While Ornella is busy studying Necromancy 101, you continue to follow the Will of Asha with Arantir, the powerful, but currently level-one Necromancer.
Arantir's specialty is "Avatar of Death", which works very much like Summon Phoenix. It is quite powerful and mana demanding as your level progresses. Eventually it will develop into a monster with all kinds of crazy abilities. A Necromancer lives by the magics, but Knowledge is not a primary attribute for you. Therefore, try to:
- Grab as much Knowledge points as possible
- Use Mark of Necromancer to recharge mana in battles
- Take Sorcery and pick the mana-friendly feats (3 total)
- Take Enlightenment and pick the Intelligence feat
The ultimate skill of Necromancer, Howl of Terror (enemy army gets further -6 morale from Banshee Howl), is now easier to obtain compared to earlier patches. You will need to wait until at least mission 4 due to level caps, but the feats required for it are now quite reasonable. You will be forced to skip the almighty Master of Mind in Dark Magic, and give up Intelligence (50% more mana) in Enlightenment. It is a tough decision. On higher difficulty, I usually prefer a custom build because Nival has an old habit of making earlier missions more difficult than later.
However, now you can be a winner in both early and late missions. There is a new type of building that allows you to replace a learned skill with something else. Therefore, you can pick up Master of Mind and Intelligence to survive, and replace them when your other skills are good enough to cover you for the rest of the campaign.
Here comes a list of skill & feat recommendations for Arantir:
- Master of Mind for Mass Slow & Mass Confusion.
- Go Expert ASAP. There are plenty of Lv 5 Mage Guild oppurtunity in this mission.
- Get as many mana-saving feats as possible.
- Go Expert for better Raise Dead.
- Phoenix is not anymore a must because you have the Avatar of Death, but you will still find uses of it.
- Get Mark of Necromancer & Eternal Servitude ASAP.
Attack with Archery + Battle Frenzy used to be a no-brainer pick because Skeleton Archers were everything you have. However, the game has changed and it is no longer necessary.
Enlightenment is always great when your bonus stats point don't pour into the most useless Defense. The 50% mana bonus from the feat Intelligence is a huge deal, until you get Mark of Necromancer. Pick it up early to get ready for the ultimate.
Luck is a great passive skill when you rely on army strength (you will). However, I have heard that Magic Resistance go against your own Raise Dead (although I never failed a Raise Dead with the feat on), so maybe you should skip this particular feat.
Will of Asha
Map Size: Normal
M2: The Grim Crusade
Level Cap: 16
Difficulty Index: 3/5
Last Updated: October 30, 2007, Patch v3.0
None of the three starting bonuses are great. The clover artifact will soon be replaced by something better, and the cash is too little. I picked Ice Bolt for an early boost of damage.
You start the mission with a mandatory battle against a Wizard hero. His army is laughably small, but so is yours. Split out 4 x 1-unit Skeleton stacks and charge them, along with your Avatar of Death to absorb the retaliation from enemies, especially the hard-hitting Golems. Throw an Ice Bolt to the Gremlins to wipe out half of them, and run some skeleton or your Avatar beside them to neutralize their next turn. Your top priority is to keep as much Skeleton and Skeleton Archers alive, since ranged power is very important early on.
After the skirmish, visit the Seer Tent (1) to receive a side quest - come back again when you are Lv 5 or above for 6 free Death Knights, which are quite useful.
p.s. If you visit the Seer Tent with a secondary hero, Arantir will be teleported back. Think of it as a poor man's town portal. (Thanks to travelingoz, who has an alternate opening strategy in his reply below.)
You are up against three Academy AI players: Orange (D), Yellow (E), and Red (F). Only Orange is aggressive. There are two neutral, easy to take towns: town (B) of Necropolis and town (C) of Academy. Naturally you want to own town (B) ASAP, and build up an overpowering army to run over Orange, Yellow and Red at once.
First, upgrade all your Skeletons into Skeleton Archers. Flag the Ore Pit and tier-1 creature building to the east, and come back to flag the Sawmill to the west. Keep going west to flag another tier-1 creature building. Now it is tempting to flag other mines, but when I played this mission on heroic the neutral stacks were just too powerful for Arantir. If you are playing at a low difficulty you can probably flag them all now.
Suppose you are also playing on heroic and don't have enough strength. Should you wait for the second week of creatures? Nah. There is a good alternative side quest to boost you up.
Keep going west to visit a Stable (S). Avoid the shooters, but take out the easier neutral stacks and raise as much as your Dark Energy points allow. Keep going west towards Town (B). The garrison there will crush you mercilessly, though. Instead, a second side quest is triggered when you get close to Town (B). The Zombies tell you there are some Vampires underground.
Take a break from world domination and enjoy the view!
In the meantime, it is a good idea to hire a secondary hero and start picking up resources scattered throughout the map. Visit the Redwood Observatory at (2) to setup an early warning system of Orange invasion. They wonít come now, but soon enough. Build up your town (A) to focus on economy, and use as little Ore as possible. Skip all creature upgrade buildings to save cash.
Get rid of the messenger Zombies (hire more from the building though; you need all help you can get) and go south. Descend through the stairs (I). You will now fight the first of the two tough battles in the mission. In my game there are 19 Nightmares spreading into 4 stacks.
While my chance of survival seems to be nill, Nightmares are large creatures. I could easily protect my ~200 Skeleton Archers (hopefully you have 100+ at this point) in a corner. Split out 1-unit Zombie stacks for exactly this purpose. Call out your Avatar of Death and attack the smallest Nightmare stack (to receive less damage from retaliation). Eventually, your zombie die off and you will have to melee with Skeleton Archers. The battle turns ugly but you should be able to pull through.
Your loss here is nothing compared to what you gain. At (V) stand quite a large stack of Vampires offering to join! The Vampires sure have sore legs as they have been waiting here for hundreds of years. Even better, there are three high-level Necro creature buildings - all Vampires. Defeat the garrisons (easily done with the 33 Vampires) to hire 5 Vampires from each.
Also, the Vampire buildings are now accessible in your towns. Build them as soon as possible to enjoy the weekly growth boost from the 3 mansions underground. There will be lots of Vampires running this mission, and you can actually use them to ďsoloĒ most neutral stacks (which they can drain from) for perfect victories.
Come back to the surface via the stairs (I) and recharge mana from the mana well on the way. You are now strong enough to take Town (B). Next, flag the two abandoned mines to the west, and return to Town (A) area to flag the rest of the mines.
In my game, at this time I saw the first Orange AI invasion into my territory, carrying quite a powerful army. With the Vampires you should do fine. The Orange heroes come around every two weeks.
Donít miss out a great artifact at (3). It is part of the Death's Embrace artifact set, and probably the best out of four. Arantir starts the mission with the ring, so now you own 2 out of 4! Enjoy the additional bonus! (courtesy of Age of Heroes) Besides, artifacts that belong to a set will carry over to the next mission - awesome!
By now you should be able to claim the 6 Dead Knights at (1). This is a good time to build up the Mage Guilds in Town (A) all the way to level 5 and pay a visit when you reach Expert Dark Magic. All of the high-level Dark Magics are great now.
As you build up the towns you will soon notice you are severely limited in Ore. There are only so much free resources on the ground for your level-1 hero to pick up. Therefore, you have to attack out as soon as you can. The best route is the mountain pass just south of Town (B). Just before you leave the home base, challenge a bunch of dragons for another good artifact at (4). Don't touch it without Frenzy or Puppet Master!
The main reason to pick this route is the Hill Fort (5) here. Upgrade all Vampires into Vampire Lords, and everything else if you have the cash. This Hill Fort saves you tons of cash - you don't need to build any upgrade building in towns! (Note: Hill Fort upgrade is very expensive for higher-tier creatures, so if you know the mission is going to drag long and you will be hiring a lot of high-tier creatures, it is better to go with upgrade structures in one town.) It is a good idea to hire a level-1 hero based in Town (B). Every week or two weeks, caravan the new units (for now you are fine with just Skeletons, Vampires and Liches) to Town (B), and use this lv-1 hero to run a upgrade express. Then, catch up with Arantir to pass him the reinforcement. Later on when you take more Academy towns, you can also caravan the Academy tier 1, 4 and 5 units here.
Town (C) is ridiculously easy. Somehow the Orange AI was prohibited to take it, but they were free to flag the mines nearby. Flag them back! You donít need to develop this town Ė the Town Hall (2000G/turn) is good enough. Check out the Red Keymaster Tent (red K) just west of Town (C). Visit it now, so you donít have to come back from the other side of the world later. There is a whole bunch of stat boosts south of Town (C), too.
It is now the right time to put a plug on Orange invasions for good. March your great undead army to Town (D) and kill them all! Since Orange AI is constantly depleted by you, this battle should be fairly easy. You gain a full-built Academy Town!
There is only one main objective left - take out the Red Player based in Town (F). There is only one way to get there, but we better take out the optional Yellow AI as well. Somehow the Yellow too becomes aggressive after Orange is gone.
Yellow AI is much tougher than Orange because they have been saving up strength since the beginning. The Garrison at (6) is nothing compared to what you will see in Town (E)! The key to this siege is to protect your Vampires while they deal considerable damage on the other side of the wall. Arcane Armor works great. Mass Slow + Mass Confusion makes a big difference. Even Curse of the Netherworld is worth the mana now. And you can start with a nasty Banshee Howl thanks to the artifact you found earlier.
The Titans are very deadly and are immune to Mind Control, so concentrate your attack on them first. If you have the Avatar of Death or a Phoenix, now is a good time to summon them and throw them at the Titans. The Raja stack is insanely huge - you HAVE TO Puppet Master / Frenzy / Blind them or you can wave good bye to the Vampires and everything you have! The enemy hero has the Magic Resistance feat, so be prepared to miss out a lot of spells!
Although it is likely that at some point you are really low in head count, the infinite mana through someone else's suffering will keep your mana full. You will probably have a dramatic "come back" at the end of the battle with 80% of your starting army intact! This is really a fun battle, and the results can be drastically different depending on your luck and skill.
After taking the Yellow player you pretty much have the mission won - the Red player does not grow, and you have all the other towns on the map. You can't go towards Town (F) directly, though, as a barrier blocks your advance at (7). There is an underground passage but it has not been unlocked yet.
Next, head back to the grasslands and descend through Stairs (II). Unlock the Red Gate (red G). Handle a couple of pathetic ambushes with your Vampires and and run over the Red Army at (8).
Come back to Town (E) and descend through the stairs at (III). Follow the bridge west to reach the stairs at (IV). You can pick up a really good artifact at (9) that carries through missions. I got the Ring of Sar-Issus (1/2 mana cost) here.
There is an interesting Memory Mentor to visit just north of the stairs (IV). For a cheap ~2000G you can replace any unwanted skill with something else you like, in a level-up, 4 choices fashion. If you don't like any you can do it again! Since you are so rich now, you can afford to do a lot of shuffling. Try to follow the skills and feats that lead to the ultimate (see the skill wheel here) but keep Master of Mind, Expert Sorcery and two mana-friendly feats under it.
You are now ready to take Town (F)! The final battle of the mission is so easy that you will be disappointed. You actually face a larger defending army than the Yellow, but it is again a wizard leading Inferno creatures. There are few shooters and the wizard hero has really poor stats (0 Attack, 0 Defense). Watch the constant low morale and laugh! There is no way to lose!