Friday, 22 May 2015

Impossible: Impossible

When I first started playing on impossible difficulty it seemed to be literally impossible. That dwarf fight I posted last time probably didn't look all that bad - it's the elf fight that's the real problem.

A battlefield from the game, showing the beginning of the battle with the elven guardian of light.

The wolves in that picture aren't wolves but werewolves, as are the elves with the blade on their hands. Like vampires, they have two forms, also like vampires they regenerate and their fast form has four speed. You may guess from the image that the fairies out front have five speed and a high initiative. The archers suffer no damage penalty for shooting across the entire arena, and the fauns are a ranged unit that can cast sleep.

So this, like the dwarf fight, is a battle against a very stacked opponent, but this time the opponent has high speed than you and have excellent ranged units. But that's not all. Wolves, and werewolves in wolf form, have a howl ability.

Howl: Lets loose a long, terrifying howl, frightening all living enemies of level 1-2. These enemies have a 50% chance of being forced to skip their turn. Charges: 1/1

That sounds pretty bad. But let's look at the description of the effect that Howl actually places on my imps:

Fear: Units are filled with fright and don't obey orders. They are afraid to attack the enemies of a higher level than itself.

Not a perfect localization, I'm sure, but you get the idea. The feared creature doesn't have a 50% chance to miss it's next turn, it acts without your control, attacking enemies equal or lower level than itself. This effect lasts two rounds, and there are two stacks of werewolves, so you don't actually get to control any level 1-2 units you have for the first four rounds of combat.

Four rounds of not controlling your army against an army twice the strength with faster, higher ranged units than you have. You can forgive me for thinking this was unbeatable.

A huge part of the problem is the units you are stuck with. The shelter has a selection of six units to recruit. It has a level one and two orc unit: Goblins and Furious Goblins. It has two level two demons, since there are no level one demons: Imps and Scoffer Imps. It has a level one and a level two undead unit: Skeletal Archers and Zombies.

But wait, that last one isn't for sure. There are some things in King's Bounty - a lot of things, actually - that are random. While the shelter alway has the same Orc and Demon units, the undead army has two level one and two level two units. The choice between zombies and decaying zombies isn't a big one - you can see from the screen shot above I didn't recruit them anyway. But the difference between skeletons and skeletal archers is the difference between a fragile ranged unit and a fragile melee unit. Guess which one of those is about a five times as good.

Because undead are immune to fear, this is an even bigger difference. If you only get to control one unit, do you want it to be the one that basically stands there and hopes to get to fight at some point or the one that is shooting things down?

But that's not the only thing in King's Bounty that is random. When you begin playing, you get a quest.

So talk to Clarissa, get some experience, a couple of potions and a scroll of Frost Grasp. It's a breadcrumb quest to get you going on the story.

The thing is, I didn't recall having Frost Grasp. You start with Poison Skull, which has a huge damage range and inflicts poison. Frost Grasp has a more predictable damage range and inflicts freezing, which deals damage like poison does, but which also reduces speed. You can see how that's better, but I still didn't see winning.

I tried starting again and got the above quest. Here are a couple of others I saw:

So the spell you get is random, as is the amount of experience you get. That seems crazy to me. Especially since the spell choices appear to have a very wide range. Frost Grasp would be handy, Fire Arrow would be as well. Magic Shackles is a great spell, and Time Shift is downright broken, but neither will do anything in the early hard fights.

So I was restarting hoping to get Fire Arrow because it has the best damage to mana spent ratio in at level two, which is the best you can do for those fights. I would also have been even happier with Trap, which does more damage and ends an enemy unit's turn so long as you can successfully place it in their path.

But instead, I got Chaos Missile, which I had no idea was even an option.

Let's take a look at Poison Skull.

These are the damage numbers with fairly low intelligence, but everything scales by multiplication, so the relative power of the levels stays the same. So rank one is about 20 damage per mana, ranks two and three are both a little over 25 damage per mana with increasing chances to poison.

Now let's take a look at Chaos Missile:

Rank one the missiles to 5 per mana, then they do 5.5 per mana, then they do 5.33 per mana. But, also, the number of missiles goes up from 3 to 6 to 9. So actually the damage per mana is 15, then 33 then 48. Plus, since the cost scales up faster it does even more damage per round, which is important for getting rid of units before they are able to do serious damage to you. 300 damage is a lot more than 170, and when you are able to scale it up to level 3 it's a huge asset.

So my second attempt at impossible I not only a massively more powerful spell, I also got random experience rolls that allowed me to hit level 5 before fighting the elves, and I swear the stacks in the human army were just 15-20% smaller by chance as well. Impossible turned to quite possible.

I'm pretty confident that having gotten past the guardians of light and the fight following that the game won't actually be all that hard on impossible mode, and so far the game has been proving me right. Next time, the trick I used in the early game to get units that could win fights.

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