King's Bounty Rage Analysis: Part 1, Zerock

In King's Bounty: The Legend, Rage is a mechanic with no antecedent in the classic King's Bounty game or in the Heroes of Might and Magic games. It doesn't scale to a stat on your Hero, it doesn't operate on the normal Mana economy model, it's weird and different all-around. So this first post is going to be especially long.

Rage builds as units take damage -whether your own or enemies- and especially when stacks are finished off, and is expended on your 'Spirits of Rage' (Once you get to the point in the plot where the Chest of Rage is given to you, anyway) to do various things that are broadly like Spells but in key ways are not Spells. (The big one is that Magic Immunity doesn't block Rage effects) When out of combat, Rage rapidly drains to 0, in contrast to Mana slowly regenerating out of combat.

Without getting overly technical, Rage generation is broadly influenced by army size considerations and especially comparisons. If your army is larger than the enemy's army in terms of total Leadership, you'll tend to struggle to generate Rage. If they massively outnumber you, Rage generation goes much better. (Unfortunately, this has the odd consequence that the Mage is less bad with Rage than they should be and the Warrior less good with it than they should be, since the Mage tends to have smaller armies and be able to use Spell-slinging to beat noticeably larger armies than what they're fielding... though this barely matters in The Legend in specific. It's more relevant to later games)

An incidental effect of this is that increasing your maximum Rage capacity also improves your Rage generation.

Similarly, Spirits of Rage gain experience when used, with the experience influenced by how large the enemy army is relative to the player's army. (This effect caps out at the enemy army having 3 times as much Leadership as the player's army) How many members of the stack were killed also factors in when the skill kills units (This only counts for kills at use: Sleem's Poison Cloud and Lina's Gizmo and Ice Ball making kills doesn't count), based also on the Leadership. Spirits also have diminishing returns for repeated use in a battle. As such, you're better off using each Spirit in a battle if at all reasonable, rather than spamming a 1-Rest skill on a single Spirit or even alternating between 2 Spirits, in terms of overall Rage experience generation.

The kill-based experience bonus has a few implications. First and foremost, since the Leadership-to-Health ratio tends to get worse as Leadership rises, high Leadership units are generally a better target for generating experience on your Spirits of Rage. (Assuming you're getting any kills in the first place, obviously) Dishing out 666 damage to an Archdemon will net you 1600 Leadership worth of bonus experience: dishing out 666 damage to Peasants will net you 660-670 (Depending on what their Health was at) Leadership worth of Experience. (Reaper's percentile kills via Soul Draining is obviously pretty agnostic on this point, and so it should be aimed at Peasants over Archdemons to maximize the raw damage output and thus help the most in the actual combat) Also note that this means inflicting Plague is de-facto a Spirit experience multiplier (Necromancers are a Spirit's best friend), and so too is Pygmy. By a similar token, if for instance there's two Knight stacks and one of them is wounded such that your predicted kills are 2-3 while the predicted kills on the other stack is 1-2, you should ideally target the 2-3 predicted kills stack for additional experience.

It also has the implication that raising damage on direct attacking skills should basically always be prioritized, as it doubles as an experience booster. This phenomenon is why you can, for example, get Evil Shoal on Sleem and end up with Sleem pulling several levels ahead of your Hero: Evil Shoal's ability to inflict massive casualties means it reaps massive experience gains! By a similar token, Zerock's Underground Blades will actually tremendously accelerate his growth, even if you find yourself not using it that often: Smashing Sword just cannot compete with Underground Blades' ability to rack up experience via kills. And since you get the biggest experience from your first usage, having Underground Blades be Zerock's first move in a battle really is a lot of experience.

On the flipside, it's a torturous grind to get Lina's experience up because she can't get kill-based experience bonuses. As a concrete example: my last run through The Legend had Zerock ram into the level cap before I'd even really hit the endgame, Sleem ended up 2 levels short of the level cap, Reaper also ended up 2 levels short (Even though he's the last Spirit you acquire, keep in mind), and Lina ended up ten levels short. This was in spite of me looking for excuses to generate experience on Lina, whereas the other Spirits I didn't put any specific effort into grinding them.

Maximum level on a Spirit is 30. (Their experience meter will continue to fill once they're level 30, but nothing will happen when the bar gets to the end. It's annoying, as experience often fills so slowly at the highest levels you might spend several battles thinking you're about to finally roll over to a new level, not realizing that you're actually at the experience cap, and the game itself doesn't actually tell you what the level cap is)

When a Spirit levels up, you pick between two randomly-offered options for unlocking new skills or improving existing skills. This... is unfortunately low, offering very little control to the player, and indeed it's not at all unusual to be offered 'improve Smashing Sword or improve Smashing Sword', which is always frustrating, but is especially frustrating in Zerock's case given that Rockfall is so bad you really ought to just never take it at all. Thankfully later games all give the player 3 things to pick from, dramatically improving your control while still limiting your ability to do 'build order' silliness.

There's a total of 16 Rage skill in The Legend, divided into 4 groups of 4, organized by the four Spirits of Rage. When you use a Rage skill, it has a 'rest' period, which is the number of turns you can't use any of the skills that are on the Spirit you just called out.

While the other Spirits won't be Resting, you can still only use the Chest of Rage once per turn. It's too bad, because if you could keep Raging so long as no Spirit was Resting, that would make the Warrior's superior Rage generation a lot more noticeably effective, and as you'll see, Rage is... somewhat poorly balanced for the endgame.

Also, something to keep in mind when I'm commenting on the effectiveness of Rage: I'm looking at Rage from the perspective of a Hard mode run. This is important because higher difficulties increase enemy stack sizes with no compensation to Rage attacks: it took much longer for Rage to start being lackluster in my Normal mode run than in my later Hard and Impossible runs. This is of course true of all your tools, but The Legend is a game of going out and beating up weak enemy stacks before taking on equal/strong stacks, having gained all kinds of power from the fighting and the attendant exploring. As such, the difference between Normal and Hard when it comes to Leadership is how long it'll take you to get around to being on equal ground with a given tough-for-its-area battlegroup, not whether you'll ever reach parity, up until extremely late in the game. Rage attacks don't scale nearly high enough to have this be equivalently true: if you focus on Evil Shoal as much as possible, you'll probably have it completely maxed before halfway through the game, and it's all downhill from there. You won't be able to run into a fight, decide Evil Shoal is underperforming, and then reload and come back when Evil Shoal is strong enough to really contribute to that fight. As such, if you prefer playing on lower difficulties you'll find Rage generally more useful than I'm implying here, while if you're playing on Impossible you'll find Rage even less useful.

One final point I've never seen anything explicitly mention: on the overland, if you have Rage above 0, your Mana recharges much more slowly until your Rage is all gone. As such, it's impractical to enter a fight with high Rage and high Mana without either not spending Mana in the first place or using something to generate Mana or Rage before the battle. (Potions of Mana or Rage, fountains of either, etc)

Zerock is going to be the first Spirit you unlock access to on most runs, though depending on your luck you may actually get Sleem first. Unfortunately, he's scaled to this early game appearance, and his utility drops significantly over the course of the game. You'll still spam Underground Blades in the end-game just because you'll have the Rage (And nothing better to spend it on), if only thanks to Reaper's Rage Draining, and with little in the way of better options for spending your Rage, but increasingly the damage it deals is not very influential on a battle.

It's sad, because he's by far my favorite of the Spirits in terms of his aesthetic and his concept.

Interestingly, his files simply designate him 'therock'. It makes me wonder if the translators decided to exotific-ify his name, or if it's just a consequence of some cross-language oddity. I mean, Engineers of the later games are misspelled in their internal files...

In total, Zerock has 45 levels of Rage boosting to dump into.

Smashing Sword
Damage: 80-100
Rest: 3
Rage: 7

Hits a single target for Physical damage. Does doubled damage against enemies considered to be 'mages'.

Your basic damage spell Rage effect. Unfortunately, it's pretty underwhelming, especially when you consider the strength of the enemies Zerock forces you to fight before he'll let you use him, and it never really stops being underwhelming, even against mages. The main reason to bother at all is to give Zerock experience so you can get to his better abilities.

Disappointingly, Gremlins don't seem to count as mages, further limiting Zerock's utility.

Damage Upgrade 1: Damage: 120-150, Rage Required: +1
Damage Upgrade 2: Damage: 170-210, Rage Required: +1
Damage Upgrade 3: Damage: 230-280, Rage Required: +2
Damage Upgrade 4: Damage: 300-360, Rage Required: +2
Damage Upgrade 5: Damage: 380-450, Rage Required: +3
Damage Upgrade 6: Damage: 470-550, Rage Required: +3

The first couple of upgrades are pretty good, being roughly 50% increases in damage at each step, but past that it's not very good. The math of the damage progression is a simple pattern -whatever was the previous max roll, add 20 to that to find your minimum roll, and then make the maximum roll 10 higher (relative to your new minimum) than your previous max. So Smashing Sword also gets more random the further you level it. Yay.

Past the first two or three damage upgrades, you should probably prioritize other skills on Zerock. By which I mean Underground Blades. The damage increase is, in percentile terms, not that helpful, and Smashing Sword is somewhat underwhelming when you get it. The damage upgrades aren't so much fixing this problem as they are stemming the metaphorical bleeding: Smashing Sword is still becoming increasingly irrelevant as you advance, you're just slightly slowing it. Assuming you keep being able to afford it, which isn't a guarantee if you're upgrading its damage.

Rest Upgrade 1: Rest: -1
Rest Upgrade 2: Rest: -1

Much more worth investing into than into damage, especially early in the game when having Zerock Resting may mean you can't use Rage at all in a given turn. Especially since it has the meta-advantage of effectively benefiting Zerock's other skills: a 1-turn Rest gives you more flexibility, such as using Smashing Sword on the first turn because you don't quite have enough Rage for Underground Blades but will easily get there on the second turn, where a 2 or 3-turn Rest means you'd be delaying Underground Blades if you did that.

Rage Upgrade 1: Rage Required: -4
Rage Upgrade 2: Rage Required: -6


... you don't have to worry about Smashing Sword going into the negatives and crashing your game or the like. The game won't actually give you Rage cost-downs on a skill until you've gotten a minimum number of upgrades that increase the Rage costs. Which can lead to strange situations where you want to level something's damage so you'll be able to get the Rage cost decrease afterward to end up more lethal and cheaper than you started. It's a dynamic I'm glad later games lean away from, because it's just very strange in a not-good way.

Also notice how the first one of these will offset the first three entire levels of damage increase to Rage costs, while the second more than offsets the next two. It's only the final damage increase that finally overcomes the cost-downs permanently.

Final Stats
Damage: 470-550
Rest: 1
Rage: 9

Honestly, if you could use every Spirit each turn, Smashing Sword would end up being a cool little thing, basically letting you just add on a little damage wherever you like each turn. As-is, it's... usable early on, and later on it's... something you'll occasionally use just because it's Rest 1 and has a low cost. That damage isn't enough to kill even a single member of any of the Level 5 units, and in the endgame you'll be fighting battlegroups where individual stacks contain 20 of the things. That's less than 5% of a single stack, to give you an idea of exactly how awful it is in the long haul. It's not like any of the Level 5 units counts as a mage, either.

Damage: 90-150
Area: 3 tiles. Targets in a triangular formation.
Rest: 4
Rage: 14

Does Physical damage in an area of effect, with no friendly-fire risk. Does doubled damage against enemies considered to be 'mages'.

Rockfall is terrible. It is so terrible I would seriously argue that avoiding unlocking it is an idea genuinely worth considering. (Indeed, that's exactly what I did on my last Mage run, and I never regretted the decision for even a second) On the face of things, it looks decent due to having better damage than Smashing Sword in an area of effect, but its initial strike zone is incredibly awkward to get full use out of, the high Rest period is crushing early in the game and later on when you can better afford its Rest period it's basically obsolete, between Underground Blades and the other, better Spirits, and its price isn't even all that much lower than Underground Blades at any given moment.

In fact, remember how I mentioned that Zerock has 45 levels total? 13 of those are buying and upgrading Rockfall. If you refuse to buy Rockfall, Zerock will only be 2 levels short of maxing his other three skills.

It really needed something other than straight damage to justify its presence, unfortunately.

The only nice thing I really have to say about it is that you don't have to worry about friendly fire. But Underground Blades does that too, while being better in basically every other way as well.

Damage Upgrade 1: Damage: 130-230, Rage: +3
Damage Upgrade 2: Damage: 180-330, Rage: +3
Damage Upgrade 3: Damage: 240-450, Rage: +3
Damage Upgrade 4: Damage: 310-590, Rage: +3
Damage Upgrade 5: Damage: 390-750, Rage: +3
Damage Upgrade 6: Damage: 480-930, Rage: +3

Like Smashing Sword, the first couple of damage increases are in the vicinity of 50% damage increases over prior damage, and past that it's questionable whether the payoff is worth burning a level on it. In Rockfall's case, the formula is that the minimum goes up by 40+10 per level, while the maximum goes up by 80+20 per level.

Of course, unlike Smashing Sword I'm not sure why you would want to unlock Rockfall in the first place, making it a bit of a moot point.

Area Upgrade 1: Area=7, Rage: +5
Area Upgrade 2: Area=19, Rage: +5

The first upgrade takes Rockfall to the more intuitive and useful circle formation, while the second one just expands that by another tile outward. This would be useful... except Underground Blades exists.

Rest Upgrade 1: Rest: -1
Rest Upgrade 2: Rest: -1

Too little, too late, unfortunately. Being able to get down to 2 Rest still doesn't justify it.

Rage Upgrade 1: Rage Required: -5
Rage Upgrade 2: Rage Required: -5

Notice that these pretty much just cancel out the Rage cost increases from expanding the area of effect. Then realize you're still going to be ramping cost up hugely via the damage increases, and cry.

Final Stats
Damage: 480-930, Area: 19, Rest: 2, Rage Required: 32

Why would I spend 32 Rage on this when I could use Underground Blades instead? Note that Underground Blade's final cost is 40. And its minimum damage is only 110 less than Rockfall's maximum damage. And it always hits all hostiles, no matter their position, so its total damage is very often higher anyway. The only thing resembling an advantage Rockfall has is that 2 Rest is 1 less than Underground Blade's low of 3 Rest, and honestly the way the game works out it doesn't really help.

It's too bad, because I actually like the aesthetic of Rockfall.

Thankfully, it gets a second chance to shine in Orcs on the March. Kinda.

It... completely fails, but to be fair I have reason to suspect this is due to a technical oversight rather than poor balancing. I'll cover that when we get to it, though...

Stone Wall
Health: 100
Duration: 2
Rest: 4
Rage: 10

Generates a three-tile-wide wall in an area that is considered 'hostile' to everyone on the field.

In the early game Stone Wall can actually be used to significantly stall enemy melee, but in the endgame it's basically just going to collapse in the face of a single attack from any enemy. Annoyingly, it's not even considered to be a hostile for adjacency purposes -you can't pin an enemy ranged attacker in place and force them to attack it, for example. Nor does it have anything equivalent to how castle walls in Heroes of Might and Magic 3 halve the damage of ranged attackers made past them. It really is just a brief, ineffectual meatshield.

It's too bad it's not, like, three segments that each have their own HP. Then it could be useful in chokepoints! Alas, that role is taken up by a better wall on a better Spirit, among other roles. You're basically just best off spamming Underground Blades in the long haul, for all that its damage fails to really keep up.

Health Upgrade 1: Health: 300, Rage Required: +1
Health Upgrade 2: Health: 600, Rage Required: +1
Health Upgrade 3: Health: 1200, Rage Required: +2
Health Upgrade 4: Health: 2500, Rage Required: +2

This is a weird, somewhat arbitrary progression, first tripling the durability and then doubling for every upgrade after that, except for the last one which is slightly over doubling instead. Alright, whatever. It's really unfortunate the game itself doesn't provide clearer information on the Rage level-up progression -in my own original run, I bought the first upgrade, eyed the second one with disappointment, and didn't take it because I didn't realize the later upgrades would actually have spiked it to a pretty respectable amount for the stage of the game I was in.

I mean, Rock Wall is still pretty lackluster even at max HP upgrades -in the endgame it's not unusual for enemy stacks to do 10,000 damage- but it's not as awful as you might first think.

Duration Upgrade 1: Duration: +1, Rage Required: +5
Duration Upgrade 2: Duration: +1, Rage Required: +5

Don't take this if you can avoid it. Please. There is basically never any situation in which you actually expect Rock Wall to last more than two turns while being useful. This is just increasing its cost to no benefit.

Rest Upgrade 1: Rest: -1
Rest Upgrade 2: Rest: -1

If you're going to bother to use Rock Wall, might as well. It'll give Zerock more opportunity to use his good skills AKA Underground Blades.

Rage Upgrade 1: Rage Required: -5
Rage Upgrade 2: Rage Required: -5

I like how if you ignore the duration upgrades you'll actually end up 2 cheaper than you started.

Final stats
Health: 2500, Duration: 4, Rest: 2, Rage Required: 28 (Or: 18, if you ignore the duration upgrades)

In the endgame, it'll still die to literally anything attacking it, and you'll be fighting so many teleporting and flying jerks it won't slow down or block anyone you care about for a second, but it'll still be better than Rockfall.

I'm mostly disappointed it doesn't block projectiles, or even force them into 'out of range' status or the like. Having an unusual option for protecting your troops from enemy ranged would actually be a basically unique niche, and it would be wildly more useful right there even if its actual stats remained just as poor.

Underground Blades
Damage: 100-160
Rest: 5
Rage: 26

Strikes all enemies on the field for Physical damage. Does doubled damage to enemies considered to be 'mages'.

Yes, it does do doubled damage to mages. Yes, the game doesn't say so itself. Yes, I have made sure to test/pay attention.

Zerock's best skill by far!... though unfortunately its damage doesn't scale to the endgame. Still, there's not really any reason to not use it much of the time, particularly if you're playing a Warrior and so have more Rage than you know what to do with.

Damage Upgrade 1: Damage: 170-260, Rage Required: +4
Damage Upgrade 2: Damage: 260-390, Rage Required: +4
Damage Upgrade 3: Damage: 370-550, Rage Required: +4
Damage Upgrade 4: Damage: 500-740, Rage Required: +4
Damage Upgrade 5: Damage: 650-960, Rage Required: +4
Damage Upgrade 6: Damage: 820-1210, Rage Required: +4

Minimum damage goes up 70+20 per level, while maximum damage goes up 100+30 per level.

It takes a while for these upgrades to drop off in their payoff, so Underground Blades remains decent for a long, long time. Even once it's no longer crippling entire armies in one use, it's still an easy way to get in chip damage on everything without finicky targeting issues or the like, and the damage bonus against mages will crop up completely incidentally to boot! It's also one of the better Rage skills for higher-end Keeper fights, since those tend to have large numbers of unit stacks, and they're often very widely spread out. If you're willing to use eg Potions of Rage, its damage is good enough to one-shot a Black Dragon stack made of 1 Black Dragon, or even potentially take out a stack of 2 if you managed to have a Necromancer use Plague beforehand, so even in the late game it's not like it's actually irrelevant, just... not great.

The consistent, rapid growth of the Rage cost is a bit unfortunate, though.

Rest Upgrade 1: Rest: -1
Rest Upgrade 2: Rest: -1

Reducing the Rest period is a low priority in the early-midgame, as battles will frequently end before Underground Blades can be used a second time even with Rest maxed. As you approach the endgame, battles tend to take longer due to sheer enemy size/the fact that your Rage abilities don't scale sufficiently/if you're a Mage your nuking Spells don't fully keep up, and at that point the Rest period is more useful.

Of course, the game's offerings are fairly random, so it's a bit of a gamble to eg put off a Rest period reduction because it's not useful now.

Rage Upgrade 1: Rage Required: -5
Rage Upgrade 2: Rage Required: -5

Only slightly more of a reduction than a single damage upgrade is an increase. Ouch. You should definitely take it when offered, but honestly if  the game is asking for this or a damage upgrade for Underground Blades, you should probably just take the damage upgrade. Especially since the experience gain from the damage upgrade will get you to another level faster. (Assuming you can stay on top of the cost, admittedly)

Final Stats
Damage: 820-1210, Rest: 3, Rage Required: 40

Unfortunately, this is pretty lackluster damage when eg fighting a stack of 25 Black Dragons. You'll kill 1 to 1-and-a-half Black Dragons, whoo. Like, yes, you'll be hitting every stack, but it's still a bit painfully weak in the endgame.

It's still by far Zerock's best skill, sad as that is, and if you manage to get it early on and are able to generate enough Rage to afford it fairly consistently (So basically you're playing a Warrior and maxed Anger quickly) it can impress in the early to midgame. Even in the late game, it may be the most useful thing you can do with your Rage, if you're sitting on a lot and the other Spirits are currently Resting. Which absolutely happens. Fairly often, even. Especially if you're a Warrior.


One of the more unfortunate issues Zerock has is that he has three damaging skills, and they all hit Physical. Which is the main form of damage resistance you tend to want support to work around -usually, your army is going to output primarily or even exclusively Physical damage, making Zerock's damage support a bit redundant. It also effects the skills collectively in a negative way, as if any of them is unsuited to the situation, they all are, aside from potentially Rock Wall. Sleem, for instance, can contribute against Undead armies with Evil Shoal and use Poison Spit and Cloud of Poison against Knights who resist Evil Shoal. Reaper cheats and just does Astral damage on everything, so he's good against everything. Lina relies on utility effects more than damage output, and has two different damage types anyway. It doesn't help any that Physical is the most common resistance to be quietly splashed onto a unit without any Ability to justify it, meaning Zerock is frequently performing slightly worse than you might expect.

Zerock is a good illustration of why the later games in the series tend to attach non-damage effects to 'attacking' skills and/or render the damage in whole or part in the form of percentage damage. The series could've handled the issue other ways -spells get by fine off of Intelligence scaling, for example, so there could've been an equivalent stat for Rage- but whatever the case, Zerock is a good illustration of What Not To Do.

Which makes me glad the developers figured that out on their own in later games!

Zerock's anti-mage gimmick is... a bit odd, as well. There's really not that many units that are classed as mages by the game, and it's not like the game is prone to making battle groups that are mixed together across the species or anything of the sort. Ironically, an anti-mage gimmick would be a lot more useful in the later games, but that never comes back as a Rage quirk.

Oh well.

Next time, we cover Sleem, Prince of Swamps.


Popular Posts