King's Bounty Unit Analysis Part 4: Orcs
Racial relations-wise, Orcs are a bit oddball. They get a mono-Orc Morale bonus, and they technically have some racial hostility, but it's limited to...
-1 Morale for Demonic presence in allies.
-1 Morale for Undead presence in allies.
... well, a less pronounced version of the Human list.
It's odd in part because the events of the game really seem like they ought to place them as having hostilities with the Elves, and on the flipside there's no real establishment of why they'd be hostile to Demons and Undead. Some of the lore elements involve them summoning Demons outright, so if anything you'd expect them to be the only 'normal' species that was unbothered by Demons.
Hiring Cost: 60
Attack/Defense: 14 / 14
Initiative/Speed: 6 / 3
Damage: 3-8 Physical
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Furious Goblins are most notable for being a three-Speed Running unit, letting them cover an astonishing amount of ground. In conjunction with their extremely high Initiative, it can be extremely difficult to prevent Furious Goblins from hitting your lines on the second turn, as your army makeup can easily let them beat out your entire army for turn order, denying you the ability to eg Trap them to waste their Running use and all. They're also respectably durable (In The Legend, nothing actually exceeds 1 Health per Leadership, so being slightly below 1 to 1 is actually really darn good), making it surprisingly difficult to tear them down to manageable levels before they've taken chunks out of your units.
As player units, they're primarily limited by the fact that the player will usually be the one playing the defensive game, when Furious Goblins are all about getting in the enemy's face. For the times you do want something to close swiftly (eg to block off enemy ranged), you'd usually rather have a Flying or at least Soaring unit, so that terrain isn't too much of a concern. (Or, if you're using Teleport to minimize terrain, why not use something that's primary weakness is poor base Speed?) The fact that they're melee glass cannons without No Retaliation or the like doesn't exactly help either, but they're honestly one of the better choices for that role.
Hiring Cost: 90
Attack/Defense: 16 / 17
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 2
Damage: 7-10 Physical
Resistances: 10% Physical
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
A nice touch is how the emblem on the Orc's shield is their racial symbol.
Orcs themselves are fairly boring. They take a surprising amount of punishment to go down -they have more Health than Leadership, which is extraordinarily rare the The Legend, not even getting into the minor Physical resistance- but ultimately they're still a fairly standard 2 Speed Running melee unit with no other qualities. They're probably one of the best choices for that role/one of the most problematic versions of that you'll see on enemies, but they don't fundamentally escape the problems of that archetype. They're not even high enough Level to be safe from eg Blind or Sheep.
This leaves little to say about them.
Hiring Cost: 280
Attack/Defense: 25 / 25
Initiative/Speed: 6 / 3
Damage: 15-20 Physical
Resistances: 10% Physical
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Abilities: Counterattack (If counterattacked, the Veteran Orc immediately makes a second attack on the target)
Veteran Orcs are a fairly generic melee unit, but they're fast (While having Running! Only Demons-the-unit and Furious Goblins share this quality), reasonably tough, and Counterattack is actually a somewhat interesting Ability, encouraging you to have them attack a target that will hit back so as to basically double their already solid damage output. They're one of your better choices for trying to cut down most ranged attackers, and of course if you're running heavy on conventional melee Veteran Orcs should ideally open hostilities on a turn to maximize damage.
They're definitely one of the best reasonably straightforward melee units, which is appropriate given Orcs as a whole are placed primarily at the very end of the game. They're even low enough Level they're still in reach of Level 3 Resurrection, letting you use them in their ideal manner while still keeping their costs reasonable.
Still, they're an uncomplicated unit.
For the moment.
Hiring Cost: 3000
Attack/Defense: 41 / 41
Initiative/Speed: 3 / 2
Damage: 50-70 Physical
Resistances: 10% Physical, 10% Poison, 10% Fire
Talents: Rage of the Ogre (Reload: 3. +2 Action Points, and Attack is doubled for 2 turns)
Abilities: Orc's Commander (+1 Morale for allied Orcs other than Ogres)
Strangely, the in-game description for Orc's Commander claims they provide 3 Attack to allied Orcs, but it actually provides the Morale bonus I've listed. (Well, in strict coding terms the Ability doesn't actually do anything, but eh)
Rage of the Ogre is de-facto a reloading super-Running, which is an interesting choice.
Ogres are also the cheapest Level 5 unit in the game, both in terms of Leadership and hiring cost. Which... would be more interesting if the game was more willing to provide access to them earlier. I'm pretty sure you can potentially get them as early as the Isles of Freedom, but I'm pretty sure it's only a chance and in any event you'll generally have 2000-3000 Leadership by the time you get there anyway, making their low Leadership for a Level 5 unit not 'the Level 5 unit you can field earliest due to Leadership accessibility' because by the time the game is offering them you've got enough Leadership to afford at least 1 of little every unit in the game. It feels like a missed opportunity, and in practice Ogres tend to be overshadowed by the other Level 5 units.
Even for a mono-Orc army, the main reason I'd consider them isn't a positive quality of theirs (eg Orc's Commander) but rather that the Orc options are limited enough you may find the alternatives worse. If you're making a mono-Orc army and focus maximally on ranged offense (Goblins, Shaman, and Catapults) you still have 2 unit slots left to fill. Say you take Veterans. (Because they're fantastically mobile and lethal) Your remaining choices are Orcs (Only notable for being fairly tough for their Leadership, just as slow as Ogres but Running doesn't Reload), Furious Goblins (Lightning fast and also surprisingly tough for their Leadership, but so low Leadership casualties are basically inevitable), and Ogres. (Passively boosts the army a little just for existing, can absorb a decent amount of punishment without suffering casualties, probably the best Orc unit for synergizing with Dancing Axes)
Of course, mono-Orc armies are boring and not that great (yet), and Morale's effects are weak enough, even into the endgame, that pursuing positive Morale just isn't that important/valuable. And Orcs don't upset any species, making it easy to cherry-pick their most useful units (Shaman, Catapults in Keeper fights, Veterans) and mix them in with other cherry-picked units.
Thankfully, Ogres will be much more interesting very soon... if a bit niche.
Hiring Cost: 600
Attack/Defense: 24 / 32
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 3
Damage: 15-18 Physical
Talents: Dancing Axes (Reload: 2. Targets a single enemy anywhere on the field to do 20-25 Magic damage per Shaman in the stack, with 80% of the damage done healing allied organic units), Totem of Life (Reload: 3. Sets a Totem in an empty tile anywhere on the field, which in a 2-tile radius around it bolsters the Defense of allies and once per turn heals organic allies in that radius, starting from the turn after it was set. The Totem has 7 health per Shaman at casting), Totem of Death (Reload: 3. Sets a Totem in an empty tile anywhere on the field, which in a 2-tile radius around it lowers enemy Speed by 1 and once per turn attacks all enemies in its radius for Magic damage, starting from the turn after it was set. The Totem has 10 health per Shaman at casting)
Note that Dancing Axes is considered by the game to be a standard leeching effect, and so against inorganic, Undead, and Plant units it will do damage but not provide healing. It also can't heal such units, so the Shaman synergizes poorly with eg Cyclops. The Totem of Life also can't heal such units.
The Shaman itself is one of the most impressively bulky 'mage' units in the game, which goes nicely with Dancing Axes and means they can, in a pinch, double as a meatshield for other, more fragile units. In conjunction with how the AI is easily distracted by Totems -and Totems actually are treated enough like units to prevent ranged attackers from firing if adjacent to them!- Shaman can, all by themselves, keep your more fragile units safe for a surprisingly long period of time.
Totem of Life has really high Initiative. In most situations, so long as it wasn't destroyed the turn it was set, it'll get a heal off before anything gets a chance to move. Totem of Death, by contrast, is extremely low Initiative, making it extremely difficult to actually arrange for units to take damage from it without good prediction, which tends to mean not doing much to take advantage of the -1 Speed effect. Also note that the Totem of Death's Speed lowering doesn't really do anything to units entering its radius in the middle of a turn. Say you set a Totem of Death 3 tiles away from a Swordsman: the Swordsman will just walk right up and destroy the Totem, having lost no Speed to the Totem. Even if the Swordsman enters the radius and Waits, they won't lose Action Points to the Totem. Functionally, the Totem of Death's Speed-lowering effect can be framed as;
1: Affecting turn order until such time as a given turn is 'set' in the order.
and 2: stealing a single Action Point at the start of a unit's turn if it happens to be in the radius of the Totem of Death.
The Totem of Life is a lot more straightforward, and unfortunately a bit lackluster. The healing actually scales with the Shaman stack's size at creation, but I've never bothered to work out how it scales because by the time you've got Shaman 99% of the time it will be 'all stacks in the radius that can be healed will be fully healed'. (I've also never worked out Totem of Death's damage, though in its case it's because it's so low that it's a negligible contribution) This isn't terribly useful unless you make your army entirely out of very high Health units like Dragons, and the highest Health units that can actually be healed by Totem of Life are generally poorly suited to holding ground nearby a Totem. In practice, I actually tend to use Totems of Life primarily for their distraction utility, or to wall off an area. (By a similar token, I usually ignore enemy Totems of Life, outside of if a unit has nothing better to do or I can destroy the Totem for 'free', such as by slightly adjusting a planned Fire Rain's target)
As Objects, Totems don't generate Rage when attacked, whether they're yours or the enemies. (This will change in later games)
Shaman are also a good opportunity to talk about another AI quirk: Talent usage!
Some Talents have explicitly coded-in support for usage on the move. (eg Smashing Blow) The AI is reasonably consistently intelligent about using these Talents. Some Talents don't have this built-in support, but the AI still has deliberately coded-in rules of how to use them reasonably intelligently. (eg Earthquake, Dryad's spawning of Thorns, Treant's preference to close and then use Wasp Swarm) For ranged attackers with ranged-only Talents (eg Ice Arrow on Bowmen), the AI appears to naturalistically stumble into the intelligent answer. (ie their 'I'm a ranged unit, must escape melee' routine takes them one tile away, then they search for a target, and then they use their ranged Talent because 'moving away' and 'searching for a target' were two entirely different routines) For the rest, the AI will always either use the Talent without any movement whatsoever, or will move and entirely ignore the Talent.
There's units in previous posts that fall prey to this. Archmages, for example, will never back away from a melee attacker and then use Magic Shield. They'll either back away and perform a ranged attack, or they'll stay exactly where they are and use Magic Shield. But a lot of time this behavior isn't really a weakness for Archmages, so I didn't mention it at the time.
In the case of Shaman, it's a lot more noticeable, because they're a Talent-heavy melee unit whose Talents can be targeted entirely arbitrarily regardless of location. The result is that AI Shaman will frequently stand in place for 3-4 turns spamming their Talents (Or, if something of yours is in range, they'll occasionally go for a melee attack instead of using a Talent), and only once they have no Talents available will they bother to try to close with your forces. And then when a turn rolls around in which the Talent is reloaded, they'll use it instead of continuing to close.
When what they really ought to be doing is advancing two tile a turn and then using a Talent, so they can close into melee with you.
Now, on Shaman this is relatively innocent, and indeed if the player is running a melee-heavy army it can actually be a very frustrating behavior to face, since it would at that point actually be really convenient if they closed with your forces faster. But there's units where this gets downright silly/exploitive, and I'll be pointing them out as we get to them.
Anyway, speaking more holistically, Shaman are actually really good units for the player, if not quite as good as they could be due to the limited pool of options for really taking advantage of Dancing Axes properly and some other flaws/limitations that aren't necessarily immediately obvious just looking at the unit itself. (eg that Orcs as a faction are currently not great enough to really justify a mono-Orc army, meaning you're probably not getting the Morale bonus from that) None of their Talents is blocked off by adjacent units, they can absorb a reasonable amount of damage, they incidentally heal your units with their defacto primary ranged attack, and while I've kind of talked like Totems aren't that great, the ability to block off a tile or distract an enemy or box something in is actually an incredible utility whose full range of possibilities would take entirely too long to cover here, especially since it's so useful for filling in all kinds of weird niche situations that I never even remember exist until I run into them.
As enemies, Shaman are... erratic. Sometimes they'll do obnoxiously high unblockable damage to the unit that can't take it on the first turn. Sometimes they'll drop Totems somewhere they can't possibly do something problematic. Sometimes they'll get distracted by a unit of yours in melee ranged. Other times they'll entirely ignore a unit of yours that's directly next to them to drop a Totem somewhere else. Sometimes they'll inexplicably hurl Dancing Axes at your only notably Magic-resistant unit, blunting its effectiveness substantially. The overall result is honestly fairly frustrating, as it means Shaman danger/inconvenience level is extremely swingy, based on the whims of the AI. Your own options for shutting them down are a bit limited due to them being Level 4, meaning it takes fairly high level magic to Blind, Sheep, etc them. They're actually one of the few units Magic Shackles really makes sense to break out on, since its Level limitation is more generous than other lockdown Spells (You only need Level 2 Magic Shackles to be able to target them, where Blind and Sheep need to be Level 3), and while Dancing Axes is usually their only actually problematic Talent, depending on how large the stack is it can be really dangerous. And since they're Orc units, they're slanted toward the extreme late-game, where enemy stack sizes are at their most disproportionately huge, meaning that 'can be really dangerous' qualifier is really more of a 'is probably going to be really dangerous', unless you get one of those odd cases of a 4-Shaman stack in an army whose Leadership runs over 40,000 otherwise. (This kind of unevenness happens)
Synergies-wise, Shaman most obviously combine well with high-Health stacks that want to get into the thick of things, like Giants. If you're planning on using other effects that slow the enemy down, Totems of Death can become drastically more effective at locking down the enemy, and of course they're one of the better units to consider Gifting at a good moment due to their high number of slow-to-reload Talents.
Hiring Cost: 50
Attack/Defense: 16 / 10
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 2
Damage: 2-4 Physical
Abilities: Archer (Range: 4), No Melee Penalty
Goblins are bad. They're a generic archer unit whose only notable quality is being not-completely-helpless in melee, but they're still painfully fragile and they don't even hit all that hard. Honestly, Thorn Hunters will usually outclass them just as a straight archer that isn't too terrible in melee while being available from the beginning of the game, having Plant's useful protections, and even throwing in Sowing's utility. (It's not like Goblins have a range advantage) Goblins aren't even bad in an interesting way, they're just a boring unit that's outclassed by more or less all the competition. Probably their biggest notable quality is being relatively easy to Resurrect, but honestly if you're going to focus on an Orc unit for resurrectability, Furious Goblins are probably a much better choice, having only slightly higher a Leadership cost while being lightning-fast and hitting much harder most of the time. All while being the same Level.
Hiring Cost: 180
Attack/Defense: 23 / 15
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 2
Damage: 5-9 Physical
Resistances: -50% Fire
Talents: Fire Missile (Reload: 2. Ranged attack against an enemy, which does 6-10 Fire damage to the target and less to adjacent units, with each unit having a 50% chance to be Burned as well. Has unlimited effective range)
Abilities: Archer (Range: 6), Siege Gun (Doubled damage against Gremlins and the like), Vulnerable to Fire (-50% Fire resistance)
As with Cannoneers having an attacking Talent that doesn't benefit from Siege Gun, Catapult's Fire Missile Talent doesn't benefit from Siege Gun.
In theory Catapults are fairly useful for Keeper fights, but Evil Gremlins have a habit of murdering them with Fireballs or Sheeping them into uselessness, both of which are not anywhere near as much a concern for Cannoneers. In practice Catapults are primarily notable as the only moderately competent true ranged unit Orcs have, with a secondary note for the fact that they're a decent way to splash Burn onto targets... which isn't very useful in The Legend...
For a ranged unit, they're actually respectably bulky aside the Fire weakness -they have 2 Health for every 3 Leadership, where most ranged units' Health is 50% or less of their Leadership number- but the weakness to Fire damage will actually crop up a decent amount, especially in Hero fights, as many Heroes have at least Flaming Arrow and are reliable-ish at picking on damage type weaknesses. Even outside of those fights though, there's a decent selection of units that can dish out Fire damage at a distance -Alchemists, Imps/Scoffer Imps, Red Dragons- and in general Fire damage access is spread throughout the game. Worse, Catapults are hampered by being an Orcish unit, and so only really reliably available in large numbers at the very end of the game, which among other things is heavily dominated by Dragons. Worse, Cannoneers tend to do their basic sort of job better overall, and Catapults usual earliest point to be acquired is the Isles of Freedom, where Cannoneers are all over the place!
As such, they're a nice attempt at making a unit that is, among other things, distinct from Cannoneers while somewhat overlapping with them, but they tend to be difficult to justify using in an actual run unless you just really, really like Orcs.
As enemies, their threat level is notably influenced by your class. If you're a Mage, you probably delight in seeing Catapults, because it's an opportunity to nuke them down with double-cast Fireballs/Fire Rains. For the Warrior and Paladin, their army composition is unlikely to be well-suited to simply burning them down rapidly, making them more of a nuisance, though still usually not a substantial threat.
Unfortunately, Orcs don't really come into their own until Armored Princess, and more specifically Crossworld's overhaul of how Orcs work fundamentally. Here they're pretty similar to the Dwarves: a species with a heavy focus on melee units that are mostly not particularly interesting or impressive, with some more interesting units mixed in that are worth splashing into other armies.
Narratively, Orcs are a bit more interesting. In-universe, Elves like to call themselves the oldest species, but the player's information pretty strongly confirms that Orcs are even older as a species, which I appreciate on a few different levels, but the biggest one if that I like how it avoids the bizarre thing fantasy stories do so consistently of 'the species whose individuals are most long-lived is also the species that has collectively been around longest', which has never made a lot of sense to me. There's also bits of humor/worldbuilding I like, such as one Elf being all appalled at how the Primitive And Savage Barbarians, Those Dirty Orcs, Are A Democracy. (As in: the Elf considers their democratic behavior to be an example of them being bizarre wrong-headed barbarians)
In larger terms, it's also interesting how The Legend initially plays the Orcs as being basically a straightforward Always Chaotic Evil species, but by the time the player reaches the end of the game they'll have a pretty good idea that Orcs may be a bit simple, enjoy violence overall a bit more than the other species, and have other quirks, but they're not really a 'lol evil' sort of species. An argument can be made that the species is, as a species, kind of selfish or callous, but it's still refreshing to see some nuance to a fantasy archetype that people so often like to use as one-dimensionally evil.
(I'd say 'following in Tolkien's footsteps', but Tolkien's Orcs were nuanced Always Chaotic Evil, so no, not really)
About my only real complaint about their handling in The Legend is that they don't really get much worldbuilding. There's no non-essential Quests in their region of the world to give the player an idea of what everyday Orc life is like, and the essential Quests are fairly narrowly focused. There's some visually interesting elements to the Orclands, such as what appear to be mines of strange green crystals, but we never get to confirm whether the Orcs are mining the stuff, let alone get an answer as to what the stuff is and what it's used for. Their lands appear to be fairly desolate, but we don't know if that's something new tying into the plot events or if it's just How Things Are in the Orclands, let alone get any hints as to how it ties into their life. (ie the plot could've suggested the badlands nature of their homeland was part of why Orcs have a bad reputation; they go raiding or conquering elsewhere because they don't have enough at home, or something of the sort)
It looks to me like The Legend got a bit rushed or something of the sort, so I suspect the developers intended to explore these elements more than they did, but we still didn't get them, and the later games shift the Orcs over to more of a joke race, where their 'comedy through stupidity' trait is being played straight. (In The Legend, it's only played straight enough to fool the player into thinking there's nothing more to them until they get far enough into the game and surprise! No, there's some nuance here, and they're not anywhere near as dumb as they seem) Dark Side finally shifts away from Comedy Dumb Orcs, but it's set in a whole different world, and unlike Armored Princess it's sufficiently fundamentally different in nature that it's not really sensible to treat Dark Side's rendition as building on the prior games.
Alas. Missed opportunities.
Next we'll be covering the Demons, who are possibly the most interesting species of the game on a larger design level.