Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Since I decided in the previous map that I'd carry over the heroes from A Devilish Plan to the final scenario of the campaign, there was no need to recruit a large team in Groundbreaking.

When I think of the Heroes III fanbase, I imagine hardcore OCD strategy fans meticulously counting learning stones and hero stat enhancers to determine which map offers the highest hero growth potential. However, I didn't think a few stat points would make that big of an impact in the big picture. Instead, I just hired two heroes and swept through the tunnels like a whirlwind.

As I played the map, I noticed a few interesting things.

Groundbreaking is the first mission where players experience a fully built-out underground map. Previous scenarios had sections of caves for players to explore. But here, tunnels cover the entire map. As I send my heroes into the shroud, I began to notice a great difference in the design philosophy of overworld and subterranean areas.

Subterranean maps consist of long, linear tunnels connected to hubs like spokes on a wheel. They feel constricted and claustrophobic (as they should). Overworld design, on the other hand, is open and expansive. You'll rarely see tunnel-like paths implemented on the overhead map. When they do appear, it's usually a map design trick to force players to attack a garrison or trigger an event. Because impassible areas on the overworld (mountains and forests) are generally clumped together rather than set up as walls, it feels like heroes have more directions to travel.

I disliked the map design in Heroes V because it relied heavily on tunnels, even for the overworld. The demon campaign (where Agrael stomps through Irollan) is the biggest culprit. When players are forced to travel on preset paths, the map starts to feel constricted and the illusion of choice is diminished.

Let's be honest. No matter which Heroes game you play, the map designer's hand will always be present to influence players. However, good maps hide the designer's hand, allowing players to approach the map as intended but without the realization that they've been subtly nudged along the way. Bad maps force the hero to explore on rails. Replaying Heroes III has helped me better discern good maps from bad maps.

Both the intro cutscene and the in-game dialog box mentions the arrival of Enrothian warships and the fact that they "cannot be led by Roland Ironfist." When I originally played this scenario, I was very confused. Roland was the happy king from Heroes II with the Freddie Mercury mustache. How come he couldn't lead the fleet?

Roland's disappearance is a major plot point in Might & Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven. I've never played that game. But I researched the game on Wikipedia and YouTube and discovered the basic premise. Prior to Catherine's return to Erathia, the Kreegans landed in Enroth (Roland's continent) and took over the land by influencing a cult called Baa. They also managed to kidnap Roland in the process. In the game, the Kreegan hive is ultimately destroy and their invasion halted. However, the party never manages to rescue Roland.

Of course, if you never played the game, the cutscene for Groundbreaking would be very confusing. I do wish Heroes III had been packaged with an in-game lore book to explain the greater Might & Magic world. Most of the game's history had to be pieced together by fans after New World Computing and 3DO became defunct.

1 comment:

  1. While I agree, you do learn a little later in Heroes III (for the first time) that Roland was kidnapped by the Devils and is still alive, so an explanation of MM6 wasn't really necessary.