I saw that you’re thinking of playing Heroes of Might and Magic 3. Gamer to gamer, I urge you to play Heroes of Might and Magic 2 first instead.
The difference between the two is night and day – Heroes 2 I can’t put down, Heroes 3 I rarely touch. It’s very similar to your take on Master of Orion 1 vs. 2 – the sequel adds more complexity to the point where it seems like a different game.
It’s more fun to explore and travel the map in Heroes 2, and the simple elegance makes it a better starting point. The campaigns here are classic, with tight structure and a mythic good prince/evil prince story (you can pick your side). Like Warcraft or Command and Conquer, they’re the two sides of the same story – if you’re good, you’ll save the Dwarves and they join you as allies, if you’re evil you brutally slay them and the Ogre Tribes join you for crushing their old foes!
Heroes 3 focuses more on building up – your towns, heroes, and units all need upgrades, and it’s a slog in campaigns. Worse, they’re locked (why do designers do this?) – you have to play the boring “good” campaign before you can play as the Necromancers and have some real fun! The multiplayer is better, a battle of wits between players as you jockey for resources.
I could go on, but the best test is to try both yourself! Hope you have fun playing them!
You’re the second person to suggest I play HOMM 2. I already bought 3 so that is what I’m going to play. I haven’t played any of the HOMM games before. I went with 3 since that is what everyone seemed to say is the best.
I’m currently consuming Dark Reign. I skipped doing the single player missions when the game came out because of multiplayer craziness. I figured I’d be in for a bad time since the game came out pre-Starcraft. But for some reason, its compelling. I suspect it is due to the fast action of the gameplay and that the very simple resource gathering. Still deciding whether or not I should take a break once I finish the game (if I finish it) to start the expansion. I never tried out Rise of the Shadowhand.
I’ll add some more games I intend to play than just HOMM 3 and M&M6.