Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011

Happy holidays everyone! As you've no doubt surmised, this blog has been put on hiatus while I study, network, and interview my way through business school. You can read the details on my personal blog.

This winter break, I'm going to travel to Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore. So unfortunately, I won't have an opportunity to complete another campaign. However, I have been toying with Heroes II: The Price of Loyalty in the last few days thanks to Specifically, I've been playing the campaign titled: "The Wizard's Isle."

Wow, what a challenging set of maps! I've pretty much learned to avoid using shooters because the computer AI loves to decimate them with flying units. Ugh, now I'm still stuck on the final map. The red defeated yellow earlier than expected and now the isle is protected by too many black dragons. Oh well, I tried.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Monday, August 22, 2011

Burning Of Tatalia

The final scenario in the Playing with Fire campaign is Burning of Tatalia. It's a massive jungle map featuring four strong allied enemy factions, a slew of hidden ambushes, maze like architecture, and very tough AI.

The undead Lord Haart has burned his way into the inner jungles of Tatalia. Only Adrienne can save her people from the undead menace.

In the intro cutscene, we finally get a glimpse of the newly resurrected Lord Haart. He looks kind of like the old Lord Haart, but decked out in evil looking armor and sitting in a room filled with bone architecture. What is it about undead lords and their macabre decorations?

I seem to recall that Arthas from Warcraft III had the same problem. Once his mind was corrupted by the Lich King, he started putting skulls all over his armor. Why?

I guess man has always had a fascination with death. My friend Ryan went to Czechoslovakia last year and returned with pictures of a chilling landmark called the Bone Church. Yes, it's a church decorated with bones. Chandeliers... altars... everything. I imagine religious ceremonies there take on an extra layer of spookiness.

If you've been playing along with me, I sincerely hope you managed to level up all of your heroes in the two previous scenarios. If not, you're in for a very long battle.

I found it incredibly important to begin the map with the maximum number of heroes allowed at the highest level possible. That's because I needed them to spread across the map and secure as many fortresses as possible. By doing so, I obtained enough gold to fund the rest of my war effort. If I moved too slow, the enemy would attack my cities and overwhelm my heroes, forcing me to restart the map.

Near the starting area, there is a subterranean gate that will lead the the first necropolis city. Since this necropolis is isolated from the others, the enemy won't try to recapture it until late in the game. So I made sure to capture it as early as possible to use its City Hall and obtain extra gold.

After defeating some bone dragons west of the starting fortress, I gained access to a stone lith. It transported me to an inaccessible jungle area and a lone fortress. I discovered that the enemy rarely goes through the lith to attack this hidden fortress. I decided to build my Capitol here to avoid the pain of continually shelling out 10,000 gold to rebuild it later.

I also noticed that there were many red garrisons on the map with allied troops. Luckily, the troops can actually be taken out of the garrisons and placed in your army. So I immediately headed toward the garrisons to bolster my army.

If you leave the troops in the garrison, they'll quickly be defeated. But if you put them in your army, their fighting ability can double/triple/quadruple thanks to the combat bonuses granted by your high level heroes. Unfortunately, when I was playing, the enemy did managed to overtake some of the garrisons before I could rescue them.

In previous maps, I complained that there was no way to learn Town Portal. As a result, scenarios dragged on longer than necessary. This map finally grants you the spell. However, you can only obtain it by completing a short quest.

In the middle of the map, near the shore, there is a seer hut requesting the Armor of Wonder. I obtained the artifact (quite accidentally) by fighting the hydras next door. The seer then traded me the Tome of Earth Magic for the Armor of Wonder.

With the Tome of Earth Magic on hand, I was now able to cast every Earth Magic spell in the game, including Town Portal. I can't tell you how great this made me feel.

I gave the artifact to Adrienne and appointed her my official town defender. The other benefit of Town Portal is that it allowed Adrienne to escape defeat if Lord Haart or another high level enemy hero came knocking on the door. Discretion is the better part of valor, especially when the scenario is programmed to end in defeat if Adrienne ever runs, surrenders, or falls in combat.

There are many ambushes on the map, often featuring nasty configurations of bone dragons and vampires. If you're not careful, a powerful hero can be instantly wiped out, just for exploring!

Thankfully, not all scripted events work in the enemy's favor. Eventually, Tatalia will rise up and flock to Adrienne's aid, populating your key cities with fresh recruits. Just make sure Lord Haart doesn't take them before you do.

Lord Haart flies the blue banner and is pretty easy to spot. He's the one with the massive army of death. If this were Heroes V, he would leave a huge, fiery trail wherever he went.

I encountered him several times on the map. Every time, he swarmed me with summoned elementals and then retreated. However, I finally defeated him in the end by capturing all of his cities so he had no place to run.

All in all, I found this map incredibly infuriating. The enemy heroes are fast and coordinated. They combine their forces and attack relentlessly. It's important to understand the layout of the map and target the enemy one color at a time, rather than rushing foolishly into battle.

The Tome of Earth Magic is crucial for the defense of cities. Without it, the map is nearly impossible.

I also found it critical to leave secondary heroes near subterranean gates to serve as 'sentries.' Their job was to prevent stragglers from secretly capturing your cities. Because most of your cities are wide open (meaning they are situated next to a gate or ocean) it's very easy for a far away enemy to suddenly recapture them.

That being said, the map is the ultimate test of micromanagement and multitasking ability. If you complete this scenario, you can pretty much complete anything else the game throws at you. It doesn't get any tougher than this.

Monday, August 15, 2011

March Of The Undead

March of the Undead is a huge pain in the ass. The scenario requires you to flag every creature generator within a specific number of months. Unfortunately, there are literally hundreds of creature generators spread out across two levels of an extra-large map.

The time limit isn't really a problem. However, the abundance of half-obscured dwellings is compounded by a near useless minimap on an extra-large map size. Enjoy spending weeks searching the map Where's Waldo-style for elusive unflagged dwellings. I hated every moment of it.

The scenario also makes you wish your heroes had the ability to quickly move from city to city. Eight heroes is not enough to put together an effective offense/defense strategy on a map of this size. Therefore, I often had to resort to guerrilla tactics to survive. The computer was relentless in its attack and sent heroes with huge armies at my doorstep. The only solution in those cases was to run from battle and sacrifice a city in hopes of recapturing it later.

I suppose it's possible to play the scenario in such a way that I flagged dwellings without first destroying the enemy team. But I never had the guts to do it. I wonder if that's how the map designer intended the map to be played? Perhaps the map was like a puzzle that requires finesse and I've been trying to solve it by brute force all along?

In any case, I'll talk about my 'brute force' method. The key to surviving this map appears to be 'speed.' If you dawdle too long, the enemy will overwhelm your cities and destroy your heroes.

I actually had to replay this map after getting my butt kicked the first time around. On my second playthrough, I sent two heroes (including Adrienne) immediately to the east to capture the three abandoned Fortress cities (Team A). The first time around, I wasted time and failed to capture the second and third Fortresses. That was my downfall.

The other two heroes (Team B) ventured north to flag dwellings and recruit creatures. The purpose of Team B was to keep the enemy busy via cat and mouse games so that I could upgrade my Fortress cities.

There is a purple border guard north of the southeastern Fortress city. You should never allow this border to be opened without a fight. The border guard is the only thing protecting your cities from a quick invasion at the hands of three high level death knights with moderate to large sized armies.

In fact, the purple border guard is so critical that the enemy will try to reach the purple tent by sea and open the border guard for itself! Prevent this from happening as long as possible. Once the flood gates are open, the map difficulty ramps up significantly.

I also want to mention that there are quest huts littered across the map. They grant rewards for vanquishing certain non-undead creatures on the map (e.g. diamond golems, fire elementals, and water elementals). The rewards aren't that great. Also, the required battles are taxing on your heroes' armies and spell points. I skipped the side-quests entirely.

One of the most time consuming aspects of this map is exploring the entirety of the underworld and flagging the dwellings within. Many of these creature dwellings belong to higher level creatures such as hydras and gorgons and require tedious battles to capture. I recommend enabling Quick Combat in the options to skip through the monotony.

After you've explored most of the map and destroyed the enemy, be sure take a look at the overall map layout. Pretty cool huh? According to the story, Lord Haart's undead company burned its way through Tatalia. However, as Adrienne mentions early in the scenario, the swamps are resilient and have already begun to regenerate.

This is reflected in the map's visual design. You can trace Lord Haart's path of destruction (dirt terrain) from the southwest corner to the northeast. However, the dirt is slowly being reintegrated into the swamps.

I also think the campaign introduces us to its villain in a very effective manner. First we only hear rumblings of a stirring evil. Then, we start to see the destruction that the villain has left behind. Finally, we engage the villain on the field of battle in a no-holds barred brawl. I only wish the Armageddon's Blade campaign had followed this progression and given us a glorious and epic final battle against Lucifer Kreegan.

My only complaint about Adrienne's campaign is that the villain lacks a truly compelling reason for invading Tatalia. (Other than the fact that he's a death knight who wants to destroy life.) The point is, the campaign would feel more important to the overall lore of Antagarich if Tatalia had something important that Lord Haart wanted... rather than it just acting as a source of fresh corpses.

Nevertheless, getting closure to Lord Haart's character arc is better than no closure at all. And in terms of the Heroes series, there are certainly far worse examples of storytelling.

Stay tuned for the final scenario.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Farming Towns

The first scenario in Adrienne's campaign is called Farming Towns. After a grim introductory cutscene swarming with festering undead, our brooding heroine is thrown right into the action.

I briefly mentioned in my previous post that the maps in the Playing With Fire campaign are extra large. As a result of this, it takes an eternity for your hero to explore everything. The abundance of swampland makes exploration extra painful because hero movement diminishes until you obtain Expert Pathfinding.

The scenario takes place at the border of Erathia and Tatalia. Therefore, the map is appropriately divided between swampland (western half of the map) and grassland (eastern half of the map). Three garrisons separate Erathia from Tatalia, all reinforced by moderate undead regiments. The enemy consists of Necropolis heroes squatting in Fortresses. Tamika is usually their leader.

Adrienne begins the scenario in the lower right corner of the map and within a day's walk of town. The first step is to upgrade the town into a Castle.

The large map size means there are many cities to capture and defend. In total, there are four Castles and four Fortresses. But while you'll mostly be utilizing Castle creatures in this scenario, you shouldn't hire any clerics and knights to lead them.

The best hero choices are actually Fortress (witch/beastmaster) and Necropolis (necromancer/death knight). That's because the scenario allows you to bring three of Adrienne's strongest allies with her to the next scenario. Castle heroes are significantly less useful in Map 2 and 3 because you won't hire a single Castle unit. Map 2 is all-Fortress. Map 3 features a mix of Fortress and Necropolis cities.

I ended up hiring two beastmasters and one witch to have a balanced (2 might, 2 magic) team. I like balance.

In the northeast corner of the map, there's a vampire infestation. Clearing this area granted my hero access to several stat enhancers. I also rescued a hero named Sir Michael (who has the same portrait as Christian) from a prison near the 'boss' vampires. However, I soon discovered that Sir Michael was useless. So I elected to move him to a nearby Castle and appointed him commander of the garrison.

Why was Sir Michael useless, despite starting at level 11? For starters, he is completely maxed out on useless skills. He cannot learn Wisdom (and cannot learn the best spells in the game) and lacks Logistics and Pathfinding (making him a liability in swampland).

Since heroes are capped at the 12th level, it's clear that the map designer inserted Sir Michael into the scenario to artificially increase the campaign's difficulty. What seems like a reward is actually a terrible punishment. However, Sir Michael starts at level 11. This means you must not let him level up.

If you allow your other heroes to reach level 12, they will follow Adrienne to the next scenario in place of Sir Michael. Engineering this feat will require you spread the wealth of experience around all of your heroes. Also, don't approach any Trees of Knowledge (+1 level) with low level heroes. Wait until your heroes are past level 10 or so to enjoy a nice compounding effect.

The only reason to break Sir Michael out of prison is to make sure the enemy doesn't rescue him first.

Since the next two maps are incredibly long, difficult, and time limited, I wanted to make sure that I completely maxed out my four main heroes' stats. There are numerous mercenary camps, marletto towers, and schools of magic to be found on the map. But one stat enhancer that is often overlooked is the Cage of Warlords structure that can be found inside captured Fortresses. Don't forget it.

Also, remember that it's not necessary to defeat all enemies to complete the scenario. All you need to do is flag every creature dwelling. At one point, I accidentally flagged all of the dwellings and ended the game. I had to reload an earlier save to give my heroes more time to level up and build their stats.

I had hoped to learn Town Portal to make the next scenario easier. However, neither the Fortress nor the Castle can upgrade their mage guilds to level 5. Bummer.

One interesting observation about this map is that every enemy stack is undead. I didn't notice this the first time around, but it's actually kind of cool.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A New Schedule

Hello readers. Just wanted to give a quick update on my situation. I am currently enrolled in a two-year MBA program. Classes start on August 15. Therefore, I won't be able to play Heroes III as much as I have in the past. Classwork, networking, and career search trumps retro gaming. However, the blog will continue to live on.

In the meantime, if you're interested in my business school experience, read this.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Playing With Fire

Thanks for everyone's input.

I'll finish the AB campaigns before jumping to a different game. Since the remaining campaigns can be played in any order, I'm going to start with Playing with Fire.

Adrienne is one of the most interesting, yet tragically underdeveloped, characters in AB. She is a witch from Tatalia who loves fire. As you can imagine, this doesn't go over well in Tatalia, which is a land of swamps and jungles. In Tatalia, nobody is allowed to practice fire magic because it can basically destroy everything the Tatalians know and love. Adrienne, unperturbed by this minor detail, decides that she must travel all the way to Eeofol to learn fire magic from the Kreegans. Yes, the same Kreegans that destroy worlds. To nobody's surprise, the Tatalians decide to treat their resident crazy fire witch like public enemy number one.

In Playing with Fire, Adrienne discovers that someone or something is burning down forests in Tatalia. Unfortunately, the Tatalians are convinced that the crazy fire witch squatting on their lands is responsible. Adrienne must clear her name and (maybe) retain the trust of her people.

You might be wondering why people hate this campaign. I mean, it sounds really interesting right? Everybody loves a good mystery. Throwing in a sexy witch doesn't hurt either. Sadly, the gameplay is a huge pain in the ass.

How bad is it?

Annoying sneak attacks from merciless AI
Swamp terrain slows movement to a crawl
Poorly placed warp gates, subterranean gates make cities hard to defend
Humongous maps take an eternity to explore
Tedious victory conditions (e.g. flagging all mines)
No Town Portal (until the end of the final scenario)

I'll explain more in upcoming blog posts. For now, I'm going to jump in and replay the campaign.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cast And Characters Of Armageddon's Blade

One of the differences between Armageddon's Blade and its prequel Restoration of Erathia is the large cast of characters. Some are playable. Others appear in the background. Below are some of the notes I took while trying to keep track of them all.


Catherine Ironfist - Queen of Erathia and wife of Roland Ironfist of Enroth. She invades the Kreegan nation of Eeofol despite opposition from the Erathian people.

Roland Ironfist - Protagonist of Heroes II and husband of Catherine. Roland was abducted by the Kreegans and imprisoned for many years. He was rescued by adventurers in Might & Magic VII. Roland serves as Catherine's general and suffers PTSD from his captivity. He is overzealous in his quest to destroy Eeofol.

Gen. Kendal - Morgan Kendal served as regent of Erathia after the death of Catherine's father. After Catherine gives up her throne to concentrate on the war, Kendall is tasked with electing the next king.

Gelu - A half-elf captain of Erathia's Forest Guard and Gen. Kendal's foster son. He leads guerilla attacks against Eeofol's northern border and is secretly funded by AvLee and Erathia. Gelu's past is fleshed out in the second expansion: Shadow of Death. The Kreegans call him "Devil's Bane."

Ciele the Waverider - A conflux hero representing the plane of water. She attempts to prevent Xeron from obtaining Armageddon's Blade and ultimately allies herself with Catherine's army.

Erdamon the Earthshaper - A conflux hero representing the plane of earth. He also fails to prevent Xeron from obtaining Armageddon's Blade and grants his army to Catherine.

Fiur the Flamewalker - A conflux hero representing the plane of fire. He allies himself with Catherine.

Tamar the Wanderer - A conflux hero representing the plane of air. Unlike the others, he does not participate in the war. Instead, he warns Catherine about Roland's path toward the darkness and cautions against the misuse of Armageddon's Blade.

Judge Fairweather - A wise sage whom Gelu consults regarding the identity and tactics of the Sons of Erebus.


Xenofex - The leader of Eeofol during the Restoration Wars. Xenofex was slain by adventurers in Might & Magic VII. However, he visits Lucifer from beyond the grave and implores him to seek Armageddon's Blade to set the world on fire. While he doesn't physically appear in the game, he is responsible for setting the plot in motion.

Lucifer Kreegan III - King of Eeofol and Xenofex's successor. He commands Eeofol's army from the safety of the capitol city Kreelah and communicates with his minions using a red jewel.

Xeron the Terrible - Lucifer's most trusted general. He is the half-human, half-Kreegan leader of the Sons of Erebus, a paramilitary group loyal to Lucifer. Xeron manages to locate the pieces of Armageddon's Blade and construct the weapon for his master. He has a special feud with Gelu because the latter killed Xeron's mother.

Xex - Xeron's childhood friend and trusted general. Xex runs many errands for Xeron throughout the story but is ultimately slain by halflings.

Judge Sleen - A master sage and arcane historian who betrays Erathia (under coercion). He teaches Xeron about the conflux heroes, reveals the pieces of Armageddon's Blade, and stalls Catherine's invasion after being captured. He is ultimately sentenced to life in prison for treason.


Wibur Humphrey - He is mentioned briefly in the campaign. Wilbur is the regent of Enroth, ruling in Roland's absence, and plays an important role in Might & Magic VI.

Nicolai Ironfist - The child of Roland and Catherine who lives in Enroth. Catherine and Roland lament that the war has caused them to neglect their son.

Nayestra the Oracle - A gypsy woman who reads Gelu's fortune and sees great potential for evil.

Khazandar - The grand forgesmith Khazandar is the only person in Antagarich with the knowledge to construct Armageddon's Blade. He was an archmage from Bracada who lost his titles for being too mercenary and became an alchemist and weaponsmith. He agreed to support Xeron out of greed and spite but was betrayed and executed.

Other Stuff:

Night of the Shooting Stars - The Kreegans arrived in Antagarich by riding meteor-like spaceships. They drove out the halflings and terraformed the grassy lands of Eeofol into a volcanic wasteland.

Sons of Erebus - A quasi-religious paramilitary group loyal to Lucifer and headed by Xeron. The group is named after Erebus, a dark god worshipped by the Kreegans.

Talon Brigade - Both Catherine and Morgan Kendal started their military careers in the Talon Brigade, an elite unit in the Erathian army. Kendal leads the Talon Brigade to support Roland.

Regnan Pirates - They are briefly mentioned in Return of the King as having buried some treasure near the Great Lake before getting driven out of Erathia by Admiral Magnus Bonn. The pirates make an appearance in Might & Magic VIII.

Tavin's Guerillas - A group of halflings attempting to drive the Kreegans out of Eeofol. They agree to support Catherine during her final assault on Kreelah.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Final Score - Armageddon's Blade

Hey look, guys! I'm a Wyvern Monarch! I guess it means my Heroes III skillz are above average. Yes, I wrote skills with a 'z.'

Ladies and gentlemen, I've completed the Armageddon's Blade campaign! However, one thing still bugs me.

In the final scenario of the AB campaign, Catherine is visited by the elemental lord Tamar. He tells her that Gelu (and only Gelu) must bring the blade to Kreelah and slay Lucifer Kreegan. Only then will the destruction of the world be averted.

Oddly enough, this act actually leads Gelu down a path of no return, leading to the Reckoning. The destruction of Kreelah corrupts Gelu. If Gelu had simply destroyed Armageddon's Blade, King Lucifer would have lost his ability to set the world on fire. Furthermore, Khazandar's death at the hands of Xeron meant there'd be no other individual with the ability to create a duplicate. How did Tamar get everything so wrong?

Perhaps the creature who visited Catherine was not Tamar at all. After all, he never identifies himself. Catherine only assumes he is Tamar.

What if... the person who visited Catherine was actually the ghost of Xenofex (the same ghost who convinced Lucifer to seek Armageddon's Blade at the beginning of the game). What if... Xenofex sensed that Eeofol had lost the war and wanted to manipulate Catherine into fulfilling his desire?

Here's the original text:
In the darkest hours before dawn, Catherine is awoken by a soft wind blowing across her body, caressing it like Roland often had, pleasant and loving. She turns, expecting to see her loving husband there with her, when she sees a figure in azure robes trimmed in silver runic writing. The figure simply stands there, not saying a word.

"Greetings Tamar. What are you doing here? What visions have you come to warn me about now?" Catherine asks, quite annoyed at the fact it is not Roland.

"I have come to impart some wisdom to you, Queen of Enroth," Tamar says in that soft whisper of a voice. "The pale warrior often called Devil's Bane I have foreseen to be of great import in your endeavor. He alone is the key to victory here. You must see he is given the Blade and sent to Kreelah to face King Lucifer. He has a destiny to fulfill that no one must be allowed to interfere with, for if he is to fall, everything shall turn to chaos. Oceans will boil, the ground shall swallow entire cities, and everyone will die a horrifying death. I do not think that you would want this possibility to come to pass, am I wrong?"

Catherine stares at the shadow shrouded face of this Elemental Lord and sighs, "No, of course not."

"As I suspected. So, rest now, Catherine Ironfist, for the days ahead shall be plagued by troubles and filled with glorious victories. You shall prevail if you trust your heart and relax your mind. Heart is the one thing the devils cannot crush; use it as your most prominent weapon. Good luck. I pray you will be well, as I do for those under your command." With that, Tamar vanishes as if he had never come, as if he were a mere dream. Exhausted and confused somewhat, Catherine goes back to sleep, her task set before her. Gelu is the one who must bear the Blade to Kreelah and kill King Lucifer. It seems a task easier said than done.
I'd be curious to get people's thoughts on this theory.

What campaign should I tackle next? Should I start a different campaign in the AB expansion? If so, which one?

Alternatively, I can abandon the game and skip to the second Heroes III expansion: Shadow of Death? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Oblivion's Edge

At last... we come to Oblivion's Edge, the final scenario in the Armageddon's Blade campaign.

After the defeat of Xeron, Lucifer Kreegan summons the overlords of Nighon to reinforce his armies. Sensing an opportunity to defeat the Kreegan armies once and for all, Catherine and her party fights their way into Kreelah, the capitol of Eeofol. The catch? She has 60 days to do so.

The scenario itself isn't very difficult. Eeofol's heroes send weak armies against your pre-built conflux towns. I decided to use Catherine purely as a defensive hero, teleporting her from town to town to gather troops and fight off any would-be invaders.

The city of Kreelah is very heavily guarded by Xeron's army and further protected by a magic garrison that prevents your hero from casting spells.

Like any good 'final scenario,' this map wraps up all of the loose plot points from previous maps.

Remember the halfling resistance movement? This map is littered with halfling huts, symbolizing the resurgence of the little critters. The first enemy camp that Gelu encounters on the map is a band of halflings seeking greater glory. The little guys are terrible in battle, but I admire their valor.

Later in the scenario, the halflings do manage to kill Xex. So all is well.

Also, do you remember the dark dreams that Gelu had? This time, he dreams that he is a conquering king who has united the nations of Antagarich under his iron rule. He also sees a beautiful woman with steel hair guiding his actions. I imagine she is the personification of Armageddon's Blade? I guess Armageddon's Blade is kind of like Sauron's ring in Lord of the Rings. It grants the wielder the power of domination but also corrupts its master.

While Gelu slowly descends into madness, Roland Ironfist has a spiritual awakening. Throughout this campaign, good king Roland has been portrayed as an angsty curmudgeon battling post-traumatic stress disorder.

One night, Roland is visited by the ghost of Khazandar. The ghost begs for Roland's forgiveness and also implores the king to change his ways before his soul is corrupted forever. We also learn why Khazandar created Armageddon's Blade. The grand forgemaster had been 'taken advantage of' by many people in his past. So when Xeron approached him with the request, Khazandar agreed to create the blade to spite all the people who had ruined his life. Seems a bit extreme to me.

Soon after, Roland sees a vision of his father shaking his head in disapproval. Lord Ironfist of Enroth is clearly unhappy that his son has resorted to genocide. This vision causes Roland to realize that he is becoming twisted and evil like his brother Archibald. Presumably, Roland changes his ways.

Afterwards, Roland and Catherine say 'screw it' and completely wipe out the Kreegan race from Antagarich.

The final battle takes place at the gates of Kreelah. Xeron has a tendency to use Town Portal whenever a hero gets close to Kreelah, so 9 times out of 10, he will lead the garrison army.

Truth be told, I wish NWC had bothered to create a unique Lucifer Kreegan hero for the final battle. We hear so much about evil King Lucifer throughout the campaign. He witness his manipulation behind the scenes. It would have been awesome to finally face him in the end and demolish his army. Instead, Gelu fights Lucifer's lackey and then kills him 'off screen.'

Xeron's favorite attack is Expert Implosion, which deals massive damage to a single creature stack. In two rounds, Xeron completely decimated my sharpshooters.

My original plan was to repeatedly cast Armageddon. However, I discovered that it was more important to keep my army alive. Thus, I reverted to the strategy of repeatedly casting Resurrection on my fallen sharpshooters.

In the end, great losses were suffered on both sides. But Xeron was defeated once and for all!

Of course, Xeron and Lucifer get the last laugh. Although Lucifer is slain at the hands of Gelu, the half-elf becomes corrupted by Armageddon's Blade and runs away with it. This ultimately leads to the fiery destruction of the world. So you see... Lucifer's dream was realized in the end.

What's Catherine's response to Gelu running away with the HORRIBLE EVIL SWORD THAT CAN DESTROY THE WORLD? She goes home to Enroth with Roland. Out of sight, out of mind.

...and they all lived happily ever after!

Monday, July 25, 2011

To Kill A Hero

Here we go! The final showdown between Gelu and Xeron! It all comes down to this. In To Kill A Hero, Gelu, Roland, and Catherine must lead the remaining conflux armies into the heart of Eeofol and defeat Xeron once and for all!

It's a very straightforward scenario. You don't need to capture any towns or unlock any border guards. Destroy Xeron's army and victory is yours!

Catherine and Roland begin the scenario in the southwestern corner of the map. Gelu starts in the northeastern corner. You can initiate a pincer attack on the poor Eeofol army.

Xeron is a very high level hero with a powerful army. The Armageddon's Blade artifact allows him to cast the expert level Armageddon spell without damaging his own troops. Thankfully, the enemy AI doesn't cast the spell every turn.

Xeron can be found guarding the inferno city in the center of the map. He seldom ventures outside of the garrisoned area. On the downside, you won't be able to capture the last inferno and wait for Xeron to abandon his army. However, it also means Xeron won't harass your towns with his overpowered artifact. You'll be able to capture all of the surrounding infernos without fear of retaliation.

How difficult you find this scenario depends on how much you prepared your heroes in earlier scenarios. If you spent a lot of time visiting stat modifiers and learning spells such as Town Portal, Resurrection, and Fly, the scenario will be easy to complete. If not, prepare for a long, painful adventure.

My final battle with Xeron was rather repetitive. I sent phoenixes to attack Xeron's melee stacks and then repeatedly cast Resurrection. Meanwhile, my sharpshooters slowly chipped away at Xeron's arch-devils and pit lords.

Xeron and the Sons of Erebus have been defeated! Armageddon's Blade has been captured! Peace has been restored! That's the end of the campaign, right?

What's this? There's still one more map. Hmm... I wonder what else Lucifer Kreegan has up his sleeve.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Blade In The Back

In A Blade In The Back, Gelu and two conflux heroes invade Eeofol from the north. Support for the war from the Erathian nobles are at an all-time low and the amount of cannon fodder available for Catherine to command is dwindling. The war needs to come to a quick end or the nobles are going to overthrow the queen. Time is running out.

The map begins with three pre-built cities: two confluxes and one rampart. The computer AI on this map is simply relentless. Compounding the problem is the map's layout, which features nooks and crannies that slow down exploration. Meanwhile, the red team's heroes will spread out and attack your towns, leading your heroes into dead ends and maze-like thickets along the way. Worst of all, one of the enemy heroes has the Dimension Door spell, granting the ability to teleport on the overworld map at will.

Gelu's ability to upgrade wood elves and grand elves to sharpshooters is invaluable. The sharpshooters are very powerful ranged units that can be used to very quickly slay level 7 creatures in a skirmish.

The trick is not to put all sharpshooters into a single creature stack, but instead divide them into 3-4 stacks. Using this strategy, I ultimately captured all of the enemy's cities.

I also found Shackles of War to prevent the enemy from escaping battles. Normally, the Shackles of War is a double-edged sword as it prevents your own hero from escaping combat as well. However, in campaign scenarios where a lost hero results in an automatic game over, possession of this artifact is a 100% advantage.

Preventing an enemy hero from escaping means you get to capture all of his or her artifacts at the end of the battle. By monopolizing all artifacts on the map, the tide slowly turns in your favor. After all, it's just as important to equip your heroes with artifacts as it is to prevent the enemy from doing the same.

The final city on the map is Jagos, located in the southeast corner of the map. As Gelu approaches its gates, he discovers a grim sight. The grand forgemaster Khazandar has been executed and his body displayed for the world to see. This scene is meant to remind us that the Kreegans are heartless bastards... and terrible decorators.

We also learn why Khazandar and his apprentice were living in random tunnels during Maker of Sorrows. Gelu comes across the forgemaster's apprentice who explains that mysterious figures whisked Khazandar away in the middle of the night. I assume these figures were conflux heroes who knew the implications of Xeron meeting Khazandar and decided to protect him underground.

In an earlier scenario, Xeron explained that the conflux heroes are weak because they refused to kill Khazandar. If they had done so, they could have prevented Armageddon's Blade from being constructed. With hindsight, this would have been the best course of action.

Instead, the conflux heroes foolishly hid Khazandar behind border guards and relied on their elemental armies to keep the border tents safe. Hubris? Perhaps.

Some other plot elements are fleshed out on this map. For starters, Gelu learns why Xeron hates him. Gelu killed Xeron's mother, a succubus who tried to possess him earlier.

I wasn't aware that succubi existed in the old NWC world. When I think of succubi, I am reminded of the ranged units from Heroes V. But on second thought, female demons certainly exist in Antagarich (e.g. Nymus). So maybe I hadn't made the connection until now.

Gelu also learns that the Sons of Erebus (the group that Xeron leads) is a paramilitary group within Eeofol that reports directly to King Lucifer. They are comprised of the most brilliant and black-hearted Kreegan veterans. The audience already knows this... thanks to the earlier maps that are presented from Xeron's point of view.

We also learn a little about the halflings who used to live in Eeofol before the Kreegans slaughtered them. Many of them now belong to an underground resistance. This plotline will hopefully pay off in the final map when millions of halflings rush to our heroes' aid and topple King Lucifer's throne! Maybe not...

Finally, we learn through letters from Catherine and Roland that the Erathian nobles are idiots. At least, Queen Catherine thinks they are.

On the other hand, if you try to see things from the nobles' point of view, Catherine seems like a war-mongering crazy woman. Queen Catherine is waging a war of aggression against a neighboring nation to supposedly protect the free world from a weapon of mass destruction that may or may not exist. Meanwhile back home, people are angry that Erathia's people are being slaughtered in a needless war.

The plot of the game was written around the time of the US invasion of Iraq. Perhaps the scenario writers were inspired by that whole series of events?

In any case, the story ultimately reaches a different conclusion than the Iraq war. For starters, Gelu discovers that Xeron really does have Armageddon's Blade in his possession. Also, Queen Catherine exhibits extraordinary courage and foresight when she abdicates the throne to live or die by her convictions. She sends Gen. Kendal back to Steadwick to elect a new ruler.

I don't mean to turn this into a political rant... so I'll just leave it at that.

I'm not sure Gen. Kendal ever elects a new ruler. After all, in Heroes IV, the kingdom of Palaedra storyline focuses so heavily on the Gryphonheart sword and bloodline. Maybe Catherine took the throne back in the end after everybody realized she was correct.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Return Of The King

No, Return of the King doesn't refer to the ascension of Aragorn to the throne of Gondor. Ha ha.

This is the scenario that finally gives you control of King Roland of Enroth. You may recall that Roland was the good brother in Heroes II. After he won the throne of Enroth, he married Catherine Gryphonheart of Erathia and was kidnapped by the Kreegans.

Roland was ultimately freed from captivity by a group of heroes in Might & Magic VII. Joining with Gen. Kendal, Roland must capture the inferno cities across the lake and push the Kreegan armies into Gelu and Catherine's line.

The scenario starts with a pleasant surprise. Roland's voice! It seems New World Computing kept the same voice actor from Heroes II.

The map is extremely angsty. For starters, Roland is haunted throughout the story by the torture he suffered at the hands of the Kreegans. Basically, they whipped him to a bloody pulp and then used spells to heal him. Ouch. Still, Roland ends up fairly balanced for a man who nearly lost his mind.

He mentions seeing Archibald's face in his dreams and remembering how alone he felt when the throne of Enroth was usurped. It's an interesting bit of continuity. However, it also makes me wonder how different the game would have been if NWC had kept the original storyline involving the Heavenly Forge, Kastore, and Archibald. At least, the conflict would have been even more personal.

This map also gives you control of the infamous Gen. Kendal. He's actually not too terrible in battle (although he starts with no spell book). How do you survive so long without magic, general?

Leave it to the game to insult him one final time. If you look at Gen. Kendal's profile, it mentions that he was the only regent to ever let the gates of Steadwick fall. Other than that, the game doesn't give Gen. Kendal any further character development.

The actual battle is fairly straightforward. The inferno heroes will utilize a warp gate and take over your towns. However, the map designer was pleasant enough to make this a two-way monolith. This means you can use the same gate to attack the inferno cities.

Once all of the inferno cities on the other side of the lake have been captured, make your way for the island in the center of the lake. The last city is strong, but you should have plenty of conflux troops at your disposal.

I'm a little annoyed that the conflux heroes are all faceless entities with no interesting personalities. They just exist. During the Xeron scenarios, the conflux heroes serve as antagonists. However, you never interact with them face to face. Similarly, when you play as the heroes of Erathia, the conflux heroes just blindly serve you.

Who are they and where did they come from? Why are they helping Roland and Catherine? It just further highlights how terrible it was for NWC to scrap the Forge and shoehorn the conflux town into the Armageddon's Blade storyline.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Maker Of Sorrows

The scenario is called Maker of Sorrows. Now, that is a badass name. I imagine it's something a death metal musician would want to put on his tombstone.

Anyway, let's talk about the scenario.

You start with four heroes (at level 12, no less!) and the artifacts necessary to construct Armageddon's Blade. Dun dun dun. If you guessed that the scenario is incredibly simple and you'll be able to swoop over your enemies like a dark cloud... you'd be correct.

The goal of the scenario is to seek the Grand Forgesmith Khazandar to construct Armageddon's Blade. This mysterious old man lives underground in a little shack, protected by several border guards.

My strategy was to ignore the underground layer and focus on capturing the enemy towns first. There are ten towns total on the overworld. Four of them belong to Eeofol. The others are elemental confluxes. The inferno towns start with Castle Gates. So it's very easy to defend them with a single hero.

To be honest, the AI heroes never even bothered crossing over to the lava terrain to attack my towns. It was a slaughterfest for Xeron from beginning to end. Every time I took over a conflux, I bolstered by army with ranged units. In the conflux, the ranged types are storm elementals and ice elementals.

Once I reached the underworld, I realized that the area is designed solely to waste players' time. There are many paths to take. Most of them lead to a dead end. However the northwestern passage took me to the border guards and a battle against Inteus (a powerful enemy hero).

The game very well could have ended here. But the map designers decided to tack on another subquest to prolong the scenario. When you reach Khazandar, he gives you an Orb of Antimagic to bring to his apprentice. I had to explore more tunnels and defeat a stack of phoenixes to complete the scenario.

Why does Khazandar's apprentice live in a shack that's half a week's journey away? No idea. The ways of the wizards are foreign to me.

The game never delves into Khazandar's history. Did he go underground to hide from Xeron? Is he just a kooky old man who just happens to know how to construct a weapon that will set the world on fire? I guess he's one of those characters introduced solely to enable the bad guys to obtain their MacGuffin weapon.

Instead, the game focuses on developing Xeron's character. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, this is a good trade-off.

Xeron is only half-Kreegan. His mother is a succubus and his father is an Erathian Knight. Interesting. A few weeks into the scenario, Xeron learns that his mother was killed in an ambush. Unlike full-blooded Kreegans with hearts of stone, Xeron feels sadness. I almost feel pity for him before remembering that he's a torturing bastard.

I don't seem to recall if the game ever explores Xeron's relationship with his parents (or even identifies them). However, this is the last scenario in the campaign where you play from Xeron's point of view. So my guess is that the game leaves it up to the player to draw his or her own conclusions.

Personally, I think it would be hilarious if Jon Van Caneghem suddenly came out of retirement and revealed that Gelu and Xeron had the same father. Fans would die of shock and/or laughter.

Perhaps they were both fathered by Gen. Kendal. After all, he is the worst Erathian regent... ever. It would make perfect sense that every terrible thing that ever happens in Antagarich can be traced back to his incompetence.

I imagine that in his younger years, Gen. Kendal threw caution to the wind and traveled around the countryside boning women of every race. Elves, dwarves, demons, you name it. Do you really think it was a coincidence that Kendal found baby Gelu on a battlefield?

I'm sure somewhere in Krewlod, he even has an illegitimate half-orc son. Oh snap, could it be Kilgor?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Seeking Armageddon

What a disaster. Seeking Armageddon took me eight freakin' months to complete! Why so long? To understand how I screwed up the scenario, you must first understand the mission objectives.

To win the scenario, Xeron must gather three artifacts: the Breastplate of Brimstone, Hellfire Sword, and Shield of the Damned. The three artifacts are hidden behind border guards, which must be unlocked by visiting border tents. It is unnecessary to capture all enemy towns.

You can probably guess what happened to me. I unlocked one of the border guards with a weak hero (Olema) but didn't have enough movement points to take the artifact. The computer immediately sent a hero (Fiur) to snatch the Shield of the Damned. Then, when I fought Fiur to get the artifact back, he fled. This essentially removed one of the three artifacts from play and made it impossible for me to complete the scenario.

Xeron starts the scenario with the Shackles of War. The artifact prevents enemies from escaping combat.

However, I did not anticipate that the enemy would be crafty enough to steal my artifacts. In order to prevent Xeron from getting defeated by a high level elementalist and instantly losing the scenario, I left him in the Eeofol part of the map to play defense.

Although Olema was my primary offensive hero, I forgot to transfer Xeron's Shackles of War. Bad move.

After Fiur snatched the Shield of the Damned and fled, he essentially returned to the enemy's hero pool. I had to wait eight months for the enemy to randomly rehire Fiur. During this time, I made sure that the enemy continued to capture towns, gather resources, and hire heroes. I realized that if the enemy was too weak, the AI would simply hide inside its cities. When Fiur finally reappeared, I breathed a sigh of relief.

The moral of the story is: always fight enemy heroes with Xeron to prevent them from escaping. Also, don't unlock any border guards unless you have enough movement points to grab whatever artifact is there.

You might be wondering why I didn't just load a saved game after realizing Fiur stole the artifact. The truth is, I didn't realize what had really happened until I had overwritten my old save file. When I crushed all enemy towns and the scenario did not end, I scoured the map and realized Fiur must have stolen the last artifact. I had saved the game prior to capturing the final enemy town. So from there, I had to gradually let the enemy rebuild its strength and cycle through its hero pool.

Aside from the Fiur incident, the scenario was pretty easy. You don't need to spend a lot of money upgrading your starting cities. All three of them begin with a lot of buildings already activated. Additionally, the three cities have Castle Gates, which allow a hero to instantly transport between them.

The scenario does attempt to challenge players by cutting your resources at the start of the week. But there are so many mines surrounding the Eeofol part of the map that they barely put a dent in your treasury. Lastly, the conflux heroes are surprisingly passive. None of them bothered to enter the lava terrain to attack my cities.

In retrospect, I could have saved myself some time by simply restarting the scenario. But by the time I realized what had happened with Fiur, Xeron was already maxed out and I stupidly assumed it wouldn't take long for the AI to rehire Fiur.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shadows Of The Forest

Shadows of the Forest marks the first appearance of Gelu, the mysterious half-elf captain of Erathia's Forest Guard, in Heroes III. You can't miss him. He looks like a pale Steven Tyler with red hair and zebra print pants.

Gelu's profile states that he is half human and half Vori elf. Of course, when I first played Armageddon's Blade, I had no idea what that meant. To be honest, I'm still not quite sure. It turns out Vori is the frozen island/continent that's north of Antagarich.

The game tells us that elves live in Vori. However, we never see any full-blooded Vori elves in the game. I have no idea if Vori elves appear in Might & Magic VII or VIII. Can someone shed some light on this?

I assume Vori elves have white skin and black eyes. Gelu certainly didn't inherit them from his human family.

But what about the storyline, you say? I'm just getting to that.

Since the nation of AvLee has decided to remain neutral in Queen Catherine's war against Lucifer Kreegan, Eeofol has been able to concentrate all of its forces at the Erathia-Eeofol border. Queen Catherine sends Gelu and the Forest Guard to the AvLee-Eeofol border to pester the Kreegan armies and stretch them thin. So yes, we have another border map.

The overworld design is pretty straightforward. The northern half is green and foresty. The southern half is dark and evil. Gee, I wonder which side belongs to Eeofol.

The scenario itself was very easy to complete. Since Gelu can upgrade any elves or archers he meets into sharpshooters, castle sieges were a cinch. I simply loaded every creature slot with sharpshooters and marched south. Before capturing the final inferno, I spent some time visiting stat modifiers to make Gelu stronger. I have a feeling he'll pop up in a later scenario.

The best thing about this map is actually the various story bits that pop up on the first day of the week.

A mysterious gypsy woman decides to read Gelu's fortune because she thinks he looks funny. I am not making this up. Gelu quickly agrees and learns that he has a dark future ahead of him. The Vori elf has obviously been swindled by the Antagarich-equivalent of Silvia Plath, but he gives her a pouch of gold anyway.

Now, if the fortune teller had been kind enough to inform Gelu that he would be responsible for blowing up something really big at the beginning of Heroes IV, she might have prevented the death of billions.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Villains Of Might And Magic

Seeing as my knowledge of Antagarich lore has grown rusty, I decided to visit Wikipedia and catch up on the events that transpired between the Restoration Wars and Catherine's invasion of Eeofol.

Here's what I gathered about the Kreegans.
  • They are evil space invaders that resemble demons and travel in highly technological hive ships that look like meteorites
  • Not every creature in Heroes III's Inferno faction is a Kreegan; only the devils, pit fiends, and demons are Kreegans
  • Imps are servants engineered by the Kreegans in their forges; Gogs and Magogs are an enslaved sub-race; Efreeti are powerful allies with complementary interests
As for the role Kreegans play in the larger Heroes storyline:
  • The Kreegan invasion of Enroth and Antagarich was led by Xenofex
  • The heroes manage to slay Xenofex in Might & Magic VII and rescue Roland Ironfist (which is why he appears in Armageddon's Blade as a playable character)
  • After Xenofex dies, his top general Lucifer grabs the throne in Eeofol
  • Guided by vivid dreams, Lucifer decides to craft a weapon called Armageddon's Blade to set the world on fire
  • Lucifer never engages the party directly in Heroes III; rather, he is a foreboding menace whose shadow looms over the entire nation of Eeofol (like Sauron in Lord of the Rings)
  • The main antagonist (and physical threat) of the game is a half-Kreegan, half-human general named Xeron; he repeatedly meets the heroes in battle

Friday, July 8, 2011

Catherine's Charge

Unlike Restoration of Erathia, Armageddon's Blade takes place in a single campaign with eight unique maps. These scenarios are presented through the eyes of special heroes from both sides of the conflict. These heroes appear on the map. You can control them. You are them.

Right off the bat, Armageddon's Blade gives players a choice between two different starting scenarios: Catherine's Charge and Shadows of the Forest. In reality, you're choosing between two different heroes: Catherine Ironfist the warrior queen of Erathia or Gelu the half-elf ranger.

I've always played Catherine's map first. It's the one the game defaults to when the map screen is first presented. Note that it doesn't actually matter which map you choose first. Neither map features cross-scenario artifacts or skills. Playing Catherine's Charge won't make Shadows of the Forest any easier (and vice versa).

I have to admit that I was originally put off by the map's default difficulty level. Hard!? "Oh no," I thought to myself. "Better prepare for a long, drawn-out slogfest."

However, those fears were put to rest as soon as the scenario began. Erathia starts with three castles and three heroes. One of the castles starts with a capitol and most of its creature dwellings built and upgraded.

Of the heroes, Catherine is the strongest. She is a level 12 knight leading an army of 200 pikemen, 100 archers, 40 swordsmen, and 20 champions. The other two heroes are Sorsha, a level 4 knight and Cuthbert, a level 4 cleric.

Not only do you start the map with a huge advantage over the Eeofol army, but Catherine's stats and skills will carry over to later scenarios. The more you can increase her stats in this scenario, the stronger she will be later. In other words, it doesn't matter how smart the enemy AI becomes. You'll be able to even the odds by turning Catherine into a living juggernaut.

I noticed Armageddon's Blade relies a lot on flavor text. I really liked the way the game used its pop-up text to pull me into the world of Antagarich and add color to the backstory. For example, when Catherine approaches the garrison separating Erathia from Eeofol, we learn that Eeofol used to be the home of halflings. Kreegans crashed in Eeofol during a meteor shower and terraformed the land to resemble their harsh and fiery home planet. The halflings, intent on not being burned alive in hot magma, dispersed into the far corners of Antagarich.

Catherine also receives weekly correspondence from her husband, Roland Ironfist. We learn that Roland has raised an army at Steadwick and is planning to meet General Kendal and Catherine and reinforce their ranks.

Why did Catherine invade Eeofol with such a light army in the first place? From what little information I've gathered in-game, it seems Catherine actually started her invasion with a massive army. However, she miscalculated Eeofol's forces and got her ass kicked.

At one point, Lucifer Kreegan actually taunts Catherine about her defeat using a crystal that facilitates two-way communication. He then reveals his plan to use Armageddon's Blade (his WMD) to burn everything. The scene is supposed to establish Lucifer as the game's big bad and show how crazy he is. I immediately thought of the crystal used by Roland and Archibald to communicate with their generals in Heroes II. Great continuity.

On a more depressing note, Catherine receives weekly letters from General Kendal (Erathia's worst regent ever) apologizing for his various failures. His incompetence would be comical and endearing if not for the fact that the last time he was put in charge, Erathia was invaded by four separate nations!

As the army approaches the Eeofol inferno of Darqtane, the game presents a very interesting plot point. Darqtane is apparently named after a dark god from ancient times who now thrives on the suffering of the city's inhabitants. Unfortunately, Darqtane is never again mentioned in the series. Who is this ancient god supposed to be? How did the Kreegans subdue him?

The only other dark god I can think of is Kalibarr's master from the Gauldoth campaign in Heroes IV. I'm not sure it was ever given a name.

Finally, the map gives a sneak peek at the game's 9th faction: the conflux. You can't build a lot of buildings yet, but it sure looks pretty.