Review: Heroes of Might and Magic III — HD Edition

It’s 1999, Pokemon is climbing the video game charts and Harry Potter just dove into The Chamber of Secrets. It’s a damn fine year to be a kid and stay inside on a cold February day, but amid the avalanche of batteries being devoured by your Gameboy and the sheer number of paper cuts sustained from reading the latest HP, another distraction is creating a stir.

Released by New World Computing and 3DO came a sequel to a video games series so steeped in hype that you kept all of your PC Gamer demo discs together in one spot hoping it’d coalesce into the actual game.

Well… Heroes of Might and Magic III may not have been that world-changing, but it was certainly a different look for the series. Gone were the pixellated graphics of the first two games and we were introduced to a world of pseudo-3D, but also a world with more depth.

We were given a deeper look into the world outside of Erathia and we no longer had to contend with the blood feud between Roland and Archibald Ironfist. We get to see the world from the eyes of Catherine Ironfist, Roland’s wife, as she travels to a faraway land to find the King and avenge the death of her father, or something like that.

The game was the definition of a good sequel; the combat refined, the graphics stunning, the plot ok-ish, and the value valuable. A player could spend hours on one of the single-player maps and when they were done could head to the campaigns.

And with the promise of a multiple expansions, a player could sit tight and wait for a pack of extras, which in this case included the Conflux Town and several new campaigns.

Fast forward to the first week of February 2015: Ubisoft, who previously published a collection of the Heroes of Might and Magic III in 2005, released a high-definition version of the original game onto Steam. While the game has some graphical updates and is able to support laptops like this one, I can’t exactly recommend it for everyone.

***

Starting up just a random single-player match, I immediately started to see some differences in the game. The menu’s were a little crisper and no longer stretched to fit the screen.

The game’s environments have also been given a bit of a face lift with added details for objects like the windmills and cave entrances, plus the areas inside of towns have also been made to look a little spiffier.

Then I started to notice that a few things in the game were missing.

I was scrolling through the pre-match screen on another map and I noticed that the Conflux Town seemed to be missing. I didn’t really think too much of it and played the match (using cheats, of course). After I finished up, I went back to the main menu to see the campaigns, and then it hit me.

Armageddon’s Blade and The Shadow of Death weren’t included in the game… damn.

Released after the original game, the two expansions mentioned above aren’t exactly essential, but they add quite a lot of content. I can start to see why the hue and cry around reviews of this HD release surrounds the value for money argument.

With less game than other versions available online, there’s seemingly little incentive to invest in this HD version, but it’s the subtle differences that matter to someone owns the original games and the version purchased through GOG.

However, I think the facelift the game has been granted is quite stunning.

Environment Comparisons

Castle Comparisons

(I’m working on a comparison for creatures, as well.)

That’s not what I’d call an insignificant update to the game’s graphics. Of course, it’s subtle and most players might not even notice it at first, but it makes a big difference. However, I can also see how the modest changes to the game might not give players the best sense of value for money.

They’re not getting a new campaign, they’re not getting a free remastered soundtrack, and they’re not getting what they’d like out of a re-release of an old classic. What they’re getting is a game that looks a lot better with improved performance for newer hardware.

However, it’s not all Gold Dragons and Arch Devils.

As much as the game’s looks have changed, Heroes III is still Heroes III. The core mechanics are the same and even the cheat codes – all being Monty Python and the Holy Grail themed – have stuck around in their original forms.

I’ve noticed online that there are a few game-breaking bugs out there. During my time playing the game, I only encountered a few issues none of which took me back to my desktop.

For instance, Wraiths, which are third-tier creatures from the Necromancer Town, have an ability to drain magic from your hero. Before you even start a fight with them, you can hear the sound effect for the ability. It’s a not a big deal, but a little jarring considering it didn’t happen in the original.

Another bug was your hero’s magic meter not refilling once you hit a Magic Well. Usually, the blue meter beside your movement meter would refill depending on your Knowledge statistic. Once you go inside of a town and go out, the meter is refilled.

As well, in other version of the game you could use the space bar to revisit a place like a mine or a creature dwelling instead of having to move away from the space and move back, which takes up movement points.

So there’s little bugs, but then there’s the multiplayer which is also slightly problematic.

First of all, I’m happy to say that the sessions I played were pretty stable. I never had a game hang up or freeze/crash. Luckily, most of the games I played were great, but I only stuck around for about an hour each time.

It’s not that the games were too tough, nor were the chats too toxic. It was a more a problem of having to just sit there and wait… and wait… and wait. In a standard game, each player gets about one minute to move their heroes around and build up their towns. However, when you go into a battle that time is also experienced by the other players meaning you end up sitting for untold periods of time while players fight hordes of enemies.

One of the multiplayer matches I played was an eight-player match. So that’s one minute for an entire cycle plus time spent loading each turn and taking into account the battles that take place every turn. It took about the better part of 10 minutes before I got to have my turn. Since your movement is so limited you only get at best 30 seconds of play each turn plus whatever time you spend fighting/building.

It successfully emulates what it was like to play the games with a dial-up modem. That being said, these issues aren’t the fault of the high-definition version of the game, but more a commentary on the game as a whole. Playing matches with a small number of people can be really fun; however, the more people you get the more tedious the game becomes.

An easy way to get around these lag times is to play the game locally with people or with computer players and you on the controls of several towns. It’s a little less social, but you won’t get bored.

***

As much as I’d like to give this game a recommendation, I can’t say that it’s better value than the Heroes of Might and Magic III: Complete that’s currently on the front page of Good Old Games, which ain’t no coincidence.

They know that for a moderate increase in price, you end up getting a lot less in terms of content. Armageddon’s Blade and The Shadow of Death being absent from the HD remake is a big blow to the game’s value, and I really hope they’re just working on the expansions and plan to release them.

I feel like the high-definition updates to the graphics do make a difference. The game looks and feels a helluva lot better than it did before and it’s a lot more stable. However, the better looking creatures and slightly improved support for current hardware, may not be enough to entice players who previously own the games or have bought it online.

My only hope is that eventually Ubisoft will eventually release the expansions of the game in HD at a relatively low cost. If they can do that then this game will be better value than what’s currently offered by GOG.

Excellent multiplayer support makes a big difference and so too does the graphical upgrades, so if you’re inclined to check it out then make the buy. If you’re happy with your Complete Edition, don’t.

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