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.

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