Friday, December 28, 2012

For the Throne

For the Throne is the final map in the FoL campaign. At long last, we come to the final showdown between upstart barbarian Kilgor and longstanding monarch Winston Boragus. There are no more silly restrictions and you are free to lose any of Kilgor's allies without the game being over.

That being said, the key to victory is to topple the opponent's heroes and steal their artifacts before they do the same to you. Yes, this sounds obvious. However, there's a twist. Since neither side has access to taverns, defeats are permanent! If you defeat an enemy hero, he or she won't come back. Similarly, if you lose a hero, you won't be able to rehire him or her.

Thus, the map feels more like a tug o' war than most. At any given moment, if the enemy manages to out maneuver  you and defeat one of your heroes, you might as well restart the map. Every defeat gives the enemy huge bonuses.

Also to Kilgor's dismay, there's a strict time limit. If Kilgor can't defeat Boragus within 3 months, the game is over. Boragus doesn't have a super army as you might expect. Instead, the challenge comes from chasing the three generals around the map before time runs out.

For me, the Town Portal from the previous map became invaluable.

Without Town Portal, I imagine the map would be even more challenging. I noticed there is a secret backdoor into Boragus' castle (at the northeastern corner of the map).  However, passing the quest gate requires that you defeat some water elementals somewhere on the map. I was never able to track them down but did notice a lone boat in one of the lakes. I guess I could probably summon the boat somewhere else. In any case, I didn't have time to test this method as the enemy generals relentlessly assaulted my Strongholds.

After Kilgor defeated Crag Hack (one of the generals) and took his shackles of war (which prevent enemies from retreating or surrendering), the rest of the generals fell over easily. I stormed Boragus' final castle very close to the deadline.

After the terrifying battles against the generals, Boragus was a bit of a let down.

In any case, Kilgor is now the king of the barbarians. Poor Winston is now just a head on a pillow.

Clan War

Ouch. What a painful map. It took me about 5 hours to finally finish this scenario, most of which was conducted in quick combat mode to reduce the monotony. In Clan War, Kilgor and three of his strongest allies have been transplanted to a huge battle arena to defend House Kilgor against three rival clans. If Kilgor can emerge victorious, he can move on to challenge Winston Boragus for the throne.

The intro speech adds little to the storyline. Yes, we know Kilgor loves power and hates mercy. Pretty typical Conan-esque barbarian dialog. Yadda yadda.

The most challenging thing about this scenario is you start with four heroes and all four must survive. Realistically speaking, this means you'll have to split up your army between four heroes to keep each of them strong enough to survive an enemy attack. Otherwise, you have to hide three of them in a corner somewhere and babysit them so they don't accidentally get ambushed. If any of the starting heroes lose a battle (retreat, surrender, defeat) the game is over. I got pretty tired of seeing the executioner cinematic.

Kilgor is currently a Level 20 Barbarian. My other three heroes are Gird the Battle Mage, Oris the Battle Mage (whose power is Eagle Eye... yuck) and Gurnisson the Barbarian (a Ballista expert). They were carried over from the previous map and are significantly weaker than Kilgor. Gurnisson still lacks a spellbook, but can now buy one from the Mage Guild.

Immediately north of House Kilgor, I found three dragon fly hives clustered together. By visiting these sites and fighting a fairly small group of dragon flies, I obtained wyverns. This made it easier for me to expand without constantly losing troops.

The map is divided from the northwestern corner to the southeastern edge and the northeastern edge to the southwestern edge by impassable mountains (like an X). There are garrisons guarded by tough creatures. At the center of the map is a volcanic area with fire elemental confluxes and cursed terrain. The three enemy heroes tend to congregate in the middle and fight one another. Each "quadrant" in the map has nearly identical amenities. For example, each quadrant has dragon fly hives.

Navigating the map is a bit of a nightmare because of the need to keep all heroes alive and lack of high level spells that let you move about the map (e.g. Fly, Water Walk, Town Portal, etc.). There are four main ways to move about the map.

Monoliths: They start off blocked off with a powerful creature. Later, they become annoying backdoors for the enemy heroes to steal Strongholds from under your nose.

Volcanic Area: The easiest way to cross over to another quadrant is to just walk to the volcanic area in the middle of the map. Unfortunately, if you try to do that the enemy will use the liths to take your Stronghold.

Garrison: There are garrisons locations between mountains. They are initially guarded by high level creatures. Even after you retake the garrison, the enemy AI knows to wait for you to cross the garrison before hungrily pursuing your Stronghold.

Whirlpool: The final and worst option is to build a boat in one of the corners of the map and enter the whirlpool. You not only lose a lot of money along the way, but also units. 

The key to this map is to let the other three factions fight and weaken one another. Then, swoop in at the end and kill everybody. However, if one of your enemies ends up killing the other two, they may end up becoming too strong. Unlike other maps, you won't be able to utilize may "hit and run" tactics here. Any retreat will cause you to lose the game. So... you have one shot to win it.

You can recruit secondary heroes, but not at any of the main Strongholds. In each quadrant, there is a secondary Stronghold that must be captured. Only the secondary Strongholds can build taverns.

Thankfully, as the enemies decimate one another, you'll be able to recruit the defeated heroes from the tavern. Most are between Level 15-25. If some enemy heroes retreated or were killed by random stacks of creatures, you can even nab all of their artifacts. I managed to recruit a Level 20 Yog with 17 artifacts once I captured my secondary Stronghold.

In the end, I found this map hard to manage due to the sheer size of it. There's a lot going on and only a handful of heroes at your disposal. Finances are always problematic. Somehow, my last enemy managed to obtain the ability to walk through mountains and I spent a few hours chasing him down. It didn't help that he had a huge army of red dragons.

UPDATE: There is a Dungeon in the middle of the underground layer of the map. When I built up the Mage Guild to Level 5, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Town Portal spell! That certainly made jumping between my Strongholds easier.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays 2012

Happy holidays! Another year has come and gone. Yes, this blog is still on "sleep mode" while I finish my masters program at Berkeley. That means I don't have a set posting schedule.

This winter break, unlike last year, I have no plans to travel outside the United States. Instead, I'm just going to stay at home and play games. So far, I've played a lot of Civilization IV and League of Legends.

I also reinstalled Heroes VI and have been toying with it. I'm still not very happy with the way the game designers simplified the gameplay. There are simply too few resources, too few factions, too few maps, and too few creatures. I've finished both map packs (Danse Macabre and Pirates of the Savage Sea) and found them to be very well-written. However, never has it been more apparent that Heroes VI needs more interesting neutral creatures. 80-90% of the enemies on those maps are "elementals!"

Hopefully I can get around to finishing the Armageddon's Blade scenarios I've been meaning to write for the last year. I believe I still have to finish the Festival of Life (FoL).

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Taming Of The Wild

In Taming of the Wild, the second map in the Festival of Life campaign, Kilgor the barbarian must conquer the wasteland with three allies. This entails clearing the map of all enemy stacks without losing a single battle. If any Kilgor or any of his allies fall in battle, it's game over.

As with the previous map, there are no computer controlled enemy heroes here. You are free to build your stronghold as you please. Because there are no castles to invade or heroes to battle, it makes no sense to learn skills such as Ballistics or Eagle Eye.

Kilgor retains his stats from the previous map. I'm glad I took extra time to run around the previous map and locate all of the stat enhancers because Kilgor doesn't start with a very large army. However, the map is designed in such a way that Kilgor has to open the way for his three allies, who are dispersed in the far corners of the map and blocked by border guards.

Despite these meager beginnings, the map is filled with gold and crystals, the two resources most essential to barbarian town-building.

Kilgor starts in the center of the map next to the stronghold. There is a subterranean entrance nearby which leads to a cavern filled with medusae and a powerful stack of black dragons. Kilgor's starting area is populated by hostile goblins, which are easy to kill but time-consuming to engage.

There are three passageways from the stronghold to the outer ring of mountains. They are guarded by stacks of green dragons. In this outer ring, Kilgor will find the keymaster tents needed to free his companions. However, these tents are guarded by dangerous foes like cyclopses and manticores.

Kilgor's companions are (probably) randomized. However, in my playthrough, I ended up with Gurnisson in the north, Gird in the southwest, and Oris in the southeast. I stupidly taught Gurnisson the wisdom skill even though he did not have a spellbook and would not have any way to obtain one until significantly later.

However, Gurnisson had the easiest time clearing out his sector of the map as it was populated with soft-skinned wolf riders. The southeast is a dirt land filled with griffins and a boat. Oris had the most difficult time. The griffins very quickly swarm Oris' cyclopes. The southwest is a swamp filled with serpent flies. Gird started with a few behemoths who shredded the serpent flies like a hot knife through butter. However, the trouble with swamps is it takes forever to travel anywhere.

It took about a month before Kilgor finally reached the tents, reunited with his companions, pooled their resources, and obliterated all life in the area.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Razor Claw

In Razor Claw, Kilgor must slaw the Ancient Behemoth 'Razor Claw' and his family. The beasts live in an underground cave at the northeastern corner of the map. Kilgor begins at the northwestern corner of the map with no strongholds and 7 days to capture one.

Of the three starting bonuses, I chose the cyclopses. Although the Behemoth is awfully strong, I favor ranged units.

Thankfully, there are no enemy heroes to contend with on this map, just scattered creeps. None of the strongholds can upgrade their Mage Guilds beyond Level 3 or build Behemoth Crags. Kilgor is also limited to the 12th level. After conquering my second stronghold, my Kilgor reached his ceiling. So I spent the rest of the map avoiding combat and hunting down stat-enhancing structures like the arena or mercenary camp.

Despite the abundance of big open lands and passageways, may strong creature stacks guard chockpoints such that the map is actually horseshoe-shaped. You start in the northwest and conquer your way down along the coast and then eastward along the edge of the mountain. Eventually, your path loops back to the beginning. There's no real need to backtrack on foot because you'll find more than enough creature generators along the way.

Many of the creature stacks you encounter will also offer to join. Keep an eye out for friendly ogre-magi. After you've captured all strongholds, you'll find a portal that brings you back to your original stronghold, should you desire to boost your army strength for the final encounter. At this point, assuming you've been building new structures every turn, you should be able to train cyclopses and thunderbirds.

There's a boat south of the first stronghold with a sign informing you that it belongs to Yog. As you may recall, Yog is the half-genie turned barbarian who has made appearances throughout the series. I found this little reference quite nice. If you actually steal Yog's boat, you'll come across a whirlpool which takes you to the Golden Bow. This artifact will remove all ranged penalties and make killing Razor Claw much easier.

Before you can fight Razor Claw and finish the map, you'll have to battle the souls of the behemoths victims. This just means you fight an army of wights and wraiths. No explanation is ever given as to who raised these guys from the dead or why they never tried to take revenge on the behemoth. I thought it was unnecessarily silly.

Razor Claw and his family are not too dangerous. At this point, I had a large army of cyclopses and ogre magi on hand. After a short battle, I completed the map.

Festival Of Life

It has been a busy school year for me. Let me explain what I've been up to. In addition to completing the first year of my MBA program, I've been searching for a summer internship in San Francisco. Aside from that, I'm working with a company in Korea to figure out marketing strategy for some mobile apps. My life has been so busy that I've hardly had any time for games at all (just an some occasional clicks in CityVille or a match in League of Legends).

Today was the first time since July that I've actually had a moment's rest. That's why I dusted off my old copy of Armageddon's Blade and started the Festival of Life campaign. Well, enough about me.

Festival of Life (or FoL for short) follows the barbarian Kilgor as he seeks to topple Winston Boragus from his throne and take over the barbarian tribes in Krewlod. Those who have played Heroes IV know that Kilgor eventually gets his hands on the Sword of Frost and destroys the planet with Gelu. I don't know the details of how that particular exchange occurs. But I've heard that the Heroes Chronicles chapters flesh it out. In FoL, Kilgor is just a lowly barbarian with big dreams.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Retro Roadtest: Heroes II

Hey Heroes fans! I just wanted to divert your attention to an article at Games On Net about Heroes II. The author decided to fire up his old copy of Heroes II and see how it stood up. Not surprisingly, he concludes: "This is still a seriously addictive game with a reasonable degree of resource management depth and satisfyingly tough turn based combat."

I couldn't agree more. Heroes II may not have been the most balanced game in the series, but the combat was satisfying and the resource management interesting.