The tactical turn based strategy genre has been a staple since the early days of PC gaming. The reigning king of the genre has been Heroes of Might and Magic, but Disciples has been a solid addition to the genre since 1999 when Disciples: Sacred Lands was released for the PC. Now it is more than ten years later and Disciples III: Renaissance is poised to take on the PC market throne and succeeds in some levels but fails in many key places, preventing it from achieving true greatness.
Disciples III presents the user with three playable races, The Empire, a human faction that is comprised of noble knights, rangers mages etc.; the Elven Alliance, made up of forest dwelling elves; and finally the Legion of the Damned, comprised of demons and creatures from hell. Each faction has a campaign that will take you several hours to complete and a story arc that slowly pieces together as the game progresses. The voice work is not what you would expect from a fantasy tale and because of this it has a camp feel that was not intended. The poor voice acting and some bad writing make the overall story a lack luster experience.
With that out of the way, the visual style of the game is nothing short of beautiful. The creatures and the world are crafted with a dark fantasy aesthetic which really breathes new life into the genre. The game feels adult in nature. This is not to say it is risqué in any way but the creators clearly are aware of their market. Anyone above the age of twenty will feel little shame in showing this to their peers. The lush environments, new 3D landscape, and rich fantasy world lures the player into exploring every nook and cranny. The ability to change the world as you explore is also a great addition, with your factions influence spreading as power nodes are collected. This brings resources under your faction’s control (as is seen in many of these types of games) but it will reshape the landscape allowing forests to sprout where there was only blackened earth before. The attention to detail is truly mesmerizing.
The maps as with many of these types of games are covered with pathways and new items to uncover. This combined with a fluid camera make the exploration aspect of the game easy and fun to do. Not only will this help you uncover new things to aid in your quest but will allow you to see just what creatures may lurk awaiting to assault you. These new elements and a clean easy to work control scheme make this title a vision of what these games could be in the future.
The hero and the army they command are the life blood of the game. The hero is the unit you direct around the map. Players can control three of these units at a time. These units are unique for the fact that what you do to them is persistent throughout the course of the campaign. The choices on gear, stats or skills will stick with you throughout that faction. There is also the fact that how you attack will determine how the hero upgrades and levels up. The game also has a skill tree and it is great fun to level up and plan how you want your hero to be. It adds a lot of depth to the game play and makes it fun to keep upgrading the hero.
Sadly leveling up the army is less exciting. There are limited ways in which units can be upgraded leaving this aspect of the game lacking in comparison to the hero advancement. As the player progresses though battles they earn experience and the experience will automatically level up and give boosts to skills etc. The way to really enhance units is to build support structures at your capital city. In keeping with the breathtaking visual style, your city has a unique look for each faction and as you build and expand the buildings the city landscape expands and enriches the look of the city.
A few factors limit the systems of the game, with the restriction of one upgrade path per unit per scenario you feel that some units are neglected and not fully explored. This is a minor gripe but it is present and must be noted. Most upgrade paths strike a good balance, but there are some choices that are little more than eye candy, so once you know what works and what does not the game can move much smoother, but there will be some trial and error.
Taking the units that you worked on and helped strengthen in battle is an exhilarating experience, indeed. The new large hex-based maps are a welcome change for the series and with damage boosting spots randomly located on the battlefield the tactical choices expands considerably. You move each unit for the amount of movement points they have per turn. You can choose whether they attack, heal, move, etc. but every action will take movement points so you must ensure not to put them in the line of fire with no points left to attack. Much like any game with a turn based battle system, you must ensure to plan your moves carefully, since one wrong move or an overzealous attack could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
This all being said, some players may find the battles to tedious to tackle and the ability to preview what units you will be attacking means you will rarely be surprised. Couple this previewing with the ability to auto resolve a battle means you can eliminate these conflicts from your game experience if you so want to. Although this will mean you will be missing one of the most interesting aspects of Disciples III. The hard-earned victory based on strategic contemplation and decisive action.
Disciples III is a great throw-back experience. Some smart design choices throughout the game mean this title will be one that you can sink into for hours upon hours. Yet with the extensive gameplay time required and a dismal story, Disciples III may be a title reserved for hard-core strategy fans only. If you are in need of a strategy fix and want something with brilliant visuals, Disciples III will scratch that itch, just don’t expect revolution when it comes to gameplay.