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.

1 comment:

  1. Huh... In my copy of the game, the enemy starts with NO heroes in this scenario and so it was a cakewalk for me.

    Perhaps in the updates they added a few.