HEROES OF MIGHT AND MAGIC 3 / 3D0 / PC
Heroes 3 offers up the same core gameplay and smooth GUI seen in the previous games, but little tweaks and additions here enhance the experience further. What puts this one a notch above the first two, however, is that the campaigns finally don't suck.
There's several versions of the game out - the one to look for is Heroes III Complete, which includes both of the expansion packs, which offer you beaucoup campaigns. Campaigns are better here simply because they're designed better - no more enemies with mysterious "free troop" generators all piled around their bases, or starting with an alliance of ten or twelve castles against your one undeveloped village. Difficulty is also more tweakable with an increased range of settings, and the computer tends to behave more like a human player than either a predictable AI routine or an unstoppable Terminator. The story is also more developed, and while it's still not great, you get a better effort in the narrative arc with better intermission cut scenes, better voice acting, and little text pop-ups frequently while playing the campaigns that tell you what the characters are thinking.
Aesthetically, the music and sound stay almost the same. The sound effects are mostly the same that have been in use since the first game, while the music is by the same composer and in the same symphonic style as the previous game. It doesn't have haunting German opera in the towns unfortunately, but on the whole, it is very good. The graphics are the only questionable bit - they use a sort of plasticy rendered "Donkey Kong Country" style even though the game is still played out entirely in 2D. I felt it was a step down from Heroes 2, turning everything into a sort of murky and ugly mess in some cases (namely towns and combat). Some of the towns and castles look nice, but until you get to know them navigating them is pure hell, as the buildings that produce troops and serve functions aren't distinguished from a shit ton of useless background buildings, and often don't have an intuitive design that tells you "this is where you buy Devils" or "throw people in here for Skeletons." You get a description of each building with a mouse-over, but it's frustratingly pixel-hunty until you become very familiar with the game.
The good news is that those are pretty much my biggest complaints with the game, and they are superficial in comparison to the Good Stuff List. It's the same addictive core Heroes gameplay largely unfuxed-with, but with a lot of new tweaks for the better. Each Hero can now hold seven units instead of five, allowing you to hold the full complement of troops from your stores, or have a couple of spaces open for mercenaries while you save up for those Level 6 and 7 troops. The battlefield has been shrunk a bit more to accommodate this, and a lot of re-shuffling of troop types and abilities has taken place, mostly in the name of play balance and addressing complaints from the multiplayer contingent about the previous game. Two new forces have been added - an underworld demon/devil army that decides the time is ripe to pop out from their 2000 years of slumber and kick some ass, and some sort of a swamp-dwelling race with a lot of bugs and weirdo troop types. The swampers I didn't much care for, but the rockin' Devils were alright, and it's all just an excuse to sort of reboot the factions and redistribute a bunch of stuff anyway. The hippy Druid force can now build Dragons as their ultimate troop type, for example, and the Knights get Angels as their penultimate troop. Some have even jumped ship and changed sides, as the Monks get tired of all that patchouli stank and Marxist rhetoric and defect over to the Knight side.
There were still a number of things here that could have been improved, but on the whole this game comes off as the most playable and well-polished of the series yet, largely thanks to not wearing out so quickly in single-player mode.
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