Disciples III: Renaissance delivers dark, brutal, and sexy turn-based strategy

Coming out nearly a decade after 2002’s Disciples II, which was old-school even then, Disciples III: Renaissance is obviously a niche offering. The grim, war-torn landscape of Nevandaar, filled with warring gods, demonic hordes, and rampant death, makes a great stomping ground for your battle ready armies – but grid-based fantasy strategy games simply aren’t in vogue these days. But our inner geeks would sign up to pass kidney stones the size of 20-sided dice to get to this game when it ships next week.

It’s not just that it’s 3D now – we actually loved the previous game’s gorgeous 2D art – it’s that the developers have “freshened” an already stellar series by borrowing not from modern games, but from an even more beloved strategy franchise that’s just as geeky: Heroes of Might and Magic. After spending some recent hands-on time with the darker, grittier action of Disciples III: Renaissance, we’re psyched to see the series adopting a few more of the accoutrements that made HoMM such a wicked time sink…

This time around, the conflict unfolds across three campaigns and a trio of unique playable races: The Empire (humans), the Legions of the Damned (demons), or the Elves (durrr), each with its own distinct units, buildings, and lords to command. Each race is seeking to recover an angel who has literally fallen from the sky – whose power they will then use for their own aims. And of course, this “me first, gimme gimme” mentality provides a sound enough reason for each faction to want to slay the crap out of one another.

Gallivanting off on missions across the world map in each story chapter, your hero will wield a small band of assorted warriors that can be expanded, changed, and upgraded through the careful construction of support buildings at your main castle. As before, your choice of building upgrades opens new avenues for creating certain units while closing off others. The heroes themselves can be beefed up with special skills, learn magical powers, and be pimped out with sweet gear you acquire. In fact, changes in equipment are now reflected in your hero’s appearance, which is just one of many visual updates found in the game. Though it retains the same ominous, gothic art style as the previous games, Disciples III’s graphics engine is overhauled with fresh, sharp-looking 3D graphics. A rotatable camera, a cool day/night cycle, and numerous lighting effects all accentuate the stark visual upgrade.

When tackling each mission, there are artifacts to pick-up, hotspots to explore, and naturally battles to engage in. Securing strategic points on the world map now lets you plunk down a cool defender to protect your boundaries. These powerful entities open up a serious can of “your ass, my boot” on invaders, and they can be boosted with support artifacts and extra units to keep your borders safe.

While most of the changes in Disciples III aren’t a huge departure from what we’ve seen before, the battle system has been substantially revamped. The developers ditched got rid of the pared-down turn-based skirmishes of the past two games in favor of 3D HoMM-style combat encounters set across hexagonal battlefields. You can move individual units to engage the enemy from different angles, have your lord unleash spells and devastating abilities, and even capture key points on the battlefield to give your warriors a boost. Even with the switch-out battle style, encounters flow smoothly and don’t require lots of micromanagement. For the more lazily inclined, there’s auto battle and quick finish features to plow through encounters at light speed.

It’s been many years since Disciples and HoMM players have had hot new games released for their respective series, and Disciples III: Renaissance aims to fill that gaping void for players in both camps. After bathing our blades in the blood of countless adversaries, we can say this game will scratch that itch and then some.

Jul 9, 2010