The third entry of the Might and Magic series would follow the same formula that previous titles had, but in terms of its interface, would settle upon the visual formula that would accompany the remainder of the party based role-playing branch of the franchise. Players would continue to seek out out quests, fight terrible creatures, and explore another vast world laid at their feet.
As with the first game, Isles of Terra would continue the tradition of including a full color map of the world that the game was taking place on (in this case, the Isles of Terra).
Aside from the enhancement made to the interface, a new "escape" option was created within the game called "Mr. Wizard". If the player found themselves lost, they could call upon his services and be teleported to their hometown. The cost, however, would be an experience level.
The combat heavy nature of the series would continue with this entry although there were many puzzles and secrets to be discovered within the game. Unlike Might and Magic II, Isles of Terra did not offer an option to import characters from its predecessor. Players had to start with either an all-new party or the pre-built one provided.
Special sub-quests for character classes were also included in the game to enhance their abilities.
As was often the case at this time with the PC related releases of the title (such as on MS-DOS or the Amiga), a number of items were included with the game to enhance its immersion:
- A Journal written by one of the main NPCs, Corak the Mysterious, who describes the mythology of the world, how its races came to be, his own quest, and the origin of each class within the game.
- A Quick Reference card that described the basic controls, interface, and listed spells
- The map of the Isles of Terra
- An adventurer's notepad
Two new classes also made their debut in this game: the Druid and the Ranger.
The story of Might and Magic is a mix of fantasy and sci-fi elements, something that players have only discovered once they have fought their way to the end of the previous titles only to discover fantastically advanced super science behind the veil of their respective worlds. Isles of Terra is no different.
At the end of Might and Magic II, the players discover that the world of CRON is actually a massive space-faring colonization vessel developed by powerful beings known only as the Ancients. Sheltem, however, refuses to allow the Ancients to populate CRON as intended, seeing them as inferiors, and decides to send it into the sun instead. Narrowly, the party from that game manages to save CRON although Sheltem escapes.
In Isles of Terra, players must put together a party to stop Sheltem's plan before he completes his quest to destroy that world as well. In it, they discover that Terra was the place where the nacelles of CRON and VARN (the worlds of the two previous titles) were headed in order to colonize it. Following the notes of the mysterious Corak, they discover that the world of Terra is divided into many different islands, towns, and castles, each filled with their own quests. After many harrowing adventures through each one, they finally gain access to the mysterious pyramids that are dotting its surface and discover the true nature of Terra.
Near the end, the party manage to get into the Central Control Center beneath the last pyramid and find that Corak and Sheltem are engaged in a duel to the death. Their arrival manages to distract Corak for a moment allowing Sheltem to slip away into a transport tube. Following Corak's lead, the party discover more of the truth behind the Isles.
Apparently, they were considered "The Grand Experiment" of the Ancients in "using the technology of Elemental Manipulation to create a completely viable ecological and social microcosm. This microcosm was then to be transported to a distant biosphere (Terra) to supplant it's indigneous ecosystem.". The game goes on to describe that the experiment needed a central control capable of handling unexpected anomalies.
It is then that the party discover the truth behind Sheltem: he was created by the Ancients to be the Overlord and Guardian of Terra but his conditioning was critically flawed. He did see himself as the Guardian of Terra, but not of the colonization experiment initiated by the Ancients. As a result, he rebelled against the "army" that "invaded" his world who were actually the colonists. The Ancients managed to contain him, but he had escaped and was determined to undermine the Grand Experiment.
From Sheltem's failure, the Ancients used these lessons to create Corak, a new Guardian. With his conditioning, the Great Experiment was successfully launched on its journey through the Void. Corak was to stop Sheltem and then oversee the colonization of Terra as its Guardian and Overlord.
Sheltem, however, did not see his inability to stop Terra's colonization as a detriment. Instead, he found an opportunity and succeeded in disturbing the balance between the three alignments of men, a balance that Corak must now repair upon his return. However, his plan against Terra only gave him a small sense of satisfaction as he quickly sought to sabotage the other experiments that the Ancients had scattered throughout the Void.
Both Sheltem and Corak have escaped through transport tubes but a third has been prepared for the party to pursue the two to the next world where Sheltem intends to continue his mad quest.
The gameplay was centered around a six person party with the world seen from a first person perspective utilizing rudimentary 3D graphics for the outdoor locations and indoor dungeons. Monsters along with certain other encounters were displayed as 2D pictures. As was the norm at the time for several RPG titles, movement was centered aroud a grid based scheme which meant 90 degree turns and square-based movement forward or back.
The game was also considered quite detailed as well as difficult. Players were required to maintain a stock of food in order to be able to rest outside of an inn to regain hit and spell points. Bashing open locked doors would often set off traps if they were not disarmed. Leveling was not automatic.
Once a character had earned the requisite experience, it must be spent at a training ground in order to improve their statistics and abilities. Gems were often required to cast higher level spells and characters could also die from old age (natural or not), although the proper spells could alleviate its effects. Characters could also be afflicted with a number of debilitating conditions which often proved incredibly fatal to starting parties. Sex and alignment would also restrict certain characters from entering specific areas or in equipping certain items.
Isles of Terra would also allow the player to save anywhere they wished outside of an inn.
Towns and dungeons were no longer limited by the 16x16 grid although continued to use a grid-based movement system with 90 degree turns. Several other enhancements were also made:
- Searching is no longer required to find loot following combat
- Visible enemy encounters gave players a chance to avoid unwanted battles or use ranged attacks
- Improved graphics based on VGA displays
- Synthesized speech
- The mouse was integrated into the controls (on PCs)
- Automapping was now provided
The manual of the game took the form of a journal describing the world, its classes, and its races through a fictional story told from the point of view of one of the title's main NPCs, Corak.
The game allows the player to select among five different races in building their characters. As with most other RPGs, certain races have slightly better statistics in certain areas and others, but the emphasis appears to be more on how resistant each one is against certain conditions such as falling prey to sleep spells or being more resistant to poison.
The five races are:
- Human - Strong resistance to fear and some resistance to sleep spells. Average statistics make this race a good choice without any glaring weaknesses.
- Elf - They have a strong resistance to fear and are generally excellent at spellcasting
- Dwarf - Some resistance to poison, stronger and hardier than the other races. They make excellent fighters but poor spellcasters.
- Gnome - Nimble and quick, they can make great paladins and decent spellcasters.
- Half-Orc - They have a moderate resistance to sleep spells, are decently strong, and can make great fighters.
The maximum value for any one statistic is 18, although this can change depending on several factors based on spells or the effects of certain items. However, if any statistic drops to 0, it will result in immediate death for that character.
The basic statistics used in the game seem derived from the Dungeons and Dragons model of statistics, although carry different names so as to differentiate themselves. They are:
- Intellect - General knowledge. Important to sorcerers as it can affect spell points. Important to archers later on at higher levels as they begin learning sorcerer spells.
- Might - Raw strength. Important to any fighting class such as Knights and Paladins. Affects the damage a character can inflict in melee combat.
- Personality - A character's general degree of appeal to others. Particularly important to clerics as it affects their pool of spell points. Important to paladins when, at higher levels, they begin learning cleric spells.
- Endurance - Stamina. Affects how many hit points a character initially has to start with and will gain every time they level. Particularly important to fighters.
- Speed - Agility and general quickness affecting initiative. A faster character improves (increases) their Armor Class rating making them harder to hit.
- Accuracy - A character's ability to land hits during combat. This is particularly important to archers.
- Luck - Measures the general chances of a character succeeding when all else seems to have failed. Random and unpredictable.
Several classes are available for players to choose from in building their party of adventurers.
- Knight - These are considered the warriors of the game in being able to use any item or armor aside from those exclusively designed for another class or have an opposite alignment. They are able to attack more than once every round at higher levels.
- Paladin - While not quite as good as a Knight in combat, they are able to wield and equip as many items as they can with the same restrictions. At higher levels, they are also able to cast Clerical spells.
- Archer - These are the missile experts of the party and are able to use any weapon. Unlike the Paladin, they are also able to use missile weapons even in hand-to-hand combat. At higher levels, they are also able to cast Sorceror spells. They are restricted in the kind of armor that they can wear, however, such as chain mail or any lighter armor being the only types available for them and they cannot use a shield.
- Cleric - The traditional healer class, they can only wear light armor but they can also carry a shield. Weapons are restricted to a club, mace, flail, a staff, or a hammer. They cannot use ranged weapons such as bows. At higher levels, their healing abilities come in extremely valuable much further into the game. They are also the travel experts of Varn with spells that can teleport a party out from a dungeon, to a town for a quick rest, or enable them to walk on water to reach special areas.
- Sorceror - They can only wear padded armor and their choice of weapons are extremely limited and it almost goes without saying that they can't carry a shield. However, their spells more than make up this lack of physical protection and offensive ability with some of the most devastating attacks in the game.
- Barbarian - This character can use most weapons and starts with the greatest number of hit points out of any other class. A true tank character.
- Robber - The traditional thief of the game, what they lack in offensive and defensive ability are made up with their talent for disarming traps and locks. They can fight as well as a cleric, but are far better at keeping the party safe from poison gas or fireballs erupting from chests.
- Ninja - This character acts much like a fighting Robber, but they cannot carry a shield. They can use most one handed weapons but only swords specific to their class. Two handed weapons are limited to staves and the naginata. However, they do have the "assassinate" ability which is automatically attempted with their first attack. If successful, additional damage will result.
- Ranger - Can use most weapons and armor along with being able to cast clerical or sorcerous spells to a certain extent.
- Druid - As with the Sorceror, they are poor fighters. They can only use light armor and weapons but are able to cast Sorceror and Cleric spells, although not to the same extent as those dedicated to such disciplines. They also start with twice as many spell points as Rangers do.
In addition to their class and race, characters have a number of other statistics that players will need to keep track of during the game.
- Level - This is a measure of how experienced a character is. Characters start out at level 1 and can only gain levels once enough experience is earned and the necessary training is purchased.
- Spell Points - A measure of how many points are available to any one character for use with spells. Certain spells have higher point requirements than others.
- Hit Points - The number of hit points a character has remaining. At zero hit points, a character does not necessarily die. Instead, they fall unconscious. However, if they suffer anymore damage after reaching zero, death is the only result.
- Armor Class - The higher this number, the more resistant a character is to damage. Armor, spells, shields, and speed are among the factors that can help determine it.
- Age - Characters start at 18 years of age and grow older as the game continues on. As they become older, their skills begin to deteriorate and vital statistics will begin to drop. After around an age of 80, the character can actually die from resting overnight. Age can be delayed or reversed using spells or in discovering special locations.
- Experience Points - These are earned from defeating monsters and quests. These determine whether a character is ready to advance to the next level through training. The point requirements for reaching the next level usually double.
- Gems - This measures the number of gems that a character is carrying. Gems are valuable as they are consumed in order to cast many higher level spells.
- Gold - The coin of the realm earned in a variety of ways whether it is from monsters or in discovering long lost treasures.
- Food - Characters start with ten food units (up to a maximum of 40). One food unit represents a day's rations and is consumed when camping to replenish hit points and spell points during rest.
- Condition - A character's current status, whether they are asleep, poisoned, dead, etc..
Each character also has their own backpack which can carry a maximum of six items.
There are no absolutes in Might & Magic nor does this affect the story progression of the game. Instead, it largely determines certain restrictions such as whether a piece of equipment can be used or whether a particular character can enter specific areas.
Several towns are scattered throughout the land offering valuable services and even a few side-quests. Due to the open ended nature of the game, the player was not implicitly told where to go, leaving it to their own inquisitive nature to discover where they should head off to next and who to speak to in order to find the next quest. In addition to the towns, many dungeons and secret locations are also scattered throughout the world.
Towns share many of the same services.
- Shops - Where supplies, such as new armor and food, can be purchased.
- Temples - Where sick or injured characters can be healed.
- Training Grounds - Important for advancing character levels once enough experience has been earned.
- Taverns - Buy food, hear tips, create characters, and manage parties here
- Blacksmith - Buy and sell weapons and other items, identify the unidentifiable, and fix what is broken because weapons and armor can break.
- Guild - Where new spells can be learned once one is at a sufficiently high enough level
Isles of Terra marked a pivotal change to the combat system of the Might and Magic system, one that would persist throughout the following chapters of the main series. Options that the first two games allowed the player to use in combat situations, such as bribing encounters to leave them alone or even surrendering, were no longer available.
Enemies were visible allowing the player to attack them at a distance with ranged attacks (such as with bows) or take steps to avoid the confrontation entirely. By using hotkeys or the mouse, the player can easily manage the flow of combat with their favored peripheral.
Once the enemy made 'contact' with the party by closing the distance to melee, the player would have to use one of the button commands on the interface to actually 'Run' from combat. By running from combat, the party would then end up somewhere on the map near to where they had fled.