Warlords of the Wasteland and the other Heroes Chronicles games are based on Heroes of Might and Magic III, New World Computing's popular turn-based fantasy-themed strategy game. Each Heroes Chronicles installment offers eight linked scenarios and the same addictive strategic combat that's made Heroes of Might and Magic so successful. However, these budget-priced episodes offer little replay value and recycle most of the same graphics, sound effects, and other elements as the year-and-a-half-old game they're based on.
Warlords of the Wasteland focuses on Tarnum, a young barbarian who learns of his once-proud people's heritage one day and then embarks on a campaign to rid his land of the wizards who've ruled over it for generations. But first, a high-quality introductory cinematic explains that Tarnum - who apparently becomes a mighty barbarian king - is eventually slain, but is reincarnated in order to redeem himself. Thus the missions in the game actually describe the events that lead up to Tarnum's reincarnation, and in turn, the other Heroes Chronicles games. Therefore, while it isn't explicitly labeled as such, and the Heroes Chronicles games are designed to be playable in any order, Warlords of the Wasteland is clearly the first game in the series (even though it was released simultaneously with the second Chronicles game, Conquest of the Underworld).
The game consists of eight scenarios that must be played through sequentially. These missions are intended to be suitable both for beginners and advanced Heroes of Might and Magic players, and in this respect, they succeed. By and large, all of the missions are well designed to include plenty of resources with which to build up your towns, plenty of monsters to fight, and plenty of miscellaneous treasures and artifacts that are worthy of thorough exploration. They often include numerous miniquests that make you travel back and forth across the map and coordinate your various heroes. To help maintain the sense of continuity between missions, Tarnum himself and usually a couple of your strongest heroes will transfer to the next scenario with all their battlefield experience intact. However, they'll typically lose all their artifacts, and each subsequent mission requires that you start with the weakest units and work your way up again.
Heroes of Might and Magic players will be familiar with the units that Tarnum will command through most of the game. Each mission starts you off with a stronghold town, which lets you train units such as goblins, orcs, wolf-riders, and the more powerful cyclopes and behemoths. You'll be using these units through most of the game and fighting primarily against the wizards' units, which include gremlins and golems as well as genies and giants. The campaign also features the swamp units of the fortress town and the well-balanced units of the castle town. The other town types from Heroes of Might and Magic are notably absent from the campaign, though they're the focus of other games in the Heroes Chronicles series. The thematic consistency of the units and the mission objectives certainly keep Warlords of the Wasteland cohesive, though it does run the risk of making the missions seem repetitive. The missions themselves are fairly long, and you might grow weary of having to use the same set of units toward the end of the game.
Surprisingly, the story of Warlords of the Wasteland is actually interesting enough to compel you to finish the campaign and to interest you in subsequent Heroes Chronicles games, even if you've played a lot of Heroes of Might and Magic III already. Told simply though text screens that appear after every few game turns or so, Warlords of the Wasteland's narrative describes how Tarnum - referred to in the story as "you" - rises to power and then seems to go mad from it. Still, you'll wish that the game's story unfolded in a more dramatic manner rather than just with pop-up text screens. And after the 20 hours or so that it takes to get through all the missions, you'll also wish there were more to the first Heroes Chronicles game than just a series of missions stitched together by a nice short story.
Nevertheless, Warlords of the Wasteland isn't bad for what it is - especially since there aren't many available turn-based strategy games competing with it. Although a campaign such as this could technically be made using the advanced scenario editing tools included with the Armageddon's Blade expansion to Heroes of Might and Magic III, the quality of the levels in this first Heroes Chronicles game is certainly professional. Also, though the Heroes Chronicles games are designed to be an introductory series for players who aren't familiar with previous Heroes of Might and Magic games, there's no particular reason why it's any more or less suitable as an introduction than any other Heroes game. After all, part of the appeal of the series has always been its intuitive interface and simple rules. Besides, if you haven't already gotten into Heroes of Might and Magic, then you might as well keep waiting - 3DO's publishing track record suggests that all of the Heroes Chronicles games will eventually be published together at a discount. As such, Warlords of the Wasteland is actually best for those who're already avid fans of Heroes of Might and Magic - these players will most enjoy guiding Tarnum through his first adventure and through subsequent Heroes Chronicles games.