Though the Armageddon's Blade expansion for Heroes of Might and Magic III sports a number of new features and a sizeable cache of new maps in the form of six complete campaigns and a whopping 38 standalone scenarios, it's essentially more of the same - much more. With the exception of the new elemental conflux town type, which is interesting enough in its own right and decidedly different from the existing towns, the expansion's new gameplay options make additions that are subtle rather than revolutionary. And its longer, more complex campaigns and enhanced map editing features seem better suited to zealous Heroes fanatics than to casual fans.
The story behind Armageddon's Blade's main campaign follows both Heroes of Might and Magic III and Might and Magic VII. Catherine and Roland are forced to violate the peace of Erathia and declare war against the demon King Lucifer Kreegan, who has deployed his minion Xeron to gather three of the most powerful artifacts in existence in order to assemble the titular Armageddon's Blade. The expansion also includes four other campaigns, each championed by a different hero, and an exceptionally difficult sixth "prequel" campaign, which chronicles the adventures of a young Sir Christian long before the Restoration of Erathia.
Each prepackaged map is packed with treasure, enemies, and quest objects. Devoted Heroes players will likely dive into each carefully designed level with gusto, spending hour after gleeful hour pointing and clicking away at every tiny, colorful object they can find. Players so captivated will probably be able to overlook the fact that Armageddon's Blade looks and sounds almost identical to Heroes III. With the exception of the conflux town's single new musical theme, (which sounds suspiciously similar to the Wizard's town theme from Heroes II); some new cutscenes; and a handful of new unit, artifact, and hero-portrait graphics, there is absolutely nothing new to see or hear. Then again, the artwork generally looks as good as it did when Heroes III was first released. It's as colorful, detailed, and stylized as ever - and as an added bonus, every single creature from the previous Heroes games (except the horrendously overpowering ghost) has returned, either as a conflux unit or a neutral creature.
One of the few truly new things about the expansion is the elemental conflux town, whose denizens include the long-lost sprites and phoenixes, and the formerly neutral elementals of Heroes III (along with an entirely new addition - the psychic/magic elemental). The strongest creature in the conflux, the phoenix, is as fabulously powerful as ever, and it reclaims its rightful place as the fastest creature in the entire game. As such, scrambling up the tech tree to reach the phoenix seems worthwhile, but it is terribly costly in terms of turns and resources. Consequently, the meat of the conflux's forces is the five different elementals, which collectively represent what the game's manual describes as an "emphasis on creatures of mid-range power." Each elemental is characterized by certain specific weaknesses and corresponding strengths in the form of magical immunities. These immunities provide some intriguing strategic possibilities, especially when complemented by the proper spells and artifacts. Thus the conflux town may appeal to more patient players, since carefully managed war parties, consisting of a mid- to late-game buildup of elementals and led by a hero whose spells are specifically tuned to play off the specific magical immunities of his army, are formidable indeed. Unfortunately, through the first half of a game, elementals are little more than a colorful pack of melee grunts, whose limited movement points and middling attack power are anything but interesting.
The expansion has a number of new gameplay features, none of which has any kind of earthshaking impact on overall play. For instance, after upgrading a creature generator, you may recruit creatures of both the upgraded and base type. However, since the vast majority of creatures are flat-out superior when upgraded, this option is seldom useful unless you're low on funds and can't afford to hire the upgraded versions. You may also garrison your own creatures at mines you've captured, which doesn't radically change the overall dynamic of exploring the map and claiming resources, but does add a more subtle facet to resource management, overall. There are also new and improved quest objects: quest gates, seer's huts, and border gates, which were presumably included to enhance the story of the campaigns, though for the most part the quests they offer are still of the errand-boy variety.
If you aren't content with the prepackaged maps - perhaps you disagree with the endearingly infuriating placement of treasures just out of sight behind other landmarks - or you've played through all the included maps and want more, you can turn to Armageddon's Blade's improved mapmaking utilities. The expansion makes two impressive additions to Heroes III's already robust map editor. The first is the new random-map generator, which lets you create a random map using several generalized parameters. Though the customization options seem sparse, the randomly generated maps are anything but. Rather than consisting of nothing more than a haphazard few critters and the odd bit of booty, each randomly generated map is usually stuffed with monsters, treasures, and events, laid across natural-looking, proportional terrain, and each is more than adequate for a satisfying quick-and-dirty scenario on the fly. The second addition to the map utilities is the campaign editor, which lets you string individual scenarios together into cohesive campaigns. Using the campaign editor is a far more time-consuming pursuit than creating single maps, but it's an excellent resource for loyal mapmakers.
Armageddon's Blade brings nothing dramatically different or new to Heroes of Might and Magic III's solid formula. Its gameplay additions are subtle, its new town type is offbeat, and its enhanced map utilities are only for the most pious of Heroes devotees. If you played through Heroes III and disliked it, you'll get absolutely nothing out of Armageddon's Blade. If you got some enjoyment from playing through some of Heroes III's scenarios and a campaign or two, you'd do well to pick up this expansion. However, if you were thoroughly obsessed with Heroes III, then there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't get Armageddon's Blade - it was forged specifically for you.