Disciples III: Renaissance Review

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Disciples III: Renaissance Publisher: Kalypso
Developer: Akella

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: 2 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, DirectX 9.0c compatible video card with 128 MB memory, 5 GB HD space, internet connection, Windows XP SP2 or more recent operating system

A fallen star heralds another era of war in the lands of Nevendar, with humans, elves and demons all battling to recover the celestial object and use it to dominate the land. Replete with high-fantasy posturing from Russian authors, Disciples III: Renaissance has players unraveling this tale, turn-based battle by turn-based battle.

Kyle Ackerman

Thanks to my abiding affection for the older Disciples games, I wanted to love Disciples III: Renaissance. I couldn't. Disciples III makes the mistake of breaking with its roots by adding tons of complexity to an older, polished style of play, but it doesn't make that complexity particularly interesting or meaningful.

When a game adds rules, those rules add to the game's learning curve, causing players consternation as they take the additional time to learn how to play. Therefore, as a game design guideline, if you add rules, there needs to be a commensurate reward. You have to make learning those new rules rewarding, if not fun to learn in and of themselves. The Disciples games used to be fairly straightforward – players built a limited pool of units that marauded around a map, engaging in simple combat. There were enough combat tricks to make the battles interesting but not overlong, and play was the joy of exploration and tactics as players fought to become masters over a fantasy landscape.

If You Emulate Success, Do it Successfully

Disciples III takes its lead from more recent games like King's Bounty: The Legend. Players lead one or more armies around the landscape, exploring buildings and magical locations while knocking out hordes of bad guys. Each combat is resolved on a tactical map complete with hexes, movement rules, and spots that provide specific tactical advantages such as additional melee might or magical power. Disciples III then adds onto the usual role-playing-game–style advancement and item-acquisition a framework that has players building fortresses, upgrading troops along multiple paths and researching spells. None of those are particularly simple, with players controlling five types of generated resources and managing skill upgrade trees of withering complexity.

Sadly, once I put in enough hours to fully understand all the possible upgrades, paths and styles of play, I also understood that none of it really mattered. As long as I avoided those foes at the beginning of a map that were way out of my league, I could pretty much romp through any level without much challenge at the hardest difficulty level. Even having desperately misallocated some of my advancement points, it just didn't matter. The AI would occasionally cleverly sneak around my troops to take advantage of a bonus hex, but would repeatedly fail to attempt a killing blow on my mortally wounded units, making it easy for me to win even hopeless battles. The only challenge in Disciples III comes from trying to conquer a level more efficiently than before. There is a hot-seat multiplayer mode that sidesteps the AI problem, but combat is actually fairly deterministic, and two skilled players will typically know the outcome before swords even cross.

Localization is More Than Translation

To further complicate things, the world map in Disciples III is a realistic 3D map, with maps built from similar color palates, making features difficult to distinguish and often obscured by other terrain, despite the fact that most maps are comprised of tightly constrained, linear paths. Furthermore, the game has some serious problems with its localized English. The human leader Lambert constantly cries "The Unit is Setting Out!" as he charges into battle, and one of the character skills is "Instinct Leader" (presumably meant to be "Instinctive Leader" or "Natural Leader") meaning that the character can lead more units. All the dialogue feels carefully translated from Russian without any sense of colloquial diction.

The place where Disciples III shines is in exploration. If you aren't interested in the combat being particularly deep or meaningful, Disciples III offers a detailed world created by Russian fantasy authors, ripe for exploring. The three factions (the human Empire, the Elven Alliance, and the Legions of the Damned) each offer many time-consuming missions scattered across enormous maps. There is a lot of world to explore, even if the battles are mundane.

As the Player, I Want to Matter!

Disciples III is deeply complex, but that complexity detracts from, rather than adding to, the fun. The game would have been far more entertaining (and easier to develop) if the systems had been vastly simplified and honed, focusing on the strengths of earlier games (like exploration and territory conquest). For those systems in place, better tutorials than the weak initial mission and simple videos would have made the game far more accessible. Instead, Disciples III left me wondering why I had bothered to garrison cities and waste moves trying to figure out how to move items between parties. It should have left me wondering how humanity would survive this Elven onslaught, and whether I should be training another archer or researching a powerful new spell. Ultimately, none of that mattered. I just needed to lead my army down a predetermined path by repeatedly clicking until I won.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on July 18, 2010 9:27 PM.

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