The purpose of the following guide is simply to give some general information that will help new players so they don’t end up playing for ten hours and feel like they’ve reached a point where they may have made the game needlessly frustrating by making some wrong assumptions (never make assumptions).
Basically I will be going over some of the things I wish I knew when I first started playing. Some of the things I’m pointing out may seem a bit obvious but I’m writing this for players who may need a boost or who may be a bit confused about how the game works (mana management for instance).
This guide is not about telling you what to do so you can follow a set of instructions but rather about sharing some insight about the game so comments are welcome. These are not rules set in stone but guidelines to help with getting a good start with the game by avoiding certain pitfalls.
While they do share the same skill trees, each character will develop differently as they level up. The paladin will have the most leadership and consequently the largest army whereas the mage will have the most effective spells and the warrior the most effective units in straight combat (by the way if the guy sounds familiar, it’s simply because he is voiced by Doug Cockle who is best known as the voice of Geralt of Rivia in the Witcher games).
Considering that the size of the army is the most important factor in terms of difficulty the paladin does have an easier start whereas the mage with the smallest army may be a bit more challenging especially at the beginning of the game.
As long as you still have one stack on the field by the end of a fight you win so it’s logical that having larger stacks make it easier to achieve this result.
Regarding the actual development of the character you can’t really go wrong even if some choices can be suboptimal and very situational (some of the less interesting skills do open up the option to take more valuable skills down the line).
Mana management is central to the game when playing the mage whereas you can get by without giving it as much thought with the other classes (as long as you don’t go crazy with scribing every scoll and upgrading all your spells). The Bookworm skill lowers the cost of learning spells and is worth considering for the mage especially since you can respec (for free the first time) and reaffect the points to other skills once you’ve learned the spells you wanted (just bear in mind that you will be needing points in the schools of magic in order to actually be able to use them after the respec).
There is the Treasure Hunter skill that allows you to get more gold from looting and the Trophies skill that nets you more gold from fights but these are not really good choices for most characters unless you need them to unlock other skills (they won’t make your army more effective and they won’t get you that much gold).
The Training skill gives your hero a bonus to experience would be a waste considering there is a level cap but since you can respec you may consider it if you want to level up faster. The problem is that you may reach the level cap before the end of the game and reaching the point where you no longer get any XP feels unrewarding. With that being said, if you’re aiming for the top of the Order skill tree or don’t mind reaching the level cap or don’t intend to play through all the content (for whatever reason) then it may be worth considering. Just bear in mind that levelling faster will get you skill points sooner but chances are you won’t be able to spend these on higher skills since these will require more points in Order, Power, Anarchy and Finesse (and you need a focus on Order to be able to take this skill in the first place). You will still benefit from the other effects of getting a level (increase in stats and leadership).
The Practice skill adds a percentage to the experience gained by units and can be somewhat useful if you keep switching between armies and don’t use the same units otherwise it’s interest is limited (arguably you could simply respec once your units have reached rank 3 but it’s not a trick that you want to repeat considering it costs 10,000 gold to reaffect your skill points and 50,000 if you want to do it another time).
Investing in skills like Power Balance that allow to mix units of different alignments is situational. If you don’t plan on mixing units these are wasted and if you do then you want to make sure that you are mixing unit types.
During the game you will have to make choices that will reward you by adding to some of your alignment score thus unlocking higher ranking skills. It may be tempting to pick choices that will boost the ideal you need to unlock the next rank of skills you’ve been eyeing for your build but I recommend roleplaying your choices instead (especially for the first run through the game). If you base your decisions on external considerations and all you can see is a bunch of modifiers it will be difficult to relate to the characters and what is happening in the game especially considering that some of these choices will have consequences further in the game (of course feel free to disregard this if you don’t care about stories or roleplaying).
General Combat Tips
First things first, make sure you check the flags above the units as the numbers above indicate the initiative order in which units are going to take their turns.
You can tell which enemy units your ranged units can target when they are selected and when you hover on your destination hexagon. Ranged units can shoot across the map if no obstacle or elevation difference block their lines of sight.
Melee units have a zone of control which allows them to take a free opportunity attack on enemy units that move away from them or more in a one hexagon radius without ending their movement in that hexagon. Some units (mostly flying, cavalry and ethereal units) won’t trigger these attacks.
Most units get only one counter attack per turn so if you focus your attacks on one unit you can have your most resilient unit “eat” the counter attack so your other units get to attack without any counter attack (the game displays tooltips showing you exactly what you can expect).
Make sure you read all the information relative to the special abilities that are available to your units (some will be unlocked by progressing through ranks). These abilities don’t necessarily replace regular attacks and some can be very effective but you may want to check that the enemy is not immune to some effects (like undead and mechanical units being immune to bleeding and some elemental units being immune to a particular element). You can build entire strategies around some of these abilities like the Taunt ability knights get which can work wonders if you first engage the enemy with a fast unit like dogs or cavalry and use taunt to trigger attacks of opportunity and disrupt the offensive (bear in mind that the enemy will also spam Taunt if given the opportunity and this can be particularly aggravating if they get to act before you do).
Troops with area attacks (like dragon fire for example) or area spells or spell like abilities can cause friendly fire so you may want to check that your own troops aren’t in range.
You want your ranged units not to be engaged by melee units since that will prevent them from shooting and most ranged units are terrible in melee. If that happens you should avoid moving your ranged units to stop the enemy melee unit to get a free extra attack. Worst case scenario you can wait for one of your other unit to eat the counter, if that’s not a possibility it may be better to skip the turn rather than make a feeble melee attack with a ranged unit and get crushed by the counter.
At the end of the fight you can use gold to replenish your ranks as long as a stack has not been wiped out (beware, some enemies have abilities that can “purge wounded units” which means that the purged units won’t be available after the battle is over and you will have to recruit those missing units to fill your ranks). Losing an entire stack is not very serious for common units (you will always find a recruiter somewhere on the map to sell you a fresh batch) but it can be a major problem if a rare stack gets wiped out that way. You should look after rare units to avoid losing the last one in the stack in order to avoid ending up in that situation (you can also store units in your reserve).
If you decide to mix units from different alignments you may want to invest in skills that mitigate morale penalties. Otherwise there are enough units of one particular alignment (or two different alignments) to fill in the ranks of your army. You should make use of your reserves to store units that you don’t want to use right away but could be useful in different situations (or have as a backup). For instance some units will perform better against living enemies while others receive some bonus against the undead. You could end up having to fight in a cramped map where you can’t focus fire on enemy units making a line made of mostly ranged units possibly less effective (these perform really well on open maps).
Speaking of army composition, mixing unit types makes sense. You get ranged attackers that don’t need to engage the enemy to be effective, melee units that will use their zones of control to prevent enemy units from blocking your shooters and fast moving units that will block enemy shooters. Some units will also come with useful abilities to boost your troops or hinder the enemy. Having a high initiative unit is pretty much a necessity if you want to open the fight with a spell in order to either maximise the offensive potential of your units or disable annoying enemy units (the ones that spam Taunt or Fear come to mind).
Mana being used as a resource to cast spells, learn them and upgrade them can be a bit baffling especially considering it is a finite resource (you will be able to get mana by visiting crystals, looting and winning some fights). This actually makes sense within the lore of the game but it can feel a bit overwhelming when you realise how costly it is to learn and upgrade your spells (and if you’e planning to learn many spells you really want to get the Bookworm skill that reduces the cost for that).
The best option is to avoid spreading out in the early game. If you end up at a point where you have loads of unspent mana then you may want to reconsider and start experimenting but as long as you’re not there you may want to adopt a more conservative approach (by the end of the game you will have harvested enough mana to learn every spell in the game and upgrade some of them especially if you maxed out Bookworm but my advice would be to err on the side of caution so you don’t end up in a tight spot early on).
This may sound counter intuitive but bear in mind that upgrading spells may not be the best option. Upgraded spells are more expensive but they won’t necessarily be more effective. For instance there is a cap on the maximum healing you can do with the Healing spell depending on a unit’s hitpoints so maxing out this spell will only help with larger and stronger units. The Resurrection spell is costly and if you decide to upgrade it you will be needing a significant reserve of mana (base Resurrection cost 12 points -and the upgraded version twice as much without taking into account the 340 points you need to fork upfront to unlock the second rank- whereas simple Healing cost 2 mana for the base version -Vivify which allows regeneration costs 5 points for the base version). Similarly, you can boost the damage of ranged units with the Deadeye spell but the difference between rank 2 or 3 of that spell is insignificant if you don’t have more than 3 ranged units in your army (in which case you end up saving mana).
Some spells are very expensive and the return on investment is not necessarily great. Summoning spells cost a lot to learn and to use and they need to be upgraded in order to be most effective. I would suggest using scrolls instead should you feel the need to summon an extra stack (the exception being more powerful and rare summons like Chimeras).
Direct damage spells like Burning Ray scale with your character’s spellcasting stat but if you’re not playing the mage chances are the modifier will be rather underwhelming. Spells that buff your units like Elleu’s Light or Celestial Fire are usually less expensive and won’t require a high spellpower to be effective. Similarly, spells that weaken threatening enemy units (Torpor, Weakness, Fracture, Disease) can be more useful since instead of chipping away at their health bars you can make them cause less damage or take more damage which adds up and can pay off. More advanced spells can make them skip their turn like Blindness, take damage with every action with Confusion or attack the nearest unit thanks to Madness. This is not just about dark magic though since for instance there is a Transformation spell (Earth and Ice magic school) that can be found halfway through the game and can be used to turn an enemy unit into a chicken for a turn (the spell needs to be upgraded in order to affect more powerful units). Transformation can be a cheaper and even more effective option than Blindness but it won’t affect more powerful creatures (there is a cap on the leadership value depending on the rank of the spell but effects can last longer and it is more debilitating). There is something to be said about neutralising an entire unit (or up to three units with Blindness) with a single spell. It’s definitely a game changer provided you have the mana to be able to cast it and actually get to cast it (you will need a unit with high initiative in order to go first and get the opportunity to cast the spell -Royal Mages are perfectly suited for that purpose).
If we don’t consider the actual cost of learning spells we still have to factor that most characters will only be able to cast one spell per turn for most of the game so that limits the number of spells that can be cast in any given fight. If you’re going to cast a maximum of let’s say 5 spells in a fight you may not need to fill your spellbook (plus if you’re using damage spells against Hollow units chances are you will be casting Banish on every turn).
Last but not least, looting will provide you with many scrolls and vendors will trade scrolls for gold that you will be able to use in fights without spending any mana. Do note that some scrolls are unique, can be used outside of combat and can’t be learned so you will have to find them or buy them (keep an eye on Summon scrolls they can help you refill your ranks without going back to see a vendor -just bear in mind that you can’t dismiss stacks from your reserve and that to hire new stacks you have to remove a unit from your army and send it to your reserve before you can hire a new unit -you can manage your troops right away by switching between the army and reserve tabs).
These are optional challenges that have you use a different army and hero in order to engage in challenging tactical fights. They are tactical puzzles and the trick is to figure out how to make the most of what troops and abilities you have to win. The difficulty is that since we don’t have a say in what troops and spells we have to fight with the tactics we routinely use won’t be available to us. They can be frustrating but ultimately they are offering some opportunities to explore the tactical combat further and learn a few new tricks in the process.
For instance one of these challenges puts you in control of a red dragon and in order to avoid getting crushed you need to figure out how to attack several units at the same time by using the dragon’s breath.
In another fight you need to tank with summons in order to buy some time so your one ranged unit can take down the enemy.
These can be tricky since the scales are clearly tipped against you but once it clicks these fights become all the more enjoyable and once you’re done with these challenges you’re well prepared for anything the game can throw at you.
Puzzles, Exploration & Loot
Puzzles are usually simple enough and the solution can generally be found by looking around (sometimes above or behind) so paying attention to the surroundings can really help.
Exploration and looting can be time consuming but taking the time to look for books, chests and caches will allow you to find out about the lore of the game by reading the notes that can be found in the world and collecting loot to be sold, mana to fuel your spells and gear to equip your hero. If you’re patient you will be better off finding stuff on the map for free instead of spending gold in shops to get a new shiny item although at times getting a particular weapon or piece of armour can simply be too tempting (if you care about looks my advice would be to save before going on a shopping spree so you can go back and reload if you’re not happy with your character’s new threads).
When it comes to gold it all depends on how well you’re doing with fights. If you manage to win fights without too many casualties you can make enough gold to justify going on a shopping spree (I would recommend keeping some gold though -the game may not be hard there are some difficulty spikes and if you end up winning by the skin of your teeth you will be needing some gold to get back on your feet). Keep in mind that scrolls that can’t be used in combat can provide some interesting perks (a temporary boost to damage, mana, morale or experience for your next battle) and may be of help if you end up facing an unexpectedly difficult enemy (some enemies can be a lot harder depending on your army composition).
On the subject of premium items included in the Lord’s Edition of the game, I will say that some of these can be useful but they are in no way needed to enjoy the game as you will find items in the game that may suit your style better (both in terms of stats and looks). Some items do come with certain trade offs so you may want to make sure that these match your playing style.
I can’t say I’ve experienced any serious bug during my time playing this game. The only weird thing I noticed was a quest marker on the map that didn’t go away (even after I had completed the quest) and a few times my character got stuck in the environment but saving in a new slot (just in case) and reloading that very same save right away fixed the issue.