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Three Moves Ahead Episode 71: Disciples 3, Heroes of Might and Magic and Other Games Like That

June 28th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 23 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Gameshark’s Editor in Chief Bill Abner joins Troy, Rob and Bruce to talk about Disciples 3, Heroes of Might and Magic, Jagged Alliance, King’s Bounty – strategy games with tactical components. To what extent are these RPGs? What differentiates a good one from a bad one? Bruce mentions Odium again.

The good doctor also promises to write something.

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23 Comments so far ↓

  • Punning Pundit

    I haven’t had a chance to listen yet, but I’m really hoping that Dawn of War 2 came up in the discussion. That’s a game that I couldn’t really figure out until I understood it as a dungeon crawling RPG. It’s a sort of a squad-based Diablo.

    I understand that recent patches have moved it away from this ideal…

  • frags

    A real shame Disciples III doesn’t live up to its predecessor. Loved the second one, and yes I think 2D art can convey more detail. Disciples II was completely 2D. That is perhaps why Bill thinks Disciples 3 looks worse than the second one.

    Disciples II was also bloody difficult. If you wasted a single turn you could fail a mission. Also I agree with Bruce in the notion that games with a leveling mechanic or RPG like elements doesn’t make it an RPG.

  • bill abner

    I don’t know about not living up to the 2nd game; I really cannot say that yet. I am early in the Empire campaign with a beta build.

    I do miss the static combat mechanic, though. But it’s still very early. I played more today and 2 hours sort of vanished, which is a good sign although I’m hoping there is a way to speed up combat though. Moves kind of slow.

    I think many will find the graphics in D3 just dandy, FWIW. I just think Disciples 2 is one of the best looking games of the decade and I miss those colorful and exaggerated combat animations. The Empire units are sort of blah so far outside of the Titan.

  • Paul

    Disciple III talk? Can’t wait to give this a listen.

  • rsimmon

    I can’t get behind Bruce’s definition of an RPG, since it discounts almost the entire history of computer RPGs: Wizardry, early Ultimas, Bard’s Tale, Diablo, etc. In fact, since the player of a CRPG is rarely, if ever, helping to tell a story, I’m not sure any qualify as RPGs under Bruce’s definition. At the very least GTA is as much an RPG as Dragon Age, with the illusion of meaningful choice that leads to the same endpoint.

  • Lawl

    Halo is the best role playing game because you get to play the role of Master Chief who kicks ass.

  • Dave

    @rsimmon, I don’t think that so-much discredits Bruce’s definition of an RPG as it does point out the complete lack of true RPGs in the computer-space.

  • Dave

    Well… except in the Copenhagen-ish sense that without the player there’d be no story.

  • Ian Bowes (spelk)

    Tactical Fantasy is a nice label for these sort of games. They give you some freedom to explore, some freedom to tinker with a party setup, and even a bit of city building and skill tree climbing.

    What I really enjoy is that the tactical battles are bite sized and rewarding, but they don’t require a massive amount of time and effort to get something out of it. You’re always being rewarded, and re-evaluating your setup. You also get the bonus of a Fantasy setting that delivers strategy and tactical nibbles.

    With Disciples, I think the aspect that makes it stand out for me, is that they realise their world so much better than the competition, so much more gritty, realistic, Gothic, and Diablo-esque. With games like Kings Bounty, they’re going for the cartoon inspired humour and it just doesn’t appeal to me in the same way.

    I’m still at the early stages of Disciples III, but I prefer having the updated quality art and the 3d movement aspects to the tactical game. I enjoyed the previous versions, but this new incarnation just has so much eye candy on offer, that I really could just dawdle in the game for a very long time.

    All of the mechanics are simple to understand, simple to play out, and you can play it and get something from it, no matter how short your play session. I understand Bruce saying he wants his games to be hard, and require 500+ hours of play to get seriously into them, and feel like he’s got his money’s worth, but not all games need that level of dedication. Some are just played for the experience, and can be easy on the player requirements. A visually stimulating, rewarding journey. That’s what Disciples III does for me.

    The added movement in the tactical section brings it up to the level of Kings Bounty in terms of placing and terrain matters. The bonus hexes becoming important focal points around the landscape, with obstacle choke points also creating ambush/cover opportunities. The animations do play out a little slowly at times, but its still wrapping you in the visual feast, and some of the creature designs are exquisitely good. The early versions of Disciples had a combat mechanism that was very trading card-like, a game like Winter Wolves Magic Stones[1] is very much in the same league. Adding spatial complexity to the abstract battles takes it up a notch for me.

    [1] http://www.winterwolves.com/magicstones/index.htm

  • cuc

    I’ve just played Disciples II last year, and its graphics are definitely not as detailed as people may think they are, and its deficiencies (murky palette, tiny sprites) are even more obvious today.

    OTOH, HoMM1 and HoMM2’s stylish cartoon graphics are timeless, and remain as beautiful now as when they were released.

    Bruce Geryk has in fact already written a great overview of the HoMM series in his HoMM4 review:

    His HoMM3 review, while over-long, is also interesting:

  • Tim James

    The Decades feature still shows signs of life! Yay!

  • Primemover

    I’d like to throw Warhammer 40K: Chaos Gate into the mix as well. There are mixed opinions of the game, but I feel it meets the “qualifiactions” discussed. Tactical and squad based game with RPG aspect for your squads (they gain experience, can be shifted to different roles, can upgrade/exchange their weapons). The individual control and responsibility of each squad member forces a quasi personal relationship with them, to the point where if one is KIA, it bummed me out. Given the legacy of what the CG is based on (table top tactical game), this was a logical evolution. I have never played the TT version, but have read others’ opinions (who have played both) who feel that the CG is a worthwhile translation of the TT. It stinks that it does not work on any of the new OS. One of my all time favorites.

    Definitely want to check out Disciples II (another game I missed for some reason earlier this decade…to busy with TW and AOE I guess!)

  • Mind Elemental

    While I’m not sure I’d define “RPG” in the same way as Bruce, I agree with him that Heroes of Might and Magic is definitely much closer to the “strategy” end of the continuum than JA2. In HOMM, your heroes might level and gather items, but the basic building blocks of your armies, your empire, etc. are still hordes of faceless units marching forth from stone-and-lumber buildings.

    Since Tom wasn’t able to make it, I guess I’ll have to fly the banner of the console TRPGs — and it’s console games, not PC titles, that I think of when the term “TRPG” is used. They generally are much closer to the “RPG” end of the spectrum than their PC counterparts: fewer, bespoke units, each of whom is usually a distinct character (though Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre also feature XCom-esque dialogue-less spear carriers alongside their more fleshed-out counterparts) and they often emphasise “how do I develop my party members?” choices. And they really have something for everyone’s definition of RPG! The Tactics Ogre games feature branching storylines (thus satisfying Bruce’s definition) and – I think – multiple endings; and acquiring new skills can definitely shake up gameplay (satisfying Rob’s definition). If you guys like intricate party combat in Western PC RPGs, you should definitely check out some of the console TRPGs. :)

  • Jimmy Brown

    I wonder if Bruce would consider Warcraft III to be RPGish since each section concentrates on a single character or small number of characters.

  • nullspace

    I don’t think that carefully defining genres is useful for much. The simplest reason for categorizing games is that if I like one game in a particular genre then I might also like other games of that genre. So, in a strategy gaming podcast I want to hear about good strategy games. It doesn’t really matter whether a given game is more strategy or more RPG, as long as the strategy parts make up an interesting strategy game. RPG elements in a game don’t naturally make it a poor subject for TMA.

    Discussing genre definitions is a little bit interesting for thinking about exactly why I like certain types of games and not others, but that’s getting close to navel-gazing territory. Maybe all I’m really saying is that I would have liked to hear more about Disciples, and less about what makes an RPG an RPG. “X-COM is awesome” sounds like it will be a good topic.

  • Ginger Yellow

    To add to the console TRPG roster, Valkyria Chronicles is well worth checking out. It’s not 100% successful (the AI is exploitable), but the gameplay is unique – a combination of turn based tactics and real time action – the art style is amazing, and it’s got a charming if cliched story.

  • Definitionable

    RPG’s have their roots in wargaming (Chainmail) so I think it’s appropriate that they get brought up every now and then.

    It’s the adventure-style “RPGs” like JRPG’s and Planescape:Torment that don’t really fit into “strategy gaming.”

    Does planning a character build so you’ll end up with something particular at max level count as an overall “strategy?” There’s a lot of that in Diablo 2 where you plan meticulously for saving different gear and skill points for a specific build.

    I don’t see the RPG in Disciples or HoMM. You mentioned MoM and Age of Wonders series as very surely, definitely NOT being a Strat-RPG-tactical-hybrid-whatever yet those games are very similar with hero units you could customize and level or you could start with a different leader with different attributes.

    Seems to be the only games that fit this mashup are X-COM, JA2, Silent Storm, DoW 2, previously mentioned J-TRPG’s.

  • Mind Elemental

    I agree with Definitionable that AOW and HOMM should be classified together.

    Re: Valkyria Chronicles: it’s the only high-profile (J)TRPG for this generation of consoles to spring to mind, I liked it a lot, loved its art, and I think every squad-based TBS should use its control system (as I’ve said on QT3, it is so much more visceral and immersive to steer a tank myself or line up a shot than it is to click “move here, shoot there”)… but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to Troy and co as their introduction to the genre. If nothing else, I wonder if the dieselpunk WW2-esque setting might make it harder for them to suspend disbelief — I can just hear Bruce yelling about his squad being commanded by an anime youth and his tank not being able to shoot as far as a Panther! (Then again, JA was hardly the most realistic series, either…)

  • Mauricio

    I don’t remember if it was noted in the podcast, but Disciples 3 *was* released in Russia over six months ago. So I imagine the gameplay (not text) you see in the beta is essentially final.

    Strangely, the UK version (in English!) was released on June 25, even before this podcast. So what was this beta build…?

  • Fud0h

    I wonder if anyone here has tried King Arthur: The Roleplaying Game? I picked up a copy on the Steam sale and thus far it meets all of Bruce’s criteria for an RPG (conversational trees that essentially choose what parts of the story are played, heavy story emphasis) – there are even text based choose-your-own adventure segments used for the games “quests”.
    The main game however? Total War with units that level, hero units (knights) and magic. Complete turn based overland map and real time tactical battles. Thus far well worth the $6 I paid for the gold edition!

  • Mygaffer

    You guys miss the point of King’s Bounty. King’s Bounty, and Armored Princess does it much better with more challenge, are ALL about managing your hero/armies in order to beat the challenges laid out in front of you.
    There are two halves there. First half are the actual battles. Positioning your troops, deciding if you should wait/move/defend at a given time, which spells to use and when, etc. is a very interesting kind of challenge. Secondly you have to intelligently upgrade your hero AND intelligently choose your troops to match your play style and the troops you are facing.
    King’s Bounty and especially Armored Princess are MUCH deeper than I think many people give them credit for. They are wonderful games and I have put around 200 hours into them so far.

  • Kordor

    Well, I am a little late, but anyways here are my 2 cents:

    I think when trying to determine a genre of a game you should not compare one game with another at first and then look into the game itself later but the other way around.
    Meaning that it doesn’t matter much if Game A has more tactical elements then Game B. But it matters quite a lot what the focus of the game is.
    Of course there is hardly a “right” or “wrong” when determining a genre of a game, as it’s also a matter of perspective (and as it was said the discussion itself is basically irrelevant and just for fun – and I just think that this is the “right” way).

    The thing is that every game has tons of different elements and mechanics. And basically the mechanics defining a genre are able to co-exist in most cases. It is possible to have role playing, strategy and tactical elements in the very same game.
    So lets take a look on the elements which “define” some of the genres:

    -Heavily Story Driven
    -Immersive (you are put into a role)
    -Character Developement

    Strategy Game:
    -Strategic/Global Decisionmaking
    -Combat based mainly based on unitvalues and chacateristics

    Tactic Game:
    -Tactical/Micro Management – Decisionmaking
    -Combat based mainly on your actions within the fight, clever use of abilities and actions, like taking cover, positioning and so on

    -1st or 3rd person combat taking place in realtime

    So with these elements we can take a game and disassemble it into it’s various pieces.
    Lets take StarCraft 2 for example: The singleplayer campaign basically covers all roleplaying elements. It also has strategy elements and tactic elements. It does not have the shooter elements.
    But what is the focus of the game? What are you thinking about when thinking about StarCraft? It’s about using the strategy normally. I think it is clearly a strategy game with role playing and tactical elements. However if you are not playing it in singleplayer you can scrap the roleplaying part. And the more “pro” you play the game, the more it might become a tactic game where you need to use all the right abilities of all units each second when in combat.

    To come to the big three games, always involved when talking about tactic games: UFO, JA, Fallout.

    UFO has a focus on tactic, the strategy however has a big impact, the roleplaying element is quite small. It has character development and you suffer with your units but that’s it. There is no huge immersion and there is hardly any story. The focus might also swap to the strategy part depending on the perspective or how you play the game.
    So it’s a Tactic Game with big strategy elements, and a few role playing elements.

    JA has a focus on tactic, the strategy is basically limited to “which sector do we take next to be able to pay for the troops best” and with which/ how many people we can afford to operate. The RPG elements are quite strong though. Every character has it’s story which get you involved and attached. In JA2 you even have a “hall of fame” to read up what happened to all the Characters after JA1 if they are not present in JA2. Characters can be developed have their abilities, disabilities, very unique peculiarities, like a guy who leaves the party after he killed someone (Biff), or Biker where you can not replace his leather jacket (Nails). JA2 also has story which does not only give you a setting but which leads you from town to town.
    However, the reason for playing Jagged Alliance is still the awesome combat which is clearly the focus of the game.
    So it’s a tactic game with strong RPG elements and a few strategic elements.
    Depending on your perception and point of view you could however also play and see it as Roleplaying game with tactical combat, but I think the minority of people see it like that.

    Last but not least: Fallout 1 and 2. Both games have a very strong story and are completely storydriven, it’s very immersive and it’s very strongly bound to the character. It just “accidently” has a tactical combat. In no part of the game this comes to the games focus though.
    So Fallout 1 and 2 are RPGs with a tactical combat.

    The big thing when looking at these three games is the different involvement of RPG elements. If we think about RPGs however all of them have some kind of combat. And the combat can take any form. If we just take the Games of the D&D universe: Eye of the Beholder has just button mashing. Dark Sun has a turn based combat. Baldur’s Gate has a real time combat with pause option. But all of them clearly have the RPG aspects in the focus, so independent of their combat systems they still stay RPGs.

    If we take another look at Fallout 1 and 2 which are clearly RPGs and have a tactical combat and just throw away most of the story, meaning keeping the setting but throwing away that the game is story driven, or alternatively “extract” the fight out of Fallout we end up with a tactic game. Why is that? Well basically because the focus isn’t hold by the story anymore but is moving to what is left of the game: the combat. Expand the combat a bit and Fallout Tactics is born.

    Another good example would be Fallout 3. As Fallout 1 and 2 it’s clearly story driven, has a strong character development and is very immersive. It just accidently has an option to shoot at enemies from first person (as alternative to the VATS system, where you as the player don’t need to aim at all). But just because of it’s combat system it’s not a shooter of course. Only if you throw everything away and just keep the combat it becomes a shooter. Because the shooting comes into focus if everything else is gone.

    There is quite an interesting development which can be seen here though (my own opinion though as everything else here):
    The medium which is delivering the story in RPGs improved quite a bit during the last years, meaning that lots of animated sequences are used and instead of walls of texts you get nice voice overs. This makes this “Roleplaying” element more and more attractive and brings the different “genres” of games together quite a bit.
    While this alone is nice, it’s also very expensive. This again leads to the problem (especially for tactic and role playing gamers who love some challenging fights) that Games must be brought to the masses, so that companies can actually effort it. But especially turn based combat is something which is believed not to be accepted by the masses. Therefore it’s changed to realtime fights with fancy animations. Meaning that all the middle to high budget projects won’t include these cool elements anymore (but instead story, which can also be cool). And only the low budget or indie projects are basically left to create actually the games with the elements some of us are looking for. This can be seen in games as
    Dark Sun(Turn based) -> Baldur’s Gate (Real Time with Pause) -> Dragon Age 2 (basically became Fallout 1&2(Turn Based, Tactical combat) -> Fallout 3 (Shooter Elements)
    UFO (Turn Based)->X-Com Apocalypse(Turn based and real time)->XCOM (in development, Shooter with strategy elements)
    Jagged Alliance 1&2 (Turn Based) -> JA BIA (Real Time), and the browsergame JA O probably only got a turn based combat due to technical limitations – which actually might be the big plus here