Let me preface this review with a disclaimer: Heroes of Might and Magic III (The Restoration of Erathia, to true fans) is one of my favourite video games of all time. My love for it is up there with Majora’s Mask and the Civilization franchise. Heroes III took up hundreds upon hundreds of hours of my childhood; between the single player campaign, the random scenario generator, LAN matches with my father and brother, and Hot-Seat matches with my cousins, I don’t even want to know how many hours of outdoors time I sacrificed as a child to play Heroes III. Tower was always my faction of choice and Astral was my man–nothing could stand in the way of huge stacks of Master Gremlins. I would, without hesitation, call Heroes III one of the greatest strategy games of all time. I do appreciate its shortfalls: it’s very simplistic, almost garishly in its colour palette, and incredibly cluttered. That said, It’s the absolute peak of the Heroes franchise–not only does it contain the highest number of factions, but it’s a truly triumphant blend of turn-based strategy, battlefield tactics, and fantasy role-playing. And the music, oh man the music is so beautiful.
That said, this review is of the remastered “HD Edition”, not the legendary original game. I unashamedly let out a fanboy squeal when I first received an email from Ubisoft announcing the existence of the remaster. I should have known… I should have known that there was only the bitter taste of disappointment in store. No, it’s not “bad”, just disappointing.
For those unfamiliar with Heroes III, or even the Heroes franchise (which is a spin-off from the RPG series Might & Magic, but that’s a whole other story), it’s a sort-of multiplayer (like Civ) turn-based strategy game in which each player starts with a titular Hero and a Castle. Each hero can control an army of up to seven types of creatures, which can be bought from different types of Castle. There are eight different types of Castle, each which represents a distinctly different faction–three are classically good, three bad, and two neutral. For example, one of the good factions is Rampart, which is made up of sylvan creatures such as ents and wood elves, and one of the bad factions is Inferno, a Hell-like castle built on lava that spawns creatures such as devils and demons. Disappointingly, my second favourite faction, the neutral Conflux made up of elemental creatures, is not present in the HD Edition.
That brings me to my first major qualm with HoMM3:HD. Inarguably the best edition of Heroes III is the Complete edition, which contains the base game Restoration of Erathia plus its two expansion packs, Armageddon’s Blade, and the Shadow of Death. Unfortunately, the source code for the two expansions seems to have been lost when New World Computing was acquired by Ubisoft, so the remaster is solely the base game with no word on whether or not the expansions will ever be included. The biggest missing feature as a result of this (except for the campaigns and extra monsters and faction Conflux from the expansions) is the random scenario generator. I mean, there are tons of pre-built scenarios included, and the map editor is still there, but the randomiser added a level of replayability that the HD edition simply hasn’t recaptured.
After noticing the lack of Conflux, I made an active attempt to see what had actually been changed in the fifteen years since the original game’s release. At first I didn’t notice the higher-resolution sprites, but pressing F2 allows you to swap between 1999 and 2015 version graphics (a nice touch,) making the remastered graphics slightly more apparent. I use the word “slightly” here for a reason–sure, the graphics have been updated and widescreen is now supported, but it really isn’t a huge change; in fact, the only reason I noticed it at all was because of the aforementioned graphics swapping. If it wasn’t for that, I’d have assumed that the graphics had just been untouched from the original. Maybe the only area in which I noticed the redone graphics organically was the castle screens; once low-res blocky messes, cities are now noticeably crisper and prettier.
What else has been added? Not much. There’s online multiplayer through Steam (as expected), but I didn’t have a chance to test it out as there’s no online matchmaking. In fact, I think the only positive thing coming from this re-release is the convenience that comes with having a game on your Steam library. And yet, even that becomes a huge inconvenience, because I can’t recreate my classic LAN battles with my family without each of us owning a separate copy of the game–not going to happen. Oh, and not to mention that the LAN mode is completely missing, so that wouldn’t be possible anyway.
Heroes of Might and Magic is inherently a very colourful, vibrant game. The world map is ridiculously cluttered, in a good way–everything on the screen has some function or another. Modern strategy games often attempt to get a bit too serious with their themes, holding very true to a lore or overall thematic concept with little to no wiggle room. Heroes is the opposite. In my head, I have an image of the lads at New World Computing poring through a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Handbook and writing down all the cool shit, going “yeah, that’s rad, let’s have that in our game!” There’s no constraint to a specific theme; instead, there’s goblins, beholders, devils, elves, skeletons, elementals, all in the same game, and they’re all so colourful and distinctive. This fluidity gives Heroes a very unique charm, as it’s never taking itself too seriously as a hardcore strategy game.
Additionally, despite the abundance of different units, heroes, and things on the map, Heroes still manages to maintain a high amount of simplicity. It never claims to be an intense grand strategy game, or an intricate, detailed tactics simulation. Rather, Heroes provides simplistic overarching strategy gameplay in the world map, interspersed with incredibly bare-bones battle tactics management, in which your troops and the enemy troops line up on opposing sides of the battlefield and slowly walk towards each other. This level of simplicity works in Heroes’ favour, making it a very easy game to get into which contrasts with most turn based strategy and tactics games.
In the end, as much as I love Heroes of Might and Magic III: HD Edition, I have a hard time recommending it to anyone except for people who can’t play games that don’t have Steamworks integration. It’s a fantastic game, and the remake isn’t too bad. The HD graphics embrace the gorgeous palette of the original while not losing any of its charm. And yet, HOMMIII:HD is not the complete, definitive version of Heroes III that it should have been, the absence of the two expansion packs and the random scenario generator the primary reason for this. It’s enjoyable and I definitely had a good time revisiting the high-definition remake of one of my favourite games, but if someone asked me how to get into Heroes III, I’d have to point them in the direction of the original “Complete” edition, which is available for about half the price on various online retailers, DRM-free. You can share it with your mates and play LAN Heroes III with only one copy. The two expansions are included. And it’s mod-able, so you can install the fan-made expansion packs and HD remakes if you really need that high resolution goodness.
Don’t get me wrong: Heroes of Might and Magic III: HD Edition is by no means a “bad” game. I just have no reason to go back to it and no reason to recommend it to anyone, and that’s a real shame.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Heroes of Might and Magic III: HD Edition by Ubisoft.