King's Bounty Unit Analysis Part 6: Undead



To save some space, here's what the Undead Ability does:

50% Poison resistance. +50% to Attack at night and underground. +1 Morale in 'cemetery' battlefields. Immunity to Mind spells, among other immunities.

Note that 'cemetery' battlefields isn't restricted to actual graveyards. Shipwrecks are usually treated as 'cemeteries', for example. This gets more important in later games. For now, AI forces don't interact with Morale, and so even though Undead are most often fought in 'cemetery' battlefields it only matters if you're bringing your own Undead.

Undead are disinterested in racial Morale considerations. While Humans will be offended by stinking Zombies fighting alongside them, the Undead will never be bothered by other races. On the flipside, Undead lack a mono-racial Morale bonus.

So basically Demons all over again.


Zombie
Level: 2
Hiring Cost: 60
Leadership: 30
Attack/Defense: 9 / 13
Initiative/Speed: 2 / 2
Health: 30
Damage: 3-5 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison, -10% Fire.
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Abilities: Undead

Zombies are your most basic 2-Speed Running melee Undead unit. That means they're pretty awful. Unlike the other 2-Speed Running melee units I've been ragging on, Zombies have the advantage of being Undead, which both gives them notable strengths (The Poison resistance, immunity to mental effects, etc) and also ties into the point that it can be difficult for quite a long time to build a 'proper' Undead-using army. Which is important because so many units hate sharing space with Undead. If you luck into Necromancers really early on, for example, you might find yourself using Zombies just because they're not bothered by Plague and you don't yet have other, better options. There's also a decent pool of early game Poison attackers who Zombies can cheaply stall, such as Venomous Spiders and Swamp Snakes, which can make them worth considering if you're struggling to get through such a battlegroup for some reason.

That said, not only are there better choices among the Undead themselves (And more debateably under Neutral), but in the long haul Zombies being Undead tends to place them behind other generic Running melee. You can't Resurrect them, Sacrifice can't bolster Undead unless you sacrificed Undead (Making it trickier to work around the inability to directly Resurrect them), and a lot of other supporting tools melee units appreciate (eg Divine Armor) don't work on them. Ultimately the main reason they might show up in your forces late in the game is because Necro Call/Necromancers will (potentially) generate them from many humanoid corpses.

A special point of mention is that the Paladin begins the game knowing Heal. This encourages the Paladin to use various low end melee units early in the game, because they can dodge casualties... Zombies being excluded from that list because Heal hurts Undead instead of helping them. Conversely, the Paladin can find early Undead battlegroups a little easier to handle, due to being able to contribute real Spell damage against them for sure.

Ultimately though, there's two units that keep Zombies largely irrelevant: Decaying Zombies (Who are 1 Initiative lower and are a little worse at damage output, but Zombies are much more meatshields than damage dealers), and Black Knights. (Who are basically just plain better, aside from having a poor Gold-to-Leadership ratio) Alas, while Zombies are going to get better, these two competitors overshadow them in every future game. Oh well.



Decaying Zombie
Level: 2
Hiring Cost: 80
Leadership: 40
Attack/Defense: 13 / 15
Initiative/Speed: 1 / 2
Health: 40
Damage: 5-7 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison, -10% Fire
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Abilities: Undead, Decay (When the entire stack is destroyed, all adjacent units are infected with Plague)

Decaying Zombies have bugged me for ages. Decay is largely a trait that works against the player -any plan that calls for suiciding one of your precious five stacks is probably a bad plan- with the payoff being so low that it's difficult to imagine a situation it's genuinely helpful in. The only time it really benefits the player is when they luck into animating a disposable stack via Necromancers or Necro Call, and that requires specific units are on the battlefield and some luck to boot, since many units that can become Decaying Zombies can become other Undead as well. Its going to take until Warriors of the North for this to be addressed, too.

Still, Decaying Zombies are largely better Zombies in practice. The primary caveat is that it can be desirable to avoid finishing them off in melee. (Unless the unit adjacent to them is Undead, a Demon, or a Cyclops, in which case there's no problem) That's... uh... it. Weirdly, they're actually not even higher level than Zombies, so accounting for Decay is the only notable change in how you interact with them. There's no 'well, I have Level 1 Blind so I can Blind Zombies but not Decaying Zombies' type distinctions like you usually see with these kinds of pairs. As such... I don't really much to say about them.

I will note that while they have a miserable 1 Initiative instead of the Zombie's 2, this is less meaningful than you might expect. 3 Initiative is actually the game's 'baseline' or 'generic' Initiative value, with exceedingly few units going below it. (Ten units, specifically, in a game with over 80 units) As such, there is a very small pool of units that Zombies will go before that Decaying Zombies will fail to go before: just Cyclops and Royal Thorns. (Ignoring the possibility of modifying Initiative, admittedly) In conjunction with the fact that they're both very generic melee, making turn order less important than it is for a variety of other units... it's almost completely ignorable. 


Undead Spider
Level: 1
Hiring Cost: 15
Leadership: 13
Attack/Defense: 4 / 2
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 3
Health: 13
Damage: 2-3 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison, -10% Fire
Talents: None
Abilities: Undead, Night Sight (Attack +50% at night or if underground), Cursed (50% chance to Curse enemies with melee attacks)

This is a case where my order is biting me: what I really want to say is 'it's a spider, so it's bad just like the other spiders', but I'm covering the spiders next post. Dangit, me.

So okay, Undead Spiders are bad. They're reasonably high in turn order, but 4/3 is still outpaced by tons of stuff. Mainly it means they just barely edge ahead of the majority of ranged units, which is nice, but there's better choices. Indeed, the majority of units that are above 4 Initiative (And there's a fair few of them) are 3 or more Speed! So Undead Spiders are... cheap? Ish? Cursed is a completely unique Ability, but the Curse status does literally nothing to AI units and even against player units its impact is fairly small. (It's just -1 to Morale) Worse yet, Necromancers can inflict Curse at range with splash while having an insane Initiative tier, so even once you get to later games where Curse does anything at all in the player's hands there's a far, far better choice available for inflicting it! Night Sight does nearly nothing unless other Attack boosters are applying and fairly high (By which I primarily mean the Hero's Attack stat, late in the game), and by the time you reach the point in the game where it's not drowned out by damage variance you'll have access to a wide variety of better units, including Undead units if you're dead-set on using Undead due to Zombie Rina and/or Dark Commander.

Undead Spiders are further hampered by being Undead, in exactly the sort of way I covered with Zombies: no Resurrection, Sacrifice is impractical, etc. Undead Spiders aren't even your best Undead option for a fast melee unit! Vampires and Ancient Vampires easily beat them out, while having access to an alternate form that flies and has Drain Life, making them amazing damage sponges, not even getting into how they have No Retaliation.

And unlike eg Cave Spiders, Undead Spiders don't even have any stand-out utility Talents or the like. The closest to a notable quality they have access to is Cursed, and it's... not important.

The really sad thing is that Undead Spiders are one of the few units the series never really bothers to try to make more relevant.

As enemies, Undead Spiders are moderately annoying. They have a 1:1 Leadership to Health ratio, so they can absorb an obnoxious amount of punishment, they're unusually fast, and being Undead makes them immune to some common utility effects like Fear. Very early in the game you may lack access to units that go before them, be getting through fights on the strength of tools that don't work on Undead (ie Fear), etc, and even once you're reasonably secure they're still uncommonly fast and can take an obnoxious amount of punishment relative to most of the units that are better at turn order and/or Speed than them. If they show up later in the game, where enemy army sizes increasingly vastly outmatch yours (Which they're liable to do so, since the Undead region is extremely late in the game), they can be incredibly difficult to keep out of reach of your forces while wearing them down. Often the effort involved in stalling them is sufficient that it gives other stacks the opportunity to create bigger problems, too.

This is particularly true for the Mage, for whom enemy Leadership-to-Health ratio is a major factor in threat level. Spell damage doesn't factor in any stats on the target except damage type resistance and Health, and so eg Ancient Vampire Bats are exactly half as durable as Undead Spiders for Spell nuking purposes. (Well, not quite if you're using Fire damage since Undead Spiders are slightly weak to it, but this difference can easily be drowned out by damage variance) As such, an Ancient Vampire Bat stack may well be nuked on the first turn, and then attack on the second turn with only 20% of their original numbers, accomplishing nearly nothing. This is especially especially true when considering Higher Magic exists; a Mage with just the first rank of Higher Magic who wipes out 80% of the Ancient Vampire Bats on turn 1 will wipe out 40% of the Undead Spiders on turn 1 and then only remove another 20% of their original numbers on turn 2, where they wipe out the Ancient Vampire Bats entirely.

So even though Undead Spiders are a pretty bad unit, they shouldn't be underestimated as enemies.


Skeleton
Level: 1
Hiring Cost: 20
Leadership: 12
Attack/Defense: 3 / 2
Initiative/Speed: 3 / 2
Health: 12
Damage: 2-3 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison, -10% Fire
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Abilities: Undead, Bone (Arrow attacks do only 30% damage)

Note that 'arrow attacks' does not mean ranged attacks in general. It doesn't even mean Physical ranged attacks as a whole. It really does mean arrows in specific. I'm fairly certain that means it protects from Bowmen, Skeleton Archers, Elves (the unit), and Hunters, and nothing else. Also note by extension that it doesn't protect against those unit's melee strikes: if you've got a Bowman stack with Skeletons getting in its face, you should keep in mind you'll actually do more damage by punching them than by shooting them, in spite the melee penalty! (And Elves and Hunters don't even have a melee penalty to worry about...)

When Bone does apply, though, it's one of the strongest resistances in the game, which is particularly noteworthy when you consider that all the attacks it protects against are Physical and the upper limit of protection from Physical attacks is normally 50%. Only Fire Immunity, Magic Immunity, and Poison Immunity top Bone's degree of damage reduction.

All that said? Skeletons are honestly kind of terrible units from the player's end. They're melee glass cannons that don't even bother to have No Retaliation or any other way of contributing to a fight without taking damage, so anytime they're doing anything useful they're probably suffering casualties, and since they're Undead even a Paladin -who has guaranteed early access to Resurrection- can't really do much to minimize that as a problem. Skeleton Archers are far more useful if you want a Bone unit (And AI ranged units love to fire on your fragile ranged attackers, so  the comparison is more relevant than you might think), while Running Undead melee is probably better fulfilled by Zombies or Decaying Zombies, who are bulky enough to soften up weakened stacks without necessarily taking a casualty every time. Or better yet, use Ghosts/Cursed Ghosts, who don't need Running to hit the 4 Speed mark and can undo their own casualties and even generate new units outright if things are going well. Or use Vampires/Ancient Vampires, who can also leach away casualties, and also can hit 4 Speed without burning a one-use Talent.

Or use Bone Dragons, which are a far superior melee Bone unit to Skeletons in general and even have a reloading Talent for getting in damage without taking any. Or use Black Knights, who are more broadly damage resistant, less prone to suffering casualties, and passively benefit your entire Undead army just by existing, while fulfilling your Running melee Undead needs.

So yeah. Skeletons are pretty terrible, and I'm glad the later games make an effort to give them a niche of their own. (...until Dark Side inexplicably makes them terrible again)

As enemies they're a bit more valid, but... still one of the least threatening possibilities around.


Ghost
Level: 3
Hiring Cost: 160
Leadership: 80
Attack/Defense: 18 / 13
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 4
Health: 40
Damage: 4-8 Physical
Resistances: 50% Physical, 50% Poison
Talents: None
Abilities: Undead, Soaring, Phantom (50% Physical resistance, and can pass through normally-impassible terrain of all kinds, and also Chests. But not other battlefield objects or enemy units), Soul Draining (Leeches for 50% of damage dealt. This can generate additional Ghosts. Undead, Plants, and inorganic units like Cyclops and Gremlin Towers can't be leeched from)

Ghosts -as well as their better cousins, Cursed Ghosts- are a unit that's particularly notable for how it improves as Leadership scales up. At low Leadership, Ghosts will simply never dish out enough damage to leech enough health to generate a new Ghost (They need to leech... I'm not sure the exact mechanics, but a Ghost that's fully healthy and leeches 10 HP won't actually generate a new Ghost. Generally, they need to actually leech at least 40 HP, more than that if they're currently injured), making their Soul Draining pretty much flatly worse than, say, a Vampire's Regeneration. 

Later in the game, Ghosts increasingly become unholy terrors, shrugging off minor damage and even letting the player buy under-strength stacks to then feed on the souls of the living. I personally prefer to retain a Reserves slot for the purpose of taking some of the Ghosts (Or Cursed Ghosts) off so that I'm a few under my actual Leadership limit. That way, they can fight and generate more without immediately going out of my control. It also pays forward: if I keep stripping some into Reserves, I can then strip Reserves when a battle instead crashes the stack's size. It's a fun little metagame in its own right!

A curiosity that's easy to overlook the implications of is that Ghosts don't leave a corpse behind when the stack is finished off. This isn't just aesthetic; effects that interact with corpses don't get to target an invisible 'corpse' left behind or anything of the sort. Much of the time this isn't terribly important, but for instance it means Ghosts (as well as Cursed Ghosts) are the only Undead units that can't be reanimated by Necro Call or a Necromancer, and means enemy Ghosts won't offer the opportunity to generate Thorns from their corpse or the like. It's a neat little touch.

One oddity worth commentary has to do with patch history: in early versions of The Legend, units that went over your Leadership would normally just sort of wander around, but not actually turn hostile to your forces. You had to go more than 25% over your Leadership to have them turn outright hostile. At some point this got patched so the 'disinterested neutral' state no longer occurs. As such, Ghost ability to go over your Leadership has gone from 'nuisance with potential to become a real problem' to 'reason to panic if you end up even slightly over Leadership', especially if your army includes anything they can actually leech from (ie if you're just a mono-Undead army, it's bad, but it will solve itself in short order)

Also worth commentary is that Ghosts and Cursed Ghosts have the highest Physical resistance in the game. Given the vast majority of units do Physical damage, this makes them considerably more durable than you might expect. This is also a somewhat unusual case of being a more useful quality on the player than on the enemy -while AI Ghosts don't have a Leadership cap and thus will never turn hostile to their own forces, AI forces normally don't have access to myriad Spells that can be used to bypass or minimize their substantial Physical resistance. Since Fire damage is rare on units, especially before the late game, and Magic damage units have poor damage output (Period), this means they tend to be much more effective in player hands than in AI hands, especially past the extreme early game.

Later in the game, Ghosts and Cursed Ghosts drop off from 'borderline-broken' to merely 'really, really good'. Elven forces are fond of reasonably competent Magic damage attackers (The melee units, not the Druids) and various Fire damage attackers become fairly common in the late game (As opposed to the early game, where Fire Dragonflies are the only sustained source of Fire damage), so their effective durability is halved in a lot of late-game fights, or at least you have to be more careful about their battlefield placement. Prior to the late game, Ghosts and Cursed Ghosts going out of control is far more of a concern than them being killed, even against forces they can't leech health from. In the late game, being worn down is far more of a concern. The fact that Heroes are increasingly prone to significantly contributing with damage Spells (Where early in the game Heroes usually have no Spells at all, or only a handful of utility Spells like Helplessness or Haste) is another factor in the two units becoming less consistently effective.



Cursed Ghost
Level: 3
Hiring Cost: 280
Leadership: 130
Attack/Defense: 21 / 17
Initiative/Speed: 6 / 4
Health: 60
Damage: 6-9 Physical
Resistances: 50% Physical, 50% Poison
Talents: Scream (Reload: 4. All units of Levels 1-3 in a 2-tile area around the Cursed Ghost are pushed back. Enemy units that aren't immune to mental effects take damage, too. Its base damage is supposedly 6-9 and it's supposed to be weaker further out, though.)
Abilities: Undead, Soaring, Phantom (50% Physical resistance, and can pass through normally-impassible terrain of all kinds, and also Chests. But not other battlefield objects or enemy units), Soul Draining (Leeches for 50% of damage dealt. This can generate additional Cursed Ghosts. Undead, Plants, and inorganic units like Cyclops and Gremlin Towers can't be leeched from)

The game itself doesn't actually mention that Scream can't hurt units immune to mental effects. This means Scream is actually really bad, as the list of units that's both low enough level and isn't immune to mental effects is extremely small. For starters, all Undead are immune! 

Cursed Ghosts are, of course, basically Ghosts but more so. I mean, they've got Scream, but its utility is fairly limited. Mostly they just have more Initiative. Their actual combat values are slightly worse than Ghosts (Slightly less than 2-to-1 Leadership-to-Health, rather than exactly 2-to-1, and their Damage is less than a 50% increase while their Leadership is a more than 50% increase, and their Attack and Defense advantage isn't enough to compensate), so in many situations it's really only their Initiative that justifies using them. Which is more than enough, honestly, since 6 Initiative is exceptional, and indeed only 9 units in the game will consistently beat them in turn order. It's especially important to control your engagement times with Ghosts and Cursed Ghosts due to the risk that they'll go out of control if you're careless, in addition to the usual risk of being mobbed and suffering severe casualties while only getting one counter-attack off.

That said, there's very little to say about Cursed Ghosts I didn't already cover with Ghosts.

Vampire (Human form)
Level: 3
Hiring Cost: 160
Leadership: 80
Attack/Defense: 20 / 20
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 2
Health: 50
Damage: 6-12 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison, -10% Fire
Talents: Transformation (Reload: 2. Changes forms)
Abilities: Undead, Regeneration ('Top' member of the stack heals all damage at the start of the unit's turn), No retaliation

Vampires in human form would be pretty decent units all on their own. They have reasonably high Initiative, they can fight without taking retaliations, and if you're lucky enough to get access to a stack really early in the game, they can potentially get into a scuffle and just keep failing to have damage stick to them. Still, if that was all Vampires had going on, they'd tend to be overshadowed by, for instance, Royal Snakes, which have more Speed and a rapidly reloading Talent for safely striking at a distance, making it easy for them to kite enemy melee to death with just a little terrain support.

No, what makes Vampires really noteworthy is...

Vampire (Bat form)
Level: 3
Leadership: 80
Attack/Defense: 20 / 15
Initiative/Speed: 6 / 4
Health: 40
Damage: 5-8 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison, -10% Fire
Talents: Transformation (Reload: 2)
Abilities: Undead, No Retaliation, Soaring, Drain Life (When attacking organic targets, damage is converted to health, and can even undo casualties)

... their bat form. They lose Regeneration, but in exchange they gain the ability to undo casualties by attacking. And their Speed is so high they can kite enemies easily, allowing them to potentially heal off significant damage even off of stacks that should stomp them right into the ground in a 'fair' fight.

Do note that the Bat Form has worse durability and worse damage output. As a general rule of thumb, you should endeavor to have Vampires initially fight in human form, and switch over to Bat form once they've suffered some casualties. This is especially true when ranged attackers or Spellcasters (Whether Heroes or Gremlins) are involved, where even just Waiting and then Transforming once their turn rolls back around can allow them to suffer fewer more-or-less unavoidable casualties before they get started on the leeching, and with Spells the fact that Transformation purges all ongoing effects can lead to neutering an enemy's Spellcasting turn because they foolishly dropped Slow or something on your Vampires and then you made it go away for free. Of course, the flipside is that you shouldn't be casting buff effects on Vampires until after you've Transformed, unless you're expecting to delay Transforming anyway. This isn't a big deal, since many of the best positive effects can't be cast on Undead units anyway, but it's still something to keep in mind.

The utility of the Wait->Transform tactic will actually go way up in later games, too.

For now, though, Vampires are one of the best melee units in the entire game, with the primary caveat to that being that Ancient Vampires are even better. A No Retaliation melee unit that can freely undo casualties in most fights is a fantastic tool, and one of the bigger arguments to push for Tolerance 1 and/or try to switch to an Undead-heavy army as soon as you can. Melee units that can tie up enemies are genuinely useful, it's just most melee units are going to keep costing you Gold in the process of achieving these useful effects, and it's often possible, just less convenient, to do without. Vampires provide a best-of-both-worlds option.

Of course, if you're a Paladin they're less important -just rush to Order Magic and use your automatic Resurrection Scroll- and by a similar token they will become less important later in the game, as at some point you're going to find a Resurrection Scroll, but for a very large chunk of the game they're an amazingly useful unit I'm probably still underselling.

The funny thing is that, like Ghosts, they're not nearly as problematic in enemy hands as in player hands. Part of this is the AI doesn't really 'understand' Transform. Vampires will frequently march agonizingly slowly across the battlefield instead of going Bat Form, and instead of switching to Bat Form once they've racked up some casualties they often switch from it once they've taken a good chunk of damage. A massively oversized Bat Form stack can be a nightmare you need to direct massive firepower on as rapidly as possible or else find yourself unable to beat the one stack all by itself because it just keeps undoing the damage. A massively oversized Human Form stack is just a slow-moving No Retaliation melee unit that undoes a small amount of damage each turn, the whole of which really isn't a big deal. The AI is also erratic about using Transform to purge effects -in my experience, the AI seems to understand that it has an expanded strike zone in Bat Form (That is, that Vampires will frequently Transform if there's a unit 3-4 tiles out, allowing them to attack it), which can lead to cases where you Slow a Vampire stack and then it just spontaneously Transforms, wasting your effort, but they don't seem to deliberately purge status effects, not even if a bunch end up stacked on.

It's also just the case that the AI isn't dealing with Gold, and so a unit that's can be used to do melee work without taking casualties is honestly just not as effective for the AI's purposes (Those purposes being: inflict as much damage on the player's forces as possible) as one that's lightning fast, or a ranged attacker, or otherwise able to rapidly force damage on the player's units.

The fact that Bat Form Soars is also a nice little bonus, and is one of the main arguments for instead Transforming and then Waiting in certain circumstances. (Primarily: when against a battlegroup with a ton of Giants) It's actually more useful to the AI than to the player, though, since the AI doesn't get Traps. Though this isn't terribly important anyway... yet.

One last point: Transforming from Bat Form to Human Form will subtract 2 Action points. This means that if you move in Bat Form until you have 1-2 Action Points, and then Transform? Their turn will end entirely. Similarly, turn order gets recalculate; it's entirely possible to get turn order advantage, Transform to use Human Form's superior combat stats, and abruptly have your Vampire's turn shoved to later on, potentially letting their would-be victim score the first hit. Or any hit, if you were expecting to finish them off.

Strictly speaking this applies to Werewolf Elves as well, but they don't change their Initiative when Transforming (So it only matters if something is modifying their Initiative that then get purged by the Transform, such as Battle Cry), and they have somewhat less cause to switch to Elf Form before attacking. (Also Werewolf Elves are just less useful to the player anyway)

Ancient Vampire (Human form)
Level: 4
Hiring Cost: 460
Leadership: 180
Attack/Defense: 25 / 25
Initiative/Speed: 6 / 2
Health: 110
Damage: 10-18 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison
Talents: Transformation (Reload: 1. Changes forms)
Abilities: Undead, Regeneration ('Top' unit restores missing HP at the beginning of the unit's turn), No retaliation (Enemies can't retaliate in melee), Death's Deception (Critical hits against the Ancient Vampire instead Miss, doing no damage at all)

It's a Vampire, but more so. Even more than Vampires, getting lucky enough to get some Ancient Vampires relatively early in the game can give you a nearly unkillable meatshield just in human form. Most runs won't see this happen, though.

Death's Deception is something I have mixed feelings on. I've already talked some about Beauty, but I think Death's Deception is simultaneously more meaningful (It indirectly reduces the highest possible damage against a human form Ancient Vampire, concretely making them even tougher than they seem, and it means Doom is actually protective rather than dangerous... too bad you can't cast Doom on your own units) and yet a lot more RNG-obnoxious. No unit in the game is incapable of crits, and The Legend doesn't provide crit chance information in-game. Priests and Inquisitors, for example, have a mere 1% crit chance apiece, but you'd never know it without looking at Gamebanshee's site or guessing based off of Armored Princess' numbers, so even though they're an obvious counterpick if you know that, in conjunction with their damage bonus against Undead, a player going through blind would have no idea. Nor is there any way to prevent crits entirely. (Short of having a unit at -3 Morale, but then it's suffering massive stat penalties!) It'd be pretty neat if, for example, Peacefulness reduced crit to 0 instead of lowering Damage, as it would provide an anti-frustration tool for dealing with Ancient Vampires.

On the other hand, there's tons of ways to work around it. Since Talents, Rage attacks, and Spells don't crit, those are all completely reliable tools for dealing with them, and on top of that Ancient Vampires are very prone to switching to Bat Form to get into combat, rendering the point moot until such time as they switch back to human form, which is often when they're so close to death it's merely annoying, rather than actually problematic, to have them being Missed when you should've gotten a crit.

Anyway, Bat Form...

Ancient Vampire (Bat form)
Level: 4
Leadership: 180
Attack/Defense: 25 / 20
Initiative/Speed: 7 / 5
Health: 90
Damage: 8-12 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison
Talents: Transformation (Reload: 1)
Abilities: Undead, No Retaliation, Soaring, Drain Life (When attacking organic targets, damage is converted to health, and can even undo casualties)

... is Vampire Bats But More So.

The main point worth noting is the 7 Initiative. Nothing has more than 7 Initiative, outside of Bosses and high end Gremlins. There's actually only three regular units in the entire game that will go before Ancient Vampires in Bat Form: Black Dragons, Emerald Green Dragons, and Archdemons. And since Dark Commander is +1 Initiative as is Zombie Rina, it's really easy to get Ancient Vampire Bats just flat-out beating every enemy in the game that isn't backed by a Hero. (And most of them, too) Of course, normally you're burdened by the mere 6 Initiative of Ancient Vampires on the first turn, but this is one case where Onslaught is actually fairly useful, letting your grab the initiative on the first turn via Onslaught and then hold onto it on further turns by keeping your Ancient Vampires in Bat Form.

Other than that, most everything I said regarding Vampire Bats applies to Ancient Vampire Bats.

Black Knight
Level: 4
Hiring Cost: 1000
Leadership: 150
Attack/Defense: 25 / 25
Initiative/Speed: 3 / 2
Health: 160
Damage: 12-16 Physical
Resistances: 30% Physical, 50% Poison
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Abilities: Undead, Steel Armor (30% Physical resistance), Dark Commander (+1 Morale to allied Undead), Rising Anger (Each time the Black Knight stack attacks, they gain +3 damage and +3% crit chance for the rest of the battle, up to a maximum of +15 to each)

Here we go, the big reason Zombies and Decaying Zombies are difficult to justify using. If you want a somewhat generic Running Melee Undead unit, Black Knights are your men. They're one of the only units in the Legend that has more Health than Leadership, they've got useful resistances (And no weaknesses), and the longer they're in a brawl the more lethal they become, quite noticeably so.much so that they're actually one of the better generic melee units for just dishing out damage. On top of all that, if you're using an Undead-heavy army, they're passively boosting it just by existing!

Note that Rising Anger doesn't trigger off of counter-attacks. They only gain damage and crit chance when they initiate the attack.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot to really say about Black Knights. They're very good units, but they tend to be overshadowed by the leeching Undead units, and worse yet the game doesn't like to give them to you for a long time. By the time they show up, Magic and Fire damage enemies are far more common, making their combination of good Physical and Poison resistance a lot less consistently effective than you might hope, and they're still generic melee, if one of the better instances of such out there.

I do like their design, anyway. They look sinister without looking like someone who's gone way overkill on trying to look scary.

Bone Dragon
Level: 5
Hiring Cost: 3200
Leadership: 1300
Attack/Defense: 43 / 43
Initiative/Speed: 6 / 7
Health: 600
Damage: 50-65 Poison
Resistances: 50% Poison
Talents: Poison Cloud (Reload: 2. 60-80 Poison damage to all adjacent targets, with a 90% chance to Poison units hit. Units don't retaliate)
Abilities: Undead, Bone (Takes only 30% damage from arrows), Flight

Note that Poison Cloud activates immediately when clicked, unlike most attacking Talents, which usually let you select a target zone even if they're centered on the user or the like.

Bone Dragons are the Undead dragon, and like all dragons, they can potentially, with enough patience, solo arbitrarily large armies. The combination of excellent Speed, high Initiative, and the Poison Cloud Talent mean that pure melee forces really just plain cannot force damage on them, while they can force damage on enemies.

It's interesting to me to note that they seem to have been designed as Undead Black Dragons in specific. The Red and Emerald Green Dragons have a very upright posture, and much shorter necks. Only the Black Dragon has the goose neck and walks on all fours.

Anyway, Bone Dragons can cross most battlefields and attack on the very first turn, and their Initiative and Speed is so monstrously high than only the 5 7 Initiative units of the game actually beat them. (Red Dragons tie with them instead) As enemies, this means they demand fairly specific setups to be able to ensure they don't just immediately take a turn and do damage before you get a chance to act. As player units, this makes them one of the best units for running right up to and tying down enemy ranged units. The Bone trait is even actually useful there, as while AI ranged attackers will step away and perform a ranged attack if possible, AI ranged units have a strong preference for firing on units that are extremely close to them. This isn't about effective range, either: Elves and Hunters (Who have Sniper and so don't deal with such penalties) will still usually step one tile away and then shoot whatever unit was adjacent to them. As such, it's actually very possible to have Bone Dragons draw a Bowman, Elf, Hunter, or Skeleton Archer's attention and laugh off the attack.

Against more melee-focused armies, Bone Dragons are more lackluster, but it's perfectly practical to Wait, then once the Bone Dragon's turn rolls around again go fly out and drop a Poison Cloud amid the enemy, then have the next turn roll around and fly out of their reach. This... isn't very useful in The Legend, but it's an option.

Ultimately the biggest problem Bone Dragons have is that the game doesn't like to give them to you until you're so far into the game that enemy stack sizes mean their high-ish per-member durability isn't is great as you might think. Instead of getting into a slugging match and tanking three or four hits without suffering a casualty, what is liable to happen is you send them to hit something, and the counterattack kills a Bone Dragon -or two!- outright. At that point you're arguably better off using units that have better Health for the Leadership and/or cost less Gold per Leadership, if you're just going to accept casualties, such as Horsemen. (Which you're guaranteed to get a Horde of shortly before the game likes to give access to Bone Dragons!)

Thankfully, later games both directly bolster them and through mechanics changes indirectly make them more effective.

Skeleton Archer
Level: 1
Hiring Cost: 24
Leadership: 14
Attack/Defense: 3 / 2
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 2
Health: 8
Damage: 2-3 Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison, -10% Fire
Talents: Poison Arrow (Charge: 1. Ranged attack that does 2-3 Poison damage and Poisons the target), Black Arrow (Charge: 1. Ranged attack that does 3-4 Magic damage and removes a single positive effect from the target)
Abilities: Undead, Archer (Range: 5), Bone (Arrow attacks do only 30% damage)

Yeah, Skeleton Archers are unusually low range. And yes, Poison Arrow and Black Arrow have the same range. This is part of why I really like Rina: Tactics 1 is all Bowmen need to be within one turn of move and shoot of whatever you want on most battlefields, but Skeleton Archers need the extra Speed to be able to pull off the same. Or Tactics 2 works, of course.

Skeleton Archers are fantastic glass cannons, possibly the most lethal ranged unit in the game for their Leadership, and even better Poison Arrow and Black Arrow give them options for working around resistances. You can do stuff like Black Arrow and Poison Arrow some Horsemen to get around their Physical resistance, and then focus your generic attack on enemy mages. They're also arguably the best choice for slapping Dragon Arrows on, since their lackluster range is rendered irrelevant, and their poor base Attack is made a lot less important, while their status as a glass cannon maximizes the value.


Unfortunately, for the moment Poison Arrow is pretty lackluster, and Black Arrow's ability to remove positive effects isn't relevant very often. There's precious few units that can generate positive effects to strip, and enemy Heroes actually tend to prefer negative effects and damage Spells to casting buffs... with the main exceptions tending to be mass-casting buffs, wherein removing a single effect from a single unit is... limited. As such, in The Legend Skeleton Archers are mostly a bit generic, other than being Undead and being unusually short-ranged.

As I alluded to with Skeletons, their Bone trait is actually a lot more consistently useful than it is on Skeletons. It's not usually a reason to pick them, more of an incidental benefit to fielding them, but it's there.

Skeleton Archers are also one of the better options for considering Hasting, out of ranged attackers. Their sub-par range and standard Speed means it can make a substantial difference in their effectiveness in general, where most ranged units find it situationally useful for kiting.

As enemies, Skeleton Archers are... a little more annoying? The player is more likely to actually be casting buffs, of course, but the AI isn't particularly consistent about targeting buffs with Black Arrow. Indeed, the AI's usage of their Talents is extremely incoherent, and as far as I can tell there's genuinely just a substantial component of randomness to it, whereby sometimes they'll just fire a regular arrow, sometimes they'll fire a Poison Arrow, and sometimes they'll fire off a Black Arrow, all with no regard to the target's resistances, whether it's already Poisoned or not, etc.

Their Fire weakness, however minor, is still largely a point in the player's favor, especially for Mage runs where Fireball spam is the order of the day from the very beginning of the game.

So... arguably they're actually less effective as enemies?...

I dunno. I like using them, but that's probably primarily because the only other ranged Undead unit is Necromancers, and Necromancers are ideally spending very little of their time actually using their attack. And since there's precious few Neutral ranged units, an Undead-using army that isn't benefiting from Tolerant has just those two plus Priests, Inquisitors, Thorn Hunters, and Royal Thorns as ranged options. So... even if you think Skeleton Archers are a poor unit, there's situations where they're basically your best option. (For one thing, they're your best option for ranged Physical offense...)

Necromancer
Level: 4
Hiring Cost: 600
Leadership: 200
Attack/Defense: 30 / 30
Initiative/Speed: 7 / 2
Health: 140
Damage: 8-12 Magic/Physical
Resistances: 50% Poison, 10% Magic
Talents: Magic Lock (Charge: 1. A single enemy unit has all its Talents blocked off for 2 turns), Raise Undead (Charges: 3. Raises a corpse as 120 Leadership per Necromancer in the casting stack, with the new stack's number of member unable to exceed the count of the corpse's original stack), Plague (Charge: 1. Infects every unit on the battlefield with Plague)
Abilities: Undead, Cloud of Darkness (Range: 6. Splash attack that has a chance of Cursing hit units)

A curious glitch with Necromancers is that their damage prediction is always based on their melee damage. In most situations you should assume they'll do roughly double whatever the game is telling you they'll do. If a unit has Physical resistance, they'll do even more than that... while if it has Magical resistance... well, if it's below 50% Magic resistance, the prediction is still too low. If it's exactly 50%, then it's essentially accurate. If it's above 50%, then the prediction is actually lying to you and the damage will be much worse! One of the better examples of the latter scenario is Gremlin Towers, which you can't check the resistances of. A player who hasn't noticed that they're heavily resistant to Magic and who doesn't know about this glitch is liable to be quite confused.

Surprisingly, this is one of the only glitches that's in every single King's Bounty game, all the way through to Dark Side. Even stranger is that the Red Sands mod for Armored Princess does fix it!

Plague is functionally the Level 3 version of the Chaos Spell of the same name, in terms of the statistical penalties it imposes. Since Necromancers hit the entire battlefield where the Spell version hits a single target, Necromancers tend to be a better way of trying to make use of Plague than using the Spell yourself. Just use Plants, Undead, Demons, and/or Cyclops for your army to avoid it penalizing your own forces, and you're set.

Raise Undead is effectively Necro Call, only using Leadership instead of Health as its bounding effect. Spells are later in my post order, but the short-ish version is: Undead always arise as the same class of Undead aside from Vampires and Ancient Vampires always arising in human form, Dragons always arise as Bone Dragons, the assorted spiders always arise as Undead Spiders, enemy Priests and Inquisitors will actually get back up as themselves and still on the enemy side (!), the bow-wielding units can arise as Skeleton Archers, some of the mages can arise as Necromancers, some of the armored units can arise as Black Knights, and most units can arise as Skeletons, Zombies, Ghosts, and their variations. Also Demons, Plants, Cyclops, and a rather random selection of other units are just invalid targets. (I wouldn't question how I can't raise Beholders, snakes, or Devilfish if it weren't for the fact that eg Hyenas are totally valid, they just always arise as a Ghost or Cursed Ghost)

Magic Lock is de facto Magic Shackles, with the caveat that I've run into situations Magic Lock won't target a unit where Magic Shackles can. My current guess is that Magic Lock has some unmentioned Leadership limit, unlike Magic Shackles.

Necromancers themselves have an utterly monstrous Initiative tier. No unit has higher Initiative, and Zombie Rina and Dark Commander can raise this Initiative further. As such, Necromancers are the unit for just flat-out going first over everything in the game, needing only some support to become unbeatable at this by non-Hero-backed armies. There's not similar support for the other competition in the tier (Excepting of course bat form Ancient Vampires, but for the player they can't start a battle in that form), beyond the generic boost from Onslaught, which only applies to the very first turn. As such, while I said Archdemons are the default winner of turn order, for the player's purposes Necromancers are actually the go-to option for ensuring you go first no matter what.

An interesting point of note about their Talents: each of them is clearly a particular Spell, but Magic Shackles is Distortion Magic where Necro Call and Plague are both Chaos Magic... buuut if you look in the .txt file for Spells, Magic Shackles is actually placed within the section of the file meant for Chaos Spells. It's kind of too bad they apparently changed their mind on Magic Shacles' school at some point, because I like little touches like having conceptually-spellcaster units that are sort of held by the same rules as the player. (In this case, school focus) Oh well.

Anyway, in general Necromancers are the Undead unit to use, particularly for a Mage. Dropping Plague on every enemy before you start Spell nuking is basically increasing your Spell damage by 33%. That's better than buying Destruction 1 and 2! Magic Lock makes it less important to get Magic Shackles Level 3 if you're concerned about enemy Talent spam, and the ability to generate disposable meatshields from corpses is incredibly useful, especially in fights with extremely uneven stack sizes. (Which is a lot more of them than you might expect, but is particularly common in the largest fights, such as castle assaults) They're even shockingly durable for a caster unit, while having high enough Leadership this means it's genuinely not unusual for them to entirely avoid casualties when struck by very small stacks (eg a mauled melee unit that manages to close before you can finish it off) and/or weak Poison attackers. They don't really have anything resembling a weakness or a flaw, outside of Being Undead, and their status as a ranged attacker who's focused on Talent usage minimizes the flaws with being Undead. (They can stay away from melee brawls and so not need the healing that's so hard to get them, their utility isn't substantially bolstered by effects like Precision, etc)

It's slightly annoying that them inflicting Curse is actually purely a disadvantage in your hands, since enemies don't interact with Morale, where you might find yourself splashing one of your troops with Curse in certain situations, but that's not much of a flaw.

Amusingly, enemy Necromancers are actually not that threatening, generally speaking. They strongly prefer to use their Talents to actually attacking, and they're not very smart about it. Sometimes they'll Magic Lock your Alchemist, crippling them. Other times they'll Magic Lock a Running unit you didn't even intend to have use Running. Their tendency to immediately use Plague is a lot less helpful in AI hands, as what will often happen is that the Plague runs out before the melee units reach your lines, and AI forces usually aren't backed by damage Spells so it's not a way to buff Fireballs for AI forces. Even their use of Animate Dead is usually convenient, as they're not very clever about how they target it. Usually you'd be more unhappy with them just attacking your forces than with producing some small Undead stack that won't do anything until next turn and may never manage to do anything at all, not even tie up your forces, depending on what you were doing. Maybe you were going to cast Geyser no matter what they did, and it would've just wasted one of the pillars if they hadn't summoned that additional target. That kind of thing.

Indeed, it's actually a good idea to finish off an enemy stack as quickly as possible, so as to distract them with Animate Dead targets.

The only significant exception in most situations is that Bone Dragons being animated can be a genuine pain to deal with quickly and efficiently, thanks to their excellent turn order advantage and Flight. And... a quality that doesn't apply to The Legend that's much more important than those, so actually Bone Dragons are a pretty minor exception. And demand the Necromancers are hanging out with dragons of some kind in the first place, an uncommon occurrence.

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Undead run the gamut from early-game trash to endgame awesome, which is appropriate since they're second only to Neutral for being spread throughout the game instead of strongly focused in any particular region.

Undead provide some of the more interesting examples to me of how the King's Bounty games are 'patching' existing ideas from classic King's Bounty and/or from the classic Heroes of Might and Magic games. Ghosts exist in classic King's Bounty, for example, but there they generate more of themselves based off of casualties, which meant that a player who made the mistake of bringing Peasants to a fight with enemy Ghosts could find them going from 'non-issue' to 'oh god what' in a single turn, while stuff like Dragons would barely give anything. Vampires are more debateable/subtle example: in eg Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Vampire (Lords) don't shift forms between a weak form that flies and leeches vs a stronger form that lacks those advantages, and instead simply have 'turn into a bat' as their movement animation. The Legend breaking it up into two forms could be viewed as just flavor, or it could be viewed as a subtle way to rebalance them.

Anyway, in The Legend itself Undead manage to be quite interesting through a combination of an array of qualities where, though no one quality is actually universally applicable (ie their Poison resistance doesn't matter if there's no Poison damage on the enemy), the package is sufficiently consistent in having some meaning as a whole that they feel very distinct from the other factions. I complimented Demons on how they're a shockingly nuanced way of breaking up cookie-cutter strategies in the late game without just being cheesy, but as a distinct faction I find Demons relatively lackluster, as they have fewer such qualities and just fit into context differently. Undead don't play nice with other species because they like to toss about Plague, because they don't benefit from eg Priests using Heal or Bless, and so on, on top of the Morale problems. Demons... only have the Morale issue strongly separating them out. This isn't even touching on how Tolerance 2 makes the Morale issue go away, turning Demons into basically Neutral units!

Indeed, even though Undead actually only have two ranged units -and no pseudo-ranged units- it usually doesn't cross my mind to lump them in with Dwarves, Orcs, and Demons as a melee-focused faction. The fact that so many of their forces are melee doesn't come across like it's meant to be a defining trait, but rather is a byproduct of other forces at work, whether they be game design practicalities (It would be insane to make Ghosts or Vampires leech at range) or more lore/aesthetic-type considerations (ie many Undead are clearly imagined as not very bright, so it would be strange for eg Zombies to Talent-based spellcasters or the like) that happens to work out to having the ratios melee-focused.

I'm a sucker for undead in most games in the first place, I'll readily admit, but I really do think the Undead are probably the best-designed faction in The Legend at being a distinct faction.

Anyway, next time we do part one of Neutrals: the 'animal' portion.

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