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10
Hexes; serving to remind us that a much better strategy game is just around the corner.

"Hi Plectrum! I've read all of your reviews and I'd really like to know how I could become a game reviewer, just like you!" is something that no-one's ever said to me. That would be madness. If someone did say that to me I'd tell them that reviewers are born, not made. Reviewers of all kinds - games, film, music, you name it - are fundamentally different from normal people. You see, we have an innate mental condition: a crippling phobia and intolerance for mediocrity. I've taken medication, I've seen therapists, but to no avail. It's incurable. It is... *crash of thunder* ...our curse.

Let me explain, without the foley work and fog machines. The ideal scenario for a reviewer is that someone puts an item in front of you that blows you away. You just can't say enough good things about it. You're in love and you want to scream it from the rooftops. It's Half-Life, it's Star Wars, it's OK Computer.

The next best thing is an atrocity. You're tasked with reviewing something that's just wrong on every level. It's so bad that it goes full circle and becomes a joke. The review writes itself and you don't have to worry too much about being too harsh because you're fairly certain that the creative force behind it must surely be in on the joke with you. This is Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, Battlefield Earth, or any Scouting For Girls album, past, present, or future.

A mediocre game, film, or album gives you nothing to work with. It functions. It at least partially resembles what the blurb says it should be. It's not violently repulsive but nor does it offer anything to encourage you to revisit it or remember it ever having existed in a week's time. It's Disciples III: Renaissance, and it's the reason I burned through 300 words of a 1300 word review before introducing that fact.

Disciples III: Renaissance is a fantasy turn-based strategy game from the Moscow-based Akella. Akella boast a strangely scattershot back catalogue ranging from Disney's Pirates Of The Caribbean to a Postal 2 expansion, with a few boat and truck simulators in the mix just because they can. If you consider "Russian" to be as much a genre as it is an adjective when it comes to games, these dudes have your obscure, niche needs covered. Notably though D3 is their first stab at turn-based strategy.

To their credit they haven't done a bad job on the strategy side but I think that's mostly because they haven't risked trying anything new. The battles offer little more nuance than Legio, a game that averaged 3.5 out of 10 from its two reviews on Game Debate. They've played safe by going back to the individual-units-on-a-grid well of turn-based strategy inspiration and it works well enough but it doesn't half get tedious quickly.

Fortunately, unlike Legio, Disciples III has a fair bit of game going on beyond the combat. Your units gain experience and level up, giving you a choice of attributes to upgrade and points to pump into the maddest skill tree I've ever seen. In fact, I think the skill tree is my favourite part of the game! Instead of branching out like a tree (see what they did there?) the skill screen in D3 looks more like a mahjong board with each tile acquired opening up new options in every direction. Aside from looking a bit more interesting than your typical skill system, it offers up more variety and even potential for looping back around to grab early skills you might have missed out on.

As nice as that is, perhaps it says something about my level of interest in the rest of the game when I consider the most exciting feature to be a menu. It's just that everything plods along so slowly and repetitively. Between battles you navigate a fairly nicely presented 3D world from an isometric perspective and you explore its pathways looking for baddies and loot. Standard RPG fare but with turn-based mechanics. Even in this relatively open world, where no combat takes place, your movement is divided up into turns. This is necessary because of other mechanics like regenerating health and earning gold but it makes exploration agonisingly slow. You click on your chosen destination on one side of the screen and your character waddles along a few grid spaces before stopping and asking you to once again tell him where you'd like to go. After the third or fourth time of pointing him in the right direction I'm about ready to save, quit, and let the idle bugger find his own way home. I can't fault the game for doing what it was designed to do but it's bored the hell out of me.

I mentioned saving but that turned out to be a trial on its own. On the first day Disciples III arrived on my hard drive I jumped in and spent a few hours working through the tutorials and getting stuck into the first of the game's three campaigns. I saved and quit and it took me a few days to muster up the strength of will for a repeat performance. It was like putting off making an appointment with the dentist when you're in agony with toothache - you know you can only hold out for so long but you really don't want to make that call. By extension, yes, I am saying that reviewing Disciples III was like pulling teeth.

Anyway, I eventually got back in the game and found no save. No record of the hours of progress I'd made. No compensation for the hours of my life that I'd never get back. Apparently Disciples III can suffer from an error where the game fails to create a "Save" folder in its directory and the result is the game making all the right noises to indicate a successful save without actually creating the file, because there was no folder for it to be created in. Bloody marvellous. I had to replay every torturous second.

Believe it or not, some Disciples III players would consider me fortunate to have run into a comparatively minor bug. A significant number of boxed copies of the game that were sent out were essentially useless! It would install but upon trying to play the game the disc would fail to be detected and shut the player out. US customers had to wait two weeks before a fix was made available.

It's all a bit shoddy when you consider that this game came out in Russia in December last year - it's only the English, Polish, and German localised versions that have just been released this summer so there's been ample time to track down the gremlins. It's worth noting that the developers are due to release the first expansion in Russia this November. Would it be overly callous to suggest that they may be paying less attention to the game you've already paid them for?

I'm certain that there are hardcore Disciples fans out there that are seething over what I've written in this review. I apologise for knocking a series that you love without having played the first two games or their shedload of expansions. There's an awful lot of games released every year and I can only play so many of them, but as someone who's played and enjoyed many turn-based strategy games over the years I have to say that Disciples III just lacked anything to make me want to keep playing. I can see that there's a functional game there with a decent amount of depth but considering the amount of extra work I've created for myself this week to put off having to play a video game, I just can't recommend it at all.

 

The localisers at least tried to inject some humour into the dialogue.  We salute your efforts, localisers.