Strategic and optimisation advice
Recon your opening
You can save immediately upon starting, decline taking the test, and recon the main castle and freely accessible sale sites for key artefacts, spells and creatures. If it looks good enough, load your save, take the test and play normally.
Save *often*, keep a good trail of saves… and clear extra saves regularly since the files are fairly large and you’ll end up with hundreds of them. They’re in your My Documents\My Games folder.
Take the following ASAP :
- Learning talent rank 1 (Mind).
- Master of spirits rank 1 and more (Might).
- Order magic rank 1 (Magic) — *if* you have the resurrection spell, use resurrectable level 1-2 units, *and* can spare the mana to cast it.
Note your resources
Do note the location of notable artefacts, spells and creatures at merchants. Early on notable creatures include griffins, royal snakes, ancient bears, cursed ghosts, skeleton archers, thorn hunters and inquisitors.
Plus swamp snakes and poisonous spiders you may not need but will be necessary to feed a rage spirit… and you might find some ancient vampires in a certain crypt.
Also note where you garrison your extra creatures, heh.
Some non-obvious fights in Greenwort
Keep one enemy stack alive in Greenwort so you can build up some rage during a later event.
Don’t forget the tournaments at the temple next to the royal castle, against enemy heroes. In the spirit of always taking on those weaker than you, wait to be 4+ levels higher than the enemy.
Note that the horsemen’s tent in Greenwort usually doesn’t carry much of interest (perhaps because people used to employ a trick to access it very early on).
Be a bully !
On Normal difficulty, as a warrior or paladin, you can angle so that almost every fight before the Freedom Isles will be against very weak or weak opposition. This requires fluttering between zones, sub-zones and quests constantly, but is the most efficient way to minimize losses.
Minimizing losses is critical. You’ll get plenty of gold, but most critters (especially the good ones) are only available in limited quantities so you can’t replace them forever. Plus, replacing costs do accrue.
So make the fights as one-sided as possible, only hit weaker armies, go heavy on ranged attacks and ways to slow and neutralize enemy stacks, fight smart, reinforce the defences of melee fighters, have robust resurrections abilities, etc.
Be an early gatherer, not an early hunter
As the game open, simply visit all areas and fetch all bonuses you can, even if that involves maneuvering around hostile creatures and escaping with the prize.
Once all low-hanging fruits have been picked, you can start fighting (presumably at the village against the thorns).
Don’t forget to get the free boat in Arlania so you can also loot the shores and islands along the starting zones.
Hail to the King, baby !
Royal quests are very important and should be done ASAP. In particular :
- Kill the robbers at level 3 or 4 at the latest so you can get the quest to see the King’s brother.
- Then beeline down that quest line so you can get the chest of rage. You can sacrifice poisonous creatures to activate the second spirit, then beat the mages to activate the first spirit without too many losses. The sooner you activate the chest, the sooner you can invoke the spirits during fights and thus have them gain experience. It is possible to have the chest activated after having fought almost nobody on the map, thus maximising rage spirit experience gains.
- The turtle on the island isn’t hard to beat – level 7 or 8 is feasible, depending upon your army.
One *fast*, resilient creature stack (ideally griffins or ghosts with stone skin and/or one archmage boosting it… or maybe, mayhap you can find ancient vampires in a certain crypt) rushes to the head of the turtle (just in front of the small circle motif in the circle holding the turtle) and defends, and the rest of your army are ranged units.
The turtle will concentrate on the creature in front of its head rather than stomp and damage everyone – but your tank needs to move quickly since the turtle will mass slow as its first action.
- Beating the turtle means a leadership promotion and unlimited peasants, bowmen and swordsmen at the castle – this is big. The fight itself also earns you a bunch of experience.
- This quest also unlocks the access to the Isles of Freedom, where you can loot many resources without a fight. That’s a *lot* of leadership and gold and scrolls, etc. you can use to finish the original zones before taking on the markedly tougher Isles of Freedom.
- The next bit involves killing Lucky James (which is better than paying him off). The good news is that his forces are actually weaker than many roaming encounters in the islands – and definitely weaker than the forces in half the Freedom Isles quests. So you can keep the harder Isles quests for later.
- The castle in the mines, in the next segment, is roughly on the same level as Lucky James. Once you’ve got that clear you can access the Dwarven lands, where you will quickly be able to activate the third Spirit of Rage (and grab various power ups in the countryside as usual).
- Freeing the son of the Dwarven king is what unlocks the next promotion from your King, the last Rage Spirit, and the ability to buy runes (though the prices start in the hundreds of thousands and worsen from there).
Beware yon quests, brave sir Robin
Many quests have unintuitive choices ; some can be failed. Just keep an eye on the GameBanshee walkthrough or similar for an optimized playthrough.
Do note that spawns, some quest rewards, vendor inventories, etc. are randomized from game to game.
Shoot early, shoot often
Early on, a good direct damage spell to thin the enemy ranged units before they can shoot is very helpful – flaming arrow, poison skull, the axe blades, lightning… And unlocking level 2 for that spell allows it to stay relevant for longer.
Even the direct damage rage abilities do telling damage during the early game.
Discover the mass effect
Some level 3 spells have a “mass” effect, affecting all friendly or hostile creatures depending upon the effect. Depending upon your spells, army and tactics this could be a game changer – for instance Mass Precision on an army where most stacks are archers of some sort.
Summon & expend
Beyond the resurrection spell and a stack of inquisitors, summoned creatures are the best way to mitigate losses. The Phantom spell is a game-changer in the regard, as are summoning units such as druids or royal thorns.
You could also keep in a garrison a stack of disposable creatures that you can buy in large quantities and are good at drawing enemy fire, for fights where you expect bad losses (such as some Keepers fights).
The armour ability of the second rage spirit can also be great at prolonging the lifespan of a “designated target” unit that has just charged into the thick of it.
Resist the temptation to take Leadership bonuses when you level up, at least early on. An Attack, Defense, etc. bonus will always be +1 regardless of level, but Leadership scales up so it’s best to defer it until level 7-8 if possible (unless the alternative is a bonus that’s very low-value for your character). The banners you can pick up will have to suffice early on.
Even later, do not *always* take the Leadership bonus – not falling behind with your other important attributes is important.
The runes must flow, but they don’t, really
The early zones and the Isles of Freedom have lots of runes, and the levels come fairly quickly (even if you concentrate on weak fights that don’t earn much xp).
After that the inflow of runes slows down – don’t assume your skills will keep progressing at the early rates.
Morale is critical
Poor morale of your units seriously hamper them, whereas good morale is a sizable boost. Never underestimate its impact.
Fight the kraken (not an euphemism)
The last fight in the Isles is the kraken event. It’s similar to the mega-spider event described just below in terms of strategy. The kraken can attack those who get too close to its tentacles.
It’s best to greatly weaken the tentacles but keep them alive until you kill all three over a round or two. This is because the tentacles take room on the battlefield, and you want the enemy reinforcements to lack space to land and manoeuver.
The kraken and the spider are both (ranged) DPS races, so waiting a bit until you have a lot of firepower to bring isn’t a bad thing.
Tickle the spider (not an euphemism either)
In the Dwarven mines you will run into a gigantic, enormous, gargantuan spider.
This one can be hard – she has a tonne of hit points, unlimited high-damage retaliation, regularly changes her angle of attack, and endlessly summon increasingly large stack of poisonous spiders (three stacks of 400 spiders dropping in is normal midway in the fight. Then 600, 800…).
Furthermore it’s a boss fight, so no rage abilities allowed – and it’ll last long enough for your mana regen to taper off.
Important assets include:
- Only attacking the giant spider with ranged units. Never stop focusing your ranged fire on the main spider or you’ll get overrun – it’s a DPS race.
- Having high damage melee units to dispatch the poison spider stacks quickly so the ranged units can keep shooting.
- Filling the battlefield so summoned spiders have fewer free hexagons to appear in. I use orc shaman totems – and having five or six damage totems strewn about also results in impressive mass nukage.
You will likely take significant losses (unless you go in late and with units and tactics optimised for low or no losses), but on the other hand “super-boss” fights get you a significant amount of experience.
Then comes marriage
Be sure of whom you marry – a divorce costs one-fifth of your gold. Different wives have different equipment slots, so always keep a selection of items to equip a future wife even if your character is out of slots.
The frog princess is interesting for mages with her +3 to Intellect, and can be married fairly early in the game. Mirabella is also a good mid-game ally – she has good equipment slots (especially the weapon one, a slot that can carry solid Attack or Intellect bonuses)
Prioritize your resurrections. Creatures for whom you have a “Horde” (unlimited) recruitment source are less important to rez than those who for whom you don’t. Creatures with multiple high-yield recruitment sources are less important than those you could only find in one place so far.
Some creature might also only be there as a “bridge” in your strategy. For instance I usually have but one melee unit. If I start with bears, saving them become less important once I find good sources of ancient bears.
Once I have griffons and/or polar bears, saving the ancient bears is also less important – since in all these examples I know this creature type is going to be phased out. So I focus my resurrections on other units.
Magic Valley PSA
In the Magic Valley, do NOT take the Evilns-gathering quest right away. First, merchants are inaccessible when they have a quest going, and this guy often sells good spells and creatures.
Second, picking up Evilns damages your army with each pick-up, and it definitely adds up so you’ll want to organize ahead of time.
Notable units in the early-to-mid game
- Inquisitors have an excellent ranged attack, a resurrection ability that works on most units, a buff against demons and undead, are immune to mind control and can generate rage for you.
They also can be resurrected by a level II resurrection spell, and their resurrection ability can be refreshed using the Gift spell. Top-notch unit.
Don’t forget that you can use their Rage-generating ability before a fight ends to prepare for the next fight.
- Thorn hunters have OK ranged damage, which unfortunately means they’ll seldom be close enough to a dead stack to sprout more units. The AI tends to target them as low-level ranged units with low life, so they’re a good expendable buffer until you run out of thorns to recruit (which you will as you can’t rez them – though you can also use sprouts to “recruit” in the field).
They are very useful early on as you’ll probably be short on ranged units, though.
- Druids do splash damage with their ranged attack, can summon bears (about ⅓ of the number of druids) and, best of all, can hypnotise an enemy stack of animals for two turns (if the stack is the right size for your stack of druids to affect). The latter makes it much easier to take on some encounters.
They have very low initiative, though – but the bears’ sprint makes it handy to fetch battlefield chests if you have no suitable mobile unit. If you have reserve army slots you could keep a stack of druids there and switch them in when the enemy has animals.
- Gryphons are very fast, tough, can fly and have unlimited retaliation. A superior mid-game unit, and works great to tank the turtle.
With their sheer mobility and excellent health, they’re awesome with the Phantom spell – the phantom stack can be in the middle of the enemy’s back ranks by the very first turn, messing with their ranged units and keeping the big melee stacks busy. Some games simply won’t have griffons until you complete their king’s quest, though (the hardest quest in the Isles of Freedom).
- Bowmen are a decent ranged unit, useful against most everything but skeletons. The ice arrow is an excellent opening shot to delay the advance of the largest enemy melee stack. You’ll eventually have them available in unlimited quantities at the royal castle, and the Might tree allows them to fire more powerful arrow with a burning DOT. Whether to invest in the burning DOT (which is particularly good against plants and other flammable units) depends whether you’ll keep them or switch to elves.
- The various bears (normal, ancient, polar) are a robust tank unit. They hit pretty hard with their anger-when-damaged ability and crits, and the running ability compensates a bit for their slowness (and to attack the other guy rather than wait to be attacked, by rushing in).
- Royal snakes are pretty tough, fast, can poison… and their attacks do not trigger retaliation, which is a very powerful advantage. They might be sold as early as the menagerie in Greenwort, and seem to always be available at the snake underground in Alatria.
- Priests are a decent ranged unit, but their heals and bless are usually of limited utility unless you have a “star” melee stack with high individual health. The best thing about them is that a Mind-heavy built (presumably a Paladin) can turn them into inquisitors.
Like inquisitors, priests aren’t considered archers by the Precision spell.
- Orc shamans are a tough, fast melee unit. They can drop protective totems that are good at their job. The enemy will likely go after their protection and curse totems, wasting one or more turn to get rid of those. All this, plus two shots of a solid nuke that will heal your wounded units.
The healing totems can also be used to keep the last enemy remains busy while you regen mana to cast that last resurrection spell.
- Dwarven cannoneers are a good ranged unit, albeit without a magic arrow power like the human or skeleton archers. Their strong point is their high-damage volley ability, which you can use during the crucial first turn to hit an enemy ranged stack hard before they can shoot (the dwarves have high initiative).
Being dwarves though, they’re essentially not compatible with having elves in your army – there’s a morale penalty. Morale penalties are bad.
- Dwarven alchemists are also tough, and their thrown potions mean a front-loaded long-range offense – which is good, since you want to inflict maximum damage during the first few turns. Do note that their acid jet ranged attack has a range of but 3 ; it will also hit everything between the alchemist and the target, which might be a boon but might mean friendly fire. The acid jet actually hits harder than the potions, in my experience.
Dwarven alchemists are usually hirable early on in Darion’s marsh, at the dwarven alchemist lab.
- Archmages sound tough but they are fragile for their level, their range attack is so-so, and the enemy likes targeting them. They seem to chiefly be about their shielding ability for people whose tactics hint on having a big bad melee stack charge right in, but can’t resurrect much.
- Beholders are a straightforward, reliable ranged unit. Their beam *might* put a target asleep so it skips one turn, but this doesn’t happen much. They have reinforced attack when underground, and their Floating ability mean that they take way less damage from giant stomps – an annoying ability that damages all units.
Evil beholders are the same but with a funny mind control ability that only lasts for an attack (plus enemy retaliation), though I’m not convinced that it does more damage than simply blasting.
- Level 5 creatures are very specialized – their leadership costy is huge and not normally worth it unless you’re going for something special. They also can’t be resurrected by spells (though inquisitors still can rez them).
- The two robber classes have a no-retaliation attack – just a few shots, but it’s nice to soften a mean melee stack. They and the two pirate classes are nothing to write home about… unless you marry Mirabella and give her items that boost pirates and robbers (the Jolly Roger flag from a quest in the Freedom Isles, the chieftain’s belt that is often sold at some shop or the other, etc.).
These give these guys extremely high attack and defense scores, though they remain mostly lvl 1-2 units with limited mobility – they’re going to hit really hard, but if faced by solid ranged firepower the losses while crossing the battlefield are going to be significant (and probably spread over multiple units, making them hard or impossible to raise before the end of the battle).
- Dryads are pretty spiffy battlefield control unit – and they hit hard, too. Their neatest talent is summoning a stack of thorns, which excels at drawing the attention of enemy units and can thus keep them busy. They float, they can dodge attacks from male units, they can sedate low-level enemy units during the critical opening turn, they can boost the morale of your elves by a whole 3 points (!), they attack without retaliation…
Their main downside is a comparative lack of health.
- Royal Thorns are arguably even better than dryads. Sure, they are way slower, have terrible initiative, and do not have most of the dryad’s abilities… but they can sprout an awful lot of thorns, and they have a powerful ranged attack. The main drawbacks is that they draw a lot of hostility, and as plants you *cannot* resurrect them, even with an inquisitor.
Various skills, items and synergies encourage building a themed army (dwarves, elves, humans, undead, females of various species, magicians, archers…). However that runs into the reality of randomized unit procurement, as whom can be recruited where and in what quantities is randomly determined as the game begins.
Therefore, don’t get your heart settled on a specific army format – rather, build with those units you can actually recruit in sufficient quantities. This is likely to be more heteroclite than a themed army.
My own formulaic army is one stack of Inquisitors, one of Griffins, two stack of ranged attackers, and one crowd control/special abilities stack.