I recently spent a little quality time with a preview build of Akella's Disciples III: Renaissance. For those unfortunate enough to miss the first two offerings in this outstanding fantasy strategy series, Disciples III looks to be a great place to jump into the fray. For Disciples veterans like myself, Renaissance is shaping up to be a long-awaited return to some seriously good turn-based goodness.
Although I hardly had enough time to fully realize everything that's coming our way in Disciples III, what I saw was quite impressive. Firstly, this latest title looks fantastic. Rendered in 3D, Renaissance captures the dark feel of the series perfectly. Everything looks sharp and detailed, and still maintains the familiar style I have come to know so well. The artwork for the various strongholds, the overland map, and the detailed units are extremely good. The high-quality musical score is as fine as ever, something that has been a high point for me in the series.
Gameplay is similar to the previous titles in many ways--players control a group of leader units on the main map, guiding them to explore and expand their holdings. Each leader can bring with them a small number of other units, the exact amount determined by the leader's skill. As tends to be the way with these games, eventually these units will encounter enemy forces, and there's no way forward but to fight. And here we see one of the biggest changes in the series, one which will probably cause some division in the Disciples fans' ranks.
Unlike earlier games, Disciples III features a fully-detailed, hex-based battle map for combat. No longer do we simply have a two ranks of units abstractly sledging it out--now each unit (including leaders) can freely roam about the battlefield. This opens up several more strategic decisions, but some may feel it does away with the simple charm of the traditional Disciples fights. I haven't spent enough time yet to make up my mind--although I enjoy what I've played on the hex-grid, I really was quite fond of the simpler (and more fast-paced) battles from before.
As before, units lucky enough to remain alive for the entire fight will gain experience and eventually level up. Upon levelling, basic units gain the ability to evolve into stronger forms. Which form a give unit takes depends on how players upgrade their strongholds. Most units can head down different mutually-exclusive branches. Once one path has been chosen, all units of a give type will advance that way for the entirety of the scenario. This requires careful planning to ensure the most-effective late-game units will be available for a given map. Leader units have been given a much more in-depth advancement tree in Disciples III, making this title feel quite a bit more like an RPG than previous titles. As leaders gain levels, they earn points to be spent on a quite-detailed skill grid. The sheer number of branching paths and choices available on the grid promises to allow for a huge amount of customization. Leaders also have the luxury of equipping various artifacts collected from their travels, and it seems choice of toys is a lot more involved than in earlier Disciples titles.
Renaissance will come with three playable campaigns, focusing this time on the Empire, the Legion of the Damned, and the Elves. I'll go out on a limb and guess that the remaining two factions will also receive their own campaigns with a later expansion, but that's pure conjecture at this time. Regardless, the levels are as long and involved as they were in previous titles, so there's plenty of turn-based goodness to go around.
There are several other differences as well, including a pronounced difference in the area-control mechanic, among other items. As I have stated before, I only had a little time to spend with an as-yet-unfinished version of this game, but so far things are looking great. As a long-time fan of the series, I am impatiently awaiting the full release to see if one of my all-time favorite series can maintain its pedigree.