As I stated previously, Heroes of Might and Magic 3 was actually the first one I played – my sister played the older ones when I was younger, but I didn’t play them myself until I decided to do this review series. Unlike the previous games, I was actually able to play it (mostly) to completion, including both expansion packs. It probably colored some of my expectations for the series; when I revisited the others, I couldn’t help but compare them to what I saw in this game. So then, how does it actually hold up?
Well. This is a complicated one.
Remember how I said that 3DO bought the rights to the Might and Magic franchise, but only used it to make the Heroes games? That changed after Heroes of Might & Magic 2, and it produced a godawful mess of a plot snarl that may have been cool if you were a fan of both series, but from my outsider’s perspective it’s just bewildering.
You see, the creators had it in their heads that they would run the same overarching storyline concurrently through both series. So, the direct sequel to Heroes of Might & Magic 2 is Might & Magic 6, not Heroes of Might & Magic 3, the story of which runs slightly after but mostly concurrently with Might and Magic 6. Confused yet? Don’t worry, it gets worse. An expansion pack for Heroes 3, Armageddon’s Blade, was later released – but it wasn’t a direct sequel to the original Heroes 3. That title goes to Might and Magic 7, which also wraps up a plot arc started in Heroes 2. (Armageddon’s Blade is also a whole other very messy can of worms for reasons I will discuss later.) There was also a second expansion pack, Shadow of Death, but it’s a direct prequel to the events of Heroes 3 proper, and so doesn’t cause as much of a headache trying to keep track of (though it does reference characters who are important to Might and Magic 6, I think?).
With me so far? Good.
I have not played any of the Might & Magic games since I’m not terribly engaged by traditional western RPGs, so all I know about them is the Wikipedia plot summaries. Basically, from what I can glean, here’s the story situation: The “good” ending of Heroes 2 is the canon one, and Roland discovers a neighboring continent called Antagarich. On it, there is a kingdom of Erathia, which he marries the queen of. They have a son and all seems to be well in the two kingdoms, when suddenly meteors (actually spaceships) fall from the sky over areas in both Enroth and Antagarich, bringing demonic creatures (actually aliens) called the “Kreegans” with them. They immediately start doing generic evil stuff, trying to conquer the world, etc. and I’m not really sure why it’s important that they’re aliens and not just demons, they’re functionally identical. (They even look and act exactly like Biblical demons!) Roland marches off to fight them in order to protect his kingdom, which results in his entire consignment being slaughtered and him being captured.
His wife Queen Catherine, meanwhile, leaves from her stay in Enroth and sets sail for Antagarich, to return to her kingdom and rescue Roland (who is being held there). However, the Kreegan’s arrival combined with the recent death of her father King Gryphonheart has caused widespread chaos and disorganization within Erathia, and it has been overrun with the dungeon overlords of Nighon (this game’s version of the warlock faction) while at the same time the neighboring nations of Tatalia and Krewlod are taking advantage of the opportunity to seize territory and resources. And so, the stage is set for the epic homecoming hero with all the odds against them.
Though the game is clearly a game first and story second, there are a surprising amount of story events (though I fear I may have missed some of them due to completing maps too quickly; they appear at the end of certain in-game days). Something interesting about the main campaign is that you have to play as all the sides of the conflict, not just one as in Heroes 2. You start with three campaigns, one starring the Kreegans and the Nighon overlords as they wreak havoc on Erathia, eventually culminating in them capturing the capital; one starring Tatalia and Krewlod, the opportunistic “neutral” factions taking a bite out of Erathian territory; and one starring Catherine and her return to Antagarich. The last one leads directly into the next campaign (unlocked after finishing the first three), “Liberation”, which basically revolves around Catherine undoing all your hard work from the previous two campaigns (and also rescuing Roland). There’s another side of the conflict you can (and have to) play as at this point, the necromancers. They plan to turn Catherine’s father, the late King Gryphonheart, into a lich under their control, which will somehow allow them to conquer all of Erathia. I guess he was a really awesome military leader and, being nerdy wizards, they have no awesome military leaders of their own. Oh, and also they kill a bunch of people and raise them as undead to amass an army, preparing for a main assault on Erathia.
If you’ll let me indulge in a rant here?
Basically, the necromancers are the true villain behind everyone else, and the other bad guys, including literal demons, are just small fry in comparison. Sigh. Am I the only one who gets tired from seeing necromancers always be the pinnacle of evilness? I think the whole antipathy towards them stems from the religious beliefs of due to the dead, which is, looking at it from a purely logical perspective, ridiculous. Corpses are not people; whatever part of them that made them people is no longer there. They’re just masses of carbon – and, oftentimes, perfectly good organs that can still be transplanted to save the lives of other people. (This is why I’m also bitter about people who refuse to sign up for post-mortem organ donations.) So, what, exactly, is so wrong about animating mindless corpses to perform work for you? It’s better than using living, feeling people as slave labor (which is the alternative if we’re in medieval European fantasyland). Of course, most of the time, storywriters have something about how the corpses aren’t mindless and they disrupt/enslave the person’s soul as well (which seems to be the case here, though the game flipflops on that issue sometimes), but I really feel like that’s a cop-out. I don’t see why just simply animating inanimate matter (which is something wizards can already do in Heroes, as evidenced by the golems) is more work than somehow trapping someone’s soul and having to create all sorts of charms binding them to your will. But whatever, it was a nineties video game, they weren’t really big on the whole “nuanced shades of gray morality” thing back then, I can understand that. But do they really have to be the most evil thing ever in comparison to all the other evil factions?
There actually is a sort-of-clever plot twist where the reanimated King Gryphonheart becomes too powerful for the necromancers to control…somehow…and they end up switching sides and supporting Erathia in order to stop the monster they created. Why do they care? Unless Gryphonheart is actively destroying them (and why would he be, it gains him nothing and he’s supposedly sentient), a rampaging monstrosity should only benefit the necromancers. I admit that I didn’t actually play this one because the last map of “Liberation” is a brick wall, and the plot summaries on the fansites are unenlightening. Is there more to this in the campaigns themselves? I can’t help but feel the idea ran on “hey wouldn’t it be cool if” with no lasting repercussions or changes (since necromancers go right back to being the evilest of evil scumbags in Armageddon’s Blade).
Next time: the factions!