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Might & Magic III: Isles of Terra (PC) artwork

Might & Magic III: Isles of Terra (PC) review

"Some RPGs strive to hold you by the hand from the first meetings with townspeople (''Do not forget to EQUIP your weapons and armor after buying them!'') to your final victory over the master villain (or in RPG slang, ''end boss''). In either subtle or distinct ways, the player is led from one town to another, one boss after the next, a bunch of quests in a set, clear order and if you're lucky, a couple of optional ones on the side. Then there's Might & Magic 3 which does quite the opposite. In a..."

Some RPGs strive to hold you by the hand from the first meetings with townspeople (''Do not forget to EQUIP your weapons and armor after buying them!'') to your final victory over the master villain (or in RPG slang, ''end boss''). In either subtle or distinct ways, the player is led from one town to another, one boss after the next, a bunch of quests in a set, clear order and if you're lucky, a couple of optional ones on the side. Then there's Might & Magic 3 which does quite the opposite. In a tradition set in the first Might & Magic title and carried through in the rest of the series, your party is thrust into the first town somewhere in the game world, without a clear final objective and with no real idea of where to start. Exploration is key to find new areas, things to do, enemies to kill and ultimately, figure out what is expected of you. This is the primary strength of the Might & Magic series, and the 3rd game pulls it off particularly well. As a result, this is a refreshing and challenging title to those who are a little tired of linearity, although the high difficulty may also deter the more casual player.

Might & Magic has spawned no less than 9 games (and almost as many spin-offs), but it's gone through only a few major revamps. Typically, a few games in succession are very similar to each other until the concept is significantly changed. Might & Magic 3 is the first of the ''second generation'' of M&M games, and its example is reused in 4 and 5. The game is played in a first person view of what your party sees, in a world divided into squares, and played turn based both in and out of combat. Basically, you turn around in any of four directions and move either forwards or backwards, and when you take a step, so do nearby monsters. Time passes from day into night, shops open and close, timed magical effects wear off, and your party ages. In combat, monsters and party members attack on a turn by turn basis, and if combat is taking too long, other nearby monsters are likely to join in. Terra, the world on which Might & Magic 3 plays, is divided into square wilderness areas through which towns, castles and dungeons are spread, and once inside you'll find these are built up in much the same way.

By far the most interesting aspect of Might & Magic 3 is its lack of linearity and the total lack of information the newcoming player has. You are thrust into the town of Fountain Head, which is far from a safe haven; rather, it's been overrun by monsters and clearing out the town is one of your first priorities. Random encounters do not exist in Might & Magic 3; as the game starts, all areas are populated with specific numbers and types of monsters, and when you clean out an area, they do not return. As the game proceeds, your heroes turn from inexperienced weaklings into near-immortal titans, and the world's monster population inevitably drops to zero. As you become more powerful, more dangerous wilderness areas and dungeons become survivable, and generally you get a good idea of the lay of the land, the secrets of the world, and ultimately your objective. There *is* indeed a main storyline of quests to be followed, but you'll need to be well into the game to even realize this.

As is typical to the Might & Magic series, the story purely focuses on the world and its events and not on your characters. A party of up to six characters may be created at the beginning and characters can be added/removed in town as you please, and they will have little or no personality. Basically, they're just your killing machines, and come in a variety of classes ranging from the stout melee-oriented Knights and Barbarians, to the essential lockpicking Thief and the physically weak but magically powerful Cleric and Sorcerer. Races, too, may be chosen and have a subtle impact on your statistics and in various other areas.

In terms of gameplay, Might & Magic 3 is a bit smaller than its predecessor (but then, M&M2 is just huge), but definitely more polished. All of the randomness is gone and so are many of the cheap ways to level up and turn into gods early on. To see Might & Magic 3 through, you'll need to do your best, and for the newcomer that inevitably means a lot of frustrating deaths when poking around in places you shouldn't be in yet. This can be considered both the game's strength and its weakness, and in which direction it tilts will depend mostly on personal preference. I love being able to make my own decisions about the order I do things in, personally.

Graphically, Might & Magic 3 is extremely appealing. No fancy 3D (the game's from 1991, after all), but it paints the wilderness areas with lush inviting colours, and the dungeons with appropriate gloomy brown. Enter a building in town - the blacksmith, the training area, or the tavern just to name a few - and you're treated to some pretty nice graphics of the indoors, although they are regretfully the same for each of the five towns. Perhaps best of all are the monster graphics, of which there are a wide variety (and no palette swapping at all!), and the majority of them are very well drawn. They go through a little animation too, although regretfully on a modern PC they do so far too quickly, creating amusing rather than impressive effects.

Might & Magic 3 is also the first game in the series to give each of your characters a small portrait at the bottom of the screen, a tradition which has stayed in the series ever since. They too look pretty good (and there's a decent variety of faces to choose from), and their facial expressions become particularly amusing when they've been poisoned, or even better, struck insane. All in all the graphics still look pretty darn good now, and for a game that's 12 years old, that's no small feat.

Audio is equally appealing. Might & Magic 3 comes with very little voice talent (only in the intro and the final cutscene), but there's a couple of different sound effects which are quite acceptable, and the music, while in midi format, is well done. There's a decent variety in music too, and something that was done particularly well is that the music always manages to remain in the background, supporting your game rather than constantly demanding attention. Again, this is the first Might & Magic to have any music at all, and this good tradition of being there without distracting you is carried through successfully in the rest of the series.

The main strength of Might & Magic 3, as it is in most of the games in the series, is just letting you play. Those who prefer the more storydriven RPGs that are usually found on consoles are likely to be disappointed by the complete lack of dialogue or character development. But if you like the idea of starting a new adventure in a strange world, and figuring out for yourself where to go when and what to do next, this game's definitely for you. In terms of open gameplay, stiff challenge and solid exploring fun, Might & Magic 3 may be one of the best representatives of the series, and for those who enjoy this particular style of RPG, this game is a must have.

sashanan's avatar
Community review by sashanan (January 10, 2008)

Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.

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