Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From Day To Night

The final scenario in the necromancer campaign introduces Hard difficulty, symbolized by the rook.

In Hard difficulty, you'll not only deal with reduced starting resources, but also face a merciless computer AI that will make you tear your hair out.

The computer AI on Hard difficulty understands that the best defense is a good offense. It will consolidate its armies in a single uber-hero and strike your castles to destroy any offensive momentum you try to muster. It will also use hit and run tactics to put pressure on your weakest heroes. All in all, the computer AI plays like someone you'd want to punch in the mouth.

The scenario begins with a false sense of security. You start with three heroes and three cities along the map's northern edge. Three cities? I've hit the jackpot. Or so I thought.

Don't be fooled into thinking you have superior numbers. The enemy actually starts with five castles, each connected by roads and protected by cavaliers and angels.

Your starting necropoleis are situated next to red garrisons that separate the dead lands of Deyja from the lush green fields of Erathia. The difference between the two lands is striking.

I knew that it would be futile to make an early strike on an enemy castle. My forces were weak from breaking through the garrisons and the enemy heroes were far too strong. Instead, I focused on grabbing resources.

I sent heroes with small (but fast) armies deep into enemy territory to flag mines and grab chests. Every time the enemy caught up to my hero, I'd unload offensive spells and retreat. This way, I kept all of my experience and artifacts.

I repeated this until my starting heroes reached level 10. By this time, I had fully upgraded my necropoleis and had a surplus of gold. It was time to spill some blood.

Unfortunately, I had great difficulty cornering the enemy. Whenever I gained the upper hand in battle, the enemy would retreat to protect its artifacts.

My solution was to lure the enemy's strongest hero past the garrisons into my starting territory. I watched the enemy take over my city, waited for him to settle in, and then invaded with a strong hero. As Admiral Ackbar would say, "It's a trap!"

I had taken out the enemy's strongest hero. Would the others fall for the same trick? Unfortunately, I was unable to repeat this strategy. The enemy simply refused to cross the garrison.

Plan B
While building up my heroes' levels, I made sure to learn Expert Earth Magic. This allowed them to take full advantage of the Town Portal spell. Normally, the spell transports a hero to the nearest friendly town and can only be used once per day. With Expert Earth Magic, a hero can choose the specific town that he or she would like to visit.

I gave all of my troops to a single hero and invaded one of the Erathian castles. Then, I intentionally left the city unguarded. Sure enough, the enemy heroes took the bait. As soon as one came close, I used Town Portal to intercept him with an army of ghost dragons and dread knights.

Ghost dragons have the ability to inflict 'old age' on an enemy stack, cutting their max HP to 50%. However, ghost dragons also have notoriously low defense. I simply used my dragons to tie up enemy shooters and repeatedly resurrect them with Animate Dead.

The entire scenario took nearly 5 months to complete, which speaks volumes about the increased competence of the computer AI on Hard difficulty. I wonder how much more difficult the scenario would have been without Expert Town Portal.

All in all, I loved the concept of this scenario. The contrast between the withered lands of Deyja and the lush green forests of Erathia are phenomenal. Additionally, the scattered sphinx statues (called Cover of Darkness) regenerates the shroud and gives you the feeling that you're literally spreading the darkness as you travel.

Additionally, the layout of the map (north to south) further gives the impression that evil forces are descending upon the land like a curtain of death.

Lastly, I love the use of standalone creature generators like the Archer's Tower and Barracks on the overworld map to make the Erathian castles look bigger than they really are. You definitely get the feeling that these are key strategic 'military towns' that you're capturing.

Well, that's pretty much it for the necromancer campaign. Erathia is basically screwed at this point. The necromancers have taken the north. The dungeon overlords and Kreegans have taken the capital and the west. The barbarians and beastmasters have taken the east.

Next, we'll switch gears and return to Catherine's POV as her army marches to Steadwick to recapture her father's lands.

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