Heroes Chronicles: Conquest of the Underworld is the second of four planned commercial installments of an episodic, story-driven series based on New World Computing's successful fantasy-themed, turn-based strategy game, Heroes of Might and Magic III. As with other Heroes Chronicles, this one features a campaign of eight successive missions that make up one of the adventures of an immortal hero named Tarnum. And similarly, Conquest of the Underworld recycles most of the same exact graphics, sound effects, and gameplay elements from last year's Heroes of Might and Magic III and its subsequent expansions.
In Conquest of the Underworld, you play as the proud barbarian king, Tarnum. However, the immortal hero has returned in the guise of a knight; he's pledged to the queen that he will travel down into the underworld and rescue her father's soul, which was literally kidnapped from paradise - as portrayed in the game's introductory cinematic. But Tarnum is reluctant to help the queen, because her father was actually the man who slew the barbarian in his previous life. During the course of the game, Tarnum must come to terms with the fact that he's helping the man who killed him - just as he must discover why the queen seems so familiar. It's an interesting story, but unfortunately it's revealed simply through static text windows that appear after every few game turns. Nevertheless, these first-person narratives do successfully tie the game's eight missions together, and the story does provide a suitable incentive to keep playing the game until you finish it - which should be no more than 20 hours after you've started.
You must play through the eight missions one after another, and they're designed to be manageable for beginners yet still challenging at higher difficulty settings for more-experienced Heroes of Might and Magic players. To the game's credit, each mission does have its own distinctive style and layout - but each still retains the same basic objectives: You must gather resources, build new structures in your town, recruit more troops, and vanquish any enemy heroes that stand in your way. This all should be very familiar to anyone who's played a Heroes of Might and Magic game. Still, a few notable aspects of the Conquest of the Underworld campaign help make it more enjoyable than you might expect. For one thing, Tarnum retains all his experience levels and spells as he proceeds from mission to mission, and this gives the missions a fairly strong sense of continuity. Typically he'll also carry over with your two second-strongest heroes, and during the course of the campaign, Tarnum has the option to assemble an extremely powerful artifact. Finding the six pieces that make up this device will become at least as much of an incentive to keep playing as anything else. Having assembled the device, Tarnum's armies will seem practically invincible toward the conclusion of the game.
Part of the reason Tarnum seems so powerful is that, in most missions, he will start with a castle town and have access to its troops. The castle town is one of the strongest of all the various town types featured in Heroes of Might and Magic III: Sturdy units such as pikemen and archers make up the lower ranks, while monks, cavaliers, and the all-powerful angels will become available later - but they won't render the relatively weaker units obsolete. You'll lead armies of these against the evil forces of three other types of towns that you'll find scattered through the underworld: the inferno, necropolis, and dungeon towns. You'll find that the undead units of the necropolis will be particularly vulnerable to you, as later in the game, you'll probably be powerful enough to smite huge groups of them with just a single destroy undead spell. On the other hand, the cursed terrain that usually surrounds necropolis towns prevents the use of high-level spells, so you won't be able to rely on your magic all the time.
However, you'll constantly rely on the same sorts of skills, strategies, and tricks, all of which you will pick up on early in the game or will already know if you've played Heroes of Might and Magic III before. That is to say that the gameplay in Conquest of the Underworld is very formulaic, despite the generally high quality of the map designs. In addition, Conquest of the Underworld offers no real replay value once you finish it, and it doesn't have much to offer players who are new to Heroes of Might and Magic, since it's just as accessible and easy to play as every other game in the series. Instead, this second Heroes Chronicles game is most suitable for those who liked the story in the first one, Warlords of the Wasteland. These die-hard Heroes of Might and Magic fans will enjoy Tarnum's journey through the underworld, if not because it's a fairly good story, then because it's an addition to the Might and Magic canon.