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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publisher

Akella / .dat

 

Developer

Kalypso

 

ESRB

E +10 (Everyone)

 

Released

July 13, 2010

 

 

- Excellent all around visuals
- Tactical battle maps make combat more engaging
- Detailed hero character advancement scheme

 

 

- Voice acting ranging from mediocre to atrocious
- Underwhelming soundtrack and sound effects
- Overly linear map design
- Gutless AI
- Over-relies on weak storyline to advance campaign

 

 

Review: Disciples II: Dark Prophecy (PC)

Review: League of Legends (PC)

Review: Tropico 3 (PC)

 

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Disciples III: Renaissance

Score: 6.0 / 10

 

disciples 3          disciples 3

 

For a long time, the king of the fantasy themed turn-based strategy genre was the Heroes of Might & Magic series.  It lorded over the hard drives of gamers as a benevolent despot, handing out joy to the masses in return for the slavish

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obedience of "just one more turn."  In contrast, the Disciples series was a would-be usurper, really good looking but brutal to those who chose to ally themselves with it.  Still, there was something appealing about the first two games in the series.  There was a strong visual style and a compelling fantasy setting that held a slightly darker tinge to it than the bright colors of

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the Heroes series.  It was brutal on the players, but if you could survive, you'd be mighty.  The latest entry in the series, Disciples III: Renaissance, attempts to put a velvet glove in place of the iron fist, and the grip is predictably weaker.

 

It's very hard to fault the visuals in the game because they look excellent.  Character models are rendered in lush detail and move very fluidly, while maintaining a slightly baroque feel that suggests the previous entries in the series.  The various maps are equally detailed and it's rather enjoyable to watch the landscape change as you secure control points on maps, influence physically covering the land in your chosen faction's artwork.  Your home town in each scenario starts off bereft of the important structures that allow you to hire and upgrade troops, but with each purchase, it looks more and more magnificent, and the structural upgrades feel organic enough that you can tell at a glance what troops can come out of the structure.  If I have any complaint about the visuals, it's the feeling that the developers went too far, that they lost the dark fairy tale style which has been a hallmark of the series.  The mostly black and white sketches that serve as cutscenes and introduction screens for scenarios not only feel far rougher than the actual game models, but rougher and substandard when compared to the rich watercolor style from the previous two games.

 

While Disciples III has little to worry about in the visuals, the sounds of the game are quite another story.  The music is supposed to be very sweeping with a touch of lament to it, but it proves utterly annoying after about the second or third scenario in, whether it's the vocalist on the exploration map or the uninspiring themes in combat.  The unit acknowledgments are clear and easy to understand, but they prove repetitive to the point of obnoxiousness.  In-game cutscenes suffer from actors who deliver badly written lines in earnest attempts to rise above the material.  The writing never rises to the level of "so bad, it's good!" prose and you feel a touch sorry for the actors who enunciate and speak wonderfully with utter garbage on their scripts.  One exception is the narrator who does the voice over for the major cinematics and the synopsis of events between scenarios.  While his voice is clear, his delivery is so thoroughly godawful and emotionally tone deaf that you wish he'd stop talking.

 

disciples 3          disciples 3

 

The gameplay in Disciples III has gotten easier from the first two games, perhaps overly so.  One definite improvement in my opinion is the move to a genuine tactical battle map rather than the more abstracted method previously employed.  There is the option for auto-battle, for those folks who don't have any talent or desire to get into small unit tactics, or quick battle for people who can't stand to watch the computer trundle through stupid moves in real time.

 

This leads me to my first big complaint about the gameplay, specifically the AI.  In previous Disciples games, even the Easy level AI would kick your ass and bang your girlfriend before coming back to finish you off if you made a mistake.  Here, the AI seems to have trouble remembering that there's an enemy force out there which is intent on destroying it.

 

Part of the strategic element in the game is capturing control nodes and basically putting a flag on them, said flag evolving into a magical auto-turret for lack of a better phrase.  This was handled by a special hero unit known as a Rod Bearer in the first two games, but this ability has now been passed to all heroes.  The AI is at least smart enough to try and launch an attack on those control points right before they upgrade to a stronger version, but if it happens to get slowed up or you decide to stand guard until the flag upgrades itself, then it's beating it's head against the wall, and feeding XP into the very thing it's trying to destroy.

 

The pacing of the game can't seem to decide if it wants to be a fast paced tactical affair where your lone hero rides forth and mows down enemies or a slower strategic endeavor where towns are properly guarded by garrisons and battles are bitterly fought between carefully arrayed heroic armies.  As it is, the AI only ever seems to have one hero it spends any time building up, so zapping that hero early on practically guarantees you victory.  The map design tends towards maze-like affairs that effectively funnel you towards your objectives or the enemy armies into you.  It also makes it effectively impossible to do anything but run head first into the obstacles ahead of you.  Good strategy games find ways to make you balance out forces and resources, accepting temporary losses for longer term gains.  Here, that balance does not exist.

 

The hero units are more customizable from the first two games, featuring a stat system and a skill map that looks a lot like it came out of Final Fantasy XII, but not all hero units are created equal.  Each campaign has a main character hero who pretty much ends up being your only hero, given the AI and map design impediments.  While heroes can notionally buy upgraded armor and weapons, the Big Hero units have to wander around the map and kill monsters guarding chests for their upgrades.  In previous games, heroes had limited inventory slots.  Here, the heroes have unlimited inventory slots.  The problem is that even over the course of a single scenario, a hero can end up holding a lot of loot.  A good inventory management system would have been helpful.  As it is, players have to slowly scroll from column to column of gear when not in combat.  Since new items go to the back of the line, you end up scrolling a lot.  It gets even more irksome when you go to a vendor to sell off loot and it doesn't show up unless you go to a totally different vendor. 

 

The game presents only three campaigns, featuring the Empire, the Legions of the Damned, and the Elven Alliance.  Dwarves and Undead, which used to be playable races right off the bat, are reduced to mobs on the map.  There's word that the Undead Hordes will be making a return as a playable race in an expansion, but even so, it'd better be an expansion right up there with the expansions for Diablo II or Morrowind.  For each campaign, we get a Big Hero and the same whiny sidekick throughout all three.  Each of the Big Heroes is a good and dutiful servant of their race, and I want to slap them for being foisted on me.  Part of the fun of these games is the metagaming one does with it.  Previously, you could build up a hero of your choosing, then use that hero for multiplayer games.  There was a story to them, how Bob the Ranger lost most of his men taking the enemy capital while Doug the Warrior pounded it flat with no losses.  Here, we're stuck slogging through a dull storyline with characters we don't give a damn about.  We'd make them lose, but then the campaign ends prematurely, which really kills the fun.

 

Like a son who's only a pale imitation of the man that his father was, Disciples III  replaces the iron handed but engaging gameplay of it's forebears with lots of frills and fripperies but a tragic lack of understanding about what made those earlier editions great.  While the character advancement scheme and tactical battle maps are improvements worth keeping, they feel almost wasted on unworthy antagonists in the service of a wretched storyline.

 

- Axel Cushing

(September 16, 2010)

 

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