King's Bounty Skill Analysis Part 3: Magic

Lastly, time for the Magic tree, starting with the Mage's symbol:

+10 to max Mana, and +2 to Scroll max.

+20 to max Mana, and +4 to Scroll max.

+30 to max Mana, and +6 to Scroll max.

Skill tree requirements: None.

I'm amused at how Wisdom's graphical progression is 'studying by candlelight->studying in some open environment that looks like a fancy building->MY BOOK GLOWS WITH POWER!!!'

On a practical level, I like Wisdom as a Skill. If it were just max Scroll supply, I'd dislike it, since that's a 'benefit' you can largely make irrelevant, but max Scrolls as a sidenote to upping your max Mana instead ends up incidentally emphasizing the Mage being king of magic, since you're going to want it just for the max Mana.

Wisdom's impact is obviously highest early in the game, before you've picked up tons of Mana from leveling and shrines and so on, but it's still worth getting it maxed down the line (Assuming you didn't already max it early on), particularly as a Mage who can burn through stupendous amounts of Mana quite rapidly.

Simple, but well-designed.

Overland Mana regeneration is 30% faster.

Overland Mana regeneration is 60% faster.

Overland Mana regeneration is 90% faster.

Skill tree requirements: None.

I... don't like Meditation.

Meditation does two basic things: serve player convenience (Spending less of your real-life time waiting for your Mana to recharge), which is something you should never make a primary benefit of something meant to be in-game valuable, and... make it easier to use Rage efficiently, as you're more likely to be at or near max Mana while still having some leftover Rage as you pile on Meditation ranks. That latter point is fine in a general sense, but it's rather strange that a Magic tree Skill is functionally about supporting one of Might's main things, and it ties into a broader problem I'll be talking about when I talk about the Mage as a class.

Generally Meditation 2 and 3 should be ignored until you're running out of more useful Skill purchases you can afford. For non-Mages this usually means never buying anything past the first rank, period.

Order Magic
The Hero can learn Order Spells.

The Hero can upgrade Order Spells to Level 2.

The Hero can upgrade Order Spells to Level 3.

Skill tree requirements: Wisdom.

I'm not a huge fan of Order Magic personally, as Distortion's options for supporting allies tend to be more useful, effective, and interesting, while healing your troops is not a strongly viable, interesting route, with Resurrection and Dispel really being the two main Order Spells that matter particularly -and in The Legend, Dispel isn't even that important overall.

Regardless, the three Skills for focusing on a section of magic work fine on a design level, and the closest thing to a real criticism or complaint I have with them as a whole is that burning Runes on the Skills per se does nothing of value. You have to actually learn/upgrade some Spells of their tree to have gotten any payoff. It's not much of a criticism, though, because Magic Crystals are sufficiently abundant this doesn't start being an issue until the higher ranks of the Skills, and the Mage is the only class who tends to get enough of these Skills high enough level that Magic Crystals are a serious issue -and as we'll see later, they have a Skill to handle that. So even the Mage doesn't mind overly much the lack of direct benefits from ranking these Skills up.

+2 Mana per combat turn.

+4 Mana per combat turn.

+6 Mana per combat turn.


Skill tree requirements: Meditation.

Note that after 9 turns have passed in a given battle, Concentration's gains are halved, and after 19 turns it stops outright. This also applies to Mana gains from gear, and for that matter to Rage generation, but the relevancy here is that Concentration is not actually an indefinite stalling tool. In practice each rank of Concentration can be described as up to 26 more Mana available. (It doesn't kick in on the first turn, so you only get 8 turns of the base charge rate, and then ten turns of the halved rate)

Concentration is very useful, and somewhat ironically is particularly notable for the Warrior and the Paladin. The Mage will eventually get Higher Magic and just blow through massive amounts of Mana, with Concentration being less useful than max Mana at that point, where for the Warrior and Paladin, who tend to have lower Mana reserves but burn through Mana more slowly, it can give them a lot of longevity. I like it as a Skill, both in terms of playing the game and in terms of thinking about the game's design.

Though, this and Meditation lead nicely into a topic I touched upon a bit back with Training 1; that the early Skills which many other Skills are locked behind can effectively be treated less as an actual benefit for their Level 1 edition and more as something of a default assumption of the game design. More specifically, I don't think The Legend really had a good grip on the fact that this dynamic is true at all. It's not some huge gamebreaker problem, but there's a decent pool of Skills that would probably work better if they were placed earlier than they are, or would feel like more meaningful benefits if they were later on.

Concentration is a good jumping-off point due to Mana scaling; while Spells go as cheap as 1 Mana, the most common costs are actually 5, 10, and 20. 5 tends to be the default minimum, with most Spells that cost less being narrow in application, or having some trade-off in their behavior (eg Berserk takes control of the unit away from you), or something in that vein. Imagine for a second if the default cost of Spells was 1, and Concentration was unchanged. That would be 2 'standard' Spells worth of Mana each turn, thrown in for free just for purchasing a Skill that's a prerequisite for other Skills. That would be pretty obviously wonky. On the flipside, if Mana was substantially upscaled except for Concentration (ie say you started the game with 100 Mana and a cheap Spell was 15 Mana), than Concentration would be nary any payoff at all. Concentration manages to strike a decent balance as-is, where the first rank is meaningful, but isn't outright negating the full costs of a typical Spell just for getting the first rank. In fact, it's only once you get the third rank that you've got enough per-turn generation to spam Flame Arrow or the like 'indefinitely'. (Not actually indefinitely)

Now, I brought up Meditation, and the reason for that is that its early placement leads to a wonky dynamic where whatever target the game is shooting for regarding overland Mana generation should realistically be a number higher than the one they actually give you at base, as otherwise players will basically automatically be ahead of whatever target value the devs have in mind. Which then makes Meditation 1 not an actual benefit, but just bringing you in line with the system's expectations. Either way, it's sort of a lose/lose situation for the design.

Glory, back in Mind, is another example of this issue. Part of why Glory is just so bad is the choice to place it really early limits the developer's ability to make it any good while staying within the confines of 'adds a fixed Leadership amount'. Whatever values they give it have to be good, but not amazing for the early game, which by definition makes it worthless for the later game. If Glory were an end-of-tree Skill, the game could instead give it appropriately higher values. Furthermore, they'd be able to justify higher Rune costs to go hand-in-hand with these greater Leadership values if they felt that necessary to balance the higher Leadership; I've already commented on how painful it is to have Glory blocking off much of the rest of the Mind tree, and it would be so much worse if they did something like make it provide 500 Leadership at Level 1 but then tripled its Rune costs. This issue of it being a hurdle preventing you from getting to the rest of the tree wouldn't crop up if it was at the end of the tree, and even if some other Skill was locked behind it, it would still be less problematic than having nearly everything locked behind it.

Thankfully, the devs seem to have picked up on this general issue themselves and worked to address it in later games. Meditation and Concentration are actually quite late in the Magic tree in Armored Princess, for example. I found Meditation in particular to be surprising in this regard, as it's the kind of idea most devs would stubbornly stick to as being 'basic'.

Distortion Magic
The Hero can learn Distortion Spells.

The Hero can upgrade Distortion Spells to Level 2.

The Hero can upgrade Distortion Spells to Level 3.


Skill tree requirements: Wisdom and Meditation.

Distortion Magic is where a lot of your more esoteric effects are. It doesn't have a clear, strong focus in the way Order and Chaos do, being instead a grab-bag of weird things, such as Traps, other than a somewhat vague focus on mobility/space. I like it, actually, it works out, but it's pretty vague. That's a somewhat interesting reversal, mind; it's pretty clear, going by Rune costs, that Order is meant to be the Mind sphere of spells, Distortion the Mage sphere (Even if their coloration suggests the reverse), and Chaos the Might sphere, and yet it's the Mind tree that's pretty vague on what it wants to be, and the Mind class by extension.

In any event, Distortion has a lot of the most genuinely interesting Spells in the game, including possibly my favorite in the series, Trap.

Increases the spell power of Bless, Divine Armor, Healing, Life Light, and Resurrection by 15%.

Increases the spell power of Bless, Divine Armor, Healing, Life Light, and Resurrection by 20%.

Increases the spell power of Bless, Divine Armor, Healing, Life Light, and Resurrection by 25%.

Skill tree requirements: Order Magic.

Notice how all the spells Healer affects are Order Magic.

I'm not actually sure what 'spell power' means in this case, particularly for Divine Armor. I used to assume they just got boosted by the listed percentage (ie that if Healing was healing 100, and then you grabbed Healer 1, it would jump to 115), but now I'm wondering if it means something less obvious, like 'calculate your Intellect as 25% higher for the purposes of these Spells'. Bless especially stands out as just being mystifying for what might be happening, since its effect is just 'always roll max damage, unless you get a crit in which case ignore Bless'. I don't think it raises your damage to above your max roll just for leveling Healer, and yet I can't imagine another possibility for what it does.

Regardless, Healer is a pretty junk-y Skill, only particularly worth leveling once you've got Resurrection, and possibly not even then depending on your army composition and general strategy. Thankfully it's also dirt-cheap, so it's not that bad a deal.

Chaos Magic
The Hero can learn Chaos Spells.

The Hero can upgrade Chaos Spells to Level 2.

The Hero can upgrade Chaos Spells to Level 3.


Skill tree requirements: Distortion Magic, Concentration.

I've always found it a bit curious that Chaos Magic is outright placed as the 'advanced' Spell sphere, particularly given the Mage's starting Spell list is primarily Chaos magic and in terms of Rune costs and color signalling Chaos Magic is being marked as the Warrior's Spell sphere. It's especially frustrating how it means the Spell sphere the Warrior has the easiest time affording in isolation is nonetheless a pain for the Warrior to reach and then isn't even that worthwhile for them due to Chaos' focus on damaging Spells.

Chaos magic is notable for being the Spell sphere that is most all-or-nothing: the Spells in other spheres are often perfectly workable at Level 1, even if a higher Spell level is better, with higher Spell levels only being 'necessary' if eg you want Resurrection able to work on higher-level units. Going to level 2 generally doubles the effectiveness of a Spell (And in some cases like Trap it's actually a far bigger increase than that), though, so you'll often want to get them to level 2, but going to level 3 isn't necessarily worth chasing down. Unlike Distortion and Order, Chaos is primarily about damage Spells, and even with Intellect scaling and Destruction ranks damage Spells just don't keep up if you're not leveling the Spells. As such, you tend to either be trying to nuke things with Spells (Mage) and thus want Chaos magic leveled all the way to rank 3 eventually, or you're using Spells primarily to support and may well only bother with Chaos' first rank, unlike how 2 is generally desirable for Order and Distortion.

As such, the Mage will usually try to max out Chaos relatively quickly, the Warrior only take the first rank -or maybe take a second rank and focus on some of Chaos' Spells that aren't about direct damage- and the Paladin can actually go either way based on personal preference. I tend to lean away from running a Spell-nuke Paladin, just because it tends to leave me feeling like I'm just playing a bad Mage, but it's not horribly un-viable, just a bit limiting. (Since the Paladin lacks Alchemy and so actually getting Chaos Spells to Level 3 means they have precious few Crystals to spare on other things)

Reduces the Leadership requirements of Priests, Inquisitors, Druids, Shaman, Necromancers, and Archmages by 10%.

Reduces the Leadership requirements of Priests, Inquisitors, Druids, Shaman, Necromancers, and Archmages by 15%.

Reduces the Leadership requirements of Priests, Inquisitors, Druids, Shaman, Necromancers, and Archmages by 20%.

Skill tree requirements: Healer and Chaos Magic.

It amuses me so that Archmage The Skill is just... increasingly zooming in on an Archmage. And exaggerating the blue starburst behind his head.

My commentary on Bowman Commander applies pretty well to Archmage (Aside that Shaman are technically not ranged attackers), only Archmage actually affects more units. It's also dirt-cheap from a Mage's perspective, even if burning 3 Might Runes on it makes it that much harder to break into the Might tree. So if you want to max it as a Mage, it won't significantly interfere with other purchases.

On the other hand, I've always found it design-inappropriate. The Mage is supposed to eschew army focus in favor of Spell focus. Why do they have a Skill that gives them bigger armies for using the right kinds of troops? If Bowman Commander and Iron Fist didn't exist, I'd assume it was intended to be a design principle of the Mage being able to kind of compete with the other classes on army size but only if they stay specialized in a narrow set, which I'd be of more mixed feelings about, but as-is it just seems baffling that it's a Magic Skill at all. It's not as if the units being affected help the player's Spellcasting -and in fact Inquisitors help you Rage better!

Necro Call is 10% stronger, and one troop that suffered casualties has 15-20% of the casualties undone after the battle is finished.

Necro Call is 20% stronger, and one troop that suffered casualties has 20-30% of the casualties undone after the battle is finished.

Necro Call is 30% stronger, and one troop that suffered casualties has 30-40% of the casualties undone after the battle is finished.

Skill tree requirements: Chaos Magic.

Bizarrely, Necromancy seems to be bugged in the most recent version of the executable file, with the troop reanimation effect not working until I switched over to an older version of the executable to deal with a completely different glitch. This may be an issue specific to the Good Old Games version, though.

Also curiously, the .txt file seems to suggest that Necromancy was intended to generate Undead troops, much like the Necromancy skill in the Heroes of Might and Magic games, in a progression of Skeletons->Zombies->Ghosts for the Skill ranks. I have mixed feelings about the game not going with this setup, as it would've been a lot more interesting than what Necro Call actually does, but it would also have been a bit annoying in that if you decided you didn't want to incorporate Undead into your army you'd be constantly shoving animated troops into Reserves or something. Or maybe it would've raised fallen stacks in battle? Though that would be inconvenient in other ways...

Like with Archmage, Necromancy feels design-inappropriate. It's a Skill that reduces casualties in the Skill tree that's primarily for the class that's supposed to fight with their book more than their troops. And you have to go through several other Skills to get it, so it's not like the Warrior and Paladin can just max Necromancy with almost no investment in Magic as a whole. Thematically, Necromancy could easily have been a Mind Skill called something like 'chirurgeons' or 'battlefield medicine': something suggesting that casualties are reduced because prompt medical care prevents some of the soldiers from bleeding out who would otherwise have died, that kind of thing.

I also am not fond of it as a Skill because it's not really a good fit for what the player should be arranging to do, and its effect is not extreme enough to justify a change in play: if it resurrected an entire stack it would open up the option of using one of the many melee units I've said aren't really worthwhile for the player because now you're not losing Gold from them taking massive casualties. As-is, Necromancy just somewhat stems the bleeding, which means such troops are still poor choices to actually field.

To my surprise, the devs seem to agree with me on both counts: in Armored Princess, Necromancy isn't a Skill anymore, but there's a Mind Skill with its basic mechanical effects (Except it boosts Resurrection instead of Necro Call) and at Level 3 is a 100% resurrection. Awesome.

For now, Necromancy is a Skill that's worth considering a point in just because insisting on zero casualties all the time is tedious and not really worthwhile except as a challenge run thing, and so it'll save you some Gold here and there in realistic play, but going past that first rank is generally questionable. A Warrior has so few Mind and Magic Runes that even getting to Necromancy in the first place is a huge pain, so even though they'd theoretically benefit most from Necromancy they struggle to max it, the Mage tends to suffer fewer casualties than the other classes and would arguably rather keep the Mind Runes for Mind tree expenditures, leaving only the Paladin as reasonably likely to be able to max it without it being an undue burden.

Damaging spells have their spell power increased by 15%.

Damaging spells have their spell power increased by 30%.

Damaging spells have their spell power increased by 50%.

Skill tree requirements: Archmage.

Destruction is a must-have must-max if you're the Mage (Contributing to their difficulties breaking into the Might tree) and so too for a Paladin you're trying to build as a blaster caster. For the Warrior it's not worth getting even the first rank of it, since it unlocks nothing and you can't really afford to try to build a Warrior as a blaster caster. It's also extremely difficult for the Warrior to even get far enough to buy that first rank anyway/

Destruction works well enough as a Skill on a design-level, it's just not very interesting to describe the thought process of a player, as it's very all-or-nothing: either you want it, and you want it all, or you don't care about it at all.

As before, two Magic Skills are exclusive to the Mage, and again I'll be using this as an opportunity to cover the Mage as a class.

Crystal costs for learning and upgrading spells reduced by 15%.

Crystal costs for learning and upgrading spells reduced by 30%.

Crystal costs for learning and upgrading spells reduced by 50%.

Skill tree requirements: None.

Note that Alchemy rounds down, though to a minimum of 1. So the first rank in Alchemy converts 2 Crystal costs to 1 Crystal, allowing immediate payoff. If you wanted to crunch the numbers you could probably identify what spells are optimally learned at Alchemy Level 2, but I usually just wait until Alchemy Level 3 and just learn all the 1-Crystal Spells in the meanwhile.

Also note that Alchemy is the only basic-tier class-locked Skill that isn't pre-purchased at Level 1.

Alchemy is the Skill that makes the Mage king of Spell diversity. Without Alchemy, there's not enough Magic Crystals to learn and max all the reasonably useful Spells. With Alchemy, you have far more Magic Crystals than you really need, as The Legend throws a shocking quantity of them at you.

Higher Magic
Once per battle, the Mage may cast twice in a single turn.

Twice per battle, the Mage may cast twice in a single turn.

Thrice per battle, the Mage may cast twice in a single turn.


Skill tree requirements: Archmage.

The single most expensive Skill in the game (Well, at the first level), and so powerful that Armored Princess promptly placed substantial limitations on it. And it's still hideously powerful even then! (Though admittedly it got an improvement in the process and was made cheaper to purchase, so that's a slightly misleading statement)

I do like how its cost trends down as you level it. After all, all battles will give at least one turn to activate the first rank of it, but not all battles last to the second turn, and many don't make it to the third at all. As such, it makes a lot of sense that you're paying less for those later levels, because you're less likely to get a payoff from them in a given battle.

It's also the final factor in the Mage struggling to break into other trees, as the Might and Mind Rune cost is so huge. This is a fairly striking contrast with the Paladin and even the Warrior, who both burn only class Runes on their 'ultimate' Skill: I've been alluding to the Warrior struggling to get anywhere in the Magic Skill tree, where I didn't emphasize this so much with the Mage in the Might tree, but that's because the Warrior actually cares about a decent portion of the Magic tree, where the Mage has little use for most Might tree skills. (They mostly care about Tactics, the first rank of Onslaught, and potentially maxing out Dark Commander if you're running an Undead army) The Mage actually struggles a lot more with advancing down other Skill trees than the Warrior and Paladin do, due to how much non-class-Rune costs are concentrated in their class tree. (And also Runic Stone advantages the Paladin here, but the Paladin would still struggle less even if they didn't have Runic Stone)

As a class, the Mage is a blaster caster. They start the game with Fireball (And also Flame Arrow and some other Spells you almost never cast), which is initially able to outright kill entire stacks, and end the game able to double-cast Geyser or Rain of Fire or the like to pile massive amounts of damage anywhere they like before any unit has made a single move. Higher Magic can be used to set up other tricks -such as using Hypnosis to steal an enemy stack and then immediately using Sacrifice to kill it and bolster one of your own stacks- but in practice the Mage's ability to just make huge numbers of enemies die using their magic tends to overrule these kinds of utility: why Sheep an enemy stack, temporarily taking it out of the fight, if you can kill it to permanently take it out of the fight? The main exception to this logic is when dealing with certain problematic Talents that don't care about stack sizes, such as the Demoness' Infernal Exchange. In those cases merely wiping out 90% of the stack won't do away with the threat: in cases where the stack's actions do all scale to stack size, even wiping 80% of the stack right now is generally more useful than taking them out of the fight temporarily.

On a different level, the Mage is -somewhat unfortunately- probably just plain the best class. The Warrior suffers from Rage specialization failing to stay fully competitive as the game progresses, and the Paladin suffers from having no clear strength to their name, but both classes also suffer from the uneven quality of Skills in the trees. Meditation and Healing are the only junk-y Skills in the Magic tree: others may be flawed or ill-placed, but eg maxing Necromancy for free would absolutely be obviously appreciated by a player. Might and Mind have a larger number of Skills whose effects are weak enough it's not clear whether you're really benefiting from them at all in actual play. Since the Mage is all about the Magic tree, vs the Warrior being about the Might tree and the Paladin being king of Mind, this gives the Mage a rather substantial edge right there: they aren't wasting Runes on junk Skills as much as the other classes are. The Paladin ends up making up for this through Runic Stone letting them get a good portion of every Skill tree's benefits, among other points causing them to dip into the Magic tree's consistent quality, and so they're not so bad in practice, but it's still an issue.

Thankfully, all later games do a better job of ensuring that the Skill trees are closer to even.

Next time, we cover the Bosses.


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