Heroes III: HD Edition / 5th of February 2015
Back when Windows 98 was the operating system of choice for practically everyone with a PC, and dial-up internet access was at the mercy of the house phone, developer 3DO released a game that could be considered the very definition of a cult classic. It was of course Heroes of Might and Magic III, or simply Heroes III, a turn-based strategy game that was both incredibly simple and easy to pick up, yet still maintained enough depth and variety to ensure those already well versed in fighting Archangels or Gold Dragons would keep coming back for more. And although it’s managed to endure over the years, with mods and additional maps from an active online community, Heroes III’s compatibility with the current generation of PC’s and laptops has been known to dash the hopes of those seeking a nostalgia kick. Thankfully then, this year sees the return of said cult classic in the form of Heroes III HD Edition, a remastered version from developer DotEmu that’s now available on PC, Android and iOS. But how exactly does this new iteration fare when compared to its original version and its many unofficial mods?
Well firstly, and more significantly if you’ve been used to the original’s numerous expansions, Heroes III HD Edition is restricted to the vanilla version of the game only. It’s an unfortunate restriction that is, according to publisher Ubisoft, down to the fact that the original source code for the expansions was missing and therefore unavailable to be remastered. It’s missing content that includes the addition of one underwhelming race to the list of playable factions, but more significantly means you’ll have to do without numerous excellent maps, faction specific heroes and collectible artefacts. If you’ve never played Heroes III with these various expansions then it’ll most likely make no difference to whether you enjoy the game or not, but for fans - and let’s be clear the HD Edition is intended to appeal to fans of the original first and foremost - the whole experience may feel rather limited, not to mention expensive.
However, should you be able to see past such restrictions, and tolerate the rather limited offering in exchange for the freedom to play on your tablet device, then Heroes III HD Edition is still just as engrossing as it always has been. Not only that but the game’s signature local multiplayer, which previously forced you to continuously pass mouse and keyboard round the room as if you were taking part in some terrible pass the parcel mini-game, is improved immeasurably on tablets. In fact the only potential drawback to the various tablet versions is the failure to allow cross-platform online play, meaning should you pick up the HD Edition on your Android device, you’ll be unable to connect with anyone playing on iOS or PC’s.
As for the quality of the re-master itself Heroes III HD Edition does look slightly improved and benefits from the increase in resolution. I say slightly, however, because relatively speaking, the original game still looks pretty good. Yes edges are sharper, the various creatures appear to be slightly better defined, and text is clearer and easier to read, but in truth the original animations and various effects from spells and such mean that most of the time you’ll barely be aware of much difference at all. And although the HD Edition has allowed for widescreen viewing while traversing the world map, the game’s battlescreen does not provide the same, as instead the black bars of the original game are merely replaced by sections of texture specific filler.
Outside of gameplay the game’s various cut-scenes that accompany the game’s opening and the majority of the campaign are unfortunately identical to their original incarnation. Personally I wasn’t really bothered by this, as I’d rather the developer’s time was spent improving the parts of the game I can actually play rather than several brief cut-scenes. However I understand why it may irk others who may have been expecting a lavish re-working of the originals. Instead the HD Edition’s cut-scenes are shot for shot unchanged and still include the poorly written and hammily voiced dialogue, whether this adds to the game’s charm or detracts from the quality of the HD Edition will be down to your own personal preference.
Despite these various shortcomings, when you get right down to it Heroes III HD Edition still plays just as robustly as it ever has. Options may be fewer without the expansion pack content, but what is there is as addictive as it was over fifteen years ago. And should you be a newcomer to the series then the RPG-like skills and levelling of your heroes by visiting strange landmarks and defeating packs of monsters will feel immediately familiar. Not only that the tactical battles against various factions, whether in open ground or during sieges, will give you plenty to think about and constantly force you into making the kind of tough decisions other games often only manage once or twice a playthrough.
In the end Heroes III HD Edition is something of a weak re-master, if you were hoping for a complete re-working from the ground up with 3D animations and revised artwork then I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed, as will fans who simply wanted all the Heroes III content available on the latest various platforms. In truth this version appears only to appeal to those who are keen to re-visit a fondly remembered game with the benefits of modern convenience and are content to forgo a large chunk of content. In truth playing on a tablet device be appealing enough for some, and had it simply been promoted as a port then such criticism would be unfounded, but calling it a HD re-master is something of a red herring as very little has changed from the original.