Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Armageddon's Blade

Since I've finished all of the campaigns in Restoration of Erathia, the logical next step is for me to replay the game's expansion: Armageddon's Blade. I plan to first tackle the primary AB campaign, which details Queen Catherine and Roland Ironfist's quest to destroy Lucifer Kreegan and Eeofol. Then, I'll explore the secondary campaigns such as Festival of Life and Dragon's Blood.

Heroes historians may be pleased to know that AB had a very interesting development cycle. The plot was originally written as a continuation of Might & Magic VII's evil ending in which Kastore uses the Heavenly Forge to bring darkness to Antagarich.

You can read the entire story of the Forge here.

Basically, AB was originally meant to introduce a 9th faction called the Forge and introduce cyberpunk elements to the Heroes series. The main Might & Magic series has always combined science fiction with traditional fantasy via robots, blasters, space ships, etc. However, the Heroes strategy games had been 100% classical fantasy up to this point. The sudden introduction of mutant zombie cyborgs to a land populated by unicorns, pixies, and elves was a huge point of contention for gamers (many of whom had never played Might & Magic VII). In the end, due to user feedback, New World Computing scrapped the Forge and replaced it with the Conflux, an elemental faction. They also altered the plot to follow Might & Magic VII's good ending instead of the evil ending.

Over a decade later, there's still a lot of bitterness within the Heroes fanbase over the decision to replace the Forge. In the early aughts, some groups even tried to build mods to 'restore the Forge to Heroes III.' I'm not sure if any of them were ultimately successful.

Many pro-Forge fans felt that series newbies didn't understand the full context of the Forge and overreacted to the science fiction elements. They also felt NWC overreacted to the angry emails of a few persistent fans and robbed them of Antagarich's true history. I won't get into a discussion about author's intent here. Suffice to say, the final release of AB was somewhat polarizing.

Here's what I personally think about the Forge. It was a great concept that was implemented poorly. Instead of scrapping the Forge completely, NWC should have tweaked the visual design of the Forge to make it look less stylistically jarring.

I admired NWC for pushing the envelope and surprising fans with science fiction elements in Heroes III. However, I disliked the cyberpunk look of the Forge and its uninspiring units. One Forge creature was basically a naga with tank treads. Another unit was a zombie with a chainsaw arm. If NWC had redesigned these creatures and changed the look of the town to be less corporate and industrial-looking, I think the Forge could have been a big hit. For example, a slightly more whimsical, steampunk look might have helped ease the transition between fantasy and sci-fi for Heroes fans (think Arcanum). The dragon golem in Heroes IV is an example of a sci-fi creature that didn't feel out of place.

Of course, the late 90s was a very different era for game developers. Companies like NWC did not have huge PR departments like EA, Ubisoft, or Activision today to handle fan rage. The lack of good sales metrics meant a lot of developers based decisions on 'gut feelings' rather than hard numbers. A few overreactions and misunderstandings could seriously derail an entire project.

The conflux isn't really as horrible as people make it out to be. Sure, the town screen reuses graphics from the adventure map and the faction is overpowered. But it looks beautiful and still fits the context of the story. Plus, the entire planet would explode a few years later in Heroes IV. So the Forge vs. Conflux debate was ultimately less important in hindsight.

Exposition aside, let's dive into the AB campaign.

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