by Robert Zak
previewed on PC
Fantasy RPG/strategy hybrid
Disciples III: Renaissance will soon be reaching the impressive – if slightly dubious – landmark of having been in development for 5 years. Yet while the rapidly evolving games industry can change a lot in such a time, Akella Studios are confident that their latest title in this cultishly popular series will stand strong in the current market.
To those unfamiliar with the Disciples series, it can be described as a high fantasy RPG/strategy hybrid game. After choosing which faction to control from a variety of fantasy races such as Empire (humans), Legions of the Damned (Demons) or the Elven Alliance (humans and elves), you proceed to choosing a class for your faction hero – warrior, mage or guildmaster. The ultimate goal of the game is to conquer the world of Nevendaar by defeating the rival factions. To do this you must manage your cities and resources carefully, allowing you to expand your territory and build up your garrisons. When you establish stability on your home front and ready your forces for battle, you can proceed with your conquest. The subsequent battles are fought by squads of heroes on turn-based battle maps not unlike those used in Heroes of Might and Magic (though Akella insist that the similarities end there).
Depth and gloss
The game uses the same fundamental formula that made its predecessor successful, yet overhauls it with added depth and gloss. The plot revolves around a mysterious angel that crashes to the earth in the form of a shooting star. Whatever faction you choose, it is up to you to guide her through each of the game's three campaigns. Using Akella's in-house Virtual Dream Engine, Disciples' dark yet beautiful aesthetic conveys a broken and war-torn fantasy world to guide the angel through. Though you will probably be too busy conquering cities and plundering treasures to follow the storyline in much of a hurry.
Adding to the immersion is a new day-night cycle which affects both the global view and the battle maps. This new feature however serves a purpose greater than allowing you to sit on a hilltop and watch the sun rise over Nevendaar, and plays a vital strategic role in the game. Depending on class, race and what time of day it is, you and your rivals will be subjected to various bonuses and penalties. Since these can greatly affect the course of a battle, it will be essential to learn at what point in the day your heroes are at their strongest (and your enemies at their weakest) and plan your assaults accordingly.
The combat system has also received a major overhaul. Building on the strategy-oriented gameplay of its predecessors, the battle maps in Disciples III: Renaissance now include nodes that give bonuses to whoever stands on them. This of course means that for the first time in the series you can also move your characters around the battle map, making positioning on the battlefield important in devising strategies. Add to this the aforementioned day-night cycle and greatly increased combat scale, and you have one of the most strategy-heavy combat systems around – bold statement, I know. Yet, for all it's depth, there remains an old-school quality about the battle system and visuals that will appeal to fans of Baldur's Gate and Heroes. While Disciples' lack of decapitation and disembowelment will not satisfy the blood-thirsty simpleton gamer, its refined-yet-rustic combat animations are pleasantly nostalgia-evoking.