heroic specialty is the spell Chain Lightning so he starts with it. It costs tons of mana and deals buckets of damage. It win fights –Unless it jumps to your troops. If you luck out then you’ll find the Pendant of Negativity which renders your troops immune to lightning –never strike your own troops again!– then again there’s the opposite scenario where it falls into enemy hands and Solmyr turns into a useless blue cloud. Oh yeah, and he’s a freaking genie!
Some cities have building restrictions. It’s usually really flavorful, the city just doesn’t have the military infrastructure to support strong units. The problem comes when I spend a lot of resources claiming a city that actually didn’t have the ability to build anything useful. There’s no way to know before taking the city so it just feels like a giant waste of time.
The randomness factor on maps can be a big one. I’ve gotten artifacts that benefit ships on maps with no ocean because that’s just what randomly spawned. Monster randomization has left me crying on some maps and sometimes I breeze through the same scenario because the monsters joined me instead of fighting because we were of the same faction. It makes me feel like strategy and skill doesn’t have the amount of impact that it should.
The main campaign is incredibly hard at later levels! The first few scenarios are alright but I hit a giant brick wall that I’ve never been able to overcome without cheating. I keep thinking that I should just get good but I don’t know how to improve or what I’m doing wrong.
This game holds up today. I’ve kept going down the Heroes series and I’m not sure if its nostalgia or if the future games just keep adding more unnecessary stuff but this game feels like the sweet spot between features and simplicity. No matter what, it’s a wonderful strategy game with a deep lore. It’s a fun time and worth the cost.
Next Week: Might and Magic VII: For Blood and Honor