It's hard to find something funnier than sending an army of thousands to wreak havoc on some poor player's unicorn-filled fancy town. But that's not an over-the-top scenario for Disciples III, a turn-based strategy game that includes everyone's favourite fantasy stereotypes with few of the limitations of its five-year-old predecessor.
Roughly 100 years after the events of that previous game, a star (an 'angel') crashes to earth in Nevendaar. The game's three most powerful factions each seek it for their own purposes. The subsequent three campaigns deliver roughly 70 hours of play, split into six or seven missions per faction: humans, undead, and elves. Each campaign has a single major character you guide through the levels, growing in power and experience as you build towns, recruit armies and hire other heroes to aid in your quest.
As before, heroes (including your faction leader) and combat units gain XP for performing tasks across the overland map and, more commonly, killing everything in sight. They also come with a Diablo-style skills tree so that you can customise them.
More importantly, your army units can now move. No longer are they glued in place during combat. In Disciples III, creatures have finally broken free of their digital bonds and can now run amuck on a larger hexagonal battlefield. And the developers, Akella, have built-in gamechanging rewards for doing so. You can make tactical use of environmental cover, chug your party over to predefined 'nodes' that grant additional combat bonuses for fighting on them, or have front-line party members intercept and absorb enemy attacks to protect your 'spongy spellcasters' at the back.
Disciples II's 'supercreatures' – such hitpoint-stacked instruments of death as Titans and Demons – return in greater quantities this time around. Not only have Akella increased the number of units that you can slot into one huge, dominating force, but you can now supplement your army by casting spells during combat or by using a rune to slap a pre-saved spell onto a single unit per battle.
The entire game has escaped from the two-dimensional confines of its predecessor. Every inch of the landscape is rendered with the same gritty, contrastladen style as before, but now a new 3D treatment enables you to view every inch of it from any angle you choose.
Akella's vision for Disciples III looks like it's going to make a significant impact in the world of top-down strategy. It's been four years since we last heard a peep from the Disciples series, but that's the way it goes in turn-based strategy games: sometimes it's all kittens and butterflies until a player sends a 20,000-strong army right to your front door.