"And those limitations make themselves known as soon as the game begins. Among the initial tasks set before players is one involving destroying the swarm of rats that’ve taken over Fountain Head, the town where the game starts. Attempting to do this immediately will likely lead to a quick demise, though, as those rats are a bit too fierce for a beginning party. Heck, even exploring the back alley’s of Fountain Head’s not advisable as there are a few slime-like critters capable of giving a group of novices a tougher fight that they might anticipate."
While the first two Might and Magic titles had their charm (I guess), they didn’t really give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The first one bored and frustrated me because, after a certain point, it took so long to gain levels I felt like I was spinning my wheels. The second game of the series seemed to put so much emphasis on tricky, gimmick-oriented dungeons that attempting to explore everywhere proved to be more annoying than anything else.
So, to say the third installment of the series totally blew my mind probably’s an understatement. While the general plot is the same as the first two, with a group of heroes attempting to bring a planet-hopping villain to justice, the gameplay of this computer RPG series was completely revamped to create an entirely different sort of adventure.
While exploration is done from the same first-person point of view as the first two Might and Magic games, combat is completely different. There are no randomly-generated encounters here. Instead, enemies are shown on screen the instant a player’s party gets a few squares away. The party moves toward their foes and the monsters move in kind. Having characters with bows or magic spells use them from a distance can easily weaken or even kill many creatures before they get close enough to engage in melee combat, but be warned! Many monsters are able to do the same. Letting high-powered liches, medusas and gigantic dragons get too many long-range attacks in can result in the entire party suffering from undesirable things like being turned to stone or getting eradicated long before anyone gets to whip out their sword.
Handling the basics of combat, as well as other aspects of the game, is pretty easy, as virtually every important command can either be executed or at least instigated by one of many buttons to the right of the game screen. When an enemy or two appears in the distance, clicking the button that looks like a bow causes all characters with long-range weapons to start firing. If any of those foes survives long enough to reach the party, the bow changes to a sword. Now, hitting that button causes the highlighted character to perform a melee attack. If too many characters get weakened by battle (and no monsters are in the vicinity), another button orders the party to rest so members can lick their wounds. Play control in Might and Magic III is simple and intuitive, so that even a novice can figure out how to get around in mere moments.
It’s knowing where to go that’s a bit confusing. Like other games in this series, Might and Magic III is very non-linear. While there are a few things that must be done, as well as a number of places that can’t be accessed until certain quests have been completed, players will find the main limitations to what they can do are simply caused by the combination of the party’s strength and their competence with using buffing spells to tilt the scales in their favor during tough fights.
And those limitations make themselves known as soon as the game begins. Among the initial tasks set before players is one involving destroying the swarm of rats that’ve taken over Fountain Head, the town where the game starts. Attempting to do this immediately will likely lead to a quick demise, though, as those rats are a bit too fierce for a beginning party. Heck, even exploring the back alley’s of Fountain Head’s not advisable as there are a few slime-like critters capable of giving a group of novices a tougher fight that they might anticipate.
No, what a newbie’s supposed to do is leave town and tussle with the goblins and orcs strewn throughout the surrounding countryside. While caution is still required, as aggressively charging these guys can get the party into a much larger conflict that they can handle, they’ll be able to hold there own here. Whenever a monster is killed, it’s gone for good, so the party will soon be able to move farther away from town and get the opportunity to destroy the hideouts of these weak creatures for gold, experience points and items. As characters gain more and more cash and experience, they’ll be allowed to train in town (ie: go up in level), as well as buy superior equipment. After a little while, slaughtering those rats will be a piece of cake.
However, the game will continue to test the mettle of players. Upon entering the Cyclops Cavern, a player can be forgiven for being a bit overconfident as any halfway powerful party can slaughter the monsters in the early rooms and tunnels of this place. However, in the depths of this cave dwell the one-eyed terrors the place is named after. Anyone who thinks these guys are on the same level as the cannon fodder “guarding” them likely will be reloading a previous save within seconds of assaulting one.
Cyclopses are little more than big, physical brutes which can be pounded into submission by a powerhouse party, though. Other foes never will become easy, regardless of how tough a party is. While many undead creatures like reapers, liches and ghosts aren’t loaded with hit points, they’re capable of utterly decimating characters with a slew of special attacks that might age them (not good, as they do have finite life spans), give them one of many status ailments or simply kill them. The breath attack of a powerful dragon can whittle an entire party down to near-death status before they get close enough to enter melee combat. Most dungeons and many overworld sectors have at least one foe with the ability to drive players nuts as they try to figure out the right tactics to neutralize them.
The only problem I had with Might and Magic III is that, on top of all the challenging monsters, the game goes a bit overboard with seeing how many debilitating traps it can cram into its world. Constant use of levitation and jumping spells is required to not have characters get killed by quicksand in the swamp or have hit points brutally whittled away from pendulums and spikes in underground dungeons. Even a good number of the game’s rewards are traps, as well. There are many pools that can permanently raise attributes, but at a cost. Sure, getting a 15-point stat bonus is nice and all, but it does get tiresome to constantly have to deal with all the nasty status ailments (including death) that come along with the prize. It’s enough of a challenge just to make it through some of these dungeons -- when the greatest prizes for doing so are horribly trapped, it detracts from the sense of accomplishment I got from overcoming hordes of vicious foes.
Still, Might and Magic III, as well as the two Xeen games that were next in the series, have to rank among my favorite computer RPGs. There are tons of dungeons to explore and goodies to find AND things remain challenging from beginning to end. While a few traps and pitfalls did seem gratuitously tacked on just to inflate the difficulty, this still was a fun conquest that didn’t go down without a fight.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 11, 2007)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
If you enjoyed this Might & Magic III: Isles of Terra review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!