I've scrapped this first post and am replacing it with a copy and paste of what I just posted on the Kalypso forums at at Chip's behest. It's a more refined version of the first two pages of this thread.
Thanks for reading! Also: here's hoping the formatting holds up between forums...
Given the... less than stellar reaction from Russian gamers when Disciples III was first released, I was understandably hesitant about buying the game. In the end, my love for Disciples II pushed me to purchase the game through Impulse.
I'm going to share my reaction to the game for people who, like me, may be on the fence, or who haven't been able to find much info (in English, at least) on the game. This review is primarily aimed at people who are familiar with the series, but I've included some basic info in the hope that newcomers will also find it useful.
Let's begin simply: I like it. The rest follows in no concrete order.
There are some diversions from the Disciples II mechanics, as you no have heard. These, mainly, are the switch from the old "front-line/back-line" combat to the hex based tactical combat style used by the Heroes of Might and Magic and King's Bounty series, and the removal of plantable rods. I'll talk about these changes more below.
Despite these changes, I honestly have to say that Disciples III is amazingly true to the series' formula. The units, unit progression, town management, spell research and list, overall theme and artistic direction have all been, by and large, carried over intact. Disciples III feels like the true sequel to Disciples II. It feels strange to have to say that, but the tidbits I had heard from across the iron-curtain gave me the impression that Disciples III was not true to the series, and I have to respectfully disagree.
The mechanics are identical to DII. You can build one building a turn, whether they be unit progression buildings, ore one of the three utility buildings, the Magic Tower (allows spell research/casting), the Temple (allows healing/reviving units for a fee, or the Guild (allows thieves). Your capital is still guarded by a very powerful unit.
A nice addition, though, is that your town contains a shop with some basic items and a few accessories. This saves you from searching out shops when you want to sell things, and allows you to load out parties before they leave.
At this point, I've only played with the Imperial faction. The units are the same as I recall from Disciples II, with a squire, an archer, an apprentice, an acolyte and a "large" unit, the titan. (I seem to recall an angel fulfilling this role in DII, but perhaps my memory is failing me.) These units perform just like they did in the previous game.
Units also progress in the exact same way, where you have to choose a career path for each class by constructing the corresponding building in your capital. A squire, like before, can become a knight or a witch-hunter, depending on which upgrade building you chose. While these career paths will fulfill largely the same role, they have enough tactical flavor that you will develop personal favorites.
For instance, each of the squire's possible paths deal with doing damage to single enemies, and protecting your weaker characters from taking damage. They do this through better armour, hit points, and attack damage. Your first choice, along this path, is whether to upgrade to knights or witch-hunters. Knights are essentially just a tougher squires with a new ability, but they lead to stronger units later. The witch-hunter, on the other hand, isn't as tough, but deals more damage with two attacks. And he looks cooler. A later unit, the Angel, retains all the hp and armour of the class, but has a ranged lightning attack and can teleport. They all have the same overall role, but achieve it in different ways.
Another example is the acolyte. Fans of the game will know that you largely choose between two paths with the acolyte. One can heal a single party member for a large amount, the other heals all party members at once, but for a lesser amount.
A quick note on neutral units: All the old ones I remember are there, and have the same feel. Peasants, thugs, those advanced-thugs, goblins, orcs, trolls, wolves, men-at-arms, zombies, etc, along with some that I don't recall, like Earth and Air elementals, shambling treant-like beings, unicorns, spearmen, giant spiders and more. Also included are some units from the races that were not included in the game (but I am betting will be in upcoming expansions...)
The leader's lineup sees some changes, but overall remains the same. You still have the Ranger, Archmage, and Fighter, and Thief leaders (the fighter is now a "Warrior Nun"), but with the removal of rods you do lose the Rob Planter leader. Leaders have all the usual fantasy attributes (Strength, Dexterity etc.), and statistics covering leadership, strategic and combat speed, as well as 6 resistances tied to magic system. All of these can be increased in one way or another as the game progresses.
Leveling up and customizing your leaders has changed, but in my opinion it is better system. When you reach a new level you have two sets of points to spend. First, you receive points to spend on your leader's attributes to make them stronger, tougher, less likely to be hit, etc. Second, you receive points to use unlocking new bonuses and special skills. Disciples III uses a new grid-based system, which I find to be very similar to the system used, I believe, by Final Fantasy 11 (Or whichever one had Vaan and the jungle-dwelling, barely-dress bunny women).
It works like this: Each leader has a grid, the contents of which are based on their class. The grid isn't entirely square, and has a few holes in it, just to make it more interesting. Each square or tile in the grid has some sort of bonus on it, from the mundane (+2 strength, +2 combat moves, +10% fire resistance) to more useful abilities and unique skills (+1 leadership, multi-attack, revive dead), Working from roughly the center of the grid, you spend a point to unlock an adjacent tile, which, in turn, gives you access to its neighbors. The better skills are located around the edges of the grid.
I'm a fan of this system. I like that I can see all my options, and this helps me plan towards specific goals. If I'm feeling underpowered, I can head work towards unlocking a leadership boost so I can include another unit in my party. For my archmages, I like trying to grab all the intelligence bonuses to increase my damage. It's a very easy system to get into.
You still choose the profession of your main character from the classic three: Warlord, whose parties regain some HP each round, Archmage, who can cast two strategic spells per turn and has access to better spells, and Guild Master, who collects more resources, and whose Thief leaders are more powerful. There isn't a lot more to say about that, as it is also unchanged.
As far as I have seen, the mechanics behind spell research and casting, as well as the spell lists, are the same. You still need to build a Magic Tower to allow spell casting, you still can research one spell a day, and you can still cast one spell (two for Archmages) a day. The spell lists depend on faction. The Imperials get the usual line-up. Level one, for instance, includes a heal spell, an armor spell, a weak damage spell, a weak summon spell (living armour) and... one that I don't recall (sorry!). It's the same list as DII. I haven't looked into the other races, but I expect the same to be true.
A new addition, though, is that you can now create magic runes based on the spells you have researched. Despite the name, these are essentially scrolls from any other game. They are single-use versions of your spells which can be used in combat. There is a little more to it than that, but it gives you an idea.
The Strategic Maps, or World Maps, work just like they did in DII. Your party travels around the world expending movement points, looking for enemies, treasure, random goodies, and magical sites which can grant temporary or permanent bonuses, heal your party, or refill some of your movement points, allowing you to explore further. Neutral enemies usually guard treasure, special sites and main paths. For an old Disciples player, this is all familiar.
Oh- and the neutral enemies are all familiar.
There are a few additions to the map, the first is in the form of dungeons. Dungeons are like other combat encounters except that they are refreshed every 10 turns, so you could return and fight its inhabitants again.
The second addition are Nodes, which have replaced the Rod mechanic of DII. I'm not a huge fan of this system, but I can see some of the benefits of using it.
This is the first real difference between DII and DIII. Instead of a leader who can plant and remove rods, which allow you to lay claim to territory, the game now uses Nodes. Nodes, by-and-large, act like rods, but have a fixed location.
If a player captures a nod, it begins spreading their territory outward from it. When mines and other such resource generating locations pay out to whichever player controls the territory in which they reside.. Each race's territory has a different visual style. In Imperial territory the trees are a lush green and the ground is covered in grass. In Elven territory, the land is in a constant state of autumn. The trees are all orange red and brown and the ground is covered in fallen leaves.
Once a node has been captured, it becomes host to a guardian spirit. This spirit becomes more powerful and gains new abilities over time, and must be defeated if another player wishes to capture the node for themselves.
This is the main departure from the series. Combat now takes place on a tactical hex-based maps, very much like in Heroes of Might and Magic and King's Bounty. Your party members can now move around during combat, to try and gain an advantage against enemy units, or to sneak around and attack weaker enemies hiding in the back.
These tactical maps contain two types of special features. The first are objects such as logs, stalagmites, and boulders, which are impassible and break up the map. The second are tiles which grant a strong bonus to either ranged, melee, or magical attacks (and healing spells). Using these tiles will make battles much easier to handle. Letting your enemy use them is a bad idea. In some tougher encounters attacking from bonus tiles is the key to victory.
As I mentioned earlier, units are largely the same as in DII. And, while the tactical combat has changed, the unit roles and strategies have not. Parties that were viable before, like my old favorite "assassination squad" with a ranger, assassin, and two melee units/one large unit, work just as well as before.
You do have to put some more thought and effort into it though. You have to work harder to protect your support and ranged units, or work at circumventing your enemy's melee units so you can strike at their support. Many units, now, have special abilities. Titans can cause an earthquake which damages all enemies, Imperial Assassins can poison, some daemonic units have life draining attacks, etc etc. These can all be used in place of a unit's standard attack or heal.
A new mechanic is "Cover." When a unit which can cover (namely, front-line units) stands next to another friendly unit, he is covering that unit. Should that unit be attacked in melee, the covering unit (if within reach) interrupts the attack with one of his own, possibly killing the attacker before they can do damage. If the attacker survives, it carries out its attack, only against the unit which provided cover, not the original target. This rewards you for careful placement of units, and allows you to better protect your weaker support units.
There are some combat options I enjoy. The first is auto-combat, which will play out both sides of the combat in real-time, and can be toggled, so you can jump back into control at any time. The second is resolve combat, which will finish the combat in a matter of seconds, but still follows the same combat mechanics. To clarify, some automatic resolutions in games don't play through the combat using the same mechanics as manual combat, but instead use different systems which are easier to compute. DIII doesn't take that route, for which I am glad.
Party sizes are generally the same, and can be improved a little as leaders level up. Not a lot to say here, it's essentially the same as before.
Overall, I feel the tactical combat is interesting and fits, but suffers from a lack of polish and some poor combat AI.
The combat log doesn't scroll properly, and as a longer battle continues, current info either isn't added, or is properly brought to the top, and you are left with outdated messages.
There is a real lack of information that you would expect in combat. While you can look at whether a unit is buffed or debuffed, you can't find out what the actual buff or debuff is. Likewise, there is no description or tool-tip in regards to special abilities for enemy units, (or units you don't have access too/haven't yet recruited). Likewise, this holds true for abilities on a leader's skill grid. You won't know what it does until you "purchase" it.
Also, I feel that the spell casting units are underpowered a bit. I haven't used the higher-level ones, but the apprentice and it's next two upgrades leave me underwhelmed, and I wonder if the imbalance continues throughout the class.
There are some bugs with the combat, namely inconsistent AI. Enemies like to focus on a specific target and will generally continue attacking that target until one of them dies. Unfortunately, this means enemies are prone to ignoring units they could kill, if only they would switch targets. Also, if there is no path to their preferred target, will sometimes just stand in one spot until an opening presents itself.
In Auto combat, I have noticed some of my ranged characters don't seem to be attacking every round. I need to test it a bit more, but I think I'm correct. This is a big annoyance.
In a funny reverse of that problem, I have noticed that one of a story-line character's skills does nothing when I use it manually, but does work during auto-combat...
That's a lot on combat, so lets move along.
Disciples III is a good looking game. It's not amazing, but modern 3D combined with the dark, somewhat Gothic, art style of the Disciples games combines too create a game easy on the eyes. Oddly, though, the game lacks some standard options such as AA. The game doesn't need it, it's pretty clean, but I do notice a difference when I force AA through my gpu.
The world map has some nice touches, such as swaying trees, day/night lighting, and, in Elven territory, falling leaves that I can only describe as pleasant and calming.
Character models are pretty fleshed out, and certainly have their own character and style.
I do have one complaint, though, and that is that the color pallet used in the game is a little too limited. This is a result of the series' visual style, as a whole, which has largely focused of grey, white black, silver, brown, green and red. Other than the trees and grass, almost nothing in the game is "vibrant." Again, I think this is a conscious choice on the part of the developers, but I would have appreciated a little more colour, especially in characters.
All-in-all, though, I think the art team did a fine job translating a 2D game.
Interface, General UI:
While the art is great, and the interface looks nice enough, I find it, at times, less that intuitive. The lack of tool-tips and general info I mentioned earlier is a problem that extends to this portion of the game.
The area which lists your leaders only has room to display 3 at a time, and it isn't readily apparent that it scrolls through them. Add to that the fact that, for humans at least, each of the leader portraits are very similar, causing me to look twice in order to tell which hero is which.
Additionally, the mini-map doesn't display everything it really should. It will display cities, parties, and nodes (and territory), which are the bare minimum in my view. I'd like, at least, to see resource buildings, shops, and recruitment sites to be included.
Not that it is all bad. I'm pretty sure the buttons that lead directly to the build and research screens are a new addition, and I'm thankful for them.
While the tutorial has some neat features, I felt its... tutoring... to be too indirect, and this combined with some bugs in the help menu really spoiled my first impression of the game.
The tutorial, while heavily scripted, only makes use of the in-game help menu to teach you basic concepts. This menu is pretty cool in that it gives you a short video along with each topic, but the list contains maybe 20 topics, and doesn't include any sort of glossary, or information on anything beyond the most basic concepts (How to move, how to end turn, how to use items, how to save and load, the basics of combat etc.). Also, the written text is pretty damn brief. The manual goes into more, but not nearly enough for my tastes. Back on topic, though!
The tutorial is designed so that as you proceed through the little map, the help menu pops up, open to the topic that is relevant to your situation. When you first run out of movement points, it opens to the topic telling you how to end your turn, and so on. Unfortunately, when I ran through the tutorial, this didn't work properly. Every time the help page opened, it displayed the last topic I was looking at. So while I could guess what was happening, some people will only see a help page popping up once or twice a turn for no reason at all. Even I was annoyed.
Disciples III really recovers after the tutorial. There are three campaigns, one for each race (Humans, Elves, Daemons), and while I haven't tried the other two, the human campaign so far has been great. The story is pretty typical of any fantasy game, but the individual maps/missions are put together really well, offering great balance, pacing, and plenty of side quests/missions to mix things up. A high degree of work and polish went into the campaigns.
I have been very happy with this portion of the game.
This is a bit of problem. Scenario maps, in DIII refer solely to single-player only, highly scripted maps, but not to general single or multiplayer "skirmish" type maps. This is not a distinction I had initially made, and I was dismayed to discover there was only two scenarios, and one was the tutorial! I'm hoping that there are more, and that they were only left out because of delays in localization...
I'd originally missed these, as they were located under multiplayer, which is, at the moment hot-seat only, though rumor has it Russian players have a beta version of network play.
There are 5 skirmish maps, 4 two-player maps, and a three-player map. Any of the races can be set as AI, so these maps work just as well in single player. Still, the lack of greater variety is a letdown.
Bugs and general issues:
One of my concerns was over how buggy it seemed the original Russian release was. I'm happy to say, though, that aside from the AI combat bugs (which are a real concern), I have only encounter 2, and both are minor.
First, the mouse will sometimes stick after a dialogue scene. Hitting Esc fixes this. Second, accessing the help menu during combat will distort the game's colours, rendering text in a fuzzy white, and turning the rest of the screen various shades of hot pink. If I close the help menu, it reverts to normal.
Otherwise, nothing. No CTDs, no game breakers, just inconsistent AI, one broken skills, and a glitch tutorial.
The narrator, despite doing a good job in Disciples II, and Kohan I & II, does a really bad job in this game. He delivers his dialogue in monotone, and varies the speed of delivery at odd moments. It's poorly done and really distracting!
By and large it has been flawless. But there are a few minor issues, such as the Warrior Nun being referred to in some instances as "Girl Warrior," Node Guardians being referred to using 2 or 3 different names, and two separate and unique units with the name "Imp."
Disciples III inherits one problem that has always bothered me in the previous games: secondary and tertiary (and so on) parties are difficult to train! This is more true in the campaigns than the skirmish maps, as the campaign missions (or at least the ones I have played thus far) seem to be balanced around your main party, which is a fair bit more powerful than subsequent parties, and which, frankly, kills all the early enemies and takes all the good loot before you can afford to get a second party going.
Like I said, this is an old problem, stemming from a limited number of weak, early encounters, a more powerful initial party, and the game's unforgiving combat. Disciples III has some changes that help relieve this, namely a greater number of, and easier access to, useful items, dungeons you can revisit, and recruitable mid-level neutral units. Still, I find training up extra parties to be a somewhat longer and more tedious process than running around being awesome with the initial party
TL;DR: Or Summary:
Disciples III is a good, solid game, that stays surprisingly true to it's roots while managing to update one of the series' more dated mechanics. In fact, it recaptures so well that which made Disciples II a great game that you will likely find yourself falling into old habits and strategies without noticing it at first. The campaigns are very well constructed and highly polished, but other game modes suffer from a lack of content. The new combat system suffers some definite bugs and a lack of polish, but shows real potential. If you liked Disciples II, you will almost certainly enjoy this. If you liked King's Bounty or HoMM, you may well enjoy this.