The Scoring System
The recent start of Round Table Battles pumped a wave of enthusiasm into Heroes IV players. Now we have a nice competition anyone can join, no matter how good a connection or how much patience he or she has -- we can play in the comfort of our homes, whenever we have time, so there's no worry about whether an opponent will be available online. The goal: to get as many points as possible, without using any cheat. How do we fulfill the goal? This article presents my ideas on the subject, with the map Hero Wanted as a case study.
The scoring system has evolved drastically throughout the Heroes series. In H2 a final score was based solely on map difficulty and time to complete a map. Heroes 3 improved the formula to take into account the number of cities owned, the grail and all enemies destroyed. Heroes 4 went even further, as the final score is based on no less than 11 variables: Player's chosen difficulty, map difficulty, time taken, battles won, army strength, wealth, quests completed, artifacts gathered, completeness of exploration, best hero and towns owned (as shown at the end of any scenario). They are further modified by map size and possibly other factors as well. It is important to realize HOW these variables affect final score:
- Player and map difficulty form the basis of a score. Simply put, the higher the difficulty the higher the basic score.
- Time to complete a map is another major factor. For every (even partial) week you spend in game the basic score decreases. It's important to note that the decrease is not linear, that after the first week you lose far more points than after the second. Curiously enough, there doesn't seem to be any score reduction during 5th to 8th weeks (the second month), after that the score decreases linearly until it reaches zero. Which means that playing on highest difficulty might not be to your advantage after all - Champion gives you a higher basic score, but also a higher rate of decrease - eventually an expert will get more points than champion (the same is true for other difficulties, too).
- All the other variables act as a modifier to the time-based score. Each adds anything between zero and [maximum] bonus points to your score, based on the value of the variable. It is obvious you want to have as much Wealth as possible, but from the point of view of points, once you reach a certain value, anything more won't improve your score - you would be better off with investing that Treasure Chest towards your experience (i.e. towards your Best Hero). The maximum scores are: 72 for battles won, 24 for army value, 48 for wealth, 96 for quests, 76 for artifacts, 12 for exploration, 76 for hero and 120 for towns.
- Note that battles won and quests completed only count since the last Load. Any time you load a game, these variables are reset to zero. Contrary to popular belief it doesn't mean you have to complete a map in one go to get top points - it simply means that you must fight just enough battles and complete enough quests between the last load and the victory. As the points for battles are awarded based on battle difficulty, it can simply mean you have to win just one battle - as long as the computer considers that battle impossible to win.
Hero Wanted Tips
What are the guidelines to getting the top score, then? First and foremost, you must be able to win a given map. If you don't win, you don't get any points. When you start, make sure the setup is favorable enough to be worth playing. Open up the map in editor, locate the goal, then focus on all critical points on your path from the humble beginning to the victory. In Hero Wanted, there are ... such points:
- At [49,23] a stack of level 1 creatures is blocking your path to the rest of the map. Level 1 are weak, you say? Right, unless your hero is low-level as well and you are playing on higher difficulties. Hundreds of tiny buggers can overwhelm even the best player.
- At [50,34] and [55,50] two level-3 stacks stand in your way. The second one probably won't by that critical, though, as to get there you will have to pass...
- ... an army of level-4s at [33,14 underground]
- The fourth critical point is not a combat, but a quest: To pass to the eastern part of the map, you must have Master Leadership. Fortunatelly there's a quest hut that will give you GM Leadership in exchange for 30,000 GP.
- Finally, there's a sizable level-3 stack at [16,50]
What you need to do is to decide how to pass through these critical points, then restart as many times as you need to get a good setup (restart, save, uncover the map through a cheat, decide, turn the cheat off, load/restart). Consider that level-4 army: You can't sneak past it, you will have to defeat it. Can you do it? Do you need some special skills or spells to do so? If you do, it would be wise to focus on researching the possibility of getting the skills/spells, and if it is possible, on making sure you do get them. If you can't think of a way, restart -- next time there might be different guardians in a different setup, and you might be able to pass easily. For example, defeating a band of Titans and a band of Dragon Golems might be impossible, but defeating scores of Cavaliers instead might be much more feasible - as long as you get Slow or Fatigue. Can't get these spells? Restart, the next guardians might not require them...
Now you have a setup you can live with. But is it really the best one? Look at the beginning: There are two treasure chests there, a witch hut, a beastmaster's hut and a blacksmith. Do you really want to play if you only get 1000 XP in those chests, when you could easily have 3000 XP with just a few more restarts? How about the skill selection in those huts? And wouldn't it be beneficial to restart a few times to find a Potion of Immortality available at the blacksmith's? Those would surely help you defeating the guardians of the critical points identified in the previous step...
Finally you have a setup we can win and actually want to play. How do you go about it? By definition of the contest you want to get as many points as possible. Look again at the variables that influence your score - you want to find a way that will not only lead to victory, but also maximize these variables. First and foremost, you don't want to waste time. You want to take the shortest route whenever possible, unless a short detour makes it up in the long run - it might be beneficial "wasting" a few days getting the Equestrian Gloves, as those will supply enough movement points throughout the rest of the map to make the trip worthwhile. The same is true for the hoards of gold near the very end of the game - you might waste a few days, but you will make up for it with wealth and best hero... It might not be worth it to dig for all oracle treasures - a Rinf of Regeneration I got at one oracle was certainly worth it, but did a Scale Mail of Strength really give me enough edge to overcome a day of travelling there and another day of digging? (It's an academic question in my case, as I managed to get it and still win in 8 weeks, so a few days less wouldn't really do anything for me...)
Well, that's about it, really. Well, except for knowing the tricks to use against AI to win, of course. Perhaps I'll write something about them in a future article, though it's quite difficult to tell about them in a way that's understandable to "the uninitiated" :-). Focus on the deficiencies of AI against certain spells or tactical moves (e.g. castle sieges, though that won't happen all that often in Hero Wanted :-)), as well as "exploits" of the game engine (e.g. the preferrence of using wait-attack-attack-repeat tactics to attack-repeat, or the advantages of E Melee over E Combat in some situations and vice versa).