by Robert Zak
previewed on PC
Winning battles is not the only way to strengthen your faction, and an increased focus on terramorphing allows you to expand your borders in a slightly Civilization-esque way. This essentially means that the stronger your capital city, the further your borders expand, allowing you to gain control over resources, mines and other strategic points; your Earth Guardians can also carry out this important task. Nevendaar's shifting borders are accompanied by nice visual effects, as the land will change depending on what faction controls it; Imperial lands become green, tree-filled meadows, Undead lands contain withered trees growing in dried-out earth, Dwarven influence creates snowy plains and so forth. The ever-changing landscape adds a welcome sense of dynamism and urgency to the global map; nothing says you're in trouble quite like watching your lands become lava-filled and scorched as the Legions of the Damned borders encroach into yours; though this effect may be void if you play as the Legions or Undead and are getting pushed back by the autumnal leaves of the Elven Alliance. Still, it is a visual treat and a welcome addition to the game.
Exploring the world of Nevendaar may also open you up to plenty of rewarding secondary missions. You can, for instance, take a squad of your finest heroes into uncharted lands and raid neutral cities. Unlike capitals, these can be recaptured and yield you various combat bonuses. While globe-trotting you also come across treasure chests containing hundreds of artefacts such as spheres, charms, elixirs and rings; again though, you'll probably have to fight off a few creatures to earn your reward. If you prefer to be more diplomatic in your approach to neutral factions, you can speak with certain characters who will give you information and treasures in exchange for completing quests they set you. Unless they're related to the main storyline, AI characters and creatures don't generally move around the map, though they can still be hostile if you wander too near their patch; you have been warned.
Disciples III: Renaissance can't really be compared to anything else on the market. It is a thinking gamer's game that has taken all the elements that made its predecessor a success and updated them for the current generation. Thankfully, this does not mean that Akella have toned down the series' more hardcore elements in an attempt to attract a wider market (Civilization: Revolution comes to mind). Instead, they have focused on making the deepest and most strategic game in the series, overhauling the combat and resource management aspects as well as giving it some lush graphical gloss and a serenading soundtrack. These advances will no doubt please the Disciples online community, which is filling forums with excited speculation on the game's more intricate features using hardcore RPG jargon that only long-time fans of the game could possibly understand. There is a definite air of anticipation around this long-awaited game.
Whether this game will attract a wider gaming crowd than before is debatable, but considering their pre-existing fanbase and the entire online furore that has been going on during its 5-year production, Akella needn't worry about lack of exposure. Disciples III: Renaissance is yet to receive an official release date, with Summer 2010 being a reasonable estimate.