Sunday, October 25, 2009

Disciples III: Renaissance

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Having not played the previous Disciples, or at least not remembering having play them, I feel I am behind the curve on this, but as I managed to get my hands on the code thanks to Boris over at Akella I thought I would press ahead with this preview anyway. Disciples III: Renaissance is labeled as a Heroic Fantasy Strategy/Role Playing game which might take a little work to digest.

It is indeed heroic in that you have a band of characters that must battle against the odds to survive. It certainly is fantasy as there are all manner of fantastical creatures, magic and warring gods. Strategy is indeed an element in the game as both the combat and the standard map interface rely on a turn-based system where you are allotted an amount of action points that can be sunk into movement, combat and more.

It certainly has elements of role-playing in that you gain experience as you go and use it to learn new skills or power up your main character as you progress. You also take on the role of that character in certain interaction with other NPCs. So it is indeed all of these things. But do these things stand up together or are they fighting for control?

Well the RPG element is well implemented for the main character, but there seems little you can do with the other characters in your party at present. They do level up but I could not find a way to control their progress. Nor could I find a way to give them some new gear. However you could buy new gear for classes such as Archmage, thief and ranger so I imagine this will be implemented in the final product.

The alpha code for the game that I received allows one to play the first mission as Lambert, an agent of the Empire. The other playable races, the Legions of the Damned and the Elven Alliance are not playable but that’s fine. This is still enough code for me to get a good idea of what the game is about.

And what is the game about you ask? It’s about thinking strategically and trying to stay one step ahead of the enemy. Sometimes you don’t plan well and the results are catastrophic ending your game and forcing you to reload your last save. That’s all part of life in the big leagues of gaming and it’s something we have come to expect from time-to-time. The first time I sat down and played through the whole scenario I didn’t plan well and lost. The second time I was very well prepared and succeeded. It’s that type of game.

Along the way you will battle bad guys (or good guys if you want to be a bad guy). You will find items that will help or heal or revive. You will put time into upgrading your character and you will probably enjoy every moment of it. The turn-based nature of the whole game means you have time to explore the environment and find the hidden treasures yet there’s still a sense of urgency to complete the mission. There are also side quests that you can pick up and complete while still on the road to completing the main mission.

Even in alpha state this game is cool. The graphics are hot and the 3D environments are rich. So rich in fact that I had to turn it all down to medium level so that my poor 4-year-old Athlon 64 could handle it without getting all jerky. But even at medium level everything is very well done. This is the biggest change from Disciples II: Dark Prophecy which was more of an isometric RPG style. Now you can pan, zoom and spin the camera to get a real idea of the full 3D environment. I couldn’t find a way to change the downward angle of view and it was a little disorienting and I would have liked to have been able to change that.

Additionally, it seems like all of the battlefields are the same if you are outside and the same if you are inside. Usually even the sides are lined up on the same side. That means you only need one basic strategy for each type of battlefield. I hope that in the final version they will have more diversity in the battlefields and more starting positions in each. There are also some interface items that I hope get cleaned up. On the main map it’s hard to tell how many points you have left for movement because of a peak in the interface that slightly hides the number. There’s no voice acting but that could simply be part of the code being in alpha or they have no plans to do it which would be fine as well.

The gameplay is complex in that every turn you have two sets of actions that you need to be aware of. First you have your main character which you need to move, battle with and progress the story. Secondly you also have your main city that you need to build up so that you can acquire new units and abilities. So every turn is basically two halves.

Overall the game looks fantastic, the gameplay is interesting and there are a diverse number of units and combat options. Artistically the game is awesome. If they bring the other small things up to the same level Disciples III could be a really fantastic game. I look forward to playing the full version when it’s ready.

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