Armored Princess Unit Analysis Part 4: Orcs on the March
This is where I repeat in bold that I'm going by Orcs on the March here. Orcs were radically overhauled by Orcs on the March, to the point that they're practically a brand-new race shunting aside classic Orcs. This is by no means a bad thing, as Orcs in The Legend and base Armored Princess were overly similar to Dwarves as a faction, and boring in general. Orcs on the March makes them distinctive and interesting, as well as actually good.
First things first: general Adrenaline mechanics, since it's essential to the overhaul.
At base, an Orc starts a battle with 0 Adrenaline. (AI forces start with increasingly higher base Adrenaline as you get later in the game) Also at base, the maximum Adrenaline they can achieve is 20. (Again, AI Orc forces have this limit go up as you get further into the game) Various Hero Skills affect these values, as can gear and unit Abilities.
An Orc stack generates 4-7 Adrenaline for attacking or counter-attacking. (Objects don't count for any Adrenaline gain-related purposes, and Gremlins and Bosses are considered to be Objects!) Note that Talents that inflict damage on enemy units will generate Adrenaline, meaning many Adrenaline-draining Talents are more sustainable than you might think. Additionally, if any Orc finishes off an enemy stack, all Orcs on its team gain 12 Adrenaline. (This includes the Orc itself, and stacks on top of whatever Adrenaline they would've gotten for the attack, too) Notice how this latter point encourages all-inning on Orcs. It does this much better than the Morale bonus for mono-race does, in fact, and it's nice to see the series trying to find new ways to reward playing along with the racial/factional divides.
At Adrenaline 10, a unit unlocks Level 1 Adrenaline. So too for Adrenaline 20 unlocking Level 2 and 30 Adrenaline unlocking Level 3. (All values past 30 are still only Level 3, however) These Adrenaline Levels unlock Talents, activate Abilities, and provide passive stat bonuses, all of which can be looked at in-game by hovering your cursor over a given unit's Adrenaline Ability. This is the primary point of the Adrenaline mechanic: Orc units getting into fights and especially winning fights pick up momentum, getting more useful as the fight wears on, instead of the usual dynamic of getting less useful as Charge-based Talents are expended and casualties are suffered.
Additionally, however, most Orc Talents will reduce Adrenaline when used, making Adrenaline a resource you expend as well as hoard. This leads to hard choices as to whether you should use a Talent now for its benefits or hold off until later so you can hold onto your current bonuses, or get the opportunity to build to later bonuses. (Though a few Talents instead generate Adrenaline!)
Adrenaline is such a huge mechanic that for this post I'm modifying the formatting on unit tables to cover Adrenaline as its own thing. Talents and Abilities that don't relate to Adrenaline (such as Running) will be placed in the usual slots, while those unlocked/activated by Adrenaline levels will go under their respective Adrenaline Level section instead. (I'm also not going to bother explicitly stating that 'Adrenaline' is an Ability on every single Orc unit. They all have it. No exceptions. Listing it adds nothing to this post)
Odd mechanical aside: some units gain additional charges at higher Adrenaline Levels on specific Talents. In such cases, the access to the charge is genuinely dependent on being at that Adrenaline Level. Say you have a 1-charge Talent that gains a second charge at Adrenaline Level 2. If you reach Adrenaline Level 2, you now have 2 charges. If you then use the Talent without dropping below Adrenaline Level 2, you have 1 charge, naturally. If you then drop below Adrenaline Level 2 without using the remaining charge, you'll lose the charge. If you then get back to Adrenaline Level 2, the charge will come back. If you actually use the charge, it'll never come back outside of shenanigans like Turn Back Time.
By a similar token, even though the game will, during combat, not display unavailable Talents (To the point that if no Talents are currently available it will actually claim the unit has 'none'), the Talents are still existent and behaving normally otherwise. Reloading Talents can advance their reload even if you're below the Adrenaline Level necessary for them to be displayed, and Oblivion can outright eat all the charges -even the ones granted by higher Adrenaline Levels- and force reloading Talents to reload, even if the Talents aren't being displayed.
I'm also not going to be consistently making comparisons to The Legend like I do with other factions' units. It's true, for instance, that Furious Goblins have had their Leadership cost go up by 5, their Health by 2, their max Damage went down by 1 point, etc, but these baseline differences are overshadowed in practice by the Adrenaline mechanics. I'll generally only note a change explicitly if it's either a major one (eg Initiative doubling) or if it's a new Talent or Ability that has nothing to do with Adrenaline.
A final note: a mechanic that's easy to overlook is 'anticipating trophies'.
The icon when Anticipating Trophies has kicked in.
It's not exclusive to Orcs (I've already covered it with Robbers and Marauders), but it is common to all their units, and the only other units that have it to my awareness are all the criminal humans; Robbers, Marauders, Pirates, and Sea Dogs. 'Anticipating trophies' kicks in when a unit that has the invisible trait finishes off an enemy stack, and what it does is provide +10 to morale for the rest of the battle. Morale still provides no additional benefits beyond +3, just like in The Legend, but +10 Morale ensures that no realistic amount of Morale penalties will put them below the maximum Morale benefits. As such, it's particularly useful for Orcs (or criminals) to land the finishing blow on enemy summons and the like, because it spikes their damage output and survivability a decent amount, especially as you go forward through the game and your Attack and Defense stats climb, while making them essentially proof against Morale penalties caused by negative status effects, Curse, etc.
Thankfully, later games make this an explicit Ability, rather than an invisible trait you have to work out on your own.
On to the Orcs themselves!
-1 Morale for Demonic presence in allies.
-2 Morale for Undead presence in allies.
-1 Morale for Lizardmen presence in allies.
... Orcs have had their intolerance for Undead spike, not only through the direct increase in the Morale tier penalty, but also by Armored Princess having harsher penalties for negative Morale. Orcs in The Legend were a pretty chill species. Orcs in Armored Princess have some actual racial unpleasantness.
They're still pretty chill, mind, but now Humans are overall ahead of them in that regard.
Hiring Cost: 60
Attack/Defense: 16 / 16
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 3
Damage: 3-7 Physical
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Abilities: Giant Killer (+30% damage against Level 5 units)
Abilities: Irascible (Anytime the Furious Goblin takes damage from spells, Talents, or even from a regular attack that involves an Ability, the stack gains +Speed*Adrenaline Level for several turns, to a limit of +3 Speed total)
Stat changes: +5 Health
Talents: Goblin Trickery (-20 Reload: 2. The Furious Goblin moves over to melee attack a target enemy for 3-10 Physical damage, and then returns to where they were before using Goblin Trickery. The target doesn't get to retaliate)
Stat changes: +2 Initiative
Talents: Goblin Greed (-10 Charges: 2. Destroys a corpse the Furious Goblins are standing on, generating some amount of Gold if owned by the player. Doesn't end the Furious Goblin's turn)
Notably, Furious Goblins have actually lost 2 Initiative base. They don't really miss it, and they get it back at high Adrenaline, but it does make them less useful for getting out spells fast.
As with Marauder's Gold-from-corpses Talent, I don't really know the mechanics of Goblin Greed. It's also a lot harder to justify actually using Goblin Greed due to its Adrenaline cost, especially before you've gotten Adrenaline max above 30, since using it eats their Initiative advantage.
Irascible's exact mechanics are a pain to test and make sense of. The summary I've given is my best attempt to parse it's in-game behavior, and I'm pretty sure it's not actually fully accurate. The Speed boost itself also doesn't actually work the way you'd expect from the in-game description: as far as I can tell, Irascible boosts can't stack, nor will Irascible overrule itself with a larger bonus. (ie if a Furious Goblin gets hit, gains +1 Speed, then gains enough Adrenaline to be able to gain +3 Speed, it needs to run out on the +1 bonus before it can get the +3 bonus)
Regardless, Furious Goblins are now an amazing unit at getting stuck in, and can even contribute damage without having to take damage. Kinda. Due to the need for Adrenaline to fuel Goblin Trickery, in practice yes they do need to take damage, or be backed by wasteful shenanigans, but still, it's at least nice they can make the free hit at all.
Ultimately, the main flaw with Furious Goblins in player hands is that Orcs-the-unit are actually really good. No, really.
As enemies, they're a bit more notable, though it's an important question in a given battle how much Adrenaline they start with. If a given Furious Goblin stack has little Adrenaline to start with, they're actually overall less problematic than in The Legend, full stop. With more Adrenaline though, they can be startlingly difficult to avoid getting right in your forces' face nearly instantly, especially if you're careless with splash attacks.
It's worth commentary that I've never seen the AI use Goblin Greed, just like the similar Talent on Marauders. Similarly, the AI is quite fond of using Goblin Trickery, but not very intelligently. Often, they'll miss an opportunity to lock down ranged units because they see an opportunity to Goblin Trickery from their current position and they don't think to get up close and then use Goblin Trickery.
Hiring Cost: 190
Attack/Defense: 15 / 15
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 2
Damage: 7-10 Physical
Resistances: 10% Physical
Stat changes: +2 Damage
Abilities: Violent (Always crits on counterattacks)
Stat changes: +10% crit chance
Talents: Commander (-5 Reload: 2. Grants a second move to goblins [any kind] whose Leadership is 240 or less per Orc in the commanding stack. Does not end the Orc's turn or use AP)
Stat changes: +10 Attack
Talents: Onslaught (-10 Reload: 3. Runs in a straight line an infinite distance to attack a single target for 10-14 Physical damage, shoving the target back one tile if possible. The target doesn't get to retaliate, but the attack requires at least one open tile between the Orc and its target. Can also be used to travel without attacking a target)
Orcs have actually more than doubled in hiring price, note, while their Leadership cost has gone up by 33%. They've also lost some Attack and Defense, and only gotten a bit of Health in exchange. As such, they've gone from being a somewhat generic, crappy 2-move Running melee unit, to being overpriced garbage if you're not properly supporting them with Adrenaline. What they do get out of Adrenaline is quite good, though!
Onslaught is basically Ice Ball physics as a Talent. It can even be used to just travel really far without actually hitting anything, though there's rarely a good reason to do so.
On a graphical note, Orcs-the-unit have actually basically switched with Orc Veterans when it comes to their shield: in The Legend, Orcs-the-unit had a shield depicting the Orc racial symbol, whereas in Armored Princess that's true of the Veteran Orc's shield instead, aside from exact coloration.
Overall, Orcs are set up to use an initial Adrenaline amount to zip into melee, and then just sit in the midst of the enemy dishing out brutal counterattacks and tossing extra turns at goblins in the meantime. That's a bit inconvenient from a player perspective, particularly with Grand Strategy strongly pushing the player away from taking casualties through the early-to-midgame, but later in the game a Paladin can have a lot of fun with them, or even a Warrior or Mage once you've gotten a hold of the Resurrection Spell, and the synergy with goblins is decent since Goblin Shaman are ridiculously good, though it's a bit limiting since Orcs tend to be outperformed by eg Veteran Otcs if you're not using goblins alongside the Orcs.
In AI hands, Orcs perform surprisingly poorly. As with most such Talents, they only understand using Onslaught if the position they start their turn in has them lined up with one of your troops, and it's surprising how rarely they use Commander, in spite of the fact that only Goblin Catapults aren't ahead of them in Initiative and/or Speed. Vengeance also suffers from the fact that the player is heavily disinclined to provoke counterattacks anyway, and their stat bonuses from higher Adrenaline aren't terribly important. As such, AI Orcs-the-unit tend to be essentially just a generic 2-Speed Running melee unit, with the only caveat being having to keep in mind Onslaught 'firing lines'.
Hiring Cost: 280
Attack/Defense: 26 / 26
Initiative/Speed: 6 / 3
Damage: 13-16 Physical
Resistances: 10% Physical
Abilities: Counterattack (If counterattacked, the Veteran Orc makes a second attack on the target. Won't trigger on 'passive counterattacks' like Brontor Spikes)
Stat changes: +5 to Attack and Defense
Talents: Potion of Rage (-10 Charge: 1. Cancels Slow if the Veteran Orc stack is currently afflicted with it, as well as granting an immediate 2 Action Points, and granting 5 Rage to the Hero if under player control)
Abilities: Veteran Mastery (Chance to evade enemy attacks. The chance is 5+5 times Adrenaline level, meaning 10-20%)
Stat changes: +20 to Health
Talents: Scold (Reduces Adrenaline to 0. Charges: 2. Splits Veteran Orc's current Adrenaline among all other allied Orcs, and doubles the damage of the Veteran Orcs for 1 turn. Does not end the Veteran Orc's turn), +1 charge to Potion of Rage
Stat changes: +1 to Speed
Talents: Savage Attack (
Abilities: Cunning (When attacking a stack whose Speed is lower than the Veteran Orc's, the target cannot counterattack)
They've actually lost base damage (2 minimum, 4 maximum) as well as Running, but they've picked up 1 each in Attack and Defense, picked up 20 Health, and then of course there's a whole suite of powerful Adrenaline-based effects to boot. (With Potion of Rage basically replacing Running, and being far superior)
I've struck-through the Adrenaline cost on Savage Attack because the value in question is what the game lists, but as far as I can tell it doesn't drain any Adrenaline when used, and indeed will generate Adrenaline just like any other attacking Talent.
I have mixed feelings about Cunning in particular, since it actually undermines their basic Counterattack ability. Though as an aside, the Ice Ball already had me suspect 2 Speed is the default value when undefined on a unit, but Cunning is the thing that cements my certainty, as my consistent experience is that a Cunning-activated Veteran will avoid retaliation from Bosses so long as their Speed is at least 3, implying the Speed on Bosses is 2, when they don't make use of a Speed stat outside of turn order stuff. Also note that Cunning does apply to Fury Attack, which can be exploited to get damage on units that are actually faster than the Veteran Orc without retaliation by simply targeting an adjacent unit that isn't faster.
Scold's in-game description sounds like it doubles the damage of the other Orcs, but it only affects the Veteran Orcs themselves, making it a bit of an odd trade-off Talent. I'm honestly not sure what the intended usage is: maybe you're expected to use it to land a finishing blow? In any event, I've never seen the AI use Scold.
Orc Veterans are honestly just plain amazing so long as you're either okay with suffering attrition or have a way of preventing their casualties from sticking. They do shocking amounts of damage, are so fast they can usually hit whatever target you consider ideal, have a nice habit of dodging periodically, and can even bolster your Rage generation. They're a great unit pretty much no matter what you're doing, and are one of the better Orcs to consider 'splashing' into your army so they can benefit from Adrenaline-the-Skill consistently, and within an Orc army they're one of the more useful units for bolstering the Adrenaline of your army efficiently thanks to Fury Attack being not only free but a way to land a finishing blow while still dealing damage to more important target.
As enemies, Orc Veterans don't impress as much. Like AI Sea Dogs, they have a habit of wasting Fury Attack on single targets, they don't use Scold, they do use Potion of Rage but never more than once per turn and I've never really identified a coherent pattern to when they use Potion of Rage... all they've really got is impressive baseline Speed as their base Adrenaline rises and a habit of randomly dodging attacks. Which is annoying, but unreliable.
Hiring Cost: 3000
Attack/Defense: 42 / 50
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 2
Damage: 50-60 Physical
Resistances: 10% Physical, 10% Poison, 10% Fire
Talents: Drain (Charge: 1. Picks an enemy anywhere on the battlefield and takes all their Action Points, which the Ogre can then immediately use for itself, as Drain does not end its turn or consume AP)
Abilities: Orc's Commander (+1 Morale to orcs-the-subspecies)
Stat changes: +1 Initiative
Talents: Rage of the Ogre (Reload: 3. +2 Action Points, and Attack is doubled for 2 turns)
Stat changes: +1 Speed
Abilities: Heavy Mace (Melee attacks do 50% more damage against flying enemies, and reduce their AP to 2 if it was above 2)
Stat changes: +15 Attack and Defense
Talents: Strike (-10 Reload: 3. Targets an arbitrary enemy, inflicting 70-90 Physical damage, Stunning it for one turn, and dropping it in a random tile within 3 tiles of its original location), Drain gains another charge
A shiny new graphic! Well. Some more color, anyway. Close enough. Almost all their base stats have gone up a noticeable amount as well, though this includes Leadership climbing. Only max damage is worse.
Ogres are kind of weird in Orcs on the March, in that the Adrenaline mechanic and some other new mechanics (eg Recruiter on Orc Chieftains and Goblin Shaman) don't really end up encouraging them to fight alongside other Orcs, outside of the part where kills landed by allies only give the Ogre Adrenaline if the killer was an Orc unit itself. It's generally going to be more desirable to slip them into a non-Orc-dominated army while having enough ranks in Adrenaline-the-Skill and/or Onslaught that they begin the battle with 30 or more Adrenaline outright. (Among other points, Onslaught's Adrenaline distribution is randomized, but only among valid units: if the Ogre stack is the only Orc-type stack in your army, it'll get all the Adrenaline Onslaught provides)
They do have Orc's Commander, and it's more relevant than it was in The Legend, but on the other hand Orc Chieftains are also a high-Leadership, durable, hard-hitting stack with useful Talents that have a better version of Orc's Commander, so Orc's Commander isn't much of an incentive to consider adding Ogres to an Orc-focused army. Meanwhile, the fact that they aren't considered to be an Orc-the-subspecies, nor a Goblin-the-subspecies, nor a shaman (Relevant to one of the Orc Chieftain's Talents), means that they'll actually tend to be less of an increase to other unit's effectiveness than some other Orc unit. (eg Orcs-the-unit can give goblins another turn, so adding in a goblin if you're using Orcs-the-unit and have no goblins is a notable synergy)
Still, Drain is insanely good, can be stacked with Rage of the Ogre to give them truly astonishing movement range, and Strike gives them a way to contribute damage without having to risk a retaliation. They also show up earlier as buyable than in The Legend, generally speaking, which makes their status as the 'smallest' Level 5 unit less of a flaw: you might actually get access early enough to appreciate their relatively low Leadership and relatively high per-head durability.
As enemies, Ogres are extremely obnoxious and if at all possible you should never Wait when Ogres are in the enemy army, as they will always Drain something if they can. They're particularly punishing to units with low-ish Initiative but decent or high Speed, such as Cyclops, but their Initiative is high enough that it's not that likely that your entire army goes before them, and then they'll zip right up and start bashing your units. They're actually one of the most problematic Level 5 units to deal with, weirdly enough, unlike in The Legion where they were basically a joke. Being Level 5 closes off most of your Spell options for locking them down, such as Magic Shackles, Sheep, Blind, etc, so it's very difficult to prevent their Drain shenanigans. They usually won't do a lot of damage to your army, but they'll make a mess of your battle plans and cause casualties you might've thought you could avoid. As such, they should generally be a priority target in most formations.
Hiring Cost: 600
Attack/Defense: 24 / 32
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 3
Damage: 15-18 Physical
Talents: Dancing Axes (-8. Reload: 2. Targets a single enemy anywhere on the field to do 20-25 Magic damage per Shaman in the stack, with 80% of the damage done healing allied organic units)
Abilities: Fighting Spirit (When Adrenaline reaches Level 2 or higher, Adrenaline drops by 20, all Talents are reloaded, and Attack and Defense are raised by +4 each for the rest of the battle), Thirst for Glory (+1 Adrenaline anytime an ally gains Adrenaline), Enraged (Begins battle with 10-15 Adrenaline)
Stat changes: +1 Initiative
Talents: Totem of Life (+3. Reload: 3. Sets a Totem in an empty tile anywhere on the field, which in a 2-tile radius around it bolsters the Defense of allies and once per turn heals organic allies in that radius. The Totem has 7 health per Shaman at casting)
Stat changes: Dancing Axes does 25% more damage
Talents: Totem of Death (+3 Reload: 3. Sets a Totem in an empty tile anywhere on the field, which in a 2-tile radius around it lowers enemy Speed by 1 and once per turn attacks all enemies in its radius for Magic damage. The Totem has 10 health per Shaman at casting)
Stat changes: +50 Health, Totems are 25% more effective
It's not super-obvious, but Shaman have a new skin.
I'm not actually sure how Fighting Spirit's mechanics work. I've seen it trigger, so I know it actually is a thing, but it's not like Shaman are incapable of reaching Adrenaline Level 3 or something. Does it only trigger if all their Talents are in the middle of reloading? Only once every three turns? Once a battle? I honestly don't know.
Do note that their Totems actually increase their Adrenaline when used. Not by much, but it is an increase rather than a decrease. Also notice that they always start in at least Adrenaline Level 1, thanks to Enraged, so they can always start a battle with a Totem of Life. Further note that Thirst For Glory means Shaman are strongly incentivized to be used alongside a team of all Orcs: it's not that hard to get to Adrenaline Level 2 so they get boosted Dancing Axes if fielded alongside Orcs galore.
The overall result is that Shaman usage actually hasn't changed that much compared to The Legend. The main notable difference is that in The Legend it was usually smart to drop a Totem of Death on turn 1 or 2, and in Armored Princess you won't necessarily have access to it that quickly. Enemy Shaman are even less changed in implementation, since the AI's base Adrenaline rises the later in the game a fight is meant to be, and so enemy Shaman will frequently be able to use Totem of Death right away.
Attack/Defense: 16 / 10
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 2
Damage: 2-4 Physical
Abilities: Giant Killer (+30% damage against Level 5 units), Archer (Range: 4), No Melee Penalty
Abilities: Zeroing In (+5 Attack. No, I have no idea why it's an Ability either), Unstoppable (When attacking, the Goblin has a 5*Adrenaline Level% chance of getting an additional turn, ie 5-15%)
Stat changes: +1 Damage
Abilities: Poison Axes (20% chance to Poison enemies with attacks)
Abilities: Goblin Rage (-15. Reload: 1. A ranged attack with unlimited effective range which does 3-6 Physical damage and pushes the target back 1 tile if there's space to be pushed into)
Compared to The Legend, Goblins are no longer a generic short-ranged ranged attacker that kind of sucked. Now they... well, now they have Adrenaline. It... mostly makes them a bit more random through Unstoppable and Poison Axes. Goblin Rage is a nice little Talent, the knockback is genuinely nice for slowing enemies down, but honestly you're probably better off using Goblin Catapults instead of Goblins if you want an Orcish ranged unit. Or Goblin Shaman. Or use Blood Shaman as functionally close enough.
Honestly, Goblins are probably the single most disappointing Orcs on the March unit. They can be annoying in AI hands thanks to Unstoppable and Poison Axes meaning they'll periodically get lucky and do a bunch of damage to your units for no real reason, but they're still fundamentally a bad ranged unit with no tactically interesting dynamics changing how you use them. Their primary recommendation is that Adrenaline doesn't build when counterattacking or taking damage, and so just being a ranged unit at all goes well with Adrenaline... but then they don't really leverage it in a useful or interesting way.
At least the other Orc units are cool.
Hiring Cost: 180
Attack/Defense: 23 / 15
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 2
Damage: 6-11 Physical
Resistances: -50% Fire
Talents: Detonation (Reload: 2. A selected powder keg or bomb explodes on command)
Abilities: Archer (Range: 5), Siege Gun (Tripled damage against Objects, including Gremlins), Susceptible to Fire (50% more damage from Fire)
Talents: Fire Missile (Reload: 2. Ranged attack with infinite effective range against an enemy, which does 8-13 Fire damage to the target and 50% that to adjacent units, with each unit having a 50% chance to be Burned as well)
Stat changes: 2 Fire Damage added to base attack
Talents: Explosives (-15 Reload: 3. Sets an explosive object on a chosen empty tile 2-3 tiles out from the Catapult)
Stat changes: +30% chance to crit, +30% Fire resistance
Catapults are slightly more Leadership-intensive, but their base damage has been improved (As has Fire Missile's damage) and they've got Adrenaline in general. The fact that they have to wait for Fire Missile is a bit annoying, though, and Detonation is basically useless. Usually you can detonate a bomb/powder keg by just attacking it, after all, and with Fire Missile you'd be able to stack on additional damage to adjacent enemies on top of the explosive being detonated. Still, while the Catapult is one of the more low-key Orc units in its changes, overall it's gone from being a solid if flawed unit to being... basically the same thing, but a bit better. And just intrinsically more interesting from its Orcness. And as previously covered, Cannoneers are much weaker competition as Gremlin-killers, so you're a lot more likely to field Catapults than in The Legend just on that basis.
Though it's also worth noting that an easily overlooked big point in their favor is Burn being made percentile, as it means that Fire Missile isn't simply splash Fire damage but is also a way to inflict shocking amounts of ongoing damage against stacks. Cannoneers have nothing equivalent to this, which is another point shifting things in favor of Catapults.
An oddity of their behavior that I may be misunderstanding is that Catapults seem to have an effective range of 6 for targeting Objects, such as Gremlin Towers. I'm not sure what to make of that.
Also note that Detonation does not burn Adrenaline. This... doesn't actually do anything to bring it into relevancy, but it's true regardless.
Explosives is a situational Talent, primarily due to its horribly limited range. It can occasionally be great for blocking a chokepoint, especially since the AI will generally try to destroy the explosive if it can't reach one of your units instead and thus burn a unit turn or two on inflicting damage on itself, but most of the time the Catapult won't be in position to really pull this off. Thanks to the short range, fairly fast units like Horsemen will often just go around and hit the Catapults or one of your other units if you're not using it to outright block off a chokepoint, further limiting its utility. And of course it eats Adrenaline, potentially costing you Fire damage on your base attack, crit chance, Fire resistance, or even access to Fire Missile.
Still, it does have uses. Unlike Detonation.
Catapults are one of the better Orc options for bolstering the Adrenaline of the army as a whole by picking off targets, both being a competent ranged unit in general and in particular Fire Missile having even greater utility than Fury Attack for finishing off nearly-dead stacks while still dealing serious damage to stacks that are large and thus dangerous. Since it is a ranged attack, there's no need to fiddle around with positioning to get such an opportunity, and the lack of an Adrenaline cost helps still further. Though speaking of this, another flaw with Detonation (As well as a bit of a flaw with Explosives) is that you only get Adrenaline for direct damage/kills: finishing off a stack by detonating a powder keg, even if it was generated by a Catapult and/or detonated via Detonation, gives zero Adrenaline.
In AI hands, Catapults are fairly straightforward. I've never seen the AI use Detonation or Explosives, making them a fairly basic ranged attacker that will intermittently use Fire Missile. Since the AI starts with increasingly high amounts of Adrenaline, guaranteed, AI Catapults can almost always immediately open with a Fire Missile. If you've got Tactics, it's worth avoiding clumping your troops to minimize the Burn rolls/resulting damage, especially since AI Catapults will often hold off on actually using Fire Missile if none of your troops are adjacent to each other. (But not always!) Their weakness to Fire is a bit less serious of a flaw in enemy hands than in The Legend as well, since the Mage doesn't start out knowing Fireball, Fireball is more expensive, Fire Rain is also more expensive and can't be double-cast anymore, and a blaster caster is probably focusing on stuff like Black Hole and Death Star anyway, rather than on the Fire damage Spells. As such, Catapults are overall a little harder to kill for the Mage, even aside the probability of them having enough Adrenaline to reduce the seriousness of their Fire weakness.
Hiring Cost: 500
Attack/Defense: 20 / 28
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 3
Damage: 10-15 Physical
Resistances: 10% Poison
Abilities: Tracker (+1 Speed to allied animals), Hunter (+50% damage against 'beasts'), Loner (+5 Attack and Defense if no ally is within 2 tiles)
Stat changes: +1 Speed
Talents: Animal Companion Level 1 (-5 Charge: 1. Summons into an adjacent tile 70-90 Leadership per Tracker in the summoning stack, with the unit summoned being randomly chosen from Lake Dragonflies, Fire Dragonflies, Hyenas, and Swamp Snakes. So long as the summoned stack is on the field, half of the damage the summoning Tracker stack takes is redirected to the summoned stack)
Stat changes: +20% Physical and Poison resistance
Talents: Snare (-10 Reload: 2. A single adjacent enemy below Level 5 is unable to move or use Talents that involve moving for 2 turns), Animal Companion upgraded to Level 2 (As Level 1, except it will summon Snakes, Bears, or Wolves)
Stat changes: +1 Initiative
Talents: Healer (-20 Reload: 3. Heals/resurrects an adjacent stack of allied animals that is below Level 5, 44 Health per Tracker in the healing stack), Animal Companion upgraded to Level 3
Note that you only get one charge across all three levels of Animal Companion, meaning that if you want the biggest payoff you have to hold off until Adrenaline Level 3 before using Animal Companion.
Orc Trackers are fantastic to use in the extreme early game, as they passively boost the Snakes and Royal Snakes you're probably going to be fielding and are sufficiently beefy for the very low Leadership of the early game that they can get into melee combat without there being a high risk of them suffering casualties. Past the super-early game they shift to being more gimmicky, and really need serious Adrenaline support to be an effective unit that isn't costing you money. If you do have a lot of ranks in Onslaught and Adrenaline-the-Skill, being able to instantly toss out a disposable animal stack that of course benefits from their passive Speed boost for animals can be useful enough to justify dragging them in even if you never send them into combat. Glot's Armor can also theoretically be used to let them get into melee to build Adrenaline, though in practice it honestly just doesn't absorb enough damage for that to be practical.
In AI hands, Orc Trackers are almost never paired up with animals -they basically only ever show up in pure Orc armies- and are rare besides, like much of the Orcs on the March content. When they do show up, they never use Healer that I've seen, and are erratic as to whether they bother to summon an Animal Companion at all. When they do summon an Animal Companion, they simply summon it from wherever they start the turn at; they won't move closer to your forces and then summon. About the only thing they're kind of competent at is that they like to use Snare on your forces when they're close to death -much like Cave Spiders and Fire Spiders using Web when they're close to dying- which can genuinely inconvenience your forces at times. Even then, they don't really know what to target.
Still, they're usually more problematic to fight than Orcs-the-unit, as they'll often be operating on a passive 4 Speed, and killing them quickly is a nuisance when they bother to summon and Animal Companion.
On a mechanical note, the damage transference effect is a bit weird in how its handled. Splash damage and damage over time effects (ie Poisoning and Burning, primarily) will sometimes immediately transfer the damage appropriately, and sometimes will instead not trigger until after the current unit has completed its turn, which can lead to weird situations where you do a bunch of damage to a Tracker, none of it gets transferred, and then suddenly and for no obvious reason their Animal Companion keels over dead after a completely unrelated thing has happened. Or, more inconveniently when you're fighting them, maybe the Animal Companion gets to take a turn with its full stack size and then absorbs the damage, when it should've suffered casualties first and thus lost damage output.
Hiring Cost: 4000
Attack/Defense: 40 / 35
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 2
Damage: 50-70 Physical
Resistances: 20% Physical, 10% Poison, 10% Fire
Abilities: Smash (Melee attacks additionally hit enemy units behind the target. No friendly fire risk), Commander (Allied orcs and goblins gain +1 Morale), Thick Skin (+20% Physical resistance, and melee attackers have a chance of losing Attack when attacking the Orc Chieftain. The lower their Level, the higher the chance), Recruiter (After a battle, 1-2 Orcs-the-subspecies are added to a randomly chosen existing stack in the player's army)
Stat changes: +10% Damage
Talents: Sneer (-5 Charge: 1. Provokes a target enemy of below Level 5 that lacks immunity to mental effects to attempt to attack the Orc Chieftain, with the targeted unit's resulting behavior being exactly as per Scoffer Imp's Sneer)
Stat changes: +20% Damage total, +1 Speed
Talents: Predator (-10 Charges: 3. An adjacent allied orc or goblin stack suffers casualties, but immediately maximizes its Adrenaline and gets another turn. The Orc Chieftain stack, meanwhile, is healed by 200-400 Health base [does not scale to Chieftain stack size] and continues its turn), +1 charge to Sneer
Stat changes: +30% Damage total, +2 Speed total
Talents: Spirit Strike (-20 Reload: 3. Attacks all adjacent units, friend or foe, for 35-45 Physical damage per Orc Chieftain. Shaman, Blood Shaman, and Goblin Shaman allied stacks increase the damage by an unspecified amount if present), Predator's healing is doubled
An interesting point is that the Orc Commander's skin was actually used as the new skin for the Ogre in the base version of Armored Princess. I'm personally glad they switched back to a variation on the old Ogre graphic, because it was pretty strange to retcon Ogres as being the same skin color range as Orcs and Goblins while still emphasizing that they're fairly off to the side, societally and all.
Recruiter is heavily biased toward using high-Leadership orc stacks to maximize its effect, as its value really is just 1-2 no matter what unit is being added to. Also note that it can and will take you over your current Leadership, so it's worth considering avoiding actually maxing out your relevant stacks, especially if you've got your Reserves slots tied up somehow. Also note that it doesn't apply to goblins or Ogres, nor (more intuitively) to the Orc Chieftain theirself. It's just Orcs, Orc Veterans, Shaman, Blood Shaman, and Orc Trackers.
Predator's casualty infliction is static (ie a bigger stack of Orc Chieftains doesn't eat more units), and I suspect defined per-unit. Orcs-the-unit lose 1 unit, as do Orc Veterans (So eat Orcs out of the two if you can), while Goblins-the-unit lose 5 units. I haven't tested other possibilities, and don't see too much point to such exhaustive testing, in part because Predator isn't a very good Skill. The healing is only useful if you luck into Orc Chieftains extremely early in the game, and the second turn effect is difficult to make reliable use of unless you're doing something like just planting the Orc Chieftain atop eg Catapults and not bothering to try to close with the enemy... which has the problem that they can't use Predator until Adrenaline Level 2, while demanding that you're fielding a minimum of two Orc units, making it impossible to reliably ensure they get enough Adrenaline from Skills to use Predator first turn. So it's difficult to consistently get real use out of Predator, above and beyond the dubiousness of deliberately inflicting casualties on your own units.
Spirit Strike is a bit finicky if you're running a mono-Orc army since Orcs are so weighted toward melee, though to its credit the fact that it's boosted by Shaman, Blood Shaman, and Goblin Shaman means that you're strongly encouraged to run 3/5ths of your army as not-really-melee if you want to maximize the Chieftain's damage on Spirit Strike. Probably the biggest flaw with Spirit Strike is actually Smash's presence; via Smash, a Chieftain can hit two targets with a base damage of 50-70 (With no friendly fire risk!), whereas Spirit Strike's base damage per target is a mere 35-45. Oftentimes a Smash will thus get you a base total damage of 100-140, which Spirit Strike requires at least three victims to be about on par with and of course requires more to consistently beat... oh, and Smash isn't using up Adrenaline, when one of the primary benefits of gaining Adrenaline on the Chieftain is that their damage goes up! Worse, I'm reasonably certain the Adrenaline-based damage boosting does not apply to Spirit Strike, meaning that the comparison for Smash on two targets vs Spirit Strike is actually Smash having an effective base damage of roughly 130-182! Spirit Strike thus needs four targets to actually justify itself over Smash, which is quite a feat to arrange even with eg Teleport support.
Now of course there's that shaman-derived boost, but the game doesn't list the value nor update based on how many shaman are in your force, and I'm honestly not sure how to go about performing testing to determine what the value is since Attack and Defense get factored in etc. So I'm not sure how well Spirit Strike performs if you fully support it.
Regardless, it's further hampered by the fact that Smash is just safer to take advantage of (In spite of the fact that it will provoke a retaliation) because it keeps the number of enemies in immediate striking range of the Orc Chieftain to a minimum, where Spirit Strike maximizes danger to the Orc Chieftain.
The overall result is that the Orc Chieftain is primarily useful as a combination of mildly-to-moderately effective damage sponge, dishing out surprisingly decent damage in melee, and strategically Sneering with your two charges of it when it will have a profound effect or when you just don't want the Chieftain risking any more damage for the moment. With a secondary utility of slightly reducing your spending on recruiting additional Orcs, assuming you combine it with the units Recruiter works on.
As an enemy, the Orc Chieftain is surprisingly underwhelming. I've never seen the AI use Predator (Though I'm not sure if this is because they're not programmed to use it or if it's just an illustration of how rarely they're in a decent position to use it), they don't know how to use Sneer effectively (Further hampered by the fact that they'll never move before using it), and they have a bad habit of using Spirit Strike when there's literally only one unit in range, actively lowering their damage output twice-over. They also don't put much, if any, effort into avoiding catching allies with it. And of course Recruiter doesn't even matter in AI hands.
The overall result is that you should generally treat Orc Chieftains like most any 2-Speed generic melee; a slow-moving unit that should be a low priority compared to anything faster or with ranged attacks.
Hiring Cost: 900
Attack/Defense: 20 / 32
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 3
Damage: 15-22 Physical
Abilities: Enraged (Begins battle with 10-15 Adrenaline), Thirst For Glory (+1 Adrenaline anytime an ally gains Adrenaline), Spirituality (No Morale penalty from allied Undead)
Stat changes: +1 Initiative
Talents: Spirit Rage (-5 Reload: 3. Inflicts 7-15 Astral damage on any one enemy troop. If the stack is killed by Spirit Rage, it leaves behind an Eviln instead of a corpse. Alternatively, Spirit Rage can target an Eviln, in which case Spirit Rage will do half its normal damage, but to all units adjacent to the Eviln. The Eviln is destroyed in that case)
Stat changes: +20% melee damage
Talents: Goblin Blood (Every allied goblin loses 1 member of its stack, but gains 10 Adrenaline and 1 AP, which can grant it a second turn. Additionally, the Blood Shaman is healed to full health, and for each stack that sacrificed a goblin, a 'rage cluster' appears, which will provide 5-10 Rage when walked over), Spirit Rage hits twice
Talents: Power of the Horde (-15 Charges: 2. One enemy takes Magic damage equal to the number of orcs and goblins [eg not Ogres] in the Blood Shaman's army, multiplied by the Level of the units involved [ie the Blood Shaman provide 3 damage per head], and additionally the target suffers -1 Initiative for one turn), Spirit Rage hits thrice
Notice that the Blood Shaman always starts a battle in at least Adrenaline Level 1. This means that in short battles and/or with decent Adrenalin-providing support from eg other Orcs landing kills, Blood Shaman can be treated as basically a ranged unit, especially if you can get their Adrenaline high enough for them to use Power of the Horde without exiting Adrenaline Level 3.
Speaking of Power of the Horde, for your convenience, here's what each Orc unit works out to for Leadership-to-damage:
Ogres: Doesn't contribute
Furious Goblins: Leadership is 45, Level is 2, so 1 damage for every 22.5 Leadership
Orcs: Leadership is 80, Level is 3, so 1 damage for every 26.6 Leadership
Veteran Orc: Leadership is 140, Level is 4, so 1 damage for every 35 Leadership
Shaman: Leadership is 200, Level is 4, so 1 damage for every 50 Leadership
Goblin: Leadership is 40, Level is 2, so 1 damage for every 20 Leadership
Catapult: Leadership is 130, Level is 3, so 1 damage for every 43.3 Leadership
Orc Tracker: Leadership is 160, Level is 4, so 1 damage for every 40 Leadership
Orc Chieftain: Leadership is 1200, Level is 5, so 1 damage for every 240 Leadership
Blood Shaman: Leadership is 270, Level is 3, so 1 damage for every 90 Leadership
Goblin Shaman: Leadership is 130, Level is 3, so 1 damage for every 43.3 Leadership
Notice that Power of the Horde is actually an argument for using Goblins, as they provide the biggest damage boost for the Leadership of any unit. The Blood Shaman is sadly the second-worst at boosting its own Talent, and somewhat disappointingly the Orc Chieftain is awful at boosting Power of the Horde, making their own desire to see Blood Shaman alongside them to boost Spirit Strike not very synergistic with the Blood Shaman's own priorities. The overall best possible team is Goblins/Orcs/Furious Goblins/Veteran Orcs plus of course the Blood Shaman. Using 10,000 Leadership as the benchmark, the Furious Goblins would provide roughly 444 damage, the Orcs would provide roughly 375 damage, the Veteran Orcs would provide roughly 285 damage, the Goblins would provide 500 damage, and the Blood Shaman would provide roughly 111 damage, for a total of approximately 1,715 damage.
Let's compare this against Spirit Rage. Spirit Rage's base damage is 7-15 per Blood Shaman, but it strikes three times anytime you could've used Power of the Horde instead, meaning the base value of Spirit Rage in this comparison is effectively 21-45 damage, or potentially more if you arrange to target an Eviln surrounded by multiple enemies. At 10,000 Leadership, you'd have 37 Blood Shaman, which means you'd do 777-1665 damage.
Notice that the absolute best-case scenario for Power of the Horde is actually not much higher than the high roll on Spirit Rage. This assumes your army is optimized to maximize Power of the Horde's damage, and also assumes you haven't taken any casualties, and that you're far enough into the game no magic number issues are cropping up with your Leadership. Now, the low roll on Spirit Rage is much lower, and the average damage is still low enough Power of the Horde isn't necessarily worthless or anything, but honestly Power of the Horde is a bit underwhelming and I wish the numbers on it had been stronger, especially since you have a fixed number of charges and it's not like Gift exists in Armored Princess. It's especially frustrating since maxing Power of the Horde's damage involves making your army heavily out of units that are all about getting into melee, where they start taking casualties and thus weakening Power of the Horde further. If you instead shift over to eg Catapults and Goblin Shaman over Orcs and Furious Goblins, you suddenly drop down to approximately 1360 damage on Power of the Horde in this 10,000 Leadership example, which is much more dubious when contrasted against Spirit Rage, and of course if you include Orc Chieftain anywhere in the list they're contributing nearly nothing.
To be fair, Spirit Rage has a long reload and Power of the Horde has some potential utility through the Initiative reduction, but it's still fairly weird that the Blood Shaman's Ultimate Attack Talent is so underwhelming. The only really positive/interesting thing about Power of the Horde is that it barely loses any damage from the Blood Shaman themselves taking casualties; if you're playing a Paladin and interested in playing around with Orcs, having the Blood Shaman charge into melee and act as your damage sponge can work surprisingly well, and you can even save using Power of the Horde until their numbers are fairly low while retaining 90% of your effectiveness.
In enemy hands, Power of the Horde makes them a critical priority target (For disabling or killing outright, if you can) when facing particularly large Orc forces if you're not able to just rapidly nuke down the army itself. This doesn't happen too often, but it's something to keep in mind, and in particular requires a bit of a mental shift: usually a nearly-dead stack isn't contributing much directly anymore, but Blood Shaman can potentially inflict shocking casualties even when nearly gone if the rest of their team still outnumbers you significantly. Worse yet, AI Adrenaline scaling means that the kind of late-game Orc force that has a chance of being so much larger than your forces is likely to be able to Power of the Horde right on the first turn!
Weirdly, the AI usually prioritizes Spirit Rage first, even when the Blood Shaman stack is nearly wiped, making it less important than it really ought to be. The AI clearly doesn't look at the expected damage to determine which to use. Speaking of AI derp, I've never seen a Blood Shaman use Goblin Blood, even though in AI hands it would be an amazing Talent, where in player hands it's a neat idea hampered by the fact that the player should usually be avoiding casualties. Goblin Shaman having Recruiter and Instruction are inadequate to push the player away from 'casualties=bad', too, unless you're consistently expecting to avoid goblin casualties otherwise and also expecting to reasonably consistently use Recruiter. (Which, among other points, requires Goblin Shaman get to 30+ Adrenaline)
Still, aside from potential Power of the Hoard shenanigans, Blood Shaman in enemy hands are mostly like Shaman, except less threatening, bar specific matchup considerations like Black Dragons shrugging off Dancing Axes while taking full damage from Spirit Rage. Shaman actually use their utility Talents, even if they could be smarter about placement, and since Dancing Axes reloads quicker than Spirit Rage Shaman are generally putting more ranged pressure on your forces anyway.
Hiring Cost: 250
Attack/Defense: 20 / 15
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 2
Damage: 6-10 Astral/Physical (Ranged/melee)
Abilities: Goblin Commander (+1 to Morale for all goblins), Recruiter (Upon completing a battle with allied stacks of goblins-the-subspecies that aren't Goblin Shaman, a randomly chosen such stack is reinforced with 3-5 individuals), Ghost Axes (Range: 4. Ranged attack lowers all enemy Resistance by 2%. This effect lasts for the rest of the battle, and stacks), No Melee Penalty
Stat changes: +5 Defense, Ghost Axes now lower Resistances by 3%
Talents: Web of Life (-5 Charge: 1. Targets an allied stack of goblins, which for 3 turns redirects to itself 50% of the damage the casting stack would take)
Stat changes: +1 Initiative, Ghost Axes now lower Resistances by 4%
Talents: Astral Attack (-10 Charges: 3. One member of the stack dies, and a 12-18 Astral damage attack is performed by the remainder of the stack against a single distant enemy. Does not end the Goblin Shaman's turn and ignores Attack/Defense modification)
Stat changes: Ghost Axes now lower Resistances by 5%
Talents: Instruction (-15 Charges: 3. An adjacent troop of goblins loses 5 members, and the Goblin Shaman stack gains 1 member)
Recruiter works basically the same as it does on the Orc Chieftain, just with a larger number of reinforcements and being applied to Goblins, Furious Goblins, and Catapults. Same basic sentiments apply in terms of eg you might want to hover somewhat below max Leadership on your goblins if you have a Goblin Shaman along.
Bizarrely, Astral Attack is a Talent unique for entirely ignoring the target's Defense stat. (And, thankfully, the user's Attack stat) It's effectively like a spell, only scaled to a stack's size, and with almost-irresistible damage to boot. (Astral resistance is really rare, but not quite nonexistent) This makes it one of the most lethal Talents in the game. This is an unfortunate example of a thing that's much more frustrating in enemy hands than it is useful in player hands, since the player's Attack and Defense will rise over the course of the game, with enemy Goblin Shaman remaining just as lethal anyway while your own Goblin Shaman fail to rise in lethality with Astral Attack, increasingly being prone to being better off just hitting something with their Ghost Axes. That's not even touching on how it actually kills a member of the stack, which is nearly a non-cost for the AI where for the player it actually matters.
The game makes some reference to Astral Attack hitting a number of times scaled to Adrenaline Level, but that's either completely wrong or is a wonkily-translated attempt to allude to how it can be used so long as you have charges and a high enough Adrenaline Level without ending your turn. The damage isn't any higher at Adrenaline Level 3, unlike eg Blood Shaman's Spirit Rage Talent.
Also note that Ghost Axes lowering resistance even works on bosses. This is one of the only lingering negative effects in the series that works on bosses! By a similar token, it works on Gremlin Towers!
Overall, the Goblin Shaman is themed around solving problems by drowning the enemy in Goblin blood. It's a really cool idea! It's too bad Grand Strategy means you'll ideally avoid using basically everything they do aside Ghost Axes for... a long, long time. And... Recruiter is so underwhelming that it's not actually practical to bury enemies in a tide of Goblin blood. Still, it's a cool idea...
... and anyway Goblin Shaman are so good they're worth using in spite of their flaws, just because Ghost axes is really useful. Note in particular that they effectively enhance the damage on Spells and Rage attacks, something few other units can assist with, making them particularly appealing for a Warrior or Mage. Admittedly not as appealing as a Gorguana outside of Boss and Keeper fights, but you only need a minor boost to Morale to make it practical to mix Lizardmen with Orcs so that's not some kind of deal-breaker.
As an aside, I've never seen an AI Goblin Shaman use Instruction or Web of Life. The former makes perfect sense -it would basically never be a good trade for the AI- but the latter is a bit surprising. Honestly, probably the biggest significance of this is that it means the AI is never going to interrupt its own Astral Attack spam; the AI will always use Astral Attack until it either runs out of charges or the Adrenaline costs bring the Goblin Shaman down below Adrenaline Level 2, and then lob a Ghost Axe to finish the turn. Due to the rising Adrenaline on AI forces point and the fact that Orcs are mostly placed as fairly late encounters in the game, quite often if you're fighting a Goblin Shaman at all this means all three Astral Attacks hitting you first turn. Since Astral Attack ignores your Defense, tit's usually one of the most lethal things a battlegroup can do to you: Goblin Shaman should be a priority target, though thankfully they're low enough in Level it's not too hard to Blind them, Magic Shackles them, etc.
It's really a bit weird and a little disappointing how in both AI and player hands the Goblin Shaman ends up being a straightforward damage dealer, in spite of having more interesting qualities than that. Oh well. I do like getting to see goblin magic, at least.
It's honestly difficult to convey how much fun Adrenaline adds into the game. Orcs are actually overall probably a bit too powerful in Orcs on the March, but Adrenaline is such an interesting mechanic I find myself forgiving them for it. It's enough fun I'm even willing to accept technically-unnecessary casualties once I've maxed out Grand Strategy, just to properly enjoy the full Orc experience.
Outside of Goblins and Goblin Shaman being pretty annoying as enemies, the closest thing to a negative thing I have to say about the Orcs on the March overhaul is that I kind of wish all the races got an equivalently interesting and distinctive core mechanic to their name. Alas, there's only one other case in the series that I feel manages to pull that off at all, and it's way off in Dark Side.
Anyway, next time, we cover Demons.