Blast from the Past: Heroes of Might and Magic III

Introduction

As I’ve mentioned before, readers of fantasy fiction are also often fantasy role-playing game enthusiasts, and I’m no exception. In this post, I’ll be talking about another one of my old favorites that retains a large group of fans–Heroes of Might and Magic III.

Basically, HOMM3 (and its expansions, Armaggedon’s Blade and Shadow of Death) combine combat with resource collection and town development.  Distinguishing features include the following:

Characteristics of HOMM3

  • The titular heroes cast spells during combat but don’t take the field themselves. However, two of their primary skills (attack and defense) add to the skills of the creatures in their armies. For instance, a gold dragon, with attack and defense of 27,  rises to 37 with a hero who has 10 in each skill–and to 67 for a hero who has 40. In other words, hero characteristics make a big difference.
  • In contrast to some games, which sharply contrast magic-using character classes with combat ones, the heroes of HMM3 are always both, though classes more inclined to fighting advanced faster in attack and defense, while classes more inclined to magic advance faster in power (how much damage a spell does or how long it lasts) and knowledge (how many spell points a hero has). Any hero with a spell book can cast first and second-level spells. Heroes who start with or acquire the secondary skill wisdom gradually develop the ability to cast third, fourth, and fifth-level spells as they progress through basic, advanced, and expert wisdom.
  • There are many other secondary skills heroes can acquire as they level up. With some exceptions, heroes are able to take any of them regardless of their class, though each hero has only eight slots, and there are twenty-eight possible secondary skills.
  • In the original game, there were eight town types. The expansion pack, Armageddon’s Blade, added a ninth. Each has two hero types associated with it, though players can hire any hero (up to a maximum of eight), regardless of the alignment of the starting town. The towns and their hero types are as follows: castles (knight and cleric), rampart (ranger and druid), tower (alchemist and wizard), inferno (demoniac and heretic), necropolis (death knight and necromancer), dungeon (overlord and warlock), stronghold (barbarian and battle mage), fortress (beastmaster and witch), and conflux (planesmaster and elementalist).
  • Each town produces seven different creature types. Players gather resources to build the various creature dwellings and other town structures as well as to hire the creatures to serve in their armies. These armies are grouped by creature type, so that each hero may command up to seven different units. Units may be drawn from the same town type, but a hero may also mix and match. (The leadership skill helps mange the morale penalty for using too many differently aligned creatures in the same army.
  • Creatures have different special abilities. Some, like hydras and devils, can strike an enemy without giving the enemy a chance to retaliate. Some, like griffins, can retaliate multiple times in the same round. Some. like phoenixes and dragons, have breath weapons that can damage more than one group of enemies at the time.
  • There are many artifacts that the hero can find and equip. Some boost combat skills, some boost magic skills, and some boost both. Others endow a hero with skills he or she doesn’t normally possess.

With that amount of variety, it’s not surprising that the game has worn well. It also includes a map editor that enabled fans to create their own single scenario and campaign maps. It’s easy to find a ton of those with a quick internet search, and you could create your own as well. This feature alone makes the game, which comes with a decent collection of maps to start with, playable for many, many hours.

Benefits of the Horn of the Abyss Addon

However, it’s inevitable with a game this popular that fans will want more. Ever since New Worlds Computing moved on to Heroes of Might and Magic IV, fans of HOMM3 have longed for more expansions of the earlier game. Enter Horn of the Abyss, a fan-created passion project that stays loyal to the style of the original while fixing bugs, improving graphics, and issuing the HOTA expansion. This pack includes a new town type, the cove (with captain and navigator hero types), new heroes, new artifacts, and a new custom map size (huge), among other things.

Yes, if you’re an HMM3 fan, HOTA is just as good as it sounds–and development continues. The HOTA crew announced a new town type, the factory, based on the Old West and featuring more advanced technology and some other new tricks. In other words, unlike some similar projects, this one doesn’t look as if it will be abandoned any time soon.

Discussing HMM3 and/or HOTA strategy would take many blog posts, so I’ll content myself with mentioning some of my personal preferences. (Your tastes may differ from mine, but that’s no problem–the game is flexible enough to accommodate many playing styles.

  • Having playing all the provided maps, I’m a big fan of random maps–and an even bigger fan of the HOTA huge size. All things being equal, bigger maps mean longer play.
  • HOTA’s map editor still has a bug that prevents it from generating random maps. However, there’s an easy workaround. Start a new game using the random map capability. Once the map finishes building, and the game starts, end the game and go to the map editor. You have essentially the kind of random map the editor would have created if it could have. Then you can proceed to customizing for your own play style.
  • I prefer a map with all the legendary artifacts enabled and all the scenario-specific heroes enabled. That can help me become powerful much faster–but it can also help the AI do the same. The AI can be outplayed most of the time with decent strategy, but if one of the AI players gets something like the horn of the abyss before I do, that player has a legitimate chance to beat me. (The horn is a little like the cloak of the undead king, which raises a certain number of slain enemies as liches. In the horn’s case, it summons fangarms–a HOTA creature–from the sea each time a combat unit on either side falls in combat. The number summoned is based on the number and hit points of the fallen units. Fangarms are fairly slow moving, but they are otherwise formidable. They’re immune to mental spells and blinding, they can retaliate to multiple attacks in one round, and they can hypnotize units they strike, causing them to switch sides. A few fangarms wouldn’t be that much of a threat, but they accumulate fast during battle. It’s not tough to end up with hundreds of them in a relatively short period of time. If the AI has a horn, and I don’t, the best I can do is run away until I find one. If I get one later than the AI, I have to keep moving as best I can until I accumulate enough fangarms to take the AI on.
  • Whether one has to run from a foe with 3,000 fangarms or not, on a huge map, spells like dimension door, fly, and town portal are crucial. The first one lets a hero teleport several squares. The second one lets a hero move over obstacles. The third one lets a hero travel instantly to a town the player owns.
  • It is the essential nature of certain spells that aggravates the one aspect of the game I don’t like. To maximize town portal, for example, you need to have the earth magic skill. At advanced level, it allows the hero to teleport to any town owned by the hero. Below that, only the nearest one is available. Similarly, higher levels of air magic increase the number of times per round a hero can use dimension door and the distance of the flying spell. The problem is that the game only lets you choose from two randomly selected skills at each level up. It’s possible to miss earth magic, air magic, or even both, depending on what kind of hero we’re talking about. For that reason, before I start playing, I add seer huts geared to give one of my heroes the necessary skills for a particular mod. They are typically positioned near the opening town for the player I intend to be. Which skills I add depend upon which town type and hero I intend to play. For instance, when I intend to play Gelu the Ranger (rampart town), I use the map editor to set up huts for air magic, earth magic, water magic, intelligence (ultimately doubles the number of available spell points), and scholar (enables one hero to teach and learn spells from another). Wisdom would be critical, too, but rangers always seem to learn that on their own. Some people might look at this as cheating, but to me it seems more like correcting a flaw in the game’s construction. (I’m used to playing games in which character development is under the control of the player, not left partially to random chance.) Note that if your opening town is a conflux, you can build a magic university quite early. This enables you to train your heroes in air, earth, water, and fire magic skills and may reduce the need for the seer hut strategy.
  • The AI is pretty good at building up towns and armies. To win, a human player needs to build up at least one hero as rapidly as possible. One way to do this is confronting creature groups that guard treasure on the map. Unlike enemy heroes, such groups can’t cast spells that counteract your hero’s, though they can be otherwise quite powerful. Ideal targets are ones in which the creatures are not immune to magic and do not have ranged attackers. Cast slow as soon as possible once you reach expert earth magic. With mobs that don’t have magic-immune creatures, this slows down your enemies enough to enable you to kill a lot of them with ranged weapons before they can get close enough to attack. In this way, it is sometimes possible to defeat a large force that would wipe the floor with you in melee. It takes some practice to calculate how many ranged units you need in order to make this strategy work.  
  • Accumulate as many good artifacts as possible. On a huge map, I tried to conquer the enemy towns really close to me as soon as possible. I don’t try to go after the more distant ones, which aren’t as immediate a threat, until I’ve taken time to beef up my equipment.  Some of the treasures are out in plain sight, while others may be hidden in dragon utopias. Don’t take one of those on until you have a good sized-army, strong in high-level units, and the ability to cast expert level haste (air magic spell). Haste will limit your own casualties by enabling your units to strike faster than the dragons can, in some cases fast enough to kill all the dragons before they can attack. Dragon utopias typically produce three or four artifacts at a time, as well as some much-needed gold.
  • When looking around for artifacts, horn of the abyss is the first priority, though you may not always find one–or you may find four. That’s the beauty of random maps. Get one as early as possible and open a creature slot so you have a place for the incoming fangarms to go. Pick up any extras so you can have more than one hero recruiting fangarms, but even more importantly to keep them out of enemy hands. Second priority is probably armageddon’s blade. This weapon makes the units of the hero who wields it immune to the armageddon spell while enabling the hero to cast the spell at expert level (fire damage to all opponents not immune to magic). (Combine it with the orb of vulnerability, which lets you blast all creatures with it, but note that it makes any of your immune creatures vulnerable to magic other than armageddon as well. Throw in an orb of fire, with its 50% bonus to fire damage, your enemies will have a tough time. Beyond that, most of the artifacts are combination artifacts (assembled from three or more lesser artifacts). You can leave it that way or adjust the map settings to that they appear in various treasures in their completed condition. That’s the way I prefer. Otherwise the horn and the blade become even more lopsidedly powerful. Anyway, angelic alliance raises a hero’s stats enormously, cancels the more penalty for creatures from different types of good-aligned towns, and casts expert prayer on the first round, making all your units faster and capable of doing more damage. Power of the dragon father has an almost equal stat boost, immunity to spell levels 1-4, and a boost to morale and luck. The drawback to that one is that it also makes buffs and healing spells ineffective on your own units. Also, combination artifacts take up more slots, limiting your flexibility. The statue of legion increases creature production in your towns by 50%, the cornucopia enormously increases your weekly production of gems, crystal, sulfur, and mercury (needed for town improvements and for hiring certain high-level creatures), and the golden goose, which increases gold production, and you are well set up for a war of attrition. There are many, many other useful artifacts.
  • Having at least one expert caster of the spells I mentioned above is essential, but two or three would be even better. It’s quite possible you could be attacked from multiple directions at the same time. Having only one hero who can respond quickly is a potential handicap. One of the game’s characteristics is that there are gateways all over the map that can jump a hero from one point to another could be anywhere on the map. These portals are clearly visible to anyone who’s explored the part of the map in which they’re located, but there is no way to tell just by looking at a gateway the spot on the map to which that gateway is linked. That’s one reason large armies can pop up on your doorstep with little or no warning–and why your heroes need to be able to move across the map fast.

Links

Want to join in the fun? Here’s where you can find HOMM3:

GOG,currently $9.99 https://www.gog.com/game/heroes_of_might_and_magic_3_complete_edition

Steam, currently $14.99 https://store.steampowered.com/app/297000/Heroes_of_Might__Magic_III__HD_Edition/

Note that the GOG version is HOMM3 Complete, while the Steam version, even though it’s a shiny HD version, only includes the original game, Restoration of Erathia, and not the two expansion packs. Unless you are committed to using the Steam ecosystem only, the GOG version is a better deal. It’s also worth mentioning that the Horn of the Abyss addon won’t function on a Restoration of Erathia only edition–you need to have the Shadow of Death expansion or the complete version.

Here’s where you can find Horn of the Abyss, which is free:

https://www.hota.acidcave.net/do_pobrania.html

Multiplayer Note

Both the original game and Horn of the Abyss include a multiplayer mode for competing against other human opponents online. I have no experience with that mode, but playing against real people is probably more challenging than playing against the AI. If you’re interested in that mode, a quick search will turn up a lot of tournament opportunities for the original game and the HOTA addon.

(The featured image was copyrighted by Vuk Kostic and licensed from www.shutterstock.com.)

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