In the early 90s, when the limits of the gaming market were still being tested, a 2D turn based strategy game, with some minor roleplaying elements, titled Warlords was released by Strategic Studios Group after it was designed by the series creator and visionary Steve Fawkner. The game itself was deceptively simple but featured great potential for extended gameplay and was easy to learn. The Warlords series would go on to spawn three sequels and in 1999 Steve Fawkner developed a spinoff series titled Warlords Battlecry.
Warlords Battlecry shook up the Warlords formula, translating the turn-based strategy and fluid army design into real-time strategy and race-based factions. Roleplaying elements were more heavily emphasized through four hero classes that any race’s hero could adopt. The game used a graphics engine reminiscent of Warcraft II and featured a similar economic style and combat system, with worker based infrastructure and mined resources and fast paced combat.
Warlords Battlecry III, developed by Infinite Interactive and published by Enlight Software in 2004, is the last title in the Battlecry series. Like its predecessors it built off the system and mechanics of the first Battlecry game, using a 2D graphics engine, expansive hero class system, and bringing back the original races and units from previous titles. Players began a battle with their hero and whatever retinue units they chose to bring along at the battle’s setup. The hero and worker units construct buildings, including a central keep or fortress that can be upgraded to unlock higher tier units and buildings.
Resources take the form of mines that must be captured by a hero unit or faction general. Battlecry III features four resources: gold, iron, stone, and crystal, and each race’s strategy emphasizes some resources more than others. Mines can be filled with up to eight worker units (four for the Dwarves and Dark Dwarves, who have more efficient workers), increasing the rate that resources are extracted. The workers remain inside the mine and are effectively removed from play; if the mine is destroyed or captured by another faction the workers are lost. Collected resources are added to their respective pools for the player and the resource cap can be expanded up to 3000 as the central keep is upgraded.
Battlecry III expanded the number of playable races to an unprecedented 16. Each race generally follows the same tech tree progression and build style with minor exceptions. For example the Wood Elf builder unit cannot be placed into mines, but several can be combined to form a crystal generating combat unit. The Undead, for another contrast, only build a few types of units and their basic infantry, the Skeleton, instantly upgrades along two paths into the various combat units of the Undead army. Each race also features certain technologies and upgrades that it may share with some other races but should not be expected in every race.
Combat takes place purely in real-time and features a surprising potential for micromanagement in an older game. Units can be set to a variety of different stances that can cause them to automatically use healing spells, follow other units around, and autonomously scout the map. The factions are balanced more through their number than through specific unit design. They are heavily thematic and most factions are better in combat against certain rivals (i.e. Knights vs Undead), than against other factions in general. Each faction has access to at least one spellcaster unit as well as a general unit that can convert buildings and inspire nearby troops in a manner similar to the hero.
The hero is the defining feature of Warlords Battlecry III’s overall gameplay. The hero acts like a regular unit in terms of movement and combat. It also features a mana pool and spellbook with which it casts the spells related to its class. Heroes can also equip items that are found on the map or taken from defeated enemy heroes; some items like weapons and armor are more effective for combat but may harm spellcasting ability while contrasting items can lower hit points and increase mana regeneration. A player’s heroes are also persistent across the game keeping their level, items, and retinue between games and game types. Any hero killed in combat is returned to life at the end of the battle and remain with the player unless made using Ironman Mode, which makes hero death permanent.
Heroes are made by the player before beginning a campaign or random map and gain experience during and after a battle. A hero can upgrade one of its four stats and one of its class skills by one point each when it gains a new level. A hero can be made from any race and class combination, although some classes are obviously better for certain races than others. In skirmish mode the race of the hero doesn’t matter in terms of selecting what faction that player will use in the battle. In the campaign, the player starts with the faction that the hero is a part of, and can play as other factions as the player accumulates allies throughout the campaign.
Warlords Battlecry III’s campaign is partially story-driven and partially open world. The player’s hero travels across different locations and complete repeat missions and story missions which affect its diplomatic standing with the other races and allow the hero to acquire new items and experience as well as advance primary and localized plot points. After each mission the hero accumulates crowns, a global resource that can be accessed on the world map to purchase mercenaries and items.
Warlords Battlecry III’s old graphics and less refined RTS style are heavily dated by modern standards but for its time it was revolutionary in its approach to strategy gaming. It was the first RTS game to feature unique hero and roleplaying elements and was radical in its unprecedented number of unique races. The game wasn’t without its flaws; primarily an ambiguous learning curve and poorly explained hero revival system. Its play speed was also quite slow even for its time. On normal speed common campaign missions can take well over an hour to complete simply because the player must wait to accumulate the resources needed to assemble an effective army.
That being said, gamers will be hard pressed to find a game with a similar formula to Battlecry III. The unique factions, persistent hero system, and combination of numerous skirmish maps alongside an extensive campaign can make for hours of new and intriguing gameplay. Battlecry III has been reported to be quite buggy on new operating systems but it is now available on Steam and gog.com. It also benefits from an extensive online community with help sites for running the game on newer operating systems and advice on which patch version (of which their are three) is best used for the player’s preferred style.