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.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Armageddon's Blade

Since I've finished all of the campaigns in Restoration of Erathia, the logical next step is for me to replay the game's expansion: Armageddon's Blade. I plan to first tackle the primary AB campaign, which details Queen Catherine and Roland Ironfist's quest to destroy Lucifer Kreegan and Eeofol. Then, I'll explore the secondary campaigns such as Festival of Life and Dragon's Blood.

Heroes historians may be pleased to know that AB had a very interesting development cycle. The plot was originally written as a continuation of Might & Magic VII's evil ending in which Kastore uses the Heavenly Forge to bring darkness to Antagarich.

You can read the entire story of the Forge here.

Basically, AB was originally meant to introduce a 9th faction called the Forge and introduce cyberpunk elements to the Heroes series. The main Might & Magic series has always combined science fiction with traditional fantasy via robots, blasters, space ships, etc. However, the Heroes strategy games had been 100% classical fantasy up to this point. The sudden introduction of mutant zombie cyborgs to a land populated by unicorns, pixies, and elves was a huge point of contention for gamers (many of whom had never played Might & Magic VII). In the end, due to user feedback, New World Computing scrapped the Forge and replaced it with the Conflux, an elemental faction. They also altered the plot to follow Might & Magic VII's good ending instead of the evil ending.

Over a decade later, there's still a lot of bitterness within the Heroes fanbase over the decision to replace the Forge. In the early aughts, some groups even tried to build mods to 'restore the Forge to Heroes III.' I'm not sure if any of them were ultimately successful.

Many pro-Forge fans felt that series newbies didn't understand the full context of the Forge and overreacted to the science fiction elements. They also felt NWC overreacted to the angry emails of a few persistent fans and robbed them of Antagarich's true history. I won't get into a discussion about author's intent here. Suffice to say, the final release of AB was somewhat polarizing.

Here's what I personally think about the Forge. It was a great concept that was implemented poorly. Instead of scrapping the Forge completely, NWC should have tweaked the visual design of the Forge to make it look less stylistically jarring.

I admired NWC for pushing the envelope and surprising fans with science fiction elements in Heroes III. However, I disliked the cyberpunk look of the Forge and its uninspiring units. One Forge creature was basically a naga with tank treads. Another unit was a zombie with a chainsaw arm. If NWC had redesigned these creatures and changed the look of the town to be less corporate and industrial-looking, I think the Forge could have been a big hit. For example, a slightly more whimsical, steampunk look might have helped ease the transition between fantasy and sci-fi for Heroes fans (think Arcanum). The dragon golem in Heroes IV is an example of a sci-fi creature that didn't feel out of place.

Of course, the late 90s was a very different era for game developers. Companies like NWC did not have huge PR departments like EA, Ubisoft, or Activision today to handle fan rage. The lack of good sales metrics meant a lot of developers based decisions on 'gut feelings' rather than hard numbers. A few overreactions and misunderstandings could seriously derail an entire project.

The conflux isn't really as horrible as people make it out to be. Sure, the town screen reuses graphics from the adventure map and the faction is overpowered. But it looks beautiful and still fits the context of the story. Plus, the entire planet would explode a few years later in Heroes IV. So the Forge vs. Conflux debate was ultimately less important in hindsight.

Exposition aside, let's dive into the AB campaign.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Independence is the final scenario in the Seeds of Discontent bonus campaign. The map introduces some very annoying new variables. Every day of the week, bandits will rob your kingdom of precious resources.

On day 4 and 5, the bandits will steal gold and lumber from your treasury. On day 6 and 7, they will rob you of more gold. This cycle repeats every week.

To win the game, you have to master the game's tech tree and build a capitol. Luckily, with some creative maneuvering and clever resource allocation, it's possible to complete this map in a single week.

The first and most important decision is the starting bonus. You'll be asked to choose between a starting bonus of 12 wood, 3 dendroid soldiers, or 6 dendroid guards. While it may be tempting to take the 6 dendroid guards, the best choice is the 12 wood. As soon as you start the scenario, you'll see why.

Yes, right off the bat the game robs you of 20 wood. This is the same number of wood the game would have started you off with if you hadn't chosen the 12 wood bonus. So thanks to the bandits, you end up with a mere 12 wood in your treasury.

The grail is a godsend. Although you won't really fight any computer controlled heroes on this map if everything goes according to plan, the structure grants you a huge increase in daily gold supply. This will become important on day 4.

In any case, train a second hero and start scouting. In my game, my starting hero was Mephala and I immediately trained Gem. I grabbed as many treasure chests as I could and also recruited elves in the northeast. My goal was to cobble up a rag-tag army to fight the pikemen in the southeast and the centaurs in the northeast.

Day 1: Since I only had 12 wood left in my treasury, I immediately built a marketplace.

Day 2: I constructed a town hall.

Day 3: I constructed a mage guild.

Day 4: The day begins with a message that bandits have stolen 1 unit of wood. This means I only have 1 unit of wood left in my treasury. I need to get some wood. I spend the day building a citidel, which only requires gold and ore. I also attack the centaurs to the northwest, grab the artifact, and take the 2 units of wood. I now have 3 units of wood in my treasury.

Day 5: The day begins with a message that I've lost 1 unit of wood and 3,500 gold pieces. I have 2 units of wood left. I attack the centaurs to the southwest and take the 3 units of wood. Now I have 5 units of wood. I immediately build a blacksmith. This depletes my entire stock of wood, but enables me to build a city hall next turn.

Day 6: I lose 3,500 gold immediately. I use the rest of the day to build a city hall, which only costs gold.

Day 7: I attack the pikemen and halberdiers in the southeast and take 2 units of wood and treasure chests of gold. I still need 8 units of wood to build a castle. To obtain this, I go to my marketplace and trade all of my mercury, sulfur, gems, and crystals (but not ore) for wood. I have 10 units of wood and immediately build a castle.

Week 2, Day 1: I build the capitol for 10,000 gold and complete the map.

I didn't really bother exploring the rest of the map this time around.

I remember playing this map back in 1998 and getting really frustrated by the lack of wood. As I recall, there are no sawmills on the map. So after you've exhausted all of the random piles of wood on the map, you have to rely on your marketplace for everything.

Therefore, the longer it takes to build each structure, the more challenging the map becomes. On this map, the biggest challenge is overcoming one's own tendencies to play defensively. Right off the bat, the map gives you a choice between 12 wood and a bunch of overpowered dendroids. Without the foreknowledge that wood is a scarce resource, 9 out of 10 players will pick the dendroids.

Similarly, the presence of an enemy team is designed to trick you into thinking the map will be combat-heavy. It's not. But if you waste wood building centaur stables, you've just shot yourself in the foot. Ironically, the fastest way to complete the mission is to shut out all distractions, leave your town unguarded, and focus all energy on constructing a capitol.

I don't believe I've become a better Heroes player since 1998. But I do think I've gotten more used to these cleverly designed 'puzzle maps.'

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Road Home

Faruk Welnin's quest for independence continues in The Road Home. It's a unique map that sees the hero Ryland navigating a gauntlet of obstacles with the grail in hand.

If Ryland dies, the grail is lost and the scenario immediately ends. Welnin's uprising loses steam. He gets beheaded. Yes, the stakes are very high.

To make matters worse, Ryland has few opportunities to recruit new units on the adventure map (aside from a few specific instances I'll mention below). For this reason, I found it crucial to avoid unnecessary battles against stacks of ranged monsters.

The map is divided into territories. Each territory is home to a specific monster type who is sympathetic to Welnin's independence. By paying attention to the game's pop-up boxes, you can figure out which troops are friendly. Since Ryland starts in the northwestern corner of the map, the first group of sympathizers he'll meet are dendroids.

However, I made a big mistake. When I heard that monks in the southwestern territory were sympathetic to my cause, I stupidly assumed that zealots would follow suit. However, the zealots were still loyal to Erathia and gave my troops quite a beating. Ouch.

If you can recruit a large enough army, enemy stacks will choose to flee if encountered. It's an effective method of removing enemies from the overworld without going into battle. Ryland doesn't carry over to the next scenario, so there's no need to maximize experience points.

In the lower right corner of the map, the town of Welnin awaits Ryland's arrival. Most of Welnin's buildings are disabled. So players probably won't be able to rely on its primary defender, Melodia, to clear a path through the forest for Ryland and meet him in the middle.

The forests surrounding Welnin are guarded by pegasi. Melodia's only source of fresh troops is a small dwarf structure below the starting city. If you're able to push through the line of pegasi, Melodia will be poised to gather a lot of gold to fund Ryland's diplomatic endeavors.

In the end, you simply need to bring Ryland to Welnin. There's no need for heroics. You definitely don't need to fight any AI heroes if you don't want to. Just make a beeline to the lower right corner of the map before the enemy gathers its strength. Click on the town hall to build the grail.

Random fact: If you fight an enemy hero who's standing on top of a mine, the battle screen shifts from the overworld terrain to the underground terrain. I never noticed that before. Every time I play Heroes III, I learn something new.

Heroes VI Beta Beckons

Yes, I know I've been slow to update this blog. Truth be told, I've been exploring the Heroes VI beta. Regular updates will resume shortly. Thanks for your patience!