Great potential, utter failure.

Bad games are easy to move on from and forget, but bad games with a ton of potential are a bit harder to let go off, and certainly cause more rage. This post is going to focus around Disciples III, but it can be applied to a lot of different games (in MMO land, mine’s WAR for example, with WAR40k up next).

Disciples III has a lot going for it. It not only has great graphics overall, but the art style just has that ‘something’ that separates it from standard fantasy and really grabs you. The human-ish characters look heroic yet appropriate, the monsters look huge and terrifying without being silly-big, and everything just looks/feel correct. I honestly can’t remember the last time I though a game’s look fit this perfectly.

Then you have the core gameplay, which is a direct copy of one of my favorite series of all time, Heroes of Might and Magic. For those who missed out, you build up a city to recruit units into your army, which is lead by a hero in an overworld filled with resources, encounters, and random stuff to interact with. Fighting happens on a grid between two sides, and everything is turn-based.

On the surface Disciples III plays almost exactly like HoMM. You still build up a town, you still collect resources, and you still move a hero around the map to discover new stuff and all that. It even has some nice improvements like a bigger battlefield that is hex based, better ‘randomization’ when it comes to said battlefield, and some really nice camera work to show off everything. It’s only when you start to break down the other changes that the whole formula goes horribly wrong.

For instance, rather than having unit stacks, every unit in Disciples has hitpoints instead. On the surface this seems like a solid change, and it’s initially fun to have one unit fight and level up over a stack of 100 peasants or archers. But it’s horrible for game balance. The single-unit approach removes attrition, in that even if you end the battle with all your units at 1hp, they will be fully healed for the next one unless you get attacked again that same turn (unlikely). In HoMM, fighting even the easiest of battles could result in a few dead units, which would slowly weaken your army and force it back to base. In Disciples, you almost never need to return to base, and so each campaign map turns one long steamrolling of enemy after enemy, with your army only growing stronger and stronger as it fights more battles.

Other ‘improvements’ factor into this as well. Instead of having to return to your base to resupply and upgrade units, in Disciples units automatically upgrade once you have built the correct building and they acquire enough experience. It’s convenient, sure, but it again screws with the balance and the flow of the game.

Same goes for how you capture resource nodes. In HoMM each node had to be tagged individually, and could not be defended. In Disciples you capture area-controlling nodes, which give you access to everything around them. Capturing these nodes even changes how the landscape looks (humans turn the area a lively green, elves to amber autumn colors/trees, and the devils into a blackish volcanic area with lava). It’s again an awesome graphic effect, especially since it spreads as more turns pass. But like much of the above, it screws with balance, and makes secondary support heroes pointless since they can’t defeat the node guardian anyway (plus you can garrison troops at the node, and since attrition does not exist, they can hold the node indefinitely unless a massive force attacks them).

Throw in the fact that the AI might as well not exist when it comes to it controlling a side (it’s passable when controlling units in combat), and that multiplayer is a complete non-factor (hotseat only, 8 maps to play on, and all but two are 1v1 maps), and you end up with a great looking game with a ton of potential that is, in essence, a series of zero-challenge campaign maps that you steamroll over, hitting auto-battle every time just to progress the story. And the story itself is actually decent but crippled by the fact that the guy doing the voice work does, by far, the absolute worst job of narrating I’ve ever heard. I mean it’s beyond atrocious, and slaps you in the face right as you first load the game and hear the opening. Bonus points for having to listen to it every time you load up a save, because the voice plays the same map intro every time, to the point that after 3-4 times loading the same map, you start to laugh along with it while it cuts into your brain. I can only imagine this was done as some inside joke once the devs heard just how awful this was, and figured hey, might as well increase the suffering 100x over, right? Fuckers.

And again, this would all be a total non-issue if not for the fact that Disciples SHOULD be an amazing game. I mean hell, just copy/paste all of Heroes, insert your graphics/lore/story over it, and bam, awesome game. But no, the devs had to get all ‘creative’ and ‘improve’ on things, and ended up with this pile of woulda-coulda-shoulda bla-ware. How does something with such great potential but ultimately this much fail get released? Like anyone who tested this game for more than an hour would be able to point all of this out, and the fixes can’t possibly be all that difficult…

Can we get a Heroes of Might and Magic 6 please?!

9 Responses to Great potential, utter failure.

  1. Jordan says:

    The poster child for great potential, utter failure will to me forever be Vanguard.

    I still remember reading Brad’s faq on the game over 2 years before it was released. An extremely comprehensive, very large document that was basically word for word exactly what i was looking for in my dream mmorpg:

    -huge, open traditional fantasy world
    -ton of content at all levels
    -no Wow-like warp speed leveling to end-game in a month
    -death penalties that actually mean something
    -large cities and politics that impact you and the world (ended up being basically a card game that still wasn’t all that bad)
    -no instancing…yay!

    and on and on and on. The true “EQ2″.

    Then i beta tested it. Some of that game Brad described was there. They nailed the world. Was huge, beautiful, majestic. Had a lot of content. Leveling was much faster than EQ but still much slower than Wow. Death Penalty.

    but, alas, two things doomed the game. 1) Crappy engine that most machines couldn’t run adequately, and had a ton of bugs, and 2) they freaked out and tried to Wow-ify the game 6 months before release and totally killed it. Leveling? Warp speed Scotty. Death Penalty? became a joke like Wow. Huge world? Lefts give you the ability to insta-travel practically anywhere (after release).

    So much potential. Ughh…

    • Torcano says:

      I’m no trekkie but wouldn’t Mr. Sulu be the one who you’d give the order for warp speed to?

      Then again “Beam me up Scotty” is the ur-example of popcultural osmosis, as it was never uttered in the entirety of the Original Star Trek. Kirk would normally talk to whoever was at the transporter console at the time, almost never Mr. Scott (as the Chief of all Engineering).

      From memory I think the closest was in a movie and was “Scotty, beam me up”.

  2. mbp says:

    Have you played the King’s Bounty series? It was my understanding that they are the spiritual successor of HoMM.

    Also can you add a search button to your blog please? I could probably have answered my own question if I was able to search your blog for “Kings Bounty”.

    • SynCaine says:

      I have and I have. I’ll look into the search feature, I think I had it before but thought no one used it.

      For whatever reason, Kings Bounty just did not grab me like HoMM. Again I think it’s a balance issue, but I’m not sure.

  3. boatorious says:

    Sad to read a bad review of the third game. I had always been pretty fond of the first two disciples games.

    Although I haven’t checked it out, I understand somewhere there’s an HoMM online game. I too am looking forward to “Might and Magic Heroes 6″ or whatever they’re calling it this week.

  4. Obmar says:

    I concur – Disciples III made “improvements” that ruined the complexity and difficulty of earlier versions.

    The lack of AI makes the fights stupid easy.

    I eventually stopped playing because it was too easy.

  5. Aikar Walmoor says:

    Dont say WAR ever had any potential please…. it was always planned to be another wow clone on nearly every level with famous franchise as bait to lure ppl in to buy the client. Everything in that game was ridiculous and ovbiously very limited even for a themepark.

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