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SummaryEvolution and highlight of the series
The GoodThe previous game in the series was a veritable behemoth of old-school, hardcore role-playing - tough, disorienting, nearly ridiculous in the challenges it posed, and fulfilling only to people with extreme patience (or very good walkthroughs). Might and Magic III marks a decisive turning point in the series towards the mainstream. But before you derisively dismiss it as one of those "dumbed-down sequels", let me tell you that the third game retains the scope, depth, complexity, and pure difficulty of the predecessors - while ironing out the flaws, polishing the interface, and discarding some of the less sensible, artificial challenges.
The game's most distinguishing innovation is in the way enemy encounters are handled. Instead of suddenly popping on the screen, enemies are now visibly roaming the game world, and you can avoid them, hit them form afar with ranged weapons, or engage them in such a way that only a few would follow you into melee combat. Needless to say how much more dynamic and exciting the battles have become. They are also noticeably faster-paced, and the game doesn't throw at you up to two hundred (!) enemies at once, as the predecessor did. Enemies are still ferocious and would eat an unprepared party for breakfast - but at least you won't be faced against impossible odds so many times. Particularly in the beginning of the game you can leave the town and start hacking goblins, which allows you to actually get the taste of the game. In the previous outings, prolonged tedious training within the walls of the first town was needed to even stand a chance against outside foes, or venture into the very first dungeon.
The interface has been drastically improved. When I close my eyes and think about Might and Magic II, I still have - beside pictures of minotaurs with daggers dripping blood and the proud text "+153 more minotaurs" - esoteric keyboard strokes such as "T43B" in front of me. These are four keyboard commands needed for such a simple thing as transferring a piece of equipment from one character to another in that game. Now, in Might and Magic III everything is done with the mouse, which is significantly less cumbersome, making the game more fluent.
One of my favorite additions in this game is the possibility to save anywhere. In the previous installment, you could only save at the town inns. The frustration of getting to the bottom of an important dungeon, only to be decimated by some punks and having to start over again has been therefore eliminated. There is, however, only one save state, so I'd advise to time your saves wisely. When you die, you can opt to get revived by Mr. Wizard, a hireling from the preceding game - but you lose your experience that way.
The visual update is more than welcome. The first game hasn't aged well at all, and the second can still repel with its rather ascetic look. Now, Might and Magic III is also by no means the epitome of eye candy - but the mobile, large enemy sprites moving about detailed landscape steal the show. The dungeons are still repetitive, but they have more features and are at least distinguishable one from the other.
Other than that, Might and Magic III retains everything that made the previous game great - a huge world (in fact, quite a bit larger than in the second installment) with diverse areas, many complex dungeons to explore, an astounding variety of tough enemies to defeat, loads of side quests and items, puzzles to solve, secrets to uncover, unique challenges, hirelings, treasure, and what not. This is a game that can suck you in on any given evening, "releasing" you only when you feel physically ill, raising your red eyes from the monitor and asking incredulously: "What do you mean 'it's already 4am'?" Then, walking unsteadily, you go to bed, drift into sleep, and dream about an obsidian wakizashi of might, which you use to defeat a pack of gargoyles behind an illusionary wall, guarding a trapped chest with the gold you so badly need to train to level 37.
The BadThe battles have been considerably sped up, but at a strange cost: there is no damage feedback during battles - you'll need to watch the blood splashes on screen or simply calculate how fast you're killing the enemy by yourself. Personally, I didn't mind it that much, but I realize it might be shocking for fans of the first two games.
On the other hand, the game is still very difficult, so expect to see those giant green screen-swallowing lizard jaws more often than you'd like to. Once you've completed the game, you'll be more than tempted to "cheat" next time by traveling to areas with great hirelings and treasure right away - which would have been rather unlikely during the first playthrough. Also, there are quite a few "legal" tricks and exploits that make the game easier, and I did not feel guilty in the least that I consulted a walkthrough to learn about them.