Warlords III: Reign of Heroes
Windows - 1997
Description of Warlords III: Reign of Heroes
The Warlords Return
It's usually a mark of a good game that it makes it to the sequel of a sequel. In the list of forthcoming strategy releases I have before me the only other one I can see is Populous 3. We've just had X-COM 3 released - a real classic - and there's talk of Civilization 3 being on the way. So the question is is Warlords 3 worth the wait? Is it really a gaming classic? Is the series still alive and kicking, and has it been updated enough to lure in a more demanding gaming public?
Interest in fantasy strategy games has been fueled of late by the excellent Heroes of Might and Magic 2. That's a game with super presentation and a style of gameplay which is very well suited to attracting a wide base of players. The graphics are strikingly colourful and well animated, the menu screens are slick, the game rules are simple to understand, the background music is superb and, last but not least, the tactical combat system is very enjoyable. When two armies meet up on the game map in HoMM 2, battles are resolved with a tactical mini game. Players enjoy taking their dragons into battle, they enjoy casting spells and having direct control over the action. Much the same can be said about another classic, Masters of Magic, a great game in its time but sadly featuring a rather weak AI.
The point about Warlords 3 is that it is a turn-based grand strategy game, and like HoMM 2 it's played out in a fantasy world of elves, dragons and giants. But when two armies meet in Warlords 3 the outcome is resolved automatically - there's no tactical game to control. For some this fact will be an immediate turnoff, but others will argue that in such large games, especially multiplayer ones, the addition of tactical battles would only bog the game down. And in any case, as warlord you only direct armies, you don't control the action. What you can do is set the general order in which your unit types engage in battle, but anything more than that is out of your control. Instead the emphasis is on the grand strategy, and ensuring stacks are well-balanced with units that offer a good blend of combat bonuses.
Success in Warlords 3 requires more than the acquisition and building of a single killer stack, instead you need to think about protecting your cities, for while the AI will go after your hero stacks it will also target weakly defended towns with its own lesser units, and in capturing or razing your towns it'll deny you the valuable income (cash and mana) that you need to keep your war effort rolling.
There's plenty new for Warlords 2 fans to appreciate - improved graphics, better music, better multiplayer support, better AI, more diplomacy, unique army sets (each side has 8 regular units, 3 mercenaries and 4 ally unit types), extra bonuses and abilities in combat, city sites, and much more. Having played Warlords 2 Deluxe I feel there's plenty enough in Warlords 3 for veteran players to seriously want to splash out on the latest version. Arguably the best features are the LAN play and the distinct army sets - play as the orcs and you get only orc units, your strengths are your poison and disease troops. As the elves you get good missile troops, as the dwarves you get sturdy warriors and siege engines.
Warlords 3 isn't as cute as HoMM2, but then HoMM2 doesn't let you play at 1024x768 resolution, something I found very pleasant even on my standard 15" monitor. Being able to see that much more of the game map is very useful, and dropping back to a lower resolution afterwards is a bit of a come down. The game screen is split into the local map window, the mini map window, a window listing units in the currently selected stack, some menu icons, and (on 800x600 or above) a scrolling message history window. The layout is fine, with one complaint perhaps being that the menu icons are a little small. However, there are keyboard shortcuts for everything and you can change those by editing a text file (keys.w3) if you want to - I did this to make Escape the "deselect" hot key. In-game help is always to hand with right-button mouse "info" clicks.
The quality of the graphics themselves is good - but not outstanding - the units in the local map view are animated as they move, while flags flutter in the castles. The main locations on the maps are cities - these are the powerhouses of your kingdom - they generate cash and (in some cases) mana which are vital to pay for the upkeep of your army and spells. Other terrain plays its part - hills, forest, mountains, marshes, roads and water. The look is backed up by some super music - not quite HoMM2 standard but very "epic" and just the sort of thing you find yourself humming later at embarrassing moments ...
The playing style
Warlords 3 is not a game about empire building per se - you can't build roads, bridges or new cities - you can improve existing villages to towns, or towns to cities, but there's not the development aspects of HoMM2 or Civilization here. There's no research to be done either. The focus is instead on armies. There are no navies - all armies can sail in boats by (dis)embarking at a port or bridge - and there's no movement penalty for doing so it seems. Flying units are also present, and very valuable, especially as flyers can carry heroes.
The key to success is capturing cities. The more you have, the more armies you can make and the more likely you seem to be to attract mercenaries and more heroes. You can spend money in cities purchasing facilities to build new army types - up to four per city, eg. Knight Lords cost 700 to buy production for, then each unit takes three turns to build and costs 6 gold per turn to keep. Each city can only produce one unit type at once. When you capture a new city it's tempting to build quick units (like heavy infantry) to give a faster defence against counter attack, but against that is your desire you build new shock troops. Choosing the right units to build, and when, is important. Being a game of conquest, you can also pillage, sack, or raze a city. Pillaging destroys production of all enemy units, sacking destroys production for all units and razing obliterates the city (and gives the most money). The argument against pillaging is that it reduces the town's defences by a level, but in most cases it's worth doing.
A razed city can't be rebuilt, so tactically it can pay to raze a city you can't defend. Also, many cities have external "bonus" sites (eg. a trainer who gives +1 hits to all soldiers "built" at the nearest city) and if you destroy that nearest city the bonus site will re-attach to the next nearest city. Such sites make certain towns important ones to take. Having +1 hits is powerful indeed. These special sites can be razed, but unlike cities can be rebuilt again.
Expanding your territory thus involves building up cities, adding production of units you need, forming them into armies to attack with, and carefully choosing targets. Each army stack can at most be 8 units, including hero(es). The presence of a hero allows the hero to add any of his/her skill or spell effects into the battle. While these aren't huge, they can certainly be telling. In a large map though, you probably won't have enough heroes to fight everywhere and the regular units will have to do a lot of attacking and defending themselves (unlike HoMM2 where units can only move if stacked with a hero). The 8 unit limit also helps prevent huge super-stacks of hundreds of monsters a la HoMM2.
In essence, Warlords 3 sounds like a fairly standard empire game. But it's not as easy as it seems. There are a lot of factors to consider, and a fairly wily AI opponent to deal with. The game's got a very nice balance of strategic elements - where to put your forces, where to use heroes, which units to build, how quickly to expand, whether to go after magic artifacts or cities, whether to take on tough quests, whether to hoard money to attract heroes and mercenaries or spend it on production, and so on. Enough to hold your interest at least. The enhanced fog of war option (not present in Warlords 2) means you have to keep scouting to keep terrain in view, else it gets shaded dark and you have no idea what units are moving there (just as in Warcraft 2).
There is, however, one game rule which rather spoils the grand strategy of it all, namely "vectoring". By vectoring you can send units, or newly produced units, to any friendly city in two turns. Even if it's the other side of an enormous map or ocean - these units vanish then reappear in the vectored city (if you still own it). So you can't lay sieges or use attacks over many turns to whittle down a trapped enemy. While I appreciate this feature for fast movement of new units to key locations (as we had in Master of Orion), I feel the units should have to move over the map and not be "teleported" this way. Yes, it's the same for all sides, and it speeds up play a lot, but it is a feature which many may find unpalatable. I feel SSGshould make it a game rule option in any patch/upgrade they release.
Heroes and combat
The game is all about shunting armies to fronts (with the maligned vectoring system), securing them, and then expanding onwards. Heroes are important, though often all too vulnerable. All heroes start off as level 1 weaklings, along in battle for the ride; they must get experience (surprise surprise!) to improve. As they do, they rise up to level 10. As they rise they get ability points to spend on skills and spells - the ones they get offered depend on their class: shaman, general, wizard, thief, warrior, priest, paladin, wizard, necromancer, vampire or ranger. Different army sets get access to different (up to 4) hero classes. In contrast to Warlords 2, the army sets are distinct to each side in a battle. The variety in effects is good, and the classes do have a reasonably distinct feel to them. Skills and spells selected when "leveling" become permanently available to the hero. Skills are automatically used, but spells must be cast. Each side has a mana income and a mana pool - all spells have a maintenance cost per turn and most are in effect until canceled.
Getting the mana isn't easy - only a few cities offer a mana income. However, using spells can help swing the tide of a war, perhaps by giving key units flight ability to hop over a mountain, or all units in battle an extra hit point (via 'Mighty Feast') - every spell has its time and place. It pays to keep spells in use as each side has a limit on the mana it can save up. But warrior type heroes are also valuable as they add more leadership and morale type bonuses. To do well you blend in the best of both.
It's also common for regular units to offer bonuses, eg. dragons add +5 fear in combat, knight lords add +2 to morale and get +2 to their attack strength in the field. To give yourself the best odds of winning you need to mix various bonus-carrying units into army stacks to offer the best combination overall. Every unit has a combat strength (how well it fights in combat), a hit point count (how many hits it takes before dying) and a movement rating (movement points per turn). Unlike Warlords 2, units have varying hit point counts, not a fixed 2HP.
The special bonuses apply to six areas, which work in three pairs - there's morale and fear, leadership and chaos, siege and fortification. Each pair is taken and compared to give a modifier in the range -1 to +5, and all three added to give a -3 to +5 combat modifier for each side. That modifier for each side is applied to the attack strength of all units in combat.
You can see this in effect in the sample combat screen below. The Sirians (left) have +3 leadership, +5 morale and +1 fortification, and the dragon unit adds +5 fear, while the Bartonians (right) have +1 leadership and +3 fortification. The net effect is that the Sirians score +3, +5, +1 for the maximum overall +5, while the Bartonians get 0, -1 (due to that dragon) and +3 for an overall +2. So all the Sirian units fight with +5 to their attack strength, making a 6-attack knight lord into 11-attack! The Bartonians were duly massacred.
Combat itself is done blow by blow with units squaring up in turn to face each other. Your only control over combat itself is that you can set the default combat order of your troops, but usually it pays to go weakest first, then keep a "wagon train" of weak replacements tagging along behind you. With good bonuses, the weak become strong. Each combat round sees each unit roll a die (usually 20 sided). If you roll equal to or below your attack strength and your opponent rolls greater than his you do a hit point of damage. This repeats until units die, until all units of one side die (so unlike HoMM2 you can't retreat). There's also special rules for poison, disease, archers ("free" attacks) and assassinations. Occasionally some units who do well in battle get a medal which then makes them elite (they get a second die to roll, and count the best one).
The upshot of all this mumbo-jumbo? Well, initially you get annoyed that there's no tactical combat. Then you begin to appreciate the subtleties of blending together stacks with sensible bonus combinations and the art of war becomes the art of bending the odds in your favour. It's a shame that sheer numbers don't affect battle (since units fight one-on-one), but you can change the combat die to be (say) 26-sided to favour weaker units more. And while the auto-resolved battles may seem a tad "sterile" they can be damn tense as you see each hit applied, and each unit die. Sometimes one unit defies the odds and a battle turns, but on balance it's a percentage game, and the smart money goes on the side that's entering the scrap with the best overall stats. It pays to react to enemy threats - facing a hero with +5 morale? Take him down with a dragon in your army (if you can get one); that'll peg his bonus right out of contention.
The heroes do have some character. In addition to level-based gains, they can also venture into ruins to get artifacts which offer bonuses. Trouble is that doing so detracts from city-conquest, so you need to trade off one against the other. Heroes can also do quests (one per nation at any one time) which can get you rewards like artifacts, cash, mercenaries or powerful ally units. Some quests are simple pillaging, others may need you to visit another city or kill a certain creature type - there's three levels of quests with increasing rewards. The quests ultimately are repetitive but do offer some game variation. Some artifacts, like the Medal of Valour (+1 hit points to all in stack), are very powerful.
Ultimately wars are won in battle, but Warlords 3 does allow you to forge alliances and even allows allied sides to win a war, so you don't have to kill everyone to win, which is nice. To that end you can also bung other sides cash to curry favour with them, or at worst delay their declaration of war. By attacking the enemies of one side, you can improve relations with it, though it seems if you attack the ally of a nation that for some reason doesn't annoy it (not as much at least). Since games can also be set over turn limits with variable goals, you can have some quite cut-throat games. The diplomacy model is pretty simplistic, with no concept of varying types of treaty, nor any way to trade cities or gold. However, it's better than what Warlords 2 had.
There's no harm in seeking allies, particularly in the campaign games where you need all the help you can get. In general though other nations are very wary of you, especially if you expand near them, and gold is needed to placate them. You can see the opposition's stance towards you go through various states - anger, dislike, trust, friendship, hate, frenzy, etc, and these give good clues as to where you stand (good or bad!). Fighting too many opponents at once is never a clever move, unless you have no choice, so diplomacy has its place even if you plan to run everyone through by game end...
Campaigns and maps
The game comes with around 18 preset scenarios, a tutorial, and also a linked campaign game. The campaign sees you fighting a war against an invasion by an undead horde, led by Lord Bane (or "Old Boney" as he's more affectionately known). OB pops up every so often to taunt you, with such classic lines as "enthusiasm without ability will carry you precisely this far" and "a true warlord could win with no heroes". Nice guy. The campaign is fun enough; I haven't completed it yet but it does start to get a little challenging by mission 6 or so. It is, of course, more challenging if you never reload after a bad battle!
The only drawback with campaign mode is there's no control over the options (so no fog of war, not so far at least). This means some missions (like number 5 in the Elven wood) have hidden map, most don't. Some let you peek into cities, some don't. But there are nice touches like free unit upgrades after missions, and the ability to take heroes (and some artifacts) on between missions. Whether the latter will prove to be ultimately unbalancing I'm not sure - the heroes you do meet later on are stronger, but starting with three well-developed ones is a big boon. I've not completed the campaign yet, but as each mission seems to also be a standalone scenario I'd say it is probably 12 or so missions long and would take a week of long evenings to complete.
The bad news is no map editor - SSG say an editor is coming. The good news is there's a very nice random map maker. Playing this with full fog of war is very rewarding. The fog of war is only one option - there's a slew of others, like whether you can raze cities on capture or anytime, whether mercenaries will offer themselves, whether you can peek into cities or stacks, whether you start with all cities divvied up or one city each, whether neutral cities will build units, etc, etc. The screenshot above shows these options. Turning off diplomacy supposedly makes the game much harder, as everyone will be out to get you...
You can tinker with all these options in multiplayer play too. If you don't like fiddling, you can just pick one of five difficulty levels, but let's be honest, if you're the type who's buying Warlords 3 you'll want to fiddle! The more opponents you have (up to 7), in theory the harder it gets, but that may not be wholly true as the AI sides do fight each other.
An example of the detailed fiddling is that you can design your own shields to use in the game. And you can design and save your own army sets, using a points-based system, from the units in the game. Some examples are included, like the "Dragon Knights". One other noteworthy point is you can set game goals (like most gold after turn X wins) and also, if you wish, set a turn timer to add some pressure to your thinking.
If the AI isn't up to what you'd like (more on that below), you can set up games which are more balanced in your or its favour. By using the "custom" city and army settings you can set how many cities each side owns at scenario outset and how many army points they get to spend. When you then begin the game you get to choose your force and do the initial army placements, whether it's on a hidden map or not. In this way you can give the AI a big head-start in terms of resources and units, obviously raising the challenge somewhat. It also means if an experienced player is playing a novice, you can handicap the game accordingly.
Coded by Roger Keating, the man who does most of SSG's AI, including that in The Ardennes Offensive, the computer opponent can prove to be a bit of a fox. SSG have denied that the game cheats per se, but it has one advantage in that it can freely use the combat advisor to see the odds on a potential battle. Thus the advisor the players can use when adjacent to an enemy city can be used at a distance by the AI when deciding whether to launch a combined attack. It obeys the fog of war rules, but this "edge" was deemed necessary by SSG to help the AI. In my view the choice is justified, and it sure makes you watch your back. In games like Masters of Magic you can wander with killer stacks knowing few counter attacks would come. In Warlords 3 the AI will send in (non-hero) stacks against weakly defended cities, it will target exposed heroes, it will use naval assaults to sneak around your front line. I've been quite impressed with its determination, even if at times it's a little misdirected.
The AI is not overly cautious. Heroes will sometimes go after ruins to look for artifacts and be easy to pick off, and the AI doesn't attack only on sure-fire odds - it will attack against the odds if it feels the risk is worth it. It'll raze cities if it feels doing so is to its advantage. It's not perfect, but it's good. I'll admit I've reloaded a few times when it's done some nasty move on me. One criticism is that the AI usually spends all its cash on army production improvements so has little in reserve to employ new heroes or mercenaries. However I have seen a side "save up" for an extra hero, so it seems the behaviour is somewhat random.
And does it cheat? Well, probably not. I have seen some missions in the campaign where several boatloads of enemies appeared from what seemed to be a lightly "stocked" castle, but I think this was due to vectoring (what was interesting there was that the AI changed tactics mid war - from attacking by land to a few turns of naval assaults against different targets). There's no outrageous cheating, and the vast array of game information available via charts and tables backs that up (ie. you can see the totals on enemy armies, cities, etc, if you choose to look). The AI does make some intelligent moves, and you can often see what its "thinking" when it tries something. You have to give it some respect, especially with those vectoring rules!
With diplomacy turned off (so no cheesy neutral-grabbing while you're at peace with everyone), using a large (but not huge) random map with seven enhanced warlord opponents, strong active neutrals and full fog of war (and no reloads!) you can get yourself a good challenge. At this setting the AI turns add up to 2-3 minutes (20-30 seconds per side, slightly longer on a huge map). The AI has beaten me at this setting and rubbed salt into my wounds by swarming my homelands with its "secondary" non-hero 8-stacks. The AI certainly knows how to build stacks with a good mix of combat bonuses. And the "nuisance" attacks it makes can grind you down over the long run. Ultimately the AI is not as wily as a human (of course) but it's no duffer by any means. There's nothing more satisfying than staying up to 1am to lose a four-hour battle!
Warlords 3 has a very nice LAN multiplayer system. I've played LAN games and they're great, and quick (here you can see why the lack of tactical combat speeds things up!). In multiplayer play all human players move simultaneously, within an optional time limit, which can make things hectic. You have to choose whether to go for a ruin first, or attack a city, as your opponents move and make similar decisions at the same time. Any AI players move in their own turns after the human turn is resolved.
The multiplayer system seems well engineered. You need only one CD for LAN play (which must be in the drive when you start the game, after which you can remove it) - over modem you'll need one each (or a fast car!). On startup version compatibility is checked, then the host player chooses game options while clients pick their sides. When all players are ready, you're off. The timer, if used, ticks from the moment all players have clicked the "next turn" button. If you do use timed turns you get the chance each 10 turns to change the time per turn, and if one client player quits the AI takes over for them. There's an autosave, but I didn't need that as the games were quick and they didn't crash once. Overall, LAN play seems great.
My venture onto the Red Orb Zone wasn't so good, but that turned out to be failing because I'm in the UK and the UK server isn't up yet (it's due very soon). You can, it seems, also play on Mplayer.
Hotseat play is also supported, of course. The screen blanks between turns so in hidden map games there's no peeking. You can still see the game graphs though to know your enemy's army and cash levels. Hotseat hidden map games look to be fun - and you can have AI players in the pot just as in LAN games (there's a battle report screen where you can view any battles you may have missed).
Dragon or Dragonbait?
I first got the Warlords 3 release copy for review about two weeks ago. Initially I was a little disappointed, particularly by the combat system. But, after a few days play, the subtleties began to grow on me and I'm now keenly firing up more games. The campaign is fun but the random "fog of war" games are also good (and more challenging with appropriate custom options set). There's plenty of sides and armies to tinker with and also those custom armies you can build (if you want elven archers in your knights army, you can). The AI seems very good compared to similar games, and my LAN experiences have been very pleasant (moreso because I won!).
The downsides? Well, that vectoring system is daft, and should be removed or made an option, or done "properly" as in Master of Orion. It's also a shame that the naval side of the game is trivialised. But despite these drawbacks the game is still worth getting, and is a game which is a "must have" for Warlords 2 fans. It scoops the GDR Silver, with the award being swung by the (LAN) multiplayer system which is a blast to play. It doesn't have that true "great" feeling though - the vectoring thing, the debatable issue of the combat system simplicity and the lack of an editor all contribute to it failing to make our Gold standard. Maybe Warlords 4!
So in answer to my original question, Warlords 3 probably falls short of being a strategy great, though time will tell. I'd wager that SSG will provide ongoing online support. It is, still, a strategy game to get, but know what to expect - the game is much different to HoMM 2 - each will appeal to different types of players, while many will happily lap up both. I'm one of the latter, and while HoMM 2 is probably the better game for a novice player, Warlords 3 has enough gameplay to feed a ravenous orc horde. Go kick Old Boney's butt today...
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
James 2020-05-22 2 points
Hi! I've installed the RIP version, and the games starts well. But eventually it freezes
I've added the extension -wincurs to the executable, but it keeps crashing ... any help?
Enki 2019-11-09 1 point
Hi all. Installed the RIP version on my Win 10 64 bits.
I change the properties of the executable file to make it work under Windows XP.
The game starts but when playing after a while is cracks... Any help?
Warlords Fanboy 2019-09-27 3 points
1) This will only run on 32-bit versions of Windows. The reason is its a 16-bit executable and these runtime files are not included in 64-bit Windows that most people use today.
2) Modify the Windows shortcut executable path by appending -wincurs on the end, otherwise it will crash after a short time.
3) The music files are missing as they are "CD audio". E.g. The first track of the CD was the data files which you can download here, the next 10-20 or so tracks were music files you could play in a real CD player.
Rob 2018-10-10 1 point
@Kobra Try to mount ISO (via Daemon Tools or similar) and keep it mounted during gameplay. Its very possible your symptoms are the effect of simple DRM protection.
Hawk 2018-08-19 -6 points
Wanting Warlords 3 Reign of Hero's to perform properly on my computer with Windows 10.
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