Sacrifice: Stratos Mission 8
As usual for this point in the game, Stratos gives us two non-unit spells, specifically...
Cloudkill generates a cloud that periodically fires lightning down indiscriminately in the area below it, attempting to aim at units with no regard to ownership. (Comparable to Volcano's rocks, actually, only much harder to avoid; the projectiles don't hit instantly, but they are fast) Somewhat uniquely, if you targeted a unit when you cast Cloudkill, the cloud will follow that unit, though my experience is there seems to be an invisible leash that prevents it from wandering too far from its origin point.
For whatever reason the manual claims Cloudkill does more damage to airborne targets, but as far as I'm aware this isn't true in any mechanical sense. No damage bonus based on height or anything. It can be said to be more reliably effective against airborne targets since they're less likely to have terrain intercept the shot and have less time to potentially move aside, but that's about it.
Cloudkill has a somewhat low cooldown compared to its equivalents, taking 60 seconds instead of 90 like eg Bovine Intervention does. This thus is one of the spells that emphasizes Stratos' capacity to output damage with spells per se.
There's not a lot of strategy to using Cloudkill. It encourages avoiding using melee units if you're going to try to treat it as a spam spell, of course, but beyond the obvious 'try not to get your own units killed by it' it's just a straightforwardly good attack spell. The only other caveat is to maybe be careful about what you try to leash it to -targeting a melee unit charging your lines is going to end badly, targeting artillery is safe.
Tornado is... odd for an ultimate spell. It generates a tornado that sucks in everything in a surprisingly small radius around it, spinning them around itself and, once the spell finishes, spraying them every which way. (If they're caught early enough, they can also be tossed before it ends) This makes it massively effective at disruption, as once units are trapped in a tornado they're not coming out until it's done, and they can't do anything. Even air units are helpless until the spell ends or tosses them out!
The release also often actually does damage -Sacrifice has fall damage as a mechanic, though it doesn't crop up too often. Tornado pulls units high enough they'll usually take fairly noticeable damage on impact, though only really low-level units are likely to be killed by this. And of course it can potentially hurl units into the abyss if used nearby an abyss.
It also combos well with Cloudkill, as Cloudkill is actually able to fire its lightning up and even to the sides, and thus will continue to fry units even as the tornado drags them around.
Tornado is, on most maps, also the most blatantly signaled spell in the game. The instant a wizard starts casting Tornado the sky become dark with clouds and it begins to rain, everywhere on the map. The only caveat to this is that Persephone's lands will randomly shift to a cloudy/rainy mode periodically, obfuscating the point on those maps in particular. Otherwise? Everybody knows when Tornado is being cast, no matter what.
The mission is one of the hardest in the game, and also one of the longest. The recording is more than an hour long, where most of my Sacrifice videos are 15-30 minutes long.
Part of this is Shiny pretty obviously showing favoritism toward their Earthworm Jim expy. We've seen scripted events in other god capitol assaults, including that in one version of assaulting Stratos we saw a scripted Tornado out of nowhere, but none of them comes remotely close to this map. There's something like a half dozen different ambushes, and while they help prop up your soul counts only the one near your Altar is a joke to deal with. There's also two different cases of Bore being script-cast with no particular warning, and Grakkus and Charlotte are not only tag-teaming you at the same time -contrast this with eg Pyro capitol assaults, where Sorcha and Buta are both on the map at the same time but Buta won't activate until you attack his stuff- but both have quite serious armies.
Part of this is really awkward timing/matchup stuff. Agothera is the single most hostile map in the entire campaign to the possibility of abyssing things, and Stratos is probably the most abyssirific god. To an extent that can be placed as me insisting on mono-Stratos -I don't have to have Vorticks, for example- but where it clearly turns into a matchup/timing issue is the existence of Rhinoks in enemy forces vs what spells you get at this level. With literally any other god, the Rhinoks would be an opportunity to try out one of that god's new spells -Intestinal Vaporization for Charnel but Death would work fine too, Bovine Intervention for James and hey Bore as well, Volcano for Pyro, and it'll be really obvious which one for Persephone when we get to her. For Stratos, we have... a spell that does spell damage, which Rhinoks are strongly resistant to and Cloudkill isn't that lethal, plus Tornado... on a map where it's more or less impossible to actually toss units into the abyss outside brief opportunities with the scripted Bores.
Grakkus and Charlotte can't actually summon more Rhinoks themselves, as they're both only Level 8, so for literally any other god the Rhinoks would be no trouble. They're only a problem because you're getting Stratos' level-appropriate spells in this mission. And since Rhinoks are kinda dead busted, they're a huge problem, far more so than any other ultimate unit would be to have a couple of copies of following around a couple of wizards. The only good news is they'll often get left in the dust by their wizards and ignore your troops in their hurry to catch up to their wizard.
Another part of the difficulty is Agothera's hugeness creating issues. As previously noted, Manahoars give less and less mana the farther away you are from your Manaliths, all the way down to nothing, and there's a sufficiently large amount of space between 'your' part of the map and the portion Charlotte and Grakkus have initial/de-facto control over that even with a large number of Manahoars you can be short on mana continuously in combat when first trying to break into Charlotte and Grakkus' territory.
Then there's the truly bizarre decision of forcing the player to banish both wizards instead of just Desecrating the Prime Altar, which wouldn't even stand out if they hadn't inexplicably made it the more accessible Altar. This is, admittedly, consistent with the James defense mission, but still.
Oh, and of course Gammel is once again running with James' forces and being a giant pain in the butt, wandering around destroying your Manalith in two hits.
If you're doing a mono-Stratos run like I am, the whole thing goes from 'obnoxious and tedious and awful' to 'downright hellish'.
For starters, Stratos has basically no tools for bypassing serious resistances aside abyssing things. You've got no damage over time effects that bypass them. You have neither poison nor plague to reduce them. You have no spell for directly killing a target without bothering with actual damage, ala Intestinal Vaporization. Your primary means of bypassing serious resistances -aside using things that aren't resisted by the target, an option not available against Gammel- is to abyss them with Vorticks, Tornado, etc. Even aside that Gammel is immune to most such measures, Agothera doesn't give you much opportunity to even try to dump Gammel into an abyss with Freeze.
So Gammel goes from 'a problem to prepare for' to 'what am I supposed to do other than bang my head against the wall until the wall obligingly breaks before my skull?'
More broadly, Stratos is surprisingly terrible at fighting James forces in general, especially in a map where abyssing isn't really an option. I haven't emphasized it much, but Stratos' units tend to have poor damage. It's not an absolute rule, but it's a recurring one, with some key examples being particularly problematic; you're not going to win an artillery war with James unless you have an obscene soul advantage, thanks to Flurries having weak damage for their soul rate while being fragile while Flummoxes are tough and will keep interrupting your Flurries so they do even less damage. You're not going to win a sniper war, thanks to Squalls being a low-end sniper based more around their knockback than their damage while Boulderdashes are a high-end sniper that does nothing but damage, and a lot of it. You don't really have much of anything for countering Rhinoks, unit-wise, aside mobbing them with Yeti and hoping the freeze stunlock prevents them from mass-killing your Yeti. In general, you'll lose at range but you can't really win in melee either, and your spells, while good at dishing out damage for wizard spells, are honestly not good enough to properly offset the durability advantage James' units have.
So this mission is a giant pain.
Still ate fewer hours of my life than assassinating Shakti did, though, since I only needed two tries and the first try only lasted twenty minutes.
Narratively... hey, why hasn't Eldred objected to any of this yet? Why did he hop on the Betray Train with no questions whatsoever, and continue not questioning it while murdering Shakti without having been informed ahead of time she'd be really dead and then when he killed Persephone he, again, didn't know he'd be more-or-less killing a god? Why is he okay with killing James when Stratos' logic is pretty bluntly 'you're no longer useful to me and you'd be dangerous to keep alive because I'm an evil schemer'?
Back in Charnel's route Eldred did eventually complain about being lied to, and that was when he pretty bluntly had always known he was working with an 'evil' god and the plot outright demanded you confirm that you're not going to turn to 'justice' and yadda. Stratos seemed like a pretty upright fella, aside the occasional warning flag of dialogue, and Eldred engaged with him as if oblivious to these sinister tells. Where's the 'wait, I thought you were a good god!' reaction? This especially stands out given we had a 3-mission long chain, where once we'd picked to assassinate Shakti we couldn't deviate from Stratos' route.
That this mission has Eldred babble about how killing a god was enjoyable, power for its own sake, etc, is rather late and also feels terribly out of place, especially given the god it's being assigned to. Remember Pyro's Boon line? "Power belongs to those who can wield it"? You'd think if any god path was going to involve Eldred falling into the addictive darkness of power for its own sake, it would be the Pyro route, not the Stratos route. It's not like Pyro's Boon line was the only 'power power power POWER' sentiment in Pyro's route, either. It was all over his route, and indeed all over Pyro's dialogue in general.
Oh, and we've gotten Charnel outright accusing Stratos of having summoned Marduk, while Stratos claims that Jadugarr was the one who summoned Marduk. Hmmm, I wonder who's telling the truth here...
See you next Stratos mission.