The many virtues of Heroes of Might and Magic 3 | Why I Love
Carry Castle CEO Per Fornander sings the praises of the 1999 hot seat multiplayer strategy PC game
Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by Per Fornander, CEO at Carry Castle, developer of the side-scrolling dark action roguelite Source of Madness published by Thunderful Games on Steam Early Access and releasing this week on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch.
When we say that we love a game, that usually means one of two things: that the game in question is a masterpiece, or we feel especially connected to it for nostalgic reasons. In the case of Heroes of Might and Magic 3, a game that I love, both of these things are true. (I will refer to Heroes of Might and Magic 3 as Heroes 3 from now on.)
Heroes 3 presents a magical world full of intriguing conflicts. Its blend of world exploration and turn-based combat finds depth in a satisfying leveling system and a multitude of different tactical arcs. But it is also a perfect game for young children that only have one computer, because you can basically play it like hot-seat chess. The anticipation grows as you wait impatiently for your turn and then try to figure out what your friend did during their turn and how you are going to respond. I played Heroes 3 in precisely this way at my best friend's place, not owning the game myself until many years later. It is these social experiences that make it one of my most memorable games and the reputation the game holds to this day suggests the same is true for many others.
Now let me talk about the game itself. It has among the best music in all of gaming, with impressively pompous themes to rival Baba Yetu from Civilization. My favorite is the Rampart theme -- it is basically the elves and ents from Lord of the Rings with a beautiful and calming melody. An excellent soundtrack if you have been in too many battles or dealing with the stress of the more overbearing and threatening Inferno or Necropolis towns.
Next up is the art and, oh, my god, just look at all of those gorgeous paintings. There is even a zodiac puzzle in the game where you put together art to find hidden treasure -- a really nice touch. In fact, the art holds up so well that I much prefer the old gritty version to the new HD adaptation. All of the different factions are so well made and you can see that the game's developers have perfected their ideas about them, including their visual identity, in this third entry of the series.
"These factions, with their unique themes, stand out so well from each other in an aesthetic sense and this is mirrored in the diversity of their respective playstyles and strengths"
Speaking of the factions, they are intricately designed to ensure that they all have their different niches and playstyles. The Necropolis has badass gothic monsters with specialization in necromancy, while the Tower has crazy magical constructions and hordes of mages. Inferno is hell itself, with evil demons (and probably Satan). There are humans, aided by angels, the Fortress with Lizard people, the Dungeon with its weird troglodytes and mythological creatures that enjoy deep caves.
These factions, with their unique themes, stand out so well from each other in an aesthetic sense and this is mirrored in the diversity of their respective playstyles and strengths. This strategic variety is only enhanced by the game's levelling system -- you will want to level up your heroes, or at least your main hero, which determines how you will use your faction's units and where to specialize. Then there are the hordes of epic loot you can find to buff your heroes and counter your enemies. There are few things as satisfying as finding an item that will eliminate a weakness of yours that you were all too aware of.
There are exploits in the game, which some people will claim are bad, but I would argue that they bring something of value to the table as long as it is possible to win with other strategies. People want to feel smart and if they manage to find the most optimal way to play the game and become incredibly powerful by making the right moves, then they will feel like they are being rewarded for taking the time to learn how the game works.
There are two main "exploits" I like to do in Heroes 3, though I would prefer to call them "winning strategies." The most fun for me is Diplomacy. Get a hero specializing in diplomacy and you have yourself a snowball guaranteed to roll its way to victory; instead of defeating your enemies, you can convince them to join you. Sometimes you need to pay them, but a lot of them will join your ranks for free. This means your army is always growing and, because it's not fighting, is not taking any hits, making this a far more effective strategy than recruiting troops by defeating them in combat. This approach also has the benefit of making your army more diverse than if you tried to play normally with your own faction. You have the scope to specialize and only maximize the units that will fit this new army, like, say, archers.
The second "winning strategy" I want to talk about is something that everyone has probably done, and that is to play the Necromancer path of the Necropolis. This is also a kind of snowball strategy that is oh so rewarding for the player. Your hero can skill up Necromancy, giving them the ability to raise a portion of defeated armies from the dead. Before you know it, you will have the biggest and meanest skeleton army there is. It can get HUGE; it is not uncommon to have thousands of skeletons at the end of the game. I have only scratched the surface of the tactical possibilities of this approach. If you're really nerdy, you can find spreadsheets on the pros and cons of the abilities the different towns have.
The epic campaigns the game offers for each faction are a lot of fun, but for me it is the map editor that is the real star and plays a vital part in making this one of my favourite games. People have made all kinds of crazy and creative maps in the fantastic editor, taking Heroes 3 to the next level. For me, this was probably one of the early fun ways to make worlds where I could instantly find great items and beat my enemies. I'm almost certain it's the first time I made maps for games. In that sense, I thank the game for putting me on the path to becoming a developer and creating Source of Madness.
The only negative thing I can think to say about Heroes 3 is that after it becomes clear that you've won, it takes too long to hunt down the enemy heroes and make it official. That one tiny complaint aside, the game holds up remarkably well, so go play it again! If you've not played it before, I am sure at least half of your friends have, so hit them up and I'm sure they'd be happy to do a LAN or hot-seat session with you to introduce you to this incredible title.
Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at email@example.com.