Wednesday, June 10, 2009

You Lack Grace

I'm now plunging onward into the Fall from Heaven 2 Scenarios.  Wow!  If the game itself is massive, the scenarios are even more huge.  Even an individual one can run nearly as long as a regular game, and there are around 20 of them.  Fortunately there is a great deal of variety to keep things interesting.

I've just run through a couple of them, and wanted to jot down my thoughts.  I'm not sure if I'll complete the set or not.

First, some housekeeping.  They seem to run pretty well under Wine.  FfH2 proper runs great; the first couple of Falamar mods ran great.  The Barbarian Assault one (where you need to defeat Sheelba) used to crash for me when I launched the scenario or, if not, when I loaded a save; but since upgrading to their June release, even that one has been running fine.  Every once in a while I will get a freeze, but it's been pretty rare, maybe one for every few hours of gameplay.

Now, the scenarios proper:

It looks like there are several sets.  Each set is run as a sequence, and tells a story.  The first set features Falamar, and the first scenario, The Grand Menagerie, is possibly the easiest thing you will ever do in FfH2.  It actually is a good introduction for total newbies - no hordes of barbarians, no hostile civs, just some animals to fight and capture, and good tutorial text that explains more about them.  I actually learned more here than I had known before about some details behind the way animals spawn and form packs.

It's impossible to lose this scenario.  One annoying factor - the very last animal you need to capture is a griffin.  I don't know if griffins just take forever to spawn, or if it spawned early and spent all its time in the ocean, but either way, I spent more time just waiting for the griffin to show up than I did in the entire rest of the scenario.  Kind of annoying.  Time-consuming, but not hard.

In contrast, the second scenario, The Momus, was one of the hardest things I've ever played.  It's a fun concept - you and a bunch of other civs are on a giant island, and the insane king of the Balseraphs decides at a whim who should attack who.  It's either "everyone declare war on X" or "everyone declare war on everyone else."  But it isn't pure military - you start off with two settlers, found cities, start off with all of the first round of tech, and basically play an incredibly high-stress game of FfH2.

The first time I played this, I TOTALLY screwed up.  I had built a city next to an inland lake without realizing it, then built the Black Wind there by accident, where it was totally useless throughout the whole game.  I fell behind everyone else and couldn't defend myself when they eventually came after me.

The second time was a bit better, and I made a good showing at first, but the Duke of Dis became incredibly powerful, and I knew there was just no way I could stand against him.  So, I started over again.

The third game, I kept an eye on the Duke the whole time.  I nearly played into his hands as it was - for some reason I decided to join the Ashen Veil when it became available.  I think my reasoning was that most of the other players were Evil (almost everyone had converted to Ashen Veil or Octopus Overlords), and I wanted the diplomacy bonus, but that's nuts, since you have no meaningful control over diplomacy anyways.  You can and should exchange maps with everyone in the beginning, but after the first few rounds everyone is mad at everyone else for declaring war on them - even though it's not out fault!

Anyways, Ashen Veil was an especially bad choice since when my characters died, or killed off other Ashen Veil units, they were reborn as Manes for the Duke.  He was INSANELY powerful.

I recognized it this time, though, and was able to set up a city as a chokehold at the top of a peninsula between the two of us.  Er, substitute "capture" for "set up".  I got an archer promoted to City Garrison III and gave him some support, and held off the Duke when he came calling.  Even this got to be too much after a while - my jaw dropped when I saw a stack of more than twenty (!!!) units heading my way.  I did learn more about tactics, though.  It proved invaluable to keep a catapult or two in the city; they could barrage the enemies outside our gates, weakening them to the point where my archer (and his two backup archers, and  the boarding party, and whoever else I could grab) could hold off the Wave From Hell.

With that flank more or less secure, I could focus my offensive operations on the rest of the map.  In this particular game Perpentach early on went to the "everyone against everyone" mode, and largely kept it there for the rest of the game.  I basically swept counterclockwise around the map.  I was on a military footing for the whole game - Military State, God King, etc.  Didn't do Conquest, since I wanted to keep growing.  Anyways, as usual the key to the game was specialization.  My capital churned out archers, my second city did the Black Wind and then a Training Yard for swordsmen, and later on a Siege Workshop for Catapults.  Lots and lots of catapults.  I don't think I've ever built so many before, and they were all useful.  I was surprised that the AI never built any - the entire point of this scenario requires you to take every city on the map, which demands a huge supply of these things.

Once my military engine was up and running, it rolled like clockwork.  My archers would guard the catapults up to the city walls.  Swordsmen would defeat any vulnerable threats in the field.  We would pound the city walls down to 0%, then on the next turn barrage the city with all the catapults again.  Finally the highest promoted swordsmen would lead the charge, followed by the stragglers.  It would fall.  I held on to the cities near my start, all of which were near a large inland lake.  Anything farther away was destroyed.

A few minor notes:
  • I got a special event that I've seen before where you find a group of people and have various choices (equip as settlers, train as swordsmen, train as adept, etc.).  I think I've always been short on cash before, but this time I got an Adept.  I never advanced him, but he did get to learn to use water mana, which proved INCREDIBLY useful.  Your starting position is pretty crummy and is mainly desert with just a few resources.  Once you learn Spring, you can transform those deserts into plains - and what's really cool is that the existing resources all remain.  This is even true of the Oasis, which I loved.  Terraforming is one of the many fascinating aspects of FfH2 which doesn't even happen in most of my games.
  • It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I could build pirate coves.  I think I had just forgotten about this - I KNEW they existed, just didn't remember.  I'd built work boats for pearls and fish and never noticed the pirate cove option.  I finally started building these close to the end of the game and, wow, are they ever cool!  Definitely doing these early on in the next real game I play as Falamar.  I'm increasingly thinking that the Lanun are a seriously overpowered civ, especially in the hands of a human intelligence.
  • This particular scenario is especially confusing because many of the minor civs are labeled as Balseraph, just with different leaders.  As a result, it wasn't always clear just where I was supposed to be attacking.

Once I had cleared out most of the remaining opponents except for Beeri and the Duke, I switched to the Order (hail Junil!) and became Good.  I was delighted when Crusaders started popping up all over.  You can get a Crusader for converting a city, which is a really good trade.  I also built a Confessor - it wasn't until now that I realized you need to actually have a state religion to build high-level religious units.  The main reason why I switched was actually to get those Confessors and Crusaders - I was nervous about taking on Dis, and they have some great Holy powers, which the demons are weak to.

The end game was a lot of fun.  I suspect that the tech system is accelerated in this scenario, because I was chomping at the leaves of the tech tree.  I picked up Assassins, which I've never gotten before.  They're special purpose, but incredibly useful - since they attack the LEAST powerful unit in a stack, they're perfect for taking out mages, siege weapons, and other weak-yet-important units.  They didn't exactly tip the balance for me, but were a huge help.

In the end, I was able to catch Dis in a pincher.  I exploded north from my chokepoint city with a holy army, while my insanely highly promoted veterans (some of whom were pushing 200XP) marched westward over dwarven corpses.  He threw some huge waves at me, but I fought them off, and the cities themselves fell pretty easily once I reached their walls.  Finally Dis itself collapsed, and I continued onward.

My recommendation to you?  Play this scenario - it is fun - but it was nuts to try it on Noble.  I think luck had a lot to do with me winning this time around, even little things like being able to pick of Raseir The Fallen early on when the Duke left him isolated.  Anyways, play this game, but do it on Chieftan or something, and just have fun with it.

I forgot to mention this before, but there is a real story to all of these - the beginning and end of each scenario features some frankly gorgeous fantasy art and some decently-written prose.  It could have used one more pass of editing, but I'm a lit snob, and the stories are quite cool.

I took a break from the Falamar plotline to attempt the barbarian one.  As noted before, the latest version of Wine can play it fine, and I set to it with great gusto.  It was frankly a relief after the prior scenario - not exactly easy, but a cakewalk in comparison.

I eventually decided on Hippus.  First, because they are such a strongly combat-oriented civ, it seemed like the best match for this particular goal of defeating Shelba.  Second, I wouldn't ordinarily pick them for a standard FfH2 game, so this seemed like a good chance to experience them without requiring a large time commitment.

I'd wondered in the previous game why Hippus was able to create mounted units when there were no Horses on the entire island, and had wondered if this was some intrinsic ability they have.  Turns out that I was right!  Most Palaces provide three types of mana, but the Hippus palace instead provides two mana and a Horse resource.  I didn't have the requisite techs to build mounted units, but I could have once I discovered them.

The game starts you out in a little glade, surrounded by jungle, with a scary barbarian city right in the center.  I had a settler, but I was leery about building right next to the enemy, and there was absolutely nothing promising in the thick jungle.  Besides the settler I had a warrior, a scout, and - hooray! - a horseman.  The Hippus horse units have an EXTRA +1 movement, for a grand total of 4.  I had good odds to attack the enemy city, so I did.  Got a promotion, took it to heal, then attacked again.  The barbarian city is just size 1, so it was gone.

Where to plant my own city?  It would have made the most sense to put it around where the barbarian city was, in the middle of the glade - not many resources, and too few hammers, but at least it would provide ample room to grow.  Instead, I decided to build on the edge of the jungle, so I could eventually maximize my resources and get some banana.

HUGE mistake!  I had no rivers, no fresh water, and no forests - and a ton of jungles.  Right off the bat, I had massive unhealthiness in my capital, and 0 growth.  Throughout the entire game, my pop never passed one.  I eventually created a worker to clean up the mess, then realized that I didn't have the requisite techs for chopping down jungles.  Curses!

In the meantime, though, I had three military units and an entire world to explore.  I made contact with two other friendly civs, and found a huge number of goody huts, as well as a couple of lairs.  One hut provided another warrior, and then I stumbled across Sheelba's homeland.  I noted that she just had warriors in her city.  I had a highly promoted Horseman.  Could it be....?

I brought my entire army of four units down.  She kept creating goblins to send after me, which was awesome, since it provided more XP for my warrior and scout while they were waiting on the horseman racing southwest.  Finally, once everything was in position, I stacked them all up, and easily attacked with the horseman.  He needed to heal a bit, we absorbed some reprisals, and then I took the city.

At least at first.  I mean, my capital was crap, and I wanted a place to heal, so why not grab a new city?  Well, an ENORMOUS SCARY GORILLA spawned right next to me.  It was named Gurid, but all I could see was the strength of 23.  "Maybe it will go away," I told myself.  It didn't.  It destroyed my army.  "Maybe I don't need this city after all," I told myself.  Reload!

This time I destroyed the city.  King Kong still spawned, but this time not right next door to me.  We licked our wounds, then pressed on to... I want to say Barak the Burning, but I think that's the name of my president.  Let's call it Burntown.  This was unique in that it was defended by a Champion, strength 6, which usually isn't available until much later with Iron Working.  The Champion is Held, so he can't move - a nice touch for this scenario, since it makes the final objective quite challenging, without raising the specter of Shelba conquering the world in the first 50 turns.  By now, my Horseman had tons of combat promotions, and slew the Champion in a fair fight.  The rest of my units charged in after him, and - happy day - we had defeated the Clan of Embers and bought ourselves respite from the barbarians!

One very cool aspect about the scenarios is that, in addition to certain scenarios unlocking others, winning some will give you rewards in others.  Supposedly, by beating this scenario, I'll be decreasing the strength of the barbarians in all other scenarios.  I can live with that.

I'm now playing through the third Falamar scenario, which again is a lot of fun and totally unlike anything else.  You don't have any cities in this one; you've been hired as mercenaries to defend a city that's building the Mercurian Gate.  You have a wide variety of mid-level units positioned between the good city and the hordes of the Infernals, and need to stop them from reaching there.  You can win the scenario by killing 100 of the enemies, and I'm about halfway there.  So far it hasn't been too hard - your forces mainly consists of Archers, Radiant Guards, Hunters, Mages, Arcane Barges, and Swordsmen, plus one each of Arqubus, Ranger, Longbowman, Boarding Party, Ratha, Guybrush Threepwood, Ship of the Line, and Archmage.  The opponents seem to be steadily increasing in difficulty - at first it was all scouts, then some hellhounds, now horsemen, specters, and axemen, pit beasts, and I'm just starting to see my first ritualists and succubus.  The rules say that Dis gets free units in his city every turn, so there will definitely be a great supply to play with.  I'm having a blast with the arcane units, literally... I almost never get to play with offensive magic against a worthy opponent.  I'm definitely doing the most with Fireball, but the Archmage knows some third-level summoning spells that are very cool.  Early on the Floating Eyes were invaluable for figuring out what was going on.  I zapped my own guys with Maelstrom before I realized what the risks were - whoops!  All in all, a great collection of tricks to play.

The scenario is continuing to evolve, which I love.  I stumbled across Capria, who has a score of 0 and just a single ship.  We exchanged maps, making me notice that he had none.  A few turns later, he suggested that if I capture a particular Infernal city so he could join in the fight.  That's my current objective.  Unfortunately, most of my powerful units are deployed too far north, but I do have two mages and two arcane barges in range, and I do love me some fireballs. 

The one thing that is making me nervous is what happens if enemies slip through.  I'm not totally clear on what the AI is set up to do here - he does occasionally attack me, but more often he seems to try and maneuver west, which makes me think he's focusing on taking the city.  I didn't leave behind any guards or anything, I'm advancing my line forward, trying to destroy everyone I can, but the map is so tall that he has probably slipped some things past me.  Anyways, I really hope that they're capable of defending themselves, because I seem to have abdicated that responsibility and it's too late to turn back now.

So, early impressions of the FfH2 scenarios are extremely positive.  I'll check back in again if and when I finish the rest, or however many I decide to do.  Wheee!

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