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Disciples III : Renaissance PC Preview - Introduction
The Disciples series always had a special spot in my heart. Overshadowed only by the titan that's called Heroes of Might & Magic, having lots of original touches like spells working only in global map and small parties of noble heroes or wicked fiends clashing for supremacy instead of huge armies - what's not to be loved here? So, when Arxel Tribe, the previous developers of Disciples, went bankrupt and the brand was sold, I was quite sad. Time passed, and a glimpse of hope appeared - a completely unknown, at least to me, team by the name of .dat raised the flag anew. First news were troubling, though - the staple of Disciples universe, four grand races - the valiant human Empire, the creeping Undead Hordes, the proud dwarven Mountain Clans and the infernal Legions of the Damned - was shaken, losing dwarves and the undead, replaced by a relative newcomer - the Elven Alliance, which gained a position of major race only in the aptly named addon, Disciples II: Rise of the Elves. A couple of months later, I received the Russian version of the game. With hands shaking, I entered the new Disciples II: Renaissance game world...
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Disciples II was a graphical masterpiece. Some may say it was too dark and grim, but the lands of Nevendaar certainly called for such gothic and sinister visual representation. It had a very edgy style, drawn by professionals, and every single portrait, every soldier breathed with life (or undeath) and burned deep in your memory... This was one of the games that clearly proved the position of game development as a form of art.
So what do we have in the new incarnation of Nevendaar? With certain sadness, I have to admit that the visuals have lost most of their power and uniqueness, giving place to fantasy cliche figures and uninspired, unclear models that have none of the charm and appeal of the predecessor. What was once one of the trump cards of Disciples II, is gone and lost forever. The only redeeming thing might be nice, if unoriginal spellcaster effects, such as fire raining upon the enemies. It's always pleasant when your righteous fury looks powerful and imposing, isn't it?
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Here we have the part of the game that, in my opinion, partially redeems the project. The movies have proper dramatic voice full of pathos, at least in the russian version. The music score fits the theme well and consists in classical chorus pieces and epic passages - everything that you would expect in a game about fierce fantasy battles that decide the fate of a grim and dark world. Sound effects in battle are appropriate as well, although certainly not unique in any way. As I said a long time ago - if the sound doesn't distract you from the game itself and helps the immersion, it's dealing with the job quite OK.
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And now comes the saddest part. Almost everything that was Disciples is discarded, giving way for a Heroes clone - the battle grid is almost a clear copy, although it has a new, if unnecessary addition - spots that give bonuses to certain types of units. Why unnecessary? Well, I cannot see the point of my mage running for three turns to get a plus to damage, if he can spend the time already blasting away at the enemy, for example. The character equipment screen borrows heavily from the modern trend of stitching RPG inventory system everywhere and has 7 slots for gear that gives slight bonuses to statistics, another new element. Such innovations are not bad themselves, but the time spent focusing on them could be better spent on polishing more important gameplay systems, in my opinion. Spells are now equippable items that you can cast on the battlefield. The only interesting idea is a change in mana capturing system, eschewing the previous rod placement for an unmoving guardian that grows bigger in time so that the longer you wait, the harder a certain spot is for retaking. The main gameplay is similar to every game of the genre, and brings nothing new to the formula of running around the map, beating up the enemy and grabbing the loot.
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So my final judgement is quite depressing - Disciples III is not the game we were waiting for. Instead it is another sequel that's eschewing the values of the series for the sake of copying the blockbuster of the genre, in this case, Heroes of Might and Magic. Such turn of events is nothing new in our gaming world. Promises of the developer team about bringing back the two missing races, so crucial for Nevendaar, in the first addon do not fulfill the emptiness left in my heart... The Disciples series is truly gone.