One might argue about honesty and interest of the game-play, but we’ll begin with a bare truth: first you’ll need to make a RECONNAISSANCE of the map... using the cheat-codes from 3DO itself.
What’s our goal? First of all, before playing the map, you should think, HOW to do it in a most efficient way, develop a GENERAL STRATEGY (which you’ll then need to improve by going through the map 2 or more times, and sometimes – until you’ll reach a local result you need). But don’t worry – usually, after playing the map 2 times, you already have an acceptable result with a significant difference in days between the first and second times, and you still won’t be too bored either.
First, open the map, and begin to examine it carefully. The code is nwcwhatisthematrix. (press TAB and type it in, then ENTER). First of all, you’ll see, if the map is poor or rich in something, and in what exactly (monsters, resources (which?), number of towns, artifacts). You also need to check the terrain (are there any roads, would pathfinding be of any use), locations of important spots (towns, mines, artifacts – by the way, when checking artifacts, don’t forget to take into consideration the map’s version – is it SoD, or AB, or even lower – you really can encounter such a joke). And also you must carefully evaluate the disposition and characteristics of your enemies. How can you reach them, in what sequence.
After a general examination, think – which way is more suitable (or just which of them do you like). Is there any point in rebuilding your castle for extra “cannon fodder” and cash, or should you just rush straight away after getting something important, e.g. Mage Guild level 2 and grand elves (in an extreme case we just build Mage Guild’s level 5 to get DD or fly).
Which spots should be passed as quickly as possible? For example, there are Angel Wings laying at the center of the map (Independent States) – it’s clear that they should be made a primary goal.
It is necessary to check, whether the DIPLOMACY is working! Or else it is quite unlikely that you could pass an XL map in 1-2 weeks. And this skill also determines your way in many aspects. A classical case is the first week of the latest Main Tourney.
Then we look whom we need to defeat, and estimate the forces needed to do it faster and easier. Say, an important passage, leading out of your native territory, is guarded by 7 level creatures. If they are behemots or hydras, than they’re just a perfect fodder for raising your hero’s level (no insults meant, I mean neutral monsters). Expert slow, some mana (the more – the better) – and here we go! As a small example - a classical situation from the campaign for Gem. In one of the missions there is a pack of ancient behemots near us (I think, that was about 5 stacks, 3 Behemots in each), guarding a scroll of Town Portal. An army of 7 wood elves (well, I just had them) and about hundred of centaur captains was assembled. Careful calculations were needed to know the smallest number of them you should buy in addition to the number at hand (there were a lot of them for free), in order to kill (under the bless spell) exactly 2, or slightly less, behemots – depending on the damage inflicted by magic arrow and frost ring. And the rest is clear – mass slow, and, as my units can’t fly, quicksand. Firepower: frost ring and magic arrow. Modifiers: bless and haste at the centaurs. Long and boring. And no mistakes allowed – but the result is worth of it! Not only a scroll, but also hero’s experience. Here, again, we have a small note: when scouting, you should first think, how to advance towards the victory IN A MINIMAL NUMBER OF DAYS. And that automatically means – a minimum of fodder. That is, learn to conduct your battles efficiently. Make yourself a goal – minimum of casualties, that means that there must be either no casualties at all, or, if the enemy units move first and kill somebody, let them crush 2-5 Gnolls or troglodytes, but not a dragon fly or an elf.
YOUR MOBILITY IS THE MAIN THING! And not only for passing the map for speed, it also determines the development of your heroes and kingdom might – the more territories you capture, the more resource and army growth you get. What can provide you with it? DD, Fly, Town Portal spells (the last one should be, at least, advanced). Skills – logistics (pathfinding), artifacts – Angel Wings, Spellbinder’s Hat, Tomes of Earth and Air Magic. These are the direct modifiers. The indirect ones are your heroes’ stats, which determine their ability to break through the armies on the GIVEN map. And the army itself – at first time, it’s not a vast number of cannon fodder, but it’s characteristics (the simplest ones – are they fliers or shooters, their speed).
So, let us proceed to the next phase: probing the map. It might have lots of events and useful quests. Take any hero, give him infinite movement points (TAB_nwcnebuchadnezzar), then, if needed, some extra army (nwctrinity) – 5 archangels at every slot, and magic –nwcthereisnospoon. Then just walk around, simply kill everything, look, what and where can you get. Capture the castles. Type in nwczion – it’ll build all the structures in all of your castles. You need to do it to know, what spells you can get there, and whether there is any point in developing the mage guild. It is better to focus on capturing those towns with DD, and do it quickly.
After such a stroll, you should think, which main heroes do you need, which secondary skills should they have. Usually, at an XL map, the logistics rule. But only with a proper skill tree. The skill tree is PRE-determined in every save, as well as spells in the Guilds! Type in nwcneo – it will raise selected hero’s level by 1. Choose the skill needed. Write it down. Type it again. And so on – until all the slots are full, and the best tree is selected. You should also have in mind, that visiting universities or witch huts influences the skill tree, so after such a visit – check it, make sure that the skills you need haven’t disappeared, look if the sequence had changed, and how. Often, it is useful to develop Earth Magic as soon as possible. Mass Slow! If there is Fly or Dimension Door – then you’ll need Air Magic. Water and Fire – also, depending on the situation.
HOW TO DIG FOR HEROES: buy one in the tavern. Look, who had appeared under him. If he doesn’t suit your needs – reload. And continue buying and looking. Yes, it’s a long and boring thing. An advice – if you get someone, whom you do not want at the moment, but still a good hero, make a save anyway. You might need him.
Well, and... go for it! Sharpen your strategy and tactics by practice. Don’t be lazy to replay.
The beginners’ mistake is being afraid of going out, not to mention attacking the AI until gathering a large army. DO NOT WAIT! Your hero’s development (or, rather, the speed of his development) would suffer greatly. Don’t be afraid to lose most of your poor army, when capturing an external 7th level dwelling. This especially applies to the mage-heroes. If you are still afraid of going to the AI’s lands, then open the map one more time. Don’t forget to reload your game after that.
Of course, when you win the game with an army of 3 dragons and a pair of gargoyles – it is boring, but what a fervour! And you’ll need to think good for it. By the way, when you capture enemy towns and heroes with the last of your battle resources (usualy mana, cause it’s not advised to lose even a single dragon, your casualties should be minimal. For example, when you attack a castle, take 3 lizards, elves or dragon flies (low-level shooters and flyers), and put them into the RIGHTMOST slots, one into each. Then the towers may spare your dragon) – that means that your development goes in a normal way.
And, finally, for those who’ve managed to get this far: the ultimate cheat. In the command line, type in heroes3 /nwcgrail. Load the game and the map, and make the window smaller by pressing F4. You’ll see some menus, and among them – CHEAT. It’s a rather convenient way to see the number of monsters, to learn if they would join you, and for what price. Don’t forget to “look” with a proper hero with a proper army, knowing (or not knowing) the diplomacy. It influences.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope that even such a raw opus can be interesting and useful for someone.