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I own Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, and looking at HoMM's screenshots, it looks very similar in terms of gameplay, theme, etc. HoMM III was released in 1999, and Shadow Magic was released in 2003. And so:

Q: Are HoMM III and Shadow Magic very similar in terms of gameplay, theme, etc.?

If they are very similar, is Shadow Magic better ("new and improved")? If they aren't very similar, in what ways do they significantly differ?
There is quite a lot of differences.

HoMM has 7 resources (gold, two basic and 4 precious).
You cannot create new towns, only fight for those existing ones. Speaking of towns, they do not grow (there is nothing like population in AoW), also you cannot migrate them to other race (since there are no races, only town types, 4 in HoMM1, 6 in HoMM2 and 8+1 in HoMM3).

In HoMM, there is no spell research. Every town has Mage Guild, which can be upgraded up to 4 times and each upgrade adds new spells of higher level. Want new spells? Visit shrines on the adventure maps (if the map has them) for level 1-3 spells, or conquer new towns.

Heroes. Only they lead your armies and only they can cast spells. They have 4 primary skills (attack skill, defense skill, spell power and knowledge) and secondary skills (up to 8, so you are forced to choose).

Combat. Only 1 hero vs. 1 hero or 1 hero vs. town. Towns have some upgradable defenses, heroes have catapults to break walls. Only units fight, heroes just cast spells (one per combat round, until their mana lasts) and add his attack/defense skills to those of their creatures'. Only way to defeat a hero (save for his surrender or fleeing from battle) is to kill all his units.

There is more to tell about it, but I wrote just the biggest differences I could remember.
Post edited January 23, 2011 by klaymen
Heroes 3 is great, but it's a much simpler game. I prefer AoW because of things like the diplomacy, race relations/ability to migrate races to towns, bigger battles and the magic system.
Thanks, klaymen and Mephe.
AoW is better overall than the 2 best Heroes (Heroes III and Heroes IV).

HoMM III and IV have a few advantages over AoW SM despite this :

- Much, much better graphics
- Faster gameplay
- Better balance (for HoMM III at least)
- Better scenario

AoW SM is still better
Thanks, Narwhal. When you say better scenario, do you mean HoMM has a better story?
Age of Wonders is a lot more micromanagement heavy than Heroes. Heroes is also a lot faster paced, because it really doesn't have much of a civ influence (In fact, the closest game to Age of Wonders on GOG is probably Master of Magic and not HOMM).

Also, even though they share a lot of ideas and concepts, they play differently enough that I'm actually pretty awful at AOW. If you have to pick one, just get Heroes III, but II isn't any slouch either. You can probably get away with not playing I.
And both HOMM II and III have engine rewrite mod projects. (which I am heavily involved in) has features from later HOMM games, new features, and is being quite actively developed. See [url=]here for a good run-down and more information. I think HOMM II's graphics have aged better than HOMM III's.

If you want to try an ambitious engine rewrite mod for HOMM III, see VCMI Project.

Best regards,
Post edited January 25, 2011 by StevenAus
Nimnio: Thanks, Narwhal. When you say better scenario, do you mean HoMM has a better story?
The background is not any better (classical fantasy in both cases), but the stories are better led in HoMM III, and much better led in HoMM II and HoMM IV.

You can avoid HoMM I. It did not age well at all, and there is no story in it.
AoW:SM better touches on all the traditional elements of 4X gameplay. HOMM3 focuses on the Tactical combat.

AoW:SM has absolutely gorgeous map graphics, but plastic figurine-like unit sprites. HOMM3 has utilitarian map graphics, but larger unit sprites with a cartoony personality to them.

You can get absolutely boned by the random number generator in AoW:SM's combat. HOMM3's combat has a random factor, but it influences victory is far less than unit position and spell choice.

Tier 1 units are next to useless in AoW:SM, even as cannon fodder, because of their high upkeep costs. Units in HOMM3 have no upkeep costs, and lower tier units stay useful into the late game because they can be fielded en masse. Woe to the fool who scoffs at the Necromancer's stack of 500 skeletons.

AoW:SM relies on unit line-of-sight for battlefield intel. In HOMM3, once a patch of fog is uncovered, you can see everything that happens there.

AOW:SM's AI cheats to be challenging (forget unit camouflage, the AI knows exactly where they are). HOMM3's AI doesn't cheat, but will also quickly crumble against a player who uses rush tactics.

HOMM3 all the way. It's worth noting that HOMM3 is a much deeper game tactically as well as strategically than the King's Bounty remake. Beginner's tip: In the early game, when you only have 2-4 unit types, split them up into smaller groups and spread them across all the unit slots, your army will be much more flexible in combat.
age of wonders is very repetitive, slow paced turn-based strategy game, while homm3 has fast exploration, recource gathering, city building turn-based strategy with very refined battles..

P.S. the ui of homm3 is much more better in my opinion.. althought i enjoyed both games, i got quickly bored with aow
Post edited July 19, 2011 by ambient_orange
I am a huge fan of HOMM2 and HOMM3, and both are in the top five of my most-played games. I've pumped an obscene number of hours into them.

Now I find myself doing the same with AOW: Shadow Magic.

I find the HOMM series more relaxing. I may change my thinking at some point, but at this point I also find it a bit less challenging. Those two things can go together, and that's not always a bad thing.

AOW:SM surprises me more with interesting combinations of troops or uses for them. Playing the heck out of one faction, I have often thought I had developed a strong feel for it only to find out there were opportunities to do things a good bit differently and still be equally pleased with the results.

The same thing with schools of magic. You do not always start with the same first free "gimme" spell in your wizard's spellbook. Sometimes it's a quite useless one (as a poster above noted about the random number generator) and sometimes just what you need. A wizard without a beginning destruction spell, for example, has a tougher road, with more delays in it, than one who starts out luckier. Nor do you always end up with the grand ones you'd like getting.

There are also ways of developing your wizard's broadest powers, including troop movement allowance, research power, and economy. Choosing a different route gets you different places. If your territory is quite spread out and you are forever chasing after the troops that are stealing your mines, you can research the "explorer" skill to give you 20% more movement points. This works in battle, too, so if you have slow strong troops, you might find that skill especially useful too. Other times, economy gets priority. Or you want to rush to summoned bone dragons and so you get "scholar" to make research faster and maybe even summoner to make researching summons faster and casting them cheaper. Then you rush through all the spells that stand in your way first. Things change. In interesting and significant ways.

I find with HOMM I always go for Earth and Air magic on my heroes, to very particular ends: I want Town Portal (earth) and Resurrection (earth) and Haste (Air) and Slow (Earth). I want to cast them unlimited numbers of time per turn (Town Portal), to keep the troops permanently instead of just for the battle (Resurrection) and to haste all troops, not just some (Haste/Slow). So expert in those two schools every time. It works and I like it, but find it very predictable. The alternate choices do not seem to me remotely comparable. Fewer surprises.

A poster above is correct that most early troops are no good, because they are weak and have a high maintenance cost. I would make an exception for ranged shooters in castle defense. If you lock them behind stone walls, they become hard for enemies to hit, so they last a long time and do a lot of damage. And they're dirt cheap to purchase, at least. It's no use having great melee troops tucked behind castle walls if you have to leave your castle to use them. You need ranged shooters, and the cheap ones do just fine.

An exception I have found so far is the bottom unit in the Frostlings. Their ranged attack freezes, which is of huge value and can cripple attackers, especially from the safety of a castle. A castle with a good clutch of those is a formidable thing indeed.

Interestingly, heroes are among your most powerful troops in AOW:SM and have no maintenance cost. They are also relatively quite cheap. As they level they become much more powerful and can easily turn a battle around. I sometimes travel around with up to four of them out of the allotted eight spaces per stack in a "monster stack of doom." The abilities they get on level-ups are a lot of fun to play with -- for instance, you might get the chance to give a caster the ability to shoot fire bolts as well as cast spells, keeping him powerful even when out of mana while presenting questions as to how best to manage his more complex attack. Or you might give a character abilities to paralyze a character or even turn him over to your side. Will that be better than attacking him outright? Well, that's for you to decide, and in AOW:SM, those decisions are fun.

There is a lot of micromanaging of towns in AOW:SM, and that slows down the game a bit. I find you can click fairly mindlessly through some options because they merely confirm what you have already decided. Kinda like: YourTown has a War Hall to build in your queue next ... is that okay? Just click yes; you already decided to put it there. yes yes yes yes yes etc and you're done. So once you get used to it all, it's not that big a deal.

Anyway, I've gone on long enough for now. I'll just say that both HOMM and AOW:SM are immensely fun and playable, and I'm sure I'll be playing both (way too much) for years and years. Maybe HOMM when I'm a bit more into something with a relaxing charm, and AOW:SM when I'm feeling more up for a game that puts more choices in front of you and feels overall a little darker and grittier.
Played a lot of AoW SM when it first came out. No, revise that to dabbled with it a lot. Was never very good at it. Then discovered Disciples 2. Then discovered HoMM. has an amazing community patch for AoW SM plus many other goodies and much info, maps, etc.

Sort of a strange dip stick, but look at number of videos on youtube for HoMM 2 and 3 versus number of videos for AoW and the HoMM series wins.

HoMM 3 has great play throughs by boardgamergirl and TheMeInTeam to mention but two that are recent and both excellent. HoMM 2 let's play by V35T1N but one of many.
Nimnio: I own Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, and looking at HoMM's screenshots, it looks very similar in terms of gameplay, theme, etc. HoMM III was released in 1999, and Shadow Magic was released in 2003. And so:

Q: Are HoMM III and Shadow Magic very similar in terms of gameplay, theme, etc.?

If they are very similar, is Shadow Magic better ("new and improved")? If they aren't very similar, in what ways do they significantly differ?
There are many differenmces.

AoW:SM is FAR more tactically combat oriented and also has a much more 'Civ-like' aspect. Troops attacking a city for example in AoW do so on an isometric screen and can approach from the north, south, east, etc. and can be used in a variety of ways for different ends.
HoMM 2/3 is much more simplified in that combat takes place on a simple 2D 'right-to-left' hex-grid. Ranged units(for the most part) must be protected by melee-tanks and are no good at close ranged combat(except for Titans, Zealots), Flyers can fly over castle walls, etc.
Heroes in AoW are no where near as fun as in Heroes III. There are a few basic classes that amount to generic "Warriors, Thieves, wizards, etc.) whereas in Heroes III there is one might and one magic hero class for each faction(so for the "Rampart", which is nature/woodlands based, there are "Rangers"(might hero) and "Druids"(magic hero) for example).

HoMM 3 basically has a lot of balance issues that never got worked out. The magic system is incredibly simple compared to AoW(which is not a bad thing) as there is no spell research type elements but a good %30 of the spells are completely useless and another 20% that are completely overpowered(re:Town Portal).

Hereos 2 and 3 had, overall better factions whose units and heroes made sense within the genre of Heroic fantasy(with some exceptions, such as the notoriously unbalanced and nonsensical "Conflux" town that was rushed out the door due to some idiot teenagers at the old HoMM "Astral Wizard" fan site. It featured pixies/sprites as elementals(?!) for example). AoW had a bunch of units within factions that made no sense, thematically).

The graphics in Heroes 2 were the best of any of these three games with the colorful hand drawn 2D sprites.Heroes III was intentionally dulled down and a bit more bland looking. AoW's graphics were nice but, as with Heroes III, a bit bland. However the exploration factor in Heroes 2 and 3 was fantastic! uncovering the fog of war and finding sites, monster-guarded treasures and such would keep you up all night with the "one more turn..." factor. AoW...not so much(but not bad either).

The music in Heroes 2 is still unmatched to this day in ANY game! Heroes III was not bad but not quite as good.

Heroes III is overall my favorites of these three games but all three feature some things that you wish the other two games had and so all of them are worth the money and very good games.