I think it’d be fair to say that the only way you could have missed the HD re-release of fantasy strategy game Heroes of Might and Magic 3 was if you’d only just emerged from a savage cave-dwelling society into the daylight of the modern world. So for the benefit of those of you still wiping the Giant Centipede bile off your tribal hair-dos and rubbing your milky, light-starved eyes, here’s a list of stuff you need to know about that game, and about me:
- Heroes of Might and Magic 3 was released in 1999
- That means it is a game from another millennium.
- Despite this, Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is one of my favorite games of all time.
- When it first came out, I was still a teenager. A slightly weird teenager.
- As (3) and (4) imply, I played this game a lot. A LOT.
- So seeing this game on sale now, as an HD REMAKE with new HD PIXELS and HD CHILI SAUCE, brings up big confusing mixture of feelings.
- So I need a minute. Thanks. Ok, we’re good. Let’s go on.
- This HD REMAKE (you have to shout it, it’s the law) is of course from the now-owners of the series, Ubisoft. I still bear a grudge against Ubisoft for allowing the series to slide into mediocrity.
- And, while we’re at it, I also still bear a grudge against them for making UPlay (their digital store/social/DRM enforcement software-service) into a sack of poop, and making all their games work ONLY THROUGH UPLAY. Sorry, but it is truly the Games for Windows Live of our generation.
- I’m also aware that many people experienced a lot of bugs in the first few days of this coming out across all the different platforms, including the Android version. So I was a little nervous about this when I started playing it.
- But since there was no UPlay in sight, I thought to myself, “this could still be fine.”
- And indeed after a few initial crashes on my tablet it both ran smoothly and recognized my little plugged-in mouse. So that was a big relief.
- I plugged in the mouse because I don’t really like using the touch-screen interface for SERIOUS STRATEGY. Also I found that, though workable, the tap-screen interface for the game felt a bit awkward when you have to do so much clicking. This game involves A LOT of clicking, in case you hadn’t already guessed. You could click in it and on it for literally HOURS.
- And I very quickly settled back into a rhythm that is so familiar to me: the rhythm of completing HOMM 3. I am a lot better at this game than I used to be, so this wasn’t the slow or agonizing process that it was the first time around. But it was still quite a rhythmic, soothing thing. It’s so natural, it made me think – does this happen to everyone? Is HOMM3 just a game where you settle into a rhythm of clicking your heroes around the map and wake up five hours later to realize that your eyes are literally bleeding?
- Because on the surface, HOMM3 (HD or not) looks like it just shouldn’t work. It’s a game where you build up towns into mighty fortressy-castle things, produce a bewildering array of different troops, recruit heroes, and then give the troops to the heroes to carry around rather gorgeous fantasy maps, attacking wandering groups of monsters, enemy towns and any enemy heroes who happen to get in your way.
- More than that, it’s a game where you can end up thinking things like “if I visit the watermill first with my support hero I’ll have enough gold to recruit the lizardmen that will let my main hero take down the gnolls camping that crystal mine – which will mean I can get cyclopses this week!” It’s a game where knowing the difference between a green dragon and a black dragon, or having the Buckler of the Gnoll King instead of the Cards of Prophecy is the difference between life and death. It’s bewildering. It’s often a little cluttered and confusing.– –
- It’s got so much stuff in it that really it shouldn’t work. The campaign map (where heroes move between towns and other places of interest) has both a normal “overground” section, and an underground region of caverns and dungeons. Those maps can be filled with all sorts of things, from towns and mines to control, through to woods, mountains, peasant huts and wandering monsters. There are eight factions, each with seven different troop types, and each troop type can be upgraded into an improved version of itself. On top of that there are even special creatures that exist outside the normal factions. Then there’s the battle maps with their lovingly-rendered terrain laid over hex-grids, where 2D representations of your creatures face off against whatever enemies you’ve decided to mince next. There’s so much stuff, this game should just break under its own weight.
- But it works. Damn, does it ever work. The HOMM series wasn’t the first to mix fantasy, strategy, and big hunks o’RPG into the same bowl, but it made a very tasty go of it. The campaigns in particular made a great job of giving you persistent heroes who followed you through a storyline, becoming ever more powerful as they accumulated stats, skills and spells. With the right combination of the above, you don’t even NEED armies: in this present return to the game, I created a spellcaster who killed two whole armies in the space of two days, using only spells and the power of running away.
- Even better, there are lots of different skills and spells and heroes to choose from; heroes can have up to eight skills, in flavors from basic to expert, but they also have a specialty – a hero power that is unique to them. Based on how good (or useful) this specialty is, your heroes will usually either become core heroes (the guys, gals and.. others who carry the big armies, get all the experience and can melt whole legions with one glance from their burning, magic-infused eyes) or support heroes (the guys who ferry armies from home to the big boys, capture mines, and generally spread the love). Some skills are things you’d want on the former, others are best left to the latter. Some are just so good that you want them on any hero, regardless. Some are so useless you don’t want them at all. –
- And then there are the spells. There are at least a hundred different ones in the game, and they can all be upgraded in some way by the powers and artifacts of the hero casting them (did I mention artifacts yet? Think equipment, but for REAL HEROES). Some of them are ok. Some of them are so ludicrously broken that I just imagine the folk at New World Computing cackling manically as they added their stats into the game. You can use spells to make whole armies walk across water, or fly over impassable mountains. You can teleport your heroes and their armies between towns for fast defense. You can teleport your most dangerous monsters right into the middle of your enemy’s weakly-armored missile troops. You can spy on your enemy’s location. You can just BLOW SHIT UP. The spells made HOMM 3 so fun. And so broken.
- The HD REMAKE has made the 2d pixel art that represents all the different monsters and heroes a little bit clearer. Sometimes that clarity arrives in odd ways, so that things that were just a notional wash of pixels before are now weirdly focused. Sometimes that even lessens the effect of the pixel chaos, as what had been broad, exciting brush strokes becomes the obsessive dullness of precision.
- The utterly crappy animated cutscenes are still there though. They were so bad! But they’re like old friends. See the weird, twitchy faces of 3D wizards in detail! See the clunky repeating animations over and over again as a badly-acted voiceover chews through a mediocre script! I wouldn’t have it any other way. ––
- One big sadness is that this game doesn’t contain either of the two expansions to the game, Armageddon’s Blade and The Shadow of Death. They are gone, apparently. The source code is no more. Those two expansions were very well loved by hardcore HOMM 3 players because they were HARD AS BALLS – so the overall levels of challenge offered by the remake have dropped considerably.
- So I realize I still love this game. I’m going to keep playing it through, because it really is very, very good. Overwhelming, confusing, chaotic, yes, all those things, but also fun. With a ton of fascinating strategy in there to get your teeth into.
- The remake doesn’t add much to it, and if the reports of bugs, glitches, and all sorts of problems are to be believed, there are good reasons to be careful (and remember the 2 hour refund window on Google Play). This game never really needed HD. You know what’s HD, Ubisoft? My memories.
- And this game is nothing if not memorable. Chaotic, unbalanced, positively unhinged in places, this game is so rich in ideas (many of them good ones) and in glorious pixel fantasy art that it almost can’t fail. Maybe the HD REMAKE (I’m still shouting) isn’t all that, but the game at the heart of it all is still mighty. And maybe magical with it.
But is it Hardcore?
Like any one-eyed barbarian leading a pack of dragons, it remains hardcore.
The game itself is superlative, and one of the best loved fantasy strategy games ever released on PC. Now you can play what appears to be a solid port of it on Android, with fairly pretty but often unnecessary HD art assets – just be aware that users across all platforms have experienced some issues with bugs and glitches on release.