Etherlords: Third Map Syndrome

The first time I tried playing Etherlords, I managed to get as far as the third scenario of the campaign before giving up. I’m at that point again now, and once again, I’m finding it tough going. I recall also getting stuck on the third map in Heroes Chronicles: Conquest of the Underworld, which I really should get around to finishing at some point. There may be a general pattern at work here. Two examples isn’t really enough to establish this, but these games have a common structure in the early levels that it’s easy to imagine other similar games falling into: the first map is basically a risk-free tutorial in basic UI features, and the second is a gentle introduction to the mechanics of what you’ll actually be doing in the game, so it’s only on the third map that the game starts treating you as if you already understand the game, even if you don’t really.

Beating an enemy in this game essentially comes down to leveling one of your heroes fast enough that he can take on the enemy’s strongest hero, preferably before that enemy hero starts destroying your castles. If you can do that, everything else is just mopping up. Good choice of spells can help you take out a hero that’s a level or two higher than yours, but unless I’m missing something, that’s pretty much the limit. So, in the map I’m stuck on, I’m facing down the red and black teams simultaneously. I’ve managed to successfully subdue red’s level 6 champion using a level 4 character, but once I do that, black seems to suddenly develop two level 9 heroes that I’m just not ready for yet.

I haven’t been able to find a lot of strategic or tactical advice for this game on the web — such is the price of obscurity, I suppose, although tons of gaming sites have lists of cheat codes for it anyway. One of the few suggestions I’ve seen is to throw several expendable low-level heroes at the enemy before engaging him for real. This is the sort of thing you’d do to a hero stack in a normal game, but I hadn’t been going in for it here, because the point is usually to kill off the enemy’s troops bit by bit, and this game doesn’t quite work that way: all combat troops are summonned afresh during combat mode. However, the enemy, like the player, needs “runes” (spell ammo) to cast any spells (other than the few cantrips you start off with). So the idea here is to send your sacrificial lambs to make the enemy waste as many runes as possible before the real fight begins. I haven’t tried this technique yet, but will probably give it a whirl tomorrow.

My failures make me kind of wonder if I’m doing this all wrong. Not in a conventional strategic or tactical sense, but on the meta level: how often I save the game, how soon I go back to an earlier save and how far back I take things. Maps 1 and 2 were pretty laid-back about all this — on map 2 in particular, I kept losing heroes to ill-considered elective skirmishes, but kept going anyway, and eventually won. But map 3 demands efficiency, and making things efficient requires a lot of failed experimentation.

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