King's Bounty Unit Analysis Part 2: Dwarves
Dwarves are our first 'proper' race, with a Morale bonus for a mono-Dwarf army. Like Humans, they also have some issues with hanging out with other races. Specifically...
-3 from Demonic presence in allies.
-2 Morale from Undead presence in allies.
-1 Morale for Elven presence in allies.
... which arguably makes them the most problematic race for cross-race considerations, since the Elven hostility can't be dealt with at all and their Demon hostility takes Tolerances 2, where Elves (Who we'll be covering next) have basically the mirror image but are instead most hostile to Undead, which can be cleared by Tolerance 1. (And they have a bunch of Tolerant units, to boot)
This is honestly the least of their problems as a 'faction', unfortunately.
Hiring Cost: 220
Attack/Defense: 20 / 16
Initiative/Speed: 4 / 2
Damage: 8-12 Physical
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Your basic generic 2-move Running melee.
Dwarves are pretty forgettable units. They're decent units if you're wanting to run a slow-moving melee unit, but... there's tons of competition, many of it more innately appealing. There's some pieces of gear with special support for Dwarves-the-faction, so there's circumstances they're worth considering, but most of the time they're just... boring. Their most noteworthy trait is that they have really high HP for the Leadership while having a moderately high HP per head. Generally speaking, the more HP per head a unit has, the less HP it has per Leadership. Dwarves are thus surprisingly durable, especially relative to Spells and Rage attacks. (Which don't care about Defense and don't automatically scale to stack size) Which... is not a very helpful trait in a unit you're fielding, especially since Dwarves usually don't show up early enough for their high-ish HP to be all that high for the Leadership. (In the sense of letting them absorb punishment without necessarily suffering casualties)
As enemies, they're not much different. Being slow-moving generic melee makes it easy to manipulate, delay, or ignore them as relevant. They're reasonably durable, but not exceptional. Plus, the AI doesn't get gear-based support for Dwarves and ignores racial AI modifiers, so... that makes them even more forgettable.
They're also one of the first examples (In the context of this post order, I mean) of a unit that's really more frustrating in AI hands than it is useful in player hands. That high HP making them functionally relatively resistant to Spells and Rage attacks makes them a pain to nuke down for the player, but no enemy gets Rage and only Hero fights and Keeper fights can involve the enemy nuking you with Spells, so that quality has little use in the player's hands. It's a relatively minor case, but I'm noting it as the first example of a somewhat common, somewhat frustrating pattern in the game's design. (Which thankfully later games make an effort to work on)
Hiring Cost: 40
Attack/Defense: 8 / 8
Initiative/Speed: 3 / 2
Damage: 3-4 Physical
Talents: Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Abilities: Night Sight (+50% Attack if combat takes place at night or underground)
Take Dwarves, make much lower Leadershp units with rescaled stats to match, and throw in Night Sight.
Miners are basically Dwarves as glass cannons. Unfortunately, this isn't really much more distinctive. The main thing Miners have going for them over Dwarves, in fact, is that they have a much better Gold-to-Leadership efficiency. That's nice, given both units are generally going to take casualties if you're using them at all, but it's not really an argument for using them yourself.
The fact that Miners and Dwarves-the-unit are so lackluster is ultimately the primary reason I have difficulty justifying trying to run a mono-Dwarf army. Either one would be a bit underwhelming to burn a unit slot on, but fielding two generic melee units together? Why would you do that?
It gets better, though, I promise.
As enemies, they're... well, pretty forgettable still. There's not even weird, interesting interactions in The Legend to make them more memorable as a unit you can do neat things in fighting.
Hiring Cost: 800
Attack/Defense: 30 / 22
Initiative/Speed: 6 / 2
Damage: 6-10 Physical
Resistances: 10% Fire
Talents: Salvo (Reload: 2. A ranged attack with equivalent range to the Cannoneer's base, which does 18-30 Physical damage against a single target. Can't be activated if there's an adjacent enemy)
Abilities: Archer (Range: 7), Siege Gun (Doubled damage against Gremlins and everything else considered to be an 'object)', No Melee Penalty
Note that Salvo actually doesn't benefit from Siege Gun. It'll still do better damage than the basic shot against Gremlins and the like, but only 50% more, not the usual 3 times as much damage.
Cannoneers? Cannoneers are good units. They're one of the longer-range attackers in the game, they're not actually crippled if something gets in their face and starts beating on them, they have tremendous utility in Keeper fights, and they don't really have much in the way of competition for this set of niches. There's only one other unit that has Siege Gun, and it's much more flawed of a unit for Keeper fights, can't output as much concentrated damage in a single turn to a single target (Which is huge in Keeper fights!), and is outright weak to Fire, when Evil Gremlins like to toss Fireballs at troop concentrations of any kind. Cannoneers actually resist Fire!
The closest thing to a flaw or weakness Cannoneers have is that they are restricted to straight Physical damage, where many other solid ranged attackers have damage type coverage (eg Bowmen getting Flaming Arrow) and/or utility abilities that help them contribute some other way when problematic resistances crop up. (eg Bowmen have Cold Arrow, Inquisitors have Resurrect and Holy Anger) They can thus be a bit of a disappointment when going up against fighting forces that are either heavy on good Physical resistance or where the highest-priority forces happen to be severely Physically resistant. (eg a force where the Cyclops stack is the single highest concentration of Leadership and nothing else in the enemy force can contribute damage at range)
Cannoneers are also one of those rare units that's really basically just plain more useful in player hands than in enemy hands. Siege Gun is hugely beneficial for when the player fights Keepers, whereas for AI Cannoneers...well, they'll do more damage to Zerock's Stone Wall? Except by the time Cannoneers show up, Stone Wall's HP tends to be lagging behind enemy unit damage output anyway, so whatever. With Siege Gun lacking relevancy, enemy Cannoneers are little more than a ranged unit that can and should be nuked down or locked up as early as possible... which is basically a standard description for fighting ranged units.
That said, they tend to lose their luster once you've reached the point in the game where you're largely done upgrading items/anything you need to Suppress is probably trivial to defeat without special tools, especially since the late game accelerates enemy stack size growth far ahead of what the player's own Leadership growth is like, making it far more important to do more than just straight damage.
Hiring Cost: 920
Attack/Defense: 25 / 35
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 2
Damage: 10-25 Poison
Resistances: 25% Poison
Talents: Potion of Poison (Charge: 1.Target a single enemy unit, with an effective range of 7. It takes 5-15 Poison damage and is Poisoned, while adjacent units take less damage but still get Poisoned), Fire Water (Charge: 1. 15-20 Fire damage to one enemy unit, with an effective range of 7, and Burns the target), Holy Water (Charge: 1. 15-25 Magic damage against a single Undead target, with an effective range of 7, and inflicts the 'Holy Shackles' penalty. Can only target Undead)
Abilities: Poison Resistance (25% Poison Resistance), Acid Spray (Ranged attack striking through all targets up to 3 tiles out, enemies can't retaliate), No Melee Penalty
Note that Potion of Poison, Fire Water, and Holy Water are treated like regular ranged attacks with an effective range of 7 -ie you can toss them farther, but their damage is halved. (Though you can still toss them even if an enemy is adjacent, unlike a normal ranged attack) I'm unsure of Potion of Poison's splash damage, but I'd eyeball it as about 25% of the base damage.
Also note that Potion of Poison is weaker than the Alchemist's basic attack, which though the game doesn't list it is also capable of inflicting Poisoning. (Not that Poisoning is that useful an effect in The Legend...) The only reasons to use Potion of Poison over your spray are that the potion has more range and may be able to achieve greater splash in a given situation than the spray, depending on positioning etc. Fire Water is also weaker, but it's a different damage type, which makes it useful for putting the hurt on various things that resist the Alchemist's basic attack. (eg all Undead) Holy Water, meanwhile, would be flatly superior to the Spray (Aside area of effect potential) when you can use it even if Undead weren't resistant to Poison, which hey, they are.
The Alchemist's basic attack is also unique all-around, being a ranged attack that has a hard range (Only three tiles out, period, instead of some range being 'too far' leading to halved damage) and also being a ranged attack that can be used when enemies are adjacent with no problem.
In the early game -which thankfully the game likes to give the player access to Alchemists early- Alchemists are a really amazing unit, effectively functioning as a ranged attacker which can hold its own once the enemy melee closes in. (Right on time for running out on your Talents, conveniently) The splash damage on Potion of Poison and the potential to hit multiple targets with their basic attack is a fantastic force multiplier, and Alchemists are even durable enough to take a few hits in the early game without taking casualties.
Later in the game, it's easy to find yourself wondering why you ever liked them in the first place, as Alchemists are functionally just straight damage, and in the endgame that tends to be inadequate, just as I covered with Cannoneers.
As enemies, Alchemists can be a fairly frustrating unit to deal with, being a ranged attacker that can't be shut down by dropping a melee unit on top of them. On the other hand, army makeup can trivialize them -everything they do is resisted by Cyclops and they only get one decent hit in against Royal Snakes and same for Plants. (Albeit with the caveat that one decent hit is actually quite painful for Plants) They're also easily made a joke of with Magic Shackles, as it takes away their actual ranged attacks for the duration, leaving them as a slow-moving not-technically-melee unit, only minus the benefit of Running to help them close.
Synergies-wise, Alchemists are one of the better units to consider Gifting, since they have 3 charge-based Talents and with the right enemy composition they can have legitimate use for all three. They're also a good option for Teleporting or Hasting.
Hiring Cost: 7000
Attack/Defense: 44 / 50
Initiative/Speed: 5 / 1
Damage: 70-100 Physical
Talents: Earthquake (Reload: 1. Attacks all enemy units that don't Soar or fly, the damage dropping off with distance. Base damage is 40-50 Physical damage per Giant), Running (Charge: 1. +2 Action Points)
Abilities: Likes Emerald Green Dragons (+1 Morale if Emerald Green Dragons are in the army, and doubled damage against Emerald Green Dragons)
It's kind of embarrassing how many years it took me to notice that Giants are clearly wearing the remains of an Emerald Green Dragon, fitting to their one Ability.
I talked about how the AI has an idiosyncratic, exploitable way of behaving when using Running back when covering Humans, but Giants are the one exception to this AI quirk. Giants instead walk two spaces and use Earthquake after activating Running. It's... not terribly important in practice, but it's interesting to me that Giants are an exception to this weirdness. Was that deliberately coded in as an exception? I'd wonder if maybe it was just a product of having 1 Speed, but if you eg Slow a Zombie, it will walk 1 step, pause for a split second, and then use the 2 Action Points from Running.
I'm not actually sure how Earthquake's drop-off works, unfortunately. It's not terribly important how much of a drop-off it is, though, since the axioms remain true regardless: when fighting Giants distance is good if you're not immune, and when using them tools for helping them get closer faster are good.
Earthquake itself is a frustrating Talent that makes Giants exceedingly obnoxious to fight but does little of use in player hands. A little bit of unavoidable damage to all your units leads to the player running hither and yon to replace the minor casualties. (And Giants are too high level to hit with Magic Shackles or Sheep or Blind. You're, what, using Necromancers? Good luck finding a source of them before Kordar! Oh, and AI forces entirely ignore the rules of Leadership the player operates under, so there may well be three separate 'full-sized' stacks of Giants, so your Necromancers won't even be able to shut them all down) A little bit of unavoidable damage to all enemy units is underwhelming compared to all the other unit choices for achieving ranged and/or area-of-effect damage. The ones with actually good Leadership-to-damage ratios.
Even their statline contributes to the frustration: their high HP and generic resistances make them a pain to nuke down with Spells or Rage effects, no matter what your exact list is or how strong any given sub-section of it is (Where, say, Cyclops are noticeably easier to deal with if you have strong Lightning), but no enemy gets Rage and few of them get Spells, making it a not-terribly-useful quality in the player's hands, just like with Dwarves.
If you do want a melee meatshield, there's so many other, better choices, and even placement isn't liable to help them -you may have to typically wait for the next area before you get Ancient Ents, but Cyclops are common to acquire in Kordar and fulfill a similar role in a manner more useful for the player.
That said, Giants aren't actually a very good unit in enemy hands either. Annoying, yes, but not very threatening. They can seem problematic due to the fact that the player will often fight armies larger than their own and so lose a sense of actual proportion, but for their Leadership Giants aren't particularly problematic, and indeed can potentially be ignored if you're either unbothered by the minor casualties Earthquake causes or have an army made entirely of Soaring/Flying units and so can literally ignore Earthquake. Their horrid Speed gives the player plenty of time to murder the non-Giant forces before getting around to fighting the Giants... and AI Giants are obsessed with using Earthquake, so past the first turn it's basically accurate to think of Giants as having half a point of Speed, in terms of how quickly they'll cross the battlefield.
On the flipside to my complaining about Earthquake and the high HP and so on making them more frustrating to fight than useful to use, the player has the ability to support Giants to bring out their potential. A Level 2 Haste, for example, is a gamechanger for their utility as a combat piece, or if you've found the Pilgrim's Shoes (+1 Speed to the slowest unit in your group) and are willing to wear it you don't even have to spend Spellcasting time on making up for their poor Speed. Giants are inarguably the most consistently durable per-head unit in the game (Other units can take more damage 'locally' thanks to resistances and the like, but eg even though an Ancient Treant has more HP it's far easier to kill with Fire damage. Giants have no such weaknesses or exploits), and there's something to be said for fielding a melee unit that's tough enough to not necessarily suffer casualties when exchanging blows/which is actually worth using Healing on.
Especially since many of their competitors can be healed by very few tools.
Yeah, that's right, if you want the all-Dwarf Morale bonus, you've got exactly one army formation. It's not even a particularly synergistic one, either, with three melee units, and the Alchemist being your only source of non-Physical damage.
Miners and Dwarves (the unit) aren't even particularly good units. If you really want a relatively generic melee unit, there's bunches of similar units that are better in their own right and/or better-supported, such as Ents, which fulfill a similar role as a bulky 2-move Running melee unit while being far bulkier, getting a Reloading ranged attack to let them contribute on the way in, and having support from eg Dryads to make them even better. The fact that Dwarves as a race hate Elves is basically icing on the cake, especially when you consider that Elves are far more diverse and useful.
Narratively, Dwarves are also a bit boring for the moment. Steampunk Dwarves has been done (Such as by Warcraft, which I've already commented on the similar art style), and the only particularly interesting twist The Legend brings to the table is limited to the backstory. (Dwarves used to do magic, but after opening a portal to Demonis and having Demons pour through and all, they swore off magic forever) The steampunk thing only really applies to two Dwarven units, too, with the others being 'a stereotypical melee Dwarf', 'another stereotypical melee Dwarf', and... okay, I like Giants overall, but the story end of the game doesn't really address them. You get bits and pieces of hints if you pay attention to eg Hero portrait backstory stuff, but nothing touches on why Giants are being lumped into the Dwarven faction. It's an interesting choice, but also a puzzling one.
Anyway, next time we'll be covering Elves.