Released in 1999 for the PC and Macintosh by the 3DO Company, Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia is the third iteration in designer Jon Van Caneghem's Heroes of Might and Magic series. Developed by New World Computing (and ported to Linux by Loki Entertainment), Heroes III is, like its predecessors, a game of turn-based conquest in a medieval fantasy world, where players direct one or more heroes with the intent of gathering resources and martial strength with which to defeat other players, either human or A.I. The overarching gameplay is very much in line with previous Heroes games, though a number of noticeable changes have been made. The maximum army size has been increased to seven, as opposed to five in Heroes and Heroes II, and the scale of the game's battlefields has likewise been increased. The number of factions has been increased from six to eight, and all faction units have the ability to be upgraded to more powerful versions. Further attempts are made to individualize heroes through special skills and statistics that each possesses, and equipping artifacts is handled through a new paper doll inventory system. Heroes III also introduces subterranean overworld areas that can effectively double the size of a map, while faction towns are differentiated from one another more noticeably with a larger number of unique buildings. In addition to gameplay alterations, pre-rendered graphics take the place of the hand-drawn visuals used previously.
Heroes III was augmented later on by 1999's Heroes of Might and Magic III: Armageddon's Blade and 2000's Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Shadow of Death, with the latter being a stand-alone release that also included the main game. Unlike The Price of Loyalty, the expansion to Heroes II, both of these add-on packs were created by New World Computing itself. Each of them includes a number of new single-player campaigns, and Armageddon's Blade is also notable for introducing a ninth faction, the Conflux, which incorporates units that had previously been considered neutral. Heroes III and its expansions have also appeared in numerous game compilations, including Heroes of Might and Magic Millennium, Heroes of Might and Magic Trilogy, Heroes of Might and Magic Platinum Edition, and Heroes of Might and Magic Complete Edition. A console port of Heroes III was also in development for the Sega Dreamcast, though this version was ultimately cancelled.
Heroes III and its seven campaigns depict a series of events from a number of different perspectives, be they good, evil, or neutral. The main protagonist of the tale is Queen Catherine Ironfist, the wife of King Roland Ironfist, who vanished suddenly prior to the events of the game. After being compelled to return to her homeland by the death of her father, Nicolas Gryphonheart, and the subsequent invasion of his kingdom, Catherine sets out to retake Erathia from the hostile Nighon and Eeofol armies. By forging alliances with the wizards and elves of Antagarich, Queen Catherine is able to push into Erathia and retake its capital of Steadwick, securing much of Erathia in the process. Unfortunately, she soon receives news from Lucifer Kreegan that her lost husband King Roland is in fact being held captive within Eeofol. The elves of AvLee besiege Eeofol but are unable to rescue the King; in the meantime, Catherine wages war against the Nighon, forcing them back to their holdings in the east.
As these events transpire, the assassins of King Gryphonheart, the necromancers of Deyja, prepare to resurrect the fallen monarch as a lich, figuring that such a powerful personage in life would be equally mighty in death. The necromancers make a crucial miscalculation, however, as Gryphonheart proves to be so powerful upon his revivification that he cannot be properly controlled, forcing his creators into an alliance of convenience with Queen Catherine in order to destroy the lich before it becomes unstoppable. In addition to these chapters, which depict the conflict from either side, Heroes III also contains campaigns featuring parties with no true allegiance to either side, including a mercenary under the employ of Tatalia and Krewlod, and the people of the Contested Lands, who seek to gain independence from their neighbors, Erathia and AvLee.
Gameplay in Heroes of Might and Magic III consists primarily of turn-based exploration within a two-dimensional overworld map and turn-based combat between opposing armies on a hexagonal grid. Exploration requires the use of heroes, who are the player's agents within the game world. These heroes are able to move about and interact with various objects within the game; this includes claiming treasures and artifacts that may benefit the player or boost their heroes' power, taking control of production sites that grant resources with each turn, confronting and attacking monsters or enemy heroes, and laying siege to neutral or hostile towns in order to take control of them. Being military leaders, heroes can command armies of up to seven different units types at one time, and while these units can be marshaled in a number of ways, the primary means of doing so is by purchasing them through allied towns, which can generate additional creatures at the beginning of each week. During each turn, which represents a single day of game time, heroes have a finite number of movement points to spend in order to move and interact with the environment, and once these points have been expended, heroes cannot act again until all other players have acted and a new turn has begun.
As with previous titles, heroes are a passive presence in combat, contributing mostly by casting spells and offering statistical enhancements to their troops. They can gain experience and levels by defeating monsters or interacting with objects in some cases, and with each new level a hero advances one of their primary skills and either advances an existing secondary skill or learns a new one. Primary skills determine the attack and defense bonuses that a hero's troops receive as well as the power of said hero's spells and the number of spell points they have to cast them. Secondary skills are more specialized in nature, typically offering bonuses in more narrowly-defined areas, such as increased power in a certain school of magic. Unlike Heroes II, where first-level heroes within the same faction were essentially carbon copies of one another, champions in Heroes III are differentiated in terms of their starting stats, and each one possesses a special ability as well. In addition, all factions possess both "might" and "magic" hero classes, meaning that they are either predisposed toward physical combat or spellcasting. Changes have also been made to the inventory system; heroes can now carry an unlimited number of artifacts, though they can only equip a finite number of them.
Apart from heroes and their armies, players must also cultivate towns in order to increase their income as well as the breadth and strength of the units they can produce and, thus, recruit. In addition to creature dwellings and Town Halls, which generate units and gold, players can construct Mage Guilds within towns, which are vital structures that allow heroes to learn spells. Various other building types can be constructed that grant bonuses in certain areas, such as town defense, hero skills, and production rates. Some structures are universal between factions, such as Taverns, which allows additional heroes to be recruited, and Marketplaces, where resources can be traded. Others are specific to a certain faction, such as the Castle Stables, which grants a temporary movement bonus to visiting heroes. Spending resources on defense makes towns much more difficult to siege, and unlike previous games, heroes can also be garrisoned within a town in order to protect it. Being able to claim neutral or hostile towns is highly beneficial regardless of the victory conditions for a given scenario, as it allows access to more spells, more creatures, and more income. A player that loses all of their holdings is at risk of being eliminated if they do not secure a town within the week.
When the player is not traversing the overworld map or managing their towns, they will most likely be engaging in combat with another hero or group of monsters, and when this occurs the game shifts its focus to a hexagonal arena where the two armies are arrayed on either side of the screen, with the attacker on the left and defender on the right. Each party can bring up to seven unit groups into battle at once, and the number of units in each "stack" is represented by a number beside that unit. Players take turns moving their units, with move order being determined by the speed stats of individual creatures, and each combat turn heroes are also allowed to cast a single spell, provided they have sufficient spell points with which to do so. The objective of combat is simply to defeat the opposing player by killing all of their units, though if a player feels they are on the losing end of an encounter, it is also possible to flee or surrender, the latter of which allows a hero to retain their army for a price. Heroes may improve their odds by purchasing additional items, such as a First Aid Tent, an Ammo Cart, or a Ballista. Heroes III also adds the option to wait, which postpones a unit's turn, and defend, which sacrifices any movement or attack options for one turn in exchange for a temporary boost to the unit's defensive stats.
To fund the construction of armies and towns, Heroes III requires players to amass gold, iron, wood, sulfur, mercury, gems, and crystals in varying amounts in most scenarios, and apart from towns, resource-producing structures are the most valuable holdings a player can have within the game. Unlike towns, though, these resource points have no natural defenses, so it is not uncommon for them to change hands multiple times over the course of a match. Towns generate gold automatically, and the amount they produce can be increased significantly by investing in Town Hall upgrades. In addition, all towns can construct a Resource Silo, though what resources it produces depends on the faction. Gold is considered the game's primary resource, required for the construction or purchase of almost everything, while iron and wood are secondary resources used most often for buildings. The remaining four types are tertiary in importance, though they are often required in significant amounts when constructing advanced structures, making them more important to control later in the game. Any resource-producing property owned by a player provides income on a daily basis, which stands in contrast to unit-producing structures, which increase creature population at the beginning of each week.
The eight factions of Heroes III have seven units each, as opposed to the six units offered in Heroes and Heroes II. Due to the increased army size, however, heroes are now able to recruit and use all unit types within a faction simultaneously, which was not possible in the previous games with their five-unit limit. The unit upgrade mechanic of Heroes II is carried over into Heroes III, with all faction units having an upgraded form this time around, though Heroes III also allows basic units to be purchased even after their stronger equivalents become available. Towns are also somewhat more distinct from one another than in past games due to a larger number of unique faction buildings and other distinguishing factors such as unique grail bonuses, differing resource gains from the Resource Silo, and limitations on Mage Guild construction (in some cases). In a typical scenario, players will start with a single town and hero of the same alignment, though aside from possible morale penalties for mixing unit types, there is no disincentive for using heroes or units from other factions.
The Castle faction, whose heroes are Knights and Clerics, is most akin to the Knight faction of Heroes and Heroes II, and many of its units are similar in nature. It features a well-rounded composition, with two ranged units and two flying units, allowing it to tackle most other factions comfortably. Castle towns can commission Ballistas from that Blacksmith and receive one unit each of iron and wood from the Resource Silo. They are also one of only three factions in the game that can build a shipyard, and the exclusive Lighthouse structure improves their ship movement as well. A Tavern upgrade called Brotherhood of the Sword is available in Castle towns that grants a two-point morale boost to garrisoned units, and their Stables allow heroes that visit the town to increase their movement points until the end of the week. Being that it is considered a primarily martial faction, Castle towns are restricted to Mage Guilds of level four or less. On top of normal bonuses, the Castle Grail structure grants plus two to morale for all heroes.
The Dungeon faction attracts Warlock and Overlord heroes, and while it is thematically similar to the Warlock faction of past games, its unit composition is quite different. Dungeon units can often fight enemies very effectively over long distances, and many of them have special properties that can be taxing for opposing players to deal with. Blacksmiths built in Dungeon towns produce Ballistas, while their Resource Silos generate one unit of sulfur per day, which is useful later on for purchasing dragons. In addition to Marketplaces, Dungeon players can build Artifact Merchants to trade resources for artifacts, and a Portal of Summoning in order to remotely recruit creatures from dwellings across the map. The Dungeon town can also augment visiting heroes through the Mana Vortex, which doubles the spell points available to a hero, and the Academy of Battle Scholars, which gives heroes a one-time reward of 1,000 experience points. A Dungeon with a Grail structure bestows an extra twelve points of spell power to defending heroes.
The Fortress town is home to the Beastmaster and the Witch, and most of its units are denizens of the marshlands. Only one unit within the faction is ranged in nature, however many of their units incorporate special abilities that enemy players must take into account when fighting them. A Fortress Blacksmith produces First Aid Tents for allied heroes to use, while the Resource Silo generates one unit of wood and ore per day. Fortress towns may construct Shipyards provided the town in question is situated near the water, and the Cage of Warlords bestows a permanent one-point skill increase to defense for passing heroes. The Blood Obelisk gives defending heroes a two-point boost to attack, while the Glyphs of Fear inspires a two-point increase in defense. The Fortress is less magically inclined than other town types, and thus it cannot house Mage Guilds higher than level four. When the Grail is installed within a Fortress town, heroes gain an additional ten points of defense when protecting it.
Frequented by Demoniac and Heretic heroes, the Inferno faction is home to all manner of vile, hell-spawned creatures. Their ranks are filled with powerful melee combatants, though there are no flying units and only one ranged fighter; however, their ultimate unit, the Devil, can move about via teleportation. Infernal Blacksmiths produce Ammo Carts for their masters, while Resource Silos within Inferno towns generate one unit of sulfur per day, which helps in purchasing Devils later in the game. The Castle Gate allows heroes to travel instantaneously between Inferno towns, though only in the event that both towns have constructed the Gate. Inferno players can also build the Order of Fire, which grants a permanent skill point to a visiting hero's spell power; Brimstone Stormclouds can also be cultivated in order to grant an additional two points of spell power to town defenders. With the Grail installed in an Inferno town, every week is considered Imp week in terms of population growth, though this affects all Inferno towns, allied or not.
The Necropolis faction is typified by its affinity for undead creatures of all sorts, and its heroes are Necromancers and Death Knights. Necropolis minions often focus on afflicting their victims rather than simply killing them, as several have special abilities that cause undesirable effects in addition to damage. All undead units are furthermore immune to mind alteration spells as well as Curse, Bless, and Blind, and are always at neutral morale. Necropolis Blacksmiths produce First Aid Tents, while their Resource Silos generate one unit of wood and ore each day. Necropolis towns are able to build Shipyards under the right circumstances, and Cover of Darkness creates a shroud that hides the town from its enemies. With a Necromancy Amplifier, all Necropolis heroes receive a ten percent boost to their Necromancy skill, and the Skeleton Transformer allows any creature stack to be converted into Skeletons. With a Grail structure constructed, Necropolis heroes gain an additional twenty percent to their Necromancy skill.
The Rampart faction is home to the Ranger and Druid heroes, and their allies are composed primarily of creatures that wish to protect the wilderness. Some of the Rampart's units have issues with speed, however a number of them have attributes designed to frustrate spellcasters, making them stronger than most against magic-based heroes. Rampart Blacksmiths provide First Aid Tents for their faction's war efforts, and their Resource Silos generate one crystal each day, which facilitates the purchase of dragons, among other things. The Fountain of Fortune provides a two-point bonus to Luck for defending heroes. The Rampart town is not as predisposed toward magic as others, and may only build Mage Guilds up to level four; it is, however, very economically-minded, with a Treasury that accrues ten percent interest on gold stores once every seven days and a Mystic Pond that creates random resources each week. If a player chooses to install a Grail structure in a Rampart town, all allied heroes will receive a two-point Luck bonus.
The Barbarian and Battle Mage heroes are native to the Stronghold faction, and their units are, by and large, rugged, battle-hardened creatures. They have a good variety of melee attackers and ranged creatures to choose from, although they are easily the most handicapped faction in Heroes III in terms of magic, being restricted to constructing Mage Guilds no higher than level three. Blacksmiths within Stronghold towns produce Ammo Carts for the war effort, and can be further enhanced with a Ballista Yard in order churn out Ballistas; their Resource Silos generate a single unit of wood and ore per day. Stronghold heroes can also sell creatures for resources at the Freelancer's Guild, and the Escape Tunnel allows siege defenders to either flee or surrender if they are losing the fight. The Hall of Valhalla increases a hero's attack rating by one point permanently, and Strongholds with a Grail structure intact give defenders twenty additional attack points.
Haven to Alchemists and Wizards, the Tower faction is mostly comprised of creatures that have been made, summoned, or otherwise bound to the wills of powerful persons. Like the Wizard faction of Heroes II, the Tower faction has exceptional ranged units, and many of their creatures are complemented by useful special abilities. Tower Blacksmiths allow heroes to purchase Ammo Carts, while their Resource Silos generate a single gem per day, which make the purchase of Giants and Titans easier. The Wall of Knowledge permanently increases the knowledge stat of visiting heroes by one, while the Lookout Tower reveals the overworld map within a twenty-tile radius of the town itself. Artifact Merchants can be purchased in order to swap resources for artifacts, and the Library structure allows for a single additional spell to be learned for each level of the Mage Guild. When a Tower player houses a Grail within one of their towns, the entirety of the overworld map is revealed to them.
Neutral units are any creatures that do not have a specific faction affiliation. In Heroes III, neutral creatures are either constructs or elemental spirits that may be fought while adventuring or recruited at external dwellings situated around the overworld map. Being unusual creatures, all neutrals are immune to poison and remain at neutral morale regardless of modifiers, while elementals are also immune to mind-altering magic spells. Many of Heroes III's neutral beings (specifically the elementals) would be later incorporated into the Conflux town of Armageddon's Blade, which, appropriately enough, is considered a neutral town alignment.
Heroes of Might and Magic III was well-received critically upon its release in 1999, with reviewers responding positively to the game's revised visual presentation as well as the additional content and mechanics it provided. Criticisms leveled against the game, which were generally few and qualified, often revolved around Heroes III's extreme similarity to previous titles in the Heroes series. It was seen by some as an incremental enhancement over Heroes II, though a welcome one, and it is revered by many fans as the best game in the series.