After the Warlords II Deluxe, what could possibly follow? Thematically, the game had been stretched to extremes there. In this respect, it's back to the roots in part 3: we're back in clichéd sword & sorcery worlds inhabited by elves, orcs etc. And gameplay feels strangely familiar. One could think it's just a graphical update.
Which, (un)fortunately is not far from the truth. Even the graphics aren't that different from the previous game. All elements are still quite recognizable for veterans, they just got a bit of fresher, rendered look. A facelift which didn't even really solve the old series issue of the viewpoint being just a little too close to the action. So, are the movement animations of the armies really the only “fundamental” change?
Well, there is really nothing truly fundamental to report indeed. Just some minor additions to the gameplay. Specifically, units now have hit points in addition to their strength, making it less likely for a bat to defeat a dragon. City defenses can be built up. Army bonuses have become more diverse. Factions can enter alliances. In the pseudo-campaign, some heroes can be taken over to the next scenario and basic unit stats can be improved between levels.
Relatively speaking, two changes are a little bigger, actually. First, production capability of units has actually been limited quite a bit: each faction is only able to produce its own set of units; even if the city would have other units to offer, they cannot be built. This may not sound like a lot, but it does change gameplay quite a bit: looting and pillaging becomes much more attractive and it distinguishes the factions more strongly. On the other hand, it makes cities quite uniform for each player.
Second, the role of heroes has been expanded. They now belong to one of several classes, each of which offers specific development paths: special abilities as well as magic spells can be gained per experience level. Whereas spells provide temporary boosts of stats, summon creatures etc.
And… that's it. A lukewarm review, and certainly, it doesn't do the game justice. It is indeed a great one – but it's so incredibly close to the previous games that it is also a bit of a letdown. Some very careful, small adaptions to the gameplay, after four years? Which, in a way, may not have been the worst, as at least the game balance which was always the strongest side of Warlords has not been damaged. Nevertheless, it simply feels underwhelming, and honestly, you can safely skip this iteration and move straight to Darklords Rising.