Ah, Renaissance, a famed historical period in which art and culture flourish, war breaks out between humans and elves, and demons scorch vast tracts of land. Wait, what? In my time with Disciples III: Renaissance, I didn't exactly encounter the kind of Renaissance I learned about in history class. Instead, I wandered through the beginning of an attractive yet annoyance-plagued strategy RPG.
"Unfortunately, the game's horrible user interface and nothing-new battle system don't inspire an extended playthrough."
Disciples III is a PC strategy RPG in the vein of the Heroes of Might and Magic and King's Bounty series. The player controls 1-3 heroes and their troops at a time, moving through campaign scenarios in which they explore maps, unearth treasures, build a city that supplies troops and magic spells, capture territory, defeat enemies, and level up. One thing that separates Disciples III from similar games is the size of the groups controlled. Where the other games involve carting around large stacks of monsters, pitting your 40 gryphons against a stack of 200 peasants and what-have-you, Disciples troops are made of single, unstackable individuals. At the beginning of the game, the hero has 4-5 people of various classes to back him up, and the total possible number of people per troop appears to be 10-12. Unlike many similar games, the heroes fight directly on the battlefield, and can die just like their troops. The battle isn't over if the hero dies; as long as somebody in the players troop is standing when the enemy is dead, the player has won and can use whatever means are available to resurrect everyone else.
Sadly, the early scenarios in Disciples III don't lend themselves to a positive impression of the game. The uninformative tutorial segment was complicated by one of the most user-unfriendly interfaces I've seen in years. Doing anything in Disciples III requires clicking through sets of frequently obtuse icons. There are no keyboard shortcuts whatsoever, and basic actions take more clicks than needed. Moving, for example, requires clicking on a destination, then clicking on the “move” button (one of the few buttons with an easily-identifiable picture, actually) to actually start moving towards the destination, then clicking on the “end turn” button once the hero is out of movement points. There is virtually no mouseover information available. Instead, the player must right click and hold the button down to obtain information on everything from equipment to troops to enemies. That kind of UI decision really isn't acceptable these days.
At least the game's presentation is quite attractive. The game's heroes prance through lushly-rendered forests and vividly-destroyed demonic wastelands on their noble steeds. The hero's home base is particularly lovely, and new buildings are a joy to watch as they appear on the town's landscape. Territory gained from the enemy slowly spreads to look like the hero's home territory, in the case of the human campaign growing green and grassy where once the land was barren. In battle, the troops are easy to distinguish from one another and are fairly well-animated. The music is atmospheric and does its job well, but the voice acting is mediocre at best. The game's narrator sounds like a young Deckard Cain, but not in a good way, and the game's units spout repetitive, poorly-acted catch phrases every time they do something. Yes, this includes the hero gabbing away every time he's given a movement order when exploring the map.
Although I wasn't able to delve deeply into the game's battle system, at the beginning it was a fairly standard turn-based strategy affair. Melee characters rush each other across a hex-grid map, while casters and archers stand in the back, pinging away from afar and hoping that nothing large and angry stomps up to them and eats them for lunch. Hero spells don't seem to be useable in battle, but are cast before troops engage each other in order to shore up the hero's defences or soften up the enemy troops. Instead, the player relies on the abilities of the troops and magic items from the inventory in order to emerge victorious. There isn't anything terribly new or interesting here, although the game's reliance on individual units rather than stacked troops causes the player to care a bit about the little soldiers under his or her command.
Disciples III: Renaissance showed me some interesting new additions to its genre during the first few scenarios, and it's certainly lovely to look at. It will likely be of interest to stalwart turn-based PC strategy fans. Unfortunately, the game's horrible user interface and nothing-new battle system don't inspire an extended playthrough by anybody but the most dedicated strategy gamers.