Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Shadow of Death is a standalone expansion for the original Heroes of Might and Magic III, which was a very polished and enjoyable fantasy-themed turn-based strategy game. It includes the entire full game of Heroes III, including all of the features, units, campaigns, and scenarios of the original, as well as nearly all of the features from the Armageddon's Blade expansion. Shadow of Death also includes a handful of its own changes, and a great number of brand-new campaign and scenario maps. On the surface, Shadow of Death seems like a tremendous value for your money. Unfortunately, except for the new maps and a handful of minor gameplay changes, there's absolutely nothing in Shadow of Death that Heroes veterans haven't seen before. In fact, these gameplay changes will likely seem significant only to the most devoted Heroes fans.
If you've never played a Heroes of Might and Magic game, but you've heard tell of and are intrigued by the series' fanciful swords-and-sorcery setting, its easy-to-learn gameplay, and its simple yet engrossing turn-based resource and unit-management systems, you should by all means get Shadow of Death. It's essentially a greatly enhanced version of the original Heroes of Might and Magic III, a game that took the previous Heroes games' deep gameplay, colorful graphics, and excellent music a step further. Shadow of Death's insidiously addictive combination of accessible yet surprisingly deep gameplay, detailed and colorful graphics, and pleasant music will likely ensnare hapless neophytes now as completely and hopelessly as Heroes III did last year.
That's because Shadow of Death is extremely similar to last year's game - and to the previous expansion, Armageddon's Blade - and seasoned veterans of the Heroes series know it. Shadow of Death's graphics are as bright, colorful, and detailed as Heroes III's, and its music is just as atmospheric, because they're exactly the same graphics and music from the original game. And many of Shadow of Death's "new" features - those not included in the original Heroes III - are from Armageddon's Blade. All of Shadow of Death's "new" creatures are from the previous expansion, as are the enhanced campaign and map editors and the options to recruit both low-level and upgraded monsters from an upgraded structure and to garrison your units at mines and other holdings on the map.
Otherwise, Shadow of Death doesn't really have all that much in the way of new material to offer to Heroes fans. Shadow of Death lets you set the difficulty level on campaign games - a commonsensical but otherwise unremarkable gameplay addition that will let new players start campaigns at easier levels and veterans begin in more challenging conditions. Instead of brand-new artifacts, Shadow of Death has "combination artifacts" - set combinations of existing artifacts that grant the hero who possesses all the necessary artifacts great power, though for gameplay-balance reasons, these aren't common or easy to come by in the prepackaged scenarios. The game does include a few subtle enhancements, such as damaging moats in siege combat, a handful of slightly more balanced units, and a few new terrain types that convey bonuses and penalties to heroes who ride across them. But for the most part, these are highly specific changes that do little to improve or refresh Heroes III's overall gameplay. Finally, Shadow of Death includes force-feedback mouse support for certain magic spell effects, a rather silly and wholly extraneous feature that adds nothing at all to the game.
There's no question that Shadow of Death has an enormous amount of content. The game includes 38 all-new scenarios and seven all-new campaigns, in addition to Heroes III's original 40 prepackaged scenarios and seven campaigns. Shadow of Death also has eight distinctive playable factions - the same factions that were available in the original Heroes III. New players who are interested in the Heroes series but may have balked at the prospect of buying both the original Heroes III game and the Armageddon's Blade expansion at premium prices should get Shadow of Death without hesitation. For these players, the game will provide countless hours of blissful turn-based exploration as you capture resource mines, research upgraded units and fabulous magic spells, and engage in strategic turn-based combat. But Heroes veterans have experienced most of those hours already. For them, Shadow of Death can really only offer a scarce few subtle enhancements, a cache of new premade maps to play through, and a few new objects with which to make their own maps.