Welcome to part 13 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This thirteenth post features entry #7Warlords Battlecry III.

Be sure to read the introduction that I put together beforehand too as it gives a more detailed introduction on what I’m trying to achieve here as well as a few other random musings that you may find insightful.

If you’re looking for another post in this same series then consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all published entries and the posts in which they appear.

“A monument to my power!”


 

#7 – Warlords Battlecry III

Principal Platforms: PC | Developer: Infinite Interactive | Publisher: Enlight Software | Genre: Real-time Strategy | Year: 2004

Warlords Battlecry III PC NTSC-U Box Art

Warlords Battlecry III

It’s safe to say that every game in this final top 10 received some degree of critical acclaim at the time of its release. All except for this obscure entry; the third and final instalment of Infinite Interactive‘s pioneering RTS-RPG hybrid series of PC games.

There are many reasons as to why Warlords Battlecry III failed to set the world on fire, but if you look hard enough, you’ll find one of the most dedicated and passionate fan bases in computer gaming today; a community that, like myself, just can’t seem to put this excellent game down.

Battlecry III is a cult favourite then, a title with an enduring legacy that fans have continued to support over the years with a wealth of quality mods, maps, and patches that either improve, enhance and otherwise expand this wonderful blend of heroic fantasy and real-time strategy.

As an RTS, Battlecry III is both original and familiar. Usually you’ll start by exploring the map and guiding your hero unit to resource mines that he/she/it can convert to your side and choke points that need to be guarded against enemy scouts.

Meanwhile you’ll have your worker units busily constructing a base and once those precious resources of gold, metal, ore and crystal start to pour in, it’s time to produce new units and upgrades that will strengthen your chosen plan of attack.

Before you can take part in this skirmish however you need to create your own hero and here is where the fun really begins.

Battlecry III makes one crucial change over its prequel; a change that improves the overall game significantly. Unlike Battlecry II, where heroes developed down a more stringent path, Battlecry III streamlines every heroic class and allows you to experiment with each one right from the beginning.

Sure, it may not be the best idea to create a charisma-starved undead merchant, but the game isn’t going to stop you from trying it! Maybe you like the idea of creating a noble knight who practices the dark arts of necromancy? Or a wood elf who summons demons? Perhaps a plaguelord alchemist? A dwarven healer? Or an orcish paladin?

The Sundered Isle is a great first level; a short but exciting campaign encounter to introduce you to the game.

The Sundered Isle is a great first level; a short but exciting campaign encounter to introduce you to the game.

The combinations are truly endless and with 16 different races, 29 heroic classes and even more skills, weapons and experience points to gather, you’re bound to find something here that suits your preferred play style.

Developing your style of play though is something that will begin once you select a favoured race as each one plays very differently from the next.

The Orcs for example prefer an early rush of cheap units, the Fey focus on swarm tactics and the Undead play the long game as they build up an army of ever-strengthening knights and liches. Or maybe you will enjoy engineering massive golems and siege engines as the Dark Dwarves? Or draining your opponent’s resources as the insect-like Swarm?

It’s taken me years to master the many races and hero combinations simply because of how many options are available to you as a player. Part of the fun though is in this keen sense of discovery; sussing out which approach suits you best and then challenging yourself to branch out when things threaten to get stale.

Battlecry III is made even more memorable by its charming sense of humour and rather old school isometric 3D graphics. Each battlefield unit has plenty of fun sound files and animations that makes for many a colourful confrontation loaded with more personality than a dozen similar titles I’ve played over the years.

The majority of this characterization comes from the contrast between the good, neutral and evil races; something that is amusingly highlighted when their respective units are clicked in-game. “The age of heroes has ended!” yells the dark rider, “buttercups and rainbows!” squeaks the diminutive fey sprite, and “when is dinner?” inquires the oafish orc giant.

And who can not appreciate the awe-inspiring titans? Each race has its own titan; a gigantic super unit that will break the bank of any player attempting to build one. Once they enter the battlefield though you best be prepared for the destructive power they can unleash; something that is always satisfying to behold (assuming you’re not on the receiving end of it!).

The main campaign mode is made more interesting this time around too with a dedicated storyline accompanying your conquests across the land of Etheria and a developing narrative that explores your hero’s effort to seal away Gorgon; the feared fifth horseman of ancient legend.

There's more than a little Diablo inspiration here and there...

There’s more than a little Diablo inspiration here and there…

It’s here though that you start to recognize the one thing that’s really holding Battlecry III back; its budget. It’s clear that the creators have put a lot of love into this game, but as reviewers pointed out at the time, there are several aspects that feel a bit underdeveloped and old-hat; no doubt a symptom of time and budgetary constraints during its production.

There is a raft of missing content from Battlecry II for one, including unit sound effects, quests (in-game challenges that crop up from shrines) and certain scripts for hero builds and AI behaviour. Whilst graphically the game looks more detailed than Battlecry II, it’s a shame that some of the second game’s vibrant colour has been lost during the transition.

Also upsetting is the amount of bugs, balance concerns and the shoddy net code that is terribly unfit for purpose. Battlecry III is a great game to play with friends, no doubt about it, but good luck getting your session to sync up correctly first time.

Getting back to the point I made about the story; it’s also a shame that the final campaign mission doesn’t feature a final showdown with Gorgon himself, as you merely fight his minions in a gauntlet-style survival encounter whilst an anti-climatic timer ticks along in the corner. At many of these points you get the feeling that the developer’s time and money simply ran out, leaving the game in a disappointing state of ‘almost there’.

Luckily the fan community for Battlecry III has gone well beyond the call of duty with several talented members continuing to improve the game with both Infinite Interactive‘s blessing and their assistance. Armed with a portion of the game’s source code, a dedicated cult of modders have gone on to create brand new patches that fix bugs, balance units and in some cases add completely new content such as a summoning timer and the awesome monk hero class.

Without these community patches Battlecry III would be a much harder sell and it really speaks volumes about the raw passion and energy that has gone into these fan-made enhancement projects.

Warlords Battlecry III is no slouch when it comes to presenting some truly over-the-top spectacles.

Warlords Battlecry III is no slouch when it comes to presenting some truly over-the-top spectacles.

Another reason I have continued to appreciate this title over the years is my belief in this truly being a game without boundaries. When it comes to heroes for example, there’s no level cap and therefore no limit to how absurdly powerful your favourite little avatar can become.

If you truly are dedicated enough to make it past level 100 then expect to see the game balance busted wide open as your epic hero reigns death upon your enemies with lightening fast attacks, devastating spells and a heavily discounted legion of augmented troops.

Once again, it may be a little crazy, but the game isn’t going stop you from trying it, because if it’s fun, what else really matters?

Compared to the majority of games in this top 100, there’s a lot standing in the way of Warlords Battlecry III being any good. The art style looks dated, the netcode is barely there and it’s blessed with more than its fair share of bugs and balance concerns.

Nevertheless, this is a game that will suck you in for hours at a time and truly astonish you with its replayability, sense of humour and irresistible marriage of strategy and open-ended RPG elements.

Warlords Battlecry III is a one of a kind title for me; a powerful addiction of heroic role-playing meets old school strategic gameplay that rarely fails to surprise.

A sketchy work of pure brilliance.