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Age of Kings Heaven » Forums » Scenario Design and Discussion » The Playthrough Thread
Topic Subject:The Playthrough Thread
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Leif Ericson
Seraph Emeritus
posted 03-10-17 01:07 PM CT (US)         
I've been getting back into playing through scenarios, and I thought it'd be a cool idea to have a place where we share the scenarios that we play in our spare time. It should be a good way to show different designers some hidden gems out there that could inspire some new ideas. Feel free to just mention which games your playing, give a summary or recommendation, crosspost your reviews from the Blacksmith, or even any scenarios you want people to playtest for you. It should be fun.

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posted 07-09-19 07:12 AM CT (US)     806 / 901       
Victory in Ironside is most easily achieved by amassing a fleet of 30-40 longships and destroying everything within range of the coastline with a hail of arrows. The Byzantine navy is destroyed easily with hit-and-run tactics, as the high pierce armor of their fast fires is only marginal protection against multi-projectile units like longships.

The rest of the enemy assets too far inland for your longships can be mopped up with armies of throwing axemen, berserkir, and siege rams.

~ Forgotten Empires ~

Storm on the Steppe | Galderton Hill RP | Proud member of Stormwind Studios

"Deyr fé, deyja frændr, deyr sjálfr it sama; ek veit einn at aldri deyr, dómr um dauðan hvern." - Hávamál 77.
posted 07-09-19 09:57 AM CT (US)     807 / 901       
Victory in Ironside is most easily achieved by amassing a fleet of 30-40 longships and destroying everything within range of the coastline with a hail of arrows. The Byzantine navy is destroyed easily with hit-and-run tactics, as the high pierce armor of their fast fires is only marginal protection against multi-projectile units like longships.

The rest of the enemy assets too far inland for your longships can be mopped up with armies of throwing axemen, berserkir, and siege rams.
Yeah, it's definitely not too difficult on Moderate, since no enemy harasses your base (except for the aforementioned Italian towers killing my fishing boats). I discovered the Tarkan hero (Hersir) early on while exploring, but I couldn't get to him because the Byzanteans were in the way, so I got kind of preoccupied with those. I DID find that their fast fires/demo navy was a pain even when I had enough ships to focus fire a fast fire with a single volley- once you get into the Adriatic, they've got a point with 3 docks pumping out ships non-stop and I found myself losing the attrition wars most of the time. Like I said, I'll need a replay when I grab the axeman first and see how that tilts the balance.

Edit (July 10th) finished "Lord of the Steppe". Twice. Suffice it to say, I like hammister's formula and want to play more of it applied to other settings.

The basic premise is your are an ambitious Khan trying to raise your tribe to greatness. You grow your tribe (unlock buildings for tech tree and increase your pop cap) via exploring the map and collecting horses. There's elements of Risk here as there are a number of friendly villages and outposts that will supply you with resources (herdabless or gold) if you keep your units close by, "protecting them". Enemy patrols spawn from time to time to disrupt your map control and tougher encounters are spread throughout the map. Exploration is basically key to growing your tribe, as you try not to stumble into anything too strong to handle. Once you reach enough pop you are offered a chance to make a marriage alliance with one of the 3 new factions and this allows you to advance to Castle Age.

The difficulty is actually a downward curve once you play it once and explore. There's a Gaia barracks (called Mercenary camp) that you can discover, and get access to spearmen who will be able to guard any point of interest you discover and wreck any raiders. There's also a few powerful Gaia heroes you can stumble onto that help you to get over the initial difficulty.

Once you have get your bearings, its possible to grow OP very quickly. You don't get a Castle, but you can create Elite mangudai via triggers by combining a horse with a basic archer. Once you secure your gold income you can purchase unlimited number of horses for 100 gold each, so your army can quickly snowball. You can also unlock Ballistics and chemistry (!!!) in Feudal Age via triggers by doing enough raiding, so that just adds to how OP you can get. Eventually, most friendly tribes turn on you and there's a massive unit mob that gets spawned in for the biggest foe- but you can easily cheese it by waiting by the enemy king until he turns hostile and sniping him as soon as he does, getting control of most of his horde. I'm not sure how I'd do if I was trying to fight him "fair" (actually, the first time I did, I died terribly, but that's because I delayed the marriage event and grew too rich- and then I got hit by a double whammy of advancing (via triggers) from feudal straight to Imp (with a doubling of my pop cap), and only having 7 minutes to build up a force to be deal with 2 major enemies. So then after losing with my undermanned horde I reloaded and spent all my gold on Mangudai and spears so that I wouldn't get jumped into Imp until I was ready, and then cheesed the enemy King to end up with the final objective- to build a Monument.

Then I replayed the mission to try a more "normal" development curve. I still become too powerful far too quickly, but it was a more controlled power creep this time. Even the fact that a bug prevented me from being tributed sheep (and I needed those to make carpets- there's this whole other layer of manufacturing/trade systems which is pretty neat) could not stop me, because there were enough free-roaming sheep on the map for me to be able to make enough merchants to pay off the tribute-demanding Khan long enough for me to get strong enough to ignore his demands.

Overall, some really cool ideas there, but felt too easy. This wasn't the impression I got from "Thrones of Iberia" so I guess the designer addressed this in his later works.

Gonna try to get review done this week, then move onto Bassi's "Ancient America" -EDIT: actually, "Lord of the Steppe" isn't on the Blacksmith, though some of hammister's later works are /edit

[This message has been edited by kud13 (edited 07-10-2019 @ 04:29 PM).]

posted 07-10-19 10:35 AM CT (US)     808 / 901       
Good to see you back on the horse again kud!
Ironside I made too difficult for myself by losing my fishing ships to Italian towers, so the game was super-slow due to having to manage food and wood production to sustain an army and a navy with just 4 villagers.
That was my impression as well, quite painful to get started there. Hey, I made a viking map too...RiverRaids for WK...wouldnt mind a review
Its not perfect or complete, but I dont have any motivation or interest for it anymore

I recently replayed Blood of the Bear, Lorgans Watch and some of the ES campaigns. Good stuff except for the latter.

I have Thrones of Iberia in my hd installation but never got around to it. Maybe I will now that you jogged my memory.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel

[This message has been edited by Kataphraktoi (edited 07-10-2019 @ 10:36 AM).]

posted 07-10-19 01:48 PM CT (US)     809 / 901       
Gonna try to get review done this week, then move onto Bassi's "Ancient America"
Nice! Looking forward to that!
PS: had to create a new aokh account for I "lost" the old one ...
posted 07-10-19 11:07 PM CT (US)     810 / 901       
Overall, some really cool ideas there, but felt too easy. This wasn't the impression I got from "Thrones of Iberia" so I guess the designer addressed this in his later works.

Thank you! To be honest, when I designed the map, I had no idea how to do three different diffuculty levels.
I tried to adress this in my other scenarios. I found your thoughts on my scenario very insightful. I hope you also enjoy my other works!
posted 07-11-19 11:32 AM CT (US)     811 / 901       
Kata, I'd love to (as you know, I'm a history nerd, so anything based in history has my full interest, always). But I'm still a bit strapped for time this month and I really need to set some time aside with "The idiot's guide to making UP/WK play with HD" in order to set stuff up. I recall trying once before, but my set-up's a tad complicated, because I keep my entire Steam install on a 4TB external hard drive so that I can easily shuffle it between multiple PCs, and that wreaked some havoc with directories when I tried to install the compatibility patch.

I'm sure there's a workaround, but I need to have the time and motivation to actually figure it out, and both have been in short supply the last couple of months. It's one of the reasons I jumped back into HD, actually- AoK is my one of my "comfort food" games I play to deal with excessive stress without having to learn too much new stuff/face any ridiculous challenge.

But if my schedule stays the way it is, hopefully by next month I'll be able to get WK, and then I'll gladly take a look at both River Raids and Siege of Nicaea,
(id: Al_Kharn the Great)
posted 07-11-19 02:37 PM CT (US)     812 / 901       
Thanks, Kud, for playing and posting comments on Valhalla's Edge and Ironside.

For Ironside, lots of players gave feedback about finding ways to get more villagers so their economy isn't doomed after a bad mistake. I leveraged that idea in a subsequent raiding scenario, Rise of Genghis Khan, where there are more villagers available. I am working on another scenario where villagers can be purchased from a slave market to also address this. Lesson learned.

For Valhalla's Edge, I'm planning to re-work and re-release that scenario for the Definitive Edition based on some of the player feedback I've received, as well. My goal is to make it a bit faster paced while keeping the struggling in a new world feel while also making Vinland more interesting to explore and settle in. If you have ideas as well, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Hammister, welcome. I've been watching your scenarios and you've come up with some interesting ideas and innovative mechanics that stretch what the game can do. Your Far Side of the World scenario is especially creative. I look forward to seeing what else you can do, especially in the Definitive Edition when it's released.

[This message has been edited by Al_Kharn the Great (edited 07-11-2019 @ 02:39 PM).]

posted 07-12-19 03:28 AM CT (US)     813 / 901       
Hammister, welcome. I've been watching your scenarios and you've come up with some interesting ideas and innovative mechanics that stretch what the game can do. Your Far Side of the World scenario is especially creative. I look forward to seeing what else you can do, especially in the Definitive Edition when it's released.
That is really nice. I hope I find the time to do some Scenarios in the Definitve Edition. Unfortunatlyy life is kinda busy for me.

I played your "Ragnars Raids" Scenario twice some time ago. All I can say is, that it is an amazing piece of videogame entertainment. The writing is so well done. The first raids with only a few warriors are thrilling- you always have to retreat and you have to fight for every bit of progress. I guess a lot of players disliked the rebels. I kinda liked the concept. It prevents the player from steamrolling but you also can`t lose the whole game.
posted 07-16-19 09:15 AM CT (US)     814 / 901       
Thanks, Kud, for playing and posting comments on Valhalla's Edge and Ironside.

For Valhalla's Edge, I'm planning to re-work and re-release that scenario for the Definitive Edition based on some of the player feedback I've received, as well. My goal is to make it a bit faster paced while keeping the struggling in a new world feel while also making Vinland more interesting to explore and settle in. If you have ideas as well, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
One thing that really jumped out at me were the Skraeling chiefs. I think a late-game buffs for killing them might make fighting in Vinland more meaningful. For example, one thing that could speed up the subsequent invasion of Iceland would be increasing transport capacity. You could make that a reward for killing the Skraeling chief- if, say, "killing a Skraeling warlord raises the renown of the Vinland settlers, drawing more eager adventurers"- and your boats have to become sturdier to accommodate. At that point, as the player already largely secured map control, giving the ability to land larger raiding parties would just speed things up, making the invasion less tedious.

Also, if you're gonna copy the sea dragon design, you should come up with a way for the players to see it before the game over screen,
Nice! Looking forward to that!
Been away for 4 days, sothat project's been going slower than expected; but I did beat "Rise of the Totonacs" again late last night. Zapotec raids are still as relentless as I remembered them.

[This message has been edited by kud13 (edited 07-21-2019 @ 06:33 PM).]

(id: Al_Kharn the Great)
posted 07-17-19 01:01 AM CT (US)     815 / 901       
I played your "Ragnars Raids" Scenario twice some time ago. All I can say is, that it is an amazing piece of videogame entertainment. The writing is so well done. The first raids with only a few warriors are thrilling- you always have to retreat and you have to fight for every bit of progress. I guess a lot of players disliked the rebels. I kinda liked the concept. It prevents the player from steamrolling but you also can`t lose the whole game.
Thank you. Your Lord of the Steppe scenario actually helped inspire my Rise of Genghis Khan scenario, by the way. I took your idea of a steppe warlord consolidating his power and added the Ragnar's Raids-style raiding focus -- but with horse archers instead of Berserks.
One thing that really jumped out at me were the Skraeling chiefs. I think a late-game buffs for killing them might make fighting in Vinland more meaningful. For example, one thing that could speed up the subsequent invasion of Ireland would be increasing transport capacity. You could make that a reward for killing the Skraeling chief- if, say, "killing a Skraeling warlord raises the renown of the Vinland settlers, drawing more eager adventurers"- and your boats have to become sturdier to accommodate. At that point, as the player already largely secured map control, giving the ability to land larger raiding parties would just speed things up, making the invasion less tedious.
Good idea. I want to flesh out the New World gameplay but I'm cautious about putting it 'on rails' by giving stated objectives. I definitely want to provide rewards in Vinland that contribute to the overall Iceland objective and killing Skraeling chiefs (or something else) would be a good idea. I have also considered making the sea far less damaging to ships in the late game.

posted 07-17-19 09:17 AM CT (US)     816 / 901       
Beat "In the Name of the Serpent" again last night. Went back to my early impressions, and they are mostly the same, except this time I took even longer to look for stone and make actual defences. After being overwhelmed on my first try, I did a very quick boom to Castle by scouring the map and collecting about a dozen turkeys. The crazy food surplus this created allowed me to quickly get all blacksmith + eco upgrades and advance to Castle age before the swarming really began. I was able to defend with just units + starting priests for a while. Toltec attacks were well-timed as well, as I had enough of a window to free + ally the southern city. My allies in Uxmal didn't do much, but their skirmish mostly kept the Xcaret from flanking me, and when I put my first castle in front of their bridge that was the last time they seriously bothered me.

Moving on to "City of the Gods", but the rest of the week's pretty busy so might not get to it until the weekend.
posted 07-17-19 03:32 PM CT (US)     817 / 901       
Kata, I'd love to (as you know, I'm a history nerd, so anything based in history has my full interest, always). But I'm still a bit strapped for time this month and I really need to set some time aside with "The idiot's guide to making UP/WK play with HD" in order to set stuff up. I recall trying once before, but my set-up's a tad complicated, because I keep my entire Steam install on a 4TB external hard drive so that I can easily shuffle it between multiple PCs, and that wreaked some havoc with directories when I tried to install the compatibility patch.
Understandable, I had quite some difficulty getting WK installed on my no-internet PC. I had to get it working on this laptop first, then copy paste the whole setup through a flash drive. Luckily it works, somehow. The WK installer is extremely finicky, I guess its balanced that way to keep MS happy or something :/ There are ready-to-go WK versions available on the steam underground that dont need installing, but they seemed to be packaged with mods I didnt want.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
posted 07-21-19 03:55 PM CT (US)     818 / 901       
Finished "Jaguar's Realm". The problem with really strong heroes is that you are really tempted to keep using them, and then when you're storming an enemy base, it's easy to lose track of them and have them run into a squad of Slingers or something... (once again, Bassi, great touch with these occasional slinger spawns- kept me on my toes all the time, because it meant I couldn't just go all out with eagle warriors)

The naval combat segment I wasn't a huge fan of, because it was a bit disjointed, and while the Zapotec navy could just do infinite spawn, buying ships from acapulco was taking longer- a few times I had to pull my fleet back to both draw the enemy away from their towers and to give myself time to bring in reinforcements.

Aside from that, it was a pretty typical play. After a few false starts (mostly because Jaguar Claw would keep dying to that first wave once Cyan reached Castle Age), I was able to establish a defensive perimeter with 2 towers protecting the gold miners in the nort, right outside of Purple's gates. As soon as I hit Castle Age, I put a siege workshop there and once I had 3 rams I hit them hard, capturing the princess and neutralizing them. Then I was able to sit back for a bit and tech up, putting up defensive castles on all key river fords as well as one by the Zapotecs' eastern gate to protect my trade route, as well as the second town centre I set up south of my starting position, near the clump of berries. Once I had enough units I moved my army (4 Siege rams packed with Eagles, 20 arbalests, another 10 elite eagles for good measure, Monk+ Jaguar Claw) to the shoreline west of Tutupec. I rushed Cyan's western gate, and then made the rush for the castle and killed the chief. Then it was just a mop-up moving back east, leveling Cyan's city, while Face of the Night marched with his army to the rescue. Then another rebuild, and similar attack on Zapotecs. They started building trebs and it looked like they might make a serious push at one point, but I was able to overwhelm them in the end, despite the massive archer army they had in the heart of the city. Then it was just a matter of switching to navy and mop up the Zapotec Navy island base.

Only thing I might suggest for future scenarios is to maybe try to incorporate the naval combat into the main game a bit more? before I started targetting them at the end of the game, the only iteraction I had with the Zapotec navy was by one of the gold mines close to the shore, just south of Cyan's city- a galleon started hitting my miners, but a tower with Heated shot removed that problem, and the AI didn't try again. Because of that, the later naval fight just felt a bit tacked on.

I'll probably do the review tomorrow. Meanwhile I want check out Hammister's second scenario, "The Highest Hall"
posted 07-22-19 03:34 AM CT (US)     819 / 901       
Thanks for the detailed feedback, kud, looking forward to the review!
posted 07-22-19 10:04 PM CT (US)     820 / 901       
Finished the review, should be up shortly.

I've played a lot of "The Highest Hall", exploring its incredibly detailed LudiKRIS sized map to 98% before encountering a fatal crash upon finally completing the final objective. This was an error reported by multiple Steam users, as apparently there are too many triggers going off at once, prompting a crash. Bummer.

Despite that, I gotta say the map's really a ton of fun. venturing out from a small village in the Austrian Alps to explore the wider world looking for tools and materials to complete your settlement's Wonder. As it progresses, the village grows. Gain control of settlements for income, establish trade and diplomatic relations with 4 major powers (The Pope, the Emperor, the Bishop of Salzburg and a powerful Baron of Eppstein), pick to support either the dominant Christianity and join the crusade against witches and wildmen hiding in deep forests, or embrace the local pagan beliefs and face the wandering crusaders in addition multiple robber barons who seek to plunder your growing wealth. The map's full of Gaia units and buildings to find, and there are multiple secrets to be found either cutting through forests with onager shots or using petards to blow up certain types of rock obstacles.

A shame about the ending, but overall, really cool idea and the map was a joy to explore, despite being so huge.

Next I'll take a look at a relatively new workshop campaign "Cyrus the Great" (because Persians have been really under-represented in historical campaigns scenarios from what I've seen), and then move on to a few other Blacksmith files I've been meaning to review since forever.

[This message has been edited by kud13 (edited 07-23-2019 @ 06:43 AM).]

posted 07-23-19 09:29 AM CT (US)     821 / 901       
Thank you very much for that excellent and fair review, kud! It was a pleasure to read!
posted 07-23-19 10:15 AM CT (US)     822 / 901       
I've played a lot of "The Highest Hall", exploring its incredibly detailed LudiKRIS sized map to 98% before encountering a fatal crash upon finally completing the final objective. This was an error reported by multiple Steam users, as apparently there are too many triggers going off at once, prompting a crash. Bummer.

Despite that, I gotta say the map's really a ton of fun.

It annoys me so much that I have never been able to fix this bug.The game has never crashed on my PC and since a proper test run takes at least 2 hours, I have never quite managed to make the final trigger run smoothly for everyone.

I`m so glad you still had a lot fun with the scenario. I tried to implement as much fairy tales and history from my home country in this scenario as possible. A ludikris map size is a pain to work with. It is just too big and it took months to fill the map with all those rocks, vales, rivers and mountains.
posted 07-23-19 10:27 AM CT (US)     823 / 901       

It annoys me so much that I have never been able to fix this bug.The game has never crashed on my PC and since a proper test run takes at least 2 hours, I have never quite managed to make the final trigger run smoothly for everyone.

I`m so glad you still had a lot fun with the scenario. I tried to implement as much fairy tales and history from my home country in this scenario as possible. A ludikris map size is a pain to work with. It is just too big and it took months to fill the map with all those rocks, vales, rivers and mountains.
I tried running that final sequence (after the war ends) on different speeds to see if that had any effect. When I ran it on Slow, building one villager at a time (I found all the carts, so I had a ridiculous surplus) I didn't get either trigger about guests (the foreign priest or the prince & princess) firing even when I reached 99% wonder completion. They were there in my initial run though.

Edit (July 25th). Been messing around with a bunch of stuff
-completed 4/5 scenarios in "Cyrus the Great" workshop campaign. Not bad, not great. First map was kinda meh, subsequent scenarios were more interesting in terms of objectives, but far, far too easy. Probably gonna try to finish the fifth tomorrow or on the weekend. The downside is that all factions in every scenario are Persians, so that kinda kills the variety a lot. Camels and heavy cavarchers are just deadly. The cyrus hero unit is a renamed Bayannung a battle elephant, so at least he's hard to get killed, so that's a big plus.
-also played Scen 1 in the Boudica workshop campaign. Not bad, but it was just some feudal warfare: the enemy wasn't aggressive, allowed me to tech up and get a bunch of archers in his face before spawning in a bunch of scouts- but by then I already had a dozen of men at arms demolishing buildings. The enemy finally gave up once I had 2 towers within range of the TC and was about 2/3s through palisading the TC in. Not bad, too easy, but the barebones story didn't really grab me, so no rush to continue.
-wanted to review igorhp's Vikings campaign, but I reinstalled it, so I'd have to start from scratch... and scen 1 requires some patience, not really an after-work game.
-same thing with The Northern Crusade, scen 1: I want to play it, but it's a DTS-type scenario with a timer, and on a weeknight I'm not likely to be in the proper frame of mind to focus on meticulous defending well.
-played 476 AD from the workshop and left some comments for the author, but I don't really want to review a bugged file.
- played through the prologue for Foundations of the Empire (last time I tried I couldn't progress the story at one point because I couldn;t see the unit I was supposed to click on to trigger next action). Got to the main mission now, and it looks fairly interesting, though trying to decipher the early-mid 2000s machine translation from Spanish to English can be headache-inducing. I'm contemplating just playing the Spanish compilation that igorhp re-released on the workshop. I don't speak Spanish, but I have passable knowledge of French and that was enough for me to get by and make myself understood in a semblance of Spanish when I was actually in Spain, so I'm sure that could work.

[This message has been edited by kud13 (edited 07-25-2019 @ 11:49 PM).]

posted 07-29-19 02:33 PM CT (US)     824 / 901       
So......anyone in the mood to playtest something for me? Its a standard UP1.5 file. My email is now in my profile if yes.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
(id: Al_Kharn the Great)
posted 07-30-19 07:28 PM CT (US)     825 / 901       
Kud, have you played my Rise of Genghis Khan scenario? You usually comment on the Workshop, but haven't seen you comment on that one.

posted 07-30-19 08:51 PM CT (US)     826 / 901       
Kud, have you played my Rise of Genghis Khan scenario? You usually comment on the Workshop, but haven't seen you comment on that one.
funny you should ask, I've been playing it since the weekend. wanted to get a bit further before giving feedback (I've managed to finish off Merkits (adding some camels to the free Mangudais helped) and am currently trying to get a good run at the Tatars without aggroing anyone else.

overall, I like the idea. I saw a lot of people were saying the extra horses too vulnerable during raids, but (although this is trial and error talking), I can see how this should encourage proper raiding- i.e., feint from one side, draw the defenders away, swoop in and grab the livestock.

Not far enough in yet to comment on it overall, though- I only got as far as 3rd Khurim (summon Chagatai), and haven't tried going after China yet. Yesterday night I was trying to pull off a perfect play where I make Tatars enemy and hit them hard to please the Keraites, and then hold Khurim for the Jamukha event where the Keraites don't turn hostile (I have a marriage with Naimans, so they're cool for the time being). Then I'll probably get some knights and try raiding China.

EDIT: ok, I razed Xi Xia on mere 60 pop. After a bunch of coordinated strikes with my 2 groups of Mangudai and Knights to raze the outlying fields(1 group draws out the defenders then flees into the steppe, while another wreaks havok on the opposite side of the city. Rinse, repeat, occasionally have fights on hills where manguda snipe halbs, while the knights wreck arbalests and skirmishers), I used a group of Mangudai to punch a hole 2 tiles wide in the eastern wall. There were a few houses behind it, but I was able to make the dent outside the reach of the one tower on the Eastern gate. Once there was a breach, all it took was a few more waves of knights to demolish the towers and all production buildings in the outer ring, and then finally breach the inner gate and get at the Wonder.

Now I'm not sure whether I should hold another Khurim and aggro other tribes, or try to push against Jin with this small army.

Edit (July 31st):
-with 60 pop, Jin can still be raided effectively. The gold I get from buildings allows me to send waves of Knights to smash their guard towers in a fairly cost-efficient way.
-I don't think I can really break their inner keep because of that castle, though. Which is a shame, cuz I don't really fancy a war with the Naimans.

OK, finished. With Heavy Camels, sweeping the remaining 2 tribes was a cakewalk. Still unsure how I'd be supposed to beat the Jin in their fortress, because trying to break a gate under fire from elite ChuKoNus, a castle and a bunch of towers feels like it'd be too costly to afford.

[This message has been edited by kud13 (edited 08-01-2019 @ 00:48 AM).]

posted 08-16-19 09:27 AM CT (US)     827 / 901       
So I replayed "Country Invasion - RISK style" and also finally got around to "RISK - Tuetonic Order"

If I had a list of maps that are fun but not good, "Country Invasion" would surely be on it. Probably the most primitive RISK map available, its on the simple side but the massive enemy armies are amusing to break. Unfortunately the lag is present, esspecially at the start with some massive spikes due to the enemy having 700 men being given to an AI using attack-now, I guess. The AI doesnt play so well either;the main enemy with 95% of the troops is tasked with conquering too many lands, and tries to focus only on one capture point at a time, marching its men into meat grinders to get there, and even pulling off actively fighting troops to march to one specific point. I found it pretty easy to fill up many gates with men and mow them down with ranged units, losing only two castles on hard, despite the hints saying its an impossible task and you need to fall back. The enemy is certainly very strong, but the players cavaliers and arbalests are none too shabby either. The mapping is simple, on the random map level, and the minimap more clearly visible than in other RISK games;I like it. Improve the mapping while keeping the minimap clean would be a priority. Even with all its flaws and its simplicity, I quite like this scenario;a good old fashioned drag out slaughter.

1302's "RISK - Tuetonic Order" seems a bit shaky at the moment. The enemies such as lithuanians were sending huge armies from across the map, marching through other people's bases who were fighting them, and I noticed other factions who were attacking me, also conducting infighting on my doorstep. Odd and chaotic scenario if planned that way. Besides that I didnt seem able to capture certain cities;I destroyed many Prussian bases without them joing my side. The balance is also an issue, I think;I was pretty conservative with my troops, healing them with monks and snagging knights, but the enemy attacks were so relentless I was driven back under my castle and couldnt move from there. If I hadnt given myself a 10k gold infusion, I would have been toast and I dont see how it could be played significantly better, unless I am just missing something. The game as a whole is quite chaotic and messy;the minimap as ussual in a RISK game is hodgepodge of difficult to discern colors. At some point the Livionian Order across the map joined me for free, and I quit then;the resulting situation was so ugly with units being spammed in everywhere I just didnt want to deal with it. On a replay with cheats I also noticed some weird stuff like polish trebuchets spawning even when I had owned the castle for many minutes. This could be a great map but I think it needs some work, and a bit more intelligent AI. One that holds back on purpose once in awhile, with attack waves that feel more planned out. I do appreciate how the AI does not perform individual hit and run with archers\crossbowmen;an inhuman way to play. Also, did a human create the water on this map or was it generated from some kind of depth chart? Very weird mixing, and many single isolated tiles that stand out in a checkerboard pattern. The biggest problem has to be the use of HD Edition, as the game performs rather poorly, even if it isnt lagging. Units are slower to respond and formations and pathfinding are questionable. I tried my i7-3930k at both 3.4ghz and 4.4ghz and nothing much changed here in terms of performance. I wouldnt call it unplayable by any means, but it wasnt pleasant.

Also played RISK Crusader and RISK HYW again, and these maps used to be among my top favourites getting half a dozen replays each. I find them a little annoying and clunky to say the least nowadays however. Crusader in particular has a hideous start, with 90 mixed units crammed on a small island that has cluttered gaia objects to boot. This map also errs by placing a huge reliance on the transport ship, the most obnoxious to use unit ever. This crusader map is somewhat unpolished, as many oddities persist, such as galley spawning in Cairo forever even if you own it. Also the economy gets broken later on, as by the time you take Jerusalem you cannot spend money as fast as you earn it. Snowballing, which is a common issue in other strategy games, rears its head as the last half of the scenario is a steanmroller;with the ability to have 400-500 units of cavaliers or heavy cav archers the game is extremely lopsided. A choice is offered to fight the byzantines as a final boss or accept victory and peace, but the byzantines dont even fight back and are wiped out easily.

The RISK maps stand to gain a great deal from UP scripting, as the tedious click on a building\unit training mechanic could simply be replaced by controlling the stable\barracks directly;the cost and training speed of units can be adjusted to be only gold and instantly now. Also, by using the All-IDs available mod, you can have duplicate stables or barracks that look the same but train different units, by putting down an imperial-aged barracks or castle-aged stable for instance. Something I dislike in many of the RISK maps is the aquisition of unique units that are either mediocre or sometimes barely better than what you can train. I prefer it if every unit you have access to can be obtained somewhat reliably somehow.

Gajah Madah1 also by 1302, or I think thats the case, a lite RISK map with the capture points providing population while the player has a normal B&D. One of the better HD maps, I like this one, except I strongly dislike playing Malay for their tech tree. One nice thing is you can use the river for many fish traps to save on population space, needing no lumberjacks to replenish farms. This game has a good replayability to it, being able to ally the mongols or choose who and where you push on first. I like booming up and chopping the trees to access the shortcut to blues base, and I got there soon enough to hog their entire massive gold mine. This time one of the AI(cyan) got broken unfortunately, as I palisade wall\palisaded gated the entire map repeatedly and a number of their units got seperated and ended up sitting still. The mongols in previous playthroughs can also be cheesed as allies, since you can rush their base with a huge squad of rams full of pikes, knowing when their army is away. Good mission, I wish we had a different elephant civ and more pop. The story is so weak though;I cannot understand why, how and where exactly things are going on. The cinematics are confusing, seemingly expecting the audience to be familar with the events going on. Mapping is good, its clean and simple so it doesnt obstruct the gameplay, and the detailing on the waterways is nice even if the watermixing could stand some improvement. This would be the wrong map to spam bushes on.

Dracula2: Another RISK map of sorts. Another mission I quite liked although this time I overused the stone walls which tends to break this mission;with forward walls on the central port, walling cyans stone\gold mine, and walling the orange allies, the three other factions almsot entirely battled it out among themselves while I built up to 20k stone\gold. I killed off the hungarians on purpose since I recall they were annoying allies last time. The amount of resources on this map are mindboggling;I finished it off by sending multiple waves of 60 paladins at a time with 80k food in the bank and just crushing their bases with pure force, no need to build castles. This isnt much of a RISK mission to be honest, the mechanics barely have any meaning since the player can build anything he could gain at the control points;all they really do is prevent or allow the AI from spawning at a certain location. Besides that compared to all other RISK missions this has the poorest access and distribution of the control points for varied play;its really just a B&D with lip service to the concept of RISK tacked on. That said I still enjoy the mission, again one of the better HD missions although its surprisingly easy;I think I found it difficult the first time only because of lack of familarity. The frequent elevations provide a nice aesthetic effect but you end up demolishing your own fortress for TC spots. There could have been some strategicly positioned spots for TCs out there, and also less bushes so you can do farming.

Some time later I decided to replay on Hard with No Walls and No HouseWalls. I would have liked to say a fierce battle broke out, but besides a brief tussle over the 'gaia' castle not much changed. Seems the Kabobs and Vladislav both like to attack the Hungarians, who seem to build no new units at first. These two forces then fought each other underneath the walls, rather odd gameplay if you ask me. I built up slower off one TC while massing cav archers to be safe. Around 27:00 my Heavy Cav Archers are nearly fully upgraded and the mission seems to become a steamroll. Around this time I reluctantly tributed hungary the 1000 food to activate them, hoping they wouldnt be as much of a pest as I remember. About the 30:00 minute mark I decided the scenario wasnt putting up a good enough challenge not to just trivialize it with some castle spam, so I threw some down on the likely AI approaches and began taking it easy. Strangely enough only after using castles did the enemy start to fight, churning out units at a much faster rate than in the walls game;or maybe I just never saw them show up because of the walls. I pushed on cyan first and they put up a hell of a fight, but now I own the massive gold mine so I could make infinite paladins or Heavy cav archers;GG. But to my surprise, the scenario ended right there anyway. I thought I had to defeat the ottos all along.

Also played "John Mendl 2 Control of Bavria":I liked the "Siege of Mediburg" by the same author, a customized random map that had good gameplay, so I was curious to see what this brought to the table. A historical fiction of sorts as the author takes to the field himself to lead a fictional uprising in the HRE\Swiss area. On the whole a much better put together B&D with a 110 pop cap and the player being limited to castle age with no stone walls;his starting area is deliberately cramped and small with a partial stone wall and a castle to utilize against attackers. And man, the attackers are crazy! Four or five factions attack continously, except one changed sides to the player for some reason after awhile. I was pressured so heavily I felt the only way to try anything was with monks, and converting batches of knights up so I could explore the map in force. The balance seems a bit off to me;all I could do was cower in the corner with five layers of palisades with towers and castles. TKs, monks and the towers slaughtered all incoming enemies. Sometimes I sneaked out and saturated a gold mine;meanwhile I built up to 50k food\wood over 2 hours. Conventional attacks on the enemy bases seemed impossible, so I used the good ole "rams full of TKs suicide charge" to take out the enemy castles and got the victory despite the enemies being very much alive and active. I finished the game extremely tense and tired;very ludicrous scenario if its playing as intended. Sometimes UP makes scenarios much harder due to better AI, so who knows. John Mendl sure doesnt mess around! Fun game even though the story elements are quite weak and some dialogue a bit pointless. I wish this author had more maps released;he is still alive so maybe sometime?

By the way, I have just finished playing the entirety of the HD Edition campaign lineup, and wrote a paragraph or more for each mission. I am not sure I will post it or not...little spoiler, the only campaigns I found acceptable were Dracula, Bari, and Khmer with very rare gems like Kurakuri or Malay1 scattered about. Its so negative even I get depressed reading it over.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
posted 08-16-19 01:21 PM CT (US)     828 / 901       
Please do post your thoughts about the HD campaigns.

[ All_That_Glitters | Pretty_Town_Contest | Other_AoK_Designs | AoE_Designs ]
Member of Stormwind Studios
posted 08-17-19 11:46 AM CT (US)     829 / 901       
Alright, will do. Might be a week or two, I am replaying a few for a better analysis on them.

I am intending to do the same for the impending AoK DE campaigns, which made me think it was time to finally get this done with. I might play them on video and put them on my channel, but I always say that and never do anything there so probably just a text analysis.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
posted 08-19-19 11:31 PM CT (US)     830 / 901       
Been working on replaying "Ragnar's Raids" and "Ironside" on Hard. I wanted to trace the evolution of the "raiding-based" scenarios before reviewing all 3 (these 2, plus Rise of Genghis Khan). Expect full reviews sometime this week.

Ragnar's Raids is still the most fun, and it still remains ridiculously broken if you explore Frisia and Saxony early and collect the Gaia slingers and elite throwing axemen. Though this force is supposed to be used to help you deal with the patrolling Franks, it is a ridiculously OP anti-infantry deathball that alone is enough to level all of Alba (trickling woad raiders never get within reach to hit) as well as the Elite Huscarls of the Swedish jarldoms.
The only challenge comes from fending off the combined force of York + Wessex at one point, but even then, drawing enemies into the meatgrinder under the fire of my longboats, while some siege rams demolish production buildings wasn't particularly challenging. The "acquire techs through raiding" was still broken for monastery techs, though.

Replaying "Ironside", I did the bare minimal of raiding until I was able to advance to Imperial Age and max out my Longboats. Then it was a quick push to destroy all of Spanland's docks before liberating Haraldr the throwing Axeman hero. As I suspected, the axemen were key to managing navy in the Adriatic during land assaults- I landed an army with about 8-10 capped rams in Rome, with the Axemen composing its core and some auxiliary Huscarls, Berserkers and Woad Raiders. This army was able to sweep all of Italy and most of Byzantium (though there wasn't much left after I demolished the castle, and then some extra cataphracts showed up from the south before I could regroup. Though it was a bit of skin of the teeth, nonetheless both their military and later, their docks were totally crushed. My fleet was locked up just east of Tunis, as I would otherwise get rushed by both Italian and Greek fleets. The problem here was population cap- since raising warbands allows you to go over the pop cap limit indefinitely, even after I lost all my ships in a bad engagement, I found myself unable to rebuild, because I was still 10 units over the pop cap due to my land army.

After the Greeks, it was mop-up in Africa, then Spain (had a bit of a challenge with Mameluke spam- should've focused on their one castle first, in hindsight), and then finally the Franks. Here I found that switching to archers to deal with the Axemen spam was the easiest solution- but the initial attack on Paris has to be carefully set up, so that my rams could go straight for the wall and destroy the adjoining stables- otherwise, the Paladin spam from 3 stables is pretty hard to deal with.
The last princess in Cordoba still isn't rescuable until after the Spanland player is defeated. This was annoying from a completionist perspective, but practically speaking, I had like 20k gold banked by that point, so it was kinda academic.
Overall, I have to say I did like Ragnar's Raids more, because there were less lulls in action. Too much is contingent on your small economy when it comes to food. Ragnar's Raids also has this problem, but there you can take over a Danish jarldom that has a market and re-balance the eco if needed. In "Ironside", there were times I sped up the game to get extra food for a warband, or extra wood for more rams- especially once you run out of good woodlines at home and need to relocate your workers to Italy or the Balkans.

next, I need to replay igorhp's Vikings campaign to finally review it, but i'm a bit burned out on vikings. SO i"ll probably check out some Belisarius stuff, or maybe hammister's next work, "Far Side of the World"
posted 08-21-19 06:16 PM CT (US)     831 / 901       

Alright, so this has been a long time comming. A few weeks ago I sat down and played every ES campaign with a brief commentary, so it makes for a logical continuation to finally do the same thing for the HD content once and for all. A brief commentary on every mission on every FE campaign. I recall Al Kharn in specific prodding me at least twice for my thoughts on the Rajas campaigns in particular, though I wonder if that wont be regretted...

So, little disclaimer; I seem to be perceived as the harshest reviewer out there, which I dont really agree with;I think I just call things as they are. I dont think any of the descriptive here are excessive or needless in any way, but its no secret I dont like the HD campaigns as I said so multiple times already. That said, if you are the author of one of these scenarios you might want to put on the kevlar fire-resistant suit about now before proceeding. Hopefully It is well understood that this is not personal, I will await feedback before conducting any further defensive hedging however.

Skip down to the bottom for comments on the entirety of the campaigns.

Back when the unofficial Xpack first came out, I fired it up and tried this mission to see what it offered. This scenario does a poor job at making the new xpack look good;a simple and sluggish fixed force affair. This mission feels primitive and bland today, and wow is the players management skills taxed by the excessive units swarming to your banner. I guess this is to give the player a horde feeling, but I think if there were a couple goth factions moving around the map in addition to yours it could work to infuse some dynamism into the stale countryside. The legions would be more interesting too, if they moved about on some tasks or something. The map design is a bit cluttered and very old school;not crafted for smooth gameplay or sensible roads. The dialogue within the scenario is so weak...just quest givers telling the player to do this or that with no context or warmup. The map finishes with a pitiful roman attack upon a market you defend with well over a hundred units. Not an auspicious beginning for this campaign. Back then, I put aside the xpack and never thought about it again until 2016 when I got back into AoC.

Seeing how dated and uninteresting this campaign is, I decided to skip ahead to some newer content. I already poked around in all of these scenarios in 2016 and dont recall anything worth revisiting. Its not a true HD campaign was built in the FE xpack.

Following the numbers assigned to the campaign, it seems Dracula is up first. About the cinematics;the dialogue quality is good, but the focus of the narration on this story telling character isn't appealing to me, and its all I could do to sit through them and not hit skip. They didn't leave much impression on me, and dont do a great job of setting the historical scene;I wasn't entirely sure where and why we were when the mission began if I wasn't bringing in outside historical knowledge of my own. Its a very common trend in the FE cinematics, which dont seem to care much about the history they are presenting and rather focus on trying to be clever with some kind of be honest they are so forgettable I can barely remember these cinematics even just a few hours later.

Dracula1 Rating: Above Average
A decent fixed force mission with a nice battle at the end. The three viovod quest givers seem like a way to add replayability with multiple routes, but there isnt really a choice available since one path is impossible without more troops. Besides that, the other path is literally blocked off anyway so its completely linear. Winning the major battle is a cakewalk, and I even killed the 20,000 HP enemy leader, but unfortunately the reinforcing Hungarian cavalry are buffed to such a level killing them is just about impossible. Map design is nice, a common feature of Dracula missions.

Dracula2 Rating: Quite good
As mentioned previously, one of the better HD Missions even though its not much of a RISK mission. Best to think of it just as a B&D. I would rate it highly, I like it. The FF part at the start can sod off though.

Dracula3 Rating :Good
This is a difficult mission to analyze because of how much is going on in it. A FF battle leads up to a sort-of espionage segment to take over a town, and then a large B&D with raiding\supply mechanics. These two first segments are decent, but they take a long time to get through and just get in the way of the main show. Maybe implement them instead as a one or two minute cutscene and then the player has control of the town, would make for a smoother game. The B&D itself is very interesting;seemingly each town has a role such as wood, food etc and if you smash them then it hurts the entire team or maybe the primary opponent;I am not exactly sure since I cannot look at the triggers. I really wish it was spelled out clearly what exactly the benefits of this objectives were;only the stone quarry mission clearly states the enemy can longer build fortifications. The main enemy town is rather obnoxious;a nest of towers is relied upon instead of giving them a good garrison;for example, spawning some hero units that stay defensive. The map is very good;the players starting city has a strategic positioning to it which is highly appealing, controlling a bridge and thus the entire landscape, and opens out on a nice countryside which is great for a B&D base. That bridge itself is again very annoying though;it actually connects to the other side with shallows, even though you can barely see it, and I only realized this when the enemy troops actually marched across the water.

I like this B&D quite a bit as it shows the importance of raiding and putting pressure on;the first time I played I was very passive and lethargic in development, and was quite surprised at how strong and upgraded the enemies were;receiving lots of pressure. The second time I pushed ASAP on the two land neighbors and wiped them out nearly instantly, and also pushed across the bridge with trebs ASAP and won easily, a bit too easily. Also the feudal age start is just annoying and pointless. Good mission though.

Dracula4 Rating: Below Average
The drop off in quality here is clear and marked;two mediocre DtS segments with very boring enemies streaming in sandwich a lifeless FixedForce raiding mission. Finally at the end the player must commit suicide against a camp, which should have been an enemy army at least;very disheartening to watch my troops slowly die only against towers and wondering why this has to take so long. The raiding was trying to show Draculas descent as his radical measures including wiping out his own people;he would stoop at nothing to defeat the turks;but the weak worldbuilding was entirely unconvincing of a real countryside, and the gameplay was simply some enemy units standing around doing nothing. Quite frankly as a blacksmith mission it would have been decent and If some random author had posted it as a 'first time' I would pat him on the back and say he has potential, but I am positive the author, regardless of which one he is, is actually capable of much more. Slow and boring FF, the DtS are drawn out and tedious. Oh, and the cinematic at the start could be deleted or made skipable;tests my patience mightily as is.

Dracula5 Rating: Atrocious
What a wacky mission with an infinite death match setup;not a fan at all of the resulting gameplay against an Aggressive AI turks streaming units in. This leads to one of those messy transitions into a B&D where the player is rewarded for building up to his pop cap in his best unit beforehand after crippling but not finishing off the enemy, something that is obvious because I have seen this setup before. And then the free units in the B&D city dont even benefit from upgrades and might as well be deleted on the spot. I found the resulting B&D to be quite disagreeable. Stuck in the castle age with magyars against the heavily armored slavs and overly-upgraded turks is just obnoxious;Except then this craftsman just hands you all imperial age tech for 2000gold\food...what the heck? So weird. The map here is so absurdly tiny and cramped too. Why take away imperial age from the player just to shoehorn in some craftsman making trebuchets and a mercenary camp? Let me make my own units...and galley spam up the rivers up in my economy too? 200 pop with a large ally on this tiny map? This B&D is just so bad after two pretty good ones in 2 and 3. This mission must have been summoned from the depths of hell to torment me specifically.

In summary:The Dracula campaign starts off strong with three nice missions in a row, then falls of with a bland and boring fourth mission, and the fifth mission I strongly dislike. With these three missions under its belt its pretty much the best campaign out of the entire HD lineup.

Seems Bari comes next, and I recall hearing this was the first HD campaign created in a chronological order. These missions have good map design much like Dracula which makes them more tolerable to play than the Alaric campaign.

Bari1 Rating: Mediocre
Again the cinematic doesn't do much to set the historical scene....its like the author thinks the reader is well acquainted with all this and just needs to remind him. My favorite unit shows up, the 5 pop transport...yay. I remember this mission, it was my first encounter with the fire tower which I rather detest. The fixed force elements are fairly simple;there is a lot of backtracking and waiting for units to arrive at storyposts here...I distinctly recall having to wait for my foot hero to walk the length of the map repeatedly. Having to take the city of Bari not once but twice in this scenario is a bit tedious. The gameplay is a bit too mundane to create a good experience here, and waiting for heroes to arrive really kills it. Its like we dont know about triggers to make these events happen quicker...

Bari2 Rating: Good, almost Great
Again why is the cinematic going on about this old man and his son? I dont care about them;tell me about the city and ongoing events. Put some maps up showing the powers that be. Its something ES cinematics were good at and FE cinematics consistently fail to do. This scenario has some tacked on FF elements that could have been scrapped;this battle on the beach is annoying as heck. Still, the FF in this mission is clearly kicked up a notch from the earlier mission;the fights are sharper and the enemies moving around doing stuff. I already discussed this mission in detail somewhere so I wont get into it too much here. This mission has a reputation for being impossible, and it certainly isn't balanced correctly;the only way to win conveniently it to setup a massive trade network on the waterlane, tower and triple wall up, and leave the game running for about an hour. The AI has trebs but they often get glitched out and stuck;if you keep rewalling, especially on the southern causeway and in their gold mines, they will get completely jammed up and become immobile giving you complete freedom to do as you like. All that said, for being a difficult to smash map and having engaging gameplay, this one rates very highly with me, and I quite like it. I prefer being frustrated to being bored. One big problem with this map is how cramped and tiny it is;it can be very difficult to even move forward because the enemy keeps flooding gaps with units. The only unit you have that can do anything is the elite cataphract, and your only allowed one castle.

Fun Fact:I had thought this mission was a RPG of sorts with the initial setup, so I had skipped it, only revisiting it years later when I heard rumors of how difficult it was. When people on the reddit start complaining about this or that map being impossible, it piques my interest so to why that is so...

Bari3 Rating: Good
This fixed force affair does well to throw varied situations at the player of sufficient variety and difficulty to create some good gameplay. That said its still quite lacking in the atmosphere department;a good blacksmith map would have some horns and also music or the like, various sound effects to spice things up. The mission is also annoyingly linear with constant forcefields to keep you on task. Somewhat anticlimactic as the finale.

Bari summary:Oddly enough the Bari campaign only has three missions;although the gameplay of mission two is sure to leave a memorable impression, the entire affair is forgettable. The story told in the cinematics is just missing the mark;putting the focus on these two characters and not putting any maps or the like in there. I dont get it. With this many highly rated maps, I suppose it competes with the dracula campaign, but the story is noticeably weaker here.

Sforza is up next, and this is going to be a tough one. I couldn't stomache the writing and dialogue back in the day, and didn't play a single mission of these yet.

Sforza1 Rating: Poor
Oh, that cinematic...reading text like that after having payed money for the game+DLCs is part of why the HD Edition puts such a foul taste in my mouth. I expect this out of your typical blacksmith entries not professional content. So this mission seems like Ghengis1...alright. The dropoff in quality compared to Bari is immediately felt;the enemies are sitting still and barely respond. The mapping is good if overblown at times;just take it easy with the gaia objects. Some areas look great like a dried up riverbed, or along the riverbanks with the shoreless water, while others look questionable such as a swamp filled with paths for mud. This mission is absurdly easy, sforza is nearly immune to ranged attacks while the enemies often let you back up out of their LOS with your speedy condos. There isn't anything complex happening here;the fetch quests have no depth to them. Its all just too simple, and considering how easy it is, I would have to consider handing the win to Ghengis1 in a head to head comparison.

Sforza2 Rating: Bad
What the heck, the mapping went from somewhat good to terrible. These kind of quality shifts in the middle of a campaign are disgraceful considering its paid content. The dialogue keeps referring to the beautiful florentine countryside, but it sure is ugly. There are pathfinding glitches as if bushes had been placed offgrid, very weird. The ensuing gameplay is so bland I end up I R winnering out partway through. A few small parts of the map indicate decent talent on the designers part...this is clearly rushed and unfinished content.

Sforza3 Rating: Dont Want It
A highly confusing stealth mission is next up. The objectives dont make it clear where the tent your headed toward is, something that is very important in stealth games. I stumble around the camp for awhile before I R Winnering in disgust. The mapping is decent again but the gameplay is unappealing. The dialogue quality is offputing to put it mildly.

Sforza4 Rating: Mediocre
The mapping is barely passable, and the difficulty mechanic of vanishing troops in plain sight is not impressive. The gameplay is quite simple;advancing along the river in a linear fashion capturing one town after another;a choice of units is available for gold, and the gold seems to simply come on a timer endlessly. Couldnt I leave the game running for awhile and break the balance...? Soon enough your massive force of hand cannons and bombard cannons clean up, and a large venetian navy shows up in the river;your mission is to smash their individual microd ships with your land cannon. Great, that is just amazing gameplay. Your even penalized for following the objectives;see, your condos level up and gain armour from blacksmiths in each fortress city, but the new condos you get dont have the you should sneak knights all over the place to make sure you get all the condos before advancing. I cant say I felt like a mercenary at all in this mission...we are simply compelling tribute from entire cities.

Sforza5 Rating: Good
For the first time that I can recall, a bit of map was shown in a cinematic even though its a tiny and rather crude drawing. I was looking forward to this mission;I dont know the specifics but I heard the Viper took a loss or two here in a presumably(or hopefully) straight up B&D. I am curious as to how this could be, since my impression of the Sforza author is that of a blueberry;inexperienced designer, never played a 1v1 arabia, probably struggles with moderate AI on random maps...the map design here is very nice even though the forests are a bit plain. It soon becomes apparent why the Viper took a loss;the early attacks are a new level of bullshit we havnt seen the likes of since Bari. This is especially bad considering the previous four missions were putting me to sleep;where is the consistency and buildup? The question is, how dirty and low do I have to stoop to win? Walls? Monks? Castles? Pause Micro?

As expected I take an instaloss with a normal buildup play, so on the second run I go for a monastary and start making a palisade maze. I saw cavaliers among the enemy while the player is in castle, so playing legit seems useless. Palisade gates to the rescue...The Age of Gates is upon us...This time around the enemy cavaliers see the wisdom in painting their clothing our color. Who thinks these massive enemy attack waves are actually balanced properly...? Adding insult to injury is the fact I witnissed some create object triggers being used near a barracks...sigh cannot even make a cheating AI play properly can we. My converted force of cavaliers(with +4 armour!?) continues to swell as my econ is setup with some castles too. At one point I have 60+ converted cavaliers;I send them to assassinate the side objectives while the castles, monks and palisade maze holds off green attacks. The venetians show up and the enemy launches a massive attack streaming excessive units accross the map;many dont arrive as the HD Edition engine is struggling mightily. This attack force is slaughtered without making much impression on my castle district as the returning cavaliers swoop down upon them and the monks do what they can to help out too.

So, this map is actually fun! The enemy attacks are indeed bullshit with cavaliers with +4 in castle age, and plenty of onagers and bombard cannon too. That said its usually better to be too difficult rather than to be anemic and boring. I have no idea how you win without monks;crazy micro on genoese crossbowmen and your own knights I guess. Doesnt seem like a pleasant prospect one bit. I dont have the patience or attention span for it anymore.

Sforza in conclusion;an unexpected turnaround with a good map at the last moment might save Sforza from being the worst HD campaign after all. The cinematics throughout have questionable writing and grammatical errors;not appealing. The final twist at the end of the winning cinematic was tiring;enough of this attempted cleverness. The missions displayed very erratic map design and game balancing;the standout is the first mission, which has excellent mapping while the others fluctuated wildly. Multiple missions I found distastefull, and the espionage gameplay is just not for me. I play Hitman when I desire that experience.

Moving on to El Dorado. Although I only played one or two of these before I can see already they will struggily mightily agaisnt the many good jungle maps made by the community. Nyctophobia, Jaguar Gold, etc, highly recommend you play these if you have not already done so, they are still good.

El Dorado1 Rating: Below Average
The mapping is decent in the city but the jungles are awful with that rocky terrain. This jungle has very smooth edging and isnt particularly convincing. The water is a patchwork quilt of single tiles and jarring edges. This map isnt particularly mysterious or enchanting;montezuma1 exceeds it by far in that respect to say nothing of the likes of Nyctophobia or Jaguar Gold. This fixed force mission is so weird with your OP units...not much of a challenge. Nothing interesting happens as you kill passive enemies and wait for full health monastaries to break. The map finishes with a simple DtS for which you can customize your troop loadout for...anyway its a piece of cake since you have villagers to construct palisades with, or you can just conquistador-kite all the way back to the starting area.

El Dorado2 Rating: Bad
This jungle is a bit better looking and the water isnt so bad. The fixed force gameplay here is rather simple and the player steamrolls fairly easily. Not much is thrown at the player and its all straightforward do this and do that. Traps, ambushes, hidden areas, the like. The objectives are so thoughtless...somehow we just know where the storehouse is, and then we just know for certain the sail has been stolen and is recoverable. The scenario seems to break here since my hero wont rejoin my faction and I need him for a quest...whatever, I skip out with an I R Winner.

El Dorado3 Rating: Very Bad
Typos and poor grammer in the starting dialogues, not auspicious. A morality system is implemented here...ambitious but clunkily implemented. The resulting gameplay is confusing as I scrutinize the hints to try and figure it out. The jungle is quite poorly designed here. A wearisome and tedious jungle lite-RPG with much walking and poor map design. I was relieved to simply be finished with it.

El Dorado4 Rating: Bad
An island B&D with the incan civ;questgivers give many sidequests for gold. The transport ship is relied upon here, and I find the game so miserable I give up halfway through as the pacing is so slow and skip the mission. Oddly our pop cap is well over 100 here despite only having 5 pop transport ships. Why the heck doesnt the player start with Dry Dock researched? It seems this mission was the finale...well then. Anticlimactic much?

El Dorado in summary, a miserable campaign without a hint of fun to be had. A far cry from the likes of Jaguar Gold or Nyctophobia...even the ES Montezuma campaign which I hate atleast managed a decent mission1.

Prithviaj...fascinating campaign concept, but I already remember the first mission was a fail and nothing else looked interesting. We need more India scenarios, very rich area for religious conflict as the muslims invade these hindu lands.

Prithviaj1 Rating: Mediocre
What the heck is that exposition in the cinematic on about...anyway. This mission starts promising by offering two paths but it becomes weird right away with an army given to the player. So much for that RPG experience. The fixed force combat sometimes sets some ambushes and uses some dynamism but its quite soft edged compared to the fights in bari2 for instance. What the heck is with this storyline on the gurus path, I could only smile in amusement at its silliness. The blindfolded shooting was infuriating so I just skipped the rest of the mission...I remember playing through the other route of this before and it wasnt particularly interesting then, either. That story and dialogue is so...cringy?... it makes you not want to play anyway.

Prithviaj2 Rating: Dislike It Strongly
This B&D is a good example of a scenario that has many objective good qualities yet one that I simply dont like. I pointed out in a previous post a scenario called "Country Invasion" as an example of an objectively bad scenario that is fun;the reverse holds true here. This map does have some points to it;the regional depiction of numerous kingdoms and cities is appealing;there are plenty fo side quests and options to spice it up;the difficulty is fairly high so it offers an engaging gameplay.

However, I have to admit, I just dont like this B&D and cannot play it...I would rather just exit AoC and do something else, or fire up a random map against the Barbarian. The setup has numerous irritation factors;the player has three towns, each one is awkward and clunky, he has trade units, he is reliant on a river with transport ships, and perhaps worst of all the enemies start jammed up in your face. The enemies also simply launch nuisance attacks, but 4 or 5 factions do this at once;I just dont think this is good gameplay. Each of the attacks on their own are inconsequential;its only because they are attacking everywhere at once that it becomes annoying and substantial. Plenty of side quests on an already convuluted map are an extra salt in the wounds addition. Try making some of the enemies attack each other at first. Create a smoother development area. Dont have enemy fortresses sharing the same postal address as the players city. Less gaia objects on the map would be this to the appealingly open Berber maps later on.

The rating reflects this...I dont say its bad or atrocious as that Dracula finale is, rather I can see this is a map some may like and I sure dont.

Prithviaj3 Rating: Meh
Stealth mission again? No thanks;I marco polo and nothing looks appealing about this. I skip it. I like stealth games;I play Hitman. I dont like them much in AoC and you need to bring your A-game to make it work even a little bit.

Prithviaj4 Rating: Above Average
A large fixed force battle to open with, but played out on a distinctly ugly and very AoKH field of mud. This battle seems darn near impossible, but I can hardly concentrate on it as my eyes bleed from the mud. Seems the only winnable strategy is to take command of the ranged units and snipe those scimitar chucking camel riders who counter everything we have. We transition into a much more tolerable B&D albeit one with a death match flavour. Infact the difference in tone with this B&D from mission2 is astonishing;a very comfortable buildup with the player able to take the initiative and easily crush all. A wacky traitor\night attack sequence fires, taking all my elephant archers away from me, but my 5 castles and remaining troops handle their imperial camel\paladin force handily. I suspected this was coming and went into elephant archers heavily;they are a defensive unit with minimal offensive power that is easily dealt with, yet very good at escorting trebuchet into difficult situations and dealing with typical AI forces.

The ending cinematic reverses everything and has our leader defeated;I despise offscreen turnabouts like this. What the heck, didnt I literally kill that same man in this very scenario? And thats the finale? I missing something?

Prithviaj summary...not a fan of the gameplay offered here. The mapping was clunky and made gameplay annoying besides being very average, except for the last scenario which opened up with nicer terrain to build on. Above all else I am not impressed with the cinematic exposition and the ingame dialogue...I dont feel any sense of attachment to these characters. The storytelling here is quite weak. The lines referring to love are particularly amusing.

Up next...Battles of the Forgotten...a collection of one-off battles. I already know a handfull of these are terrible and I dont know the others. These scenarios are going to sap my will to live...just hoping to get them out of the way quickly.

York Rating: Laggy
Unplayable due to lag, the infamous ludikriss map. Its not true that ludikriss always lags;I did some testing in 4v4 arabia and it worked fine. That said, you must keep your scenario fairly simple and that isnt this...this map looks rather bland and unappealing anyway, as the hapless hockeysam surely underestimated the soul crushing amount of effort needed to raise this maps level...I heard every pine tree on this map was rotated to be green, and an update undid all the painful is that? Stories like that must be retold to all designers foolish enough to consider using HD thats for sure...

Dos Pilas Rating: Disgracefull
This mission is such a shame;a wonderfully appealing scenario with a good and simple story to it going back to the ancient times for some meso warfare with the mayans. The B&D has a nice setup with room for variance in multiple playthroughs and I just find the whole thing very appealing. However, we have discussed this map multiple times in the playthrough thread by now and this scenario is simply a broken mess. The triggers can and most likely will break down even if you try to work with them. I tried multiple times in the past to finish this map and it wont work. Leaving broken content in a game your charging money for is disgraceful;this mission is a black stain on FEs record.

Bapheus Rating: Below Average
Another appealing mission, this scenario seems to have a good template in place for a nice game. The story is interesting too. However the objectives with convincing the beys are very lame;three are hardcoded to attack you which are effectively assassinations, and two just roll over and do what you say. I was expecting something like Ghengis1 or Sforza1 with convincing them with sidequests or the like. Back when I first played this I was so underwhelmed I couldnt stomach continuing into the B&D, which is certainly a bland affair with a poorly defined player area. The player must also willingly not abuse changing diplomacy, for the potential allies\friends dont react even if you burn their town down. The quality of this map is so low I became disheartened in the middle of the B&D segment and quit.

Honfoglalas Rating: Bad
This is one of those scenarios that just has no respect for the player or his time. Its such a shame because the basic concept is brilliant;its just that the execution isnt there. The map is too large, and its a wearisome scenario that overstays its welcome very quickly. You really need to justify yourself with awesome gameplay if your asking for such a multihour commitment and this does the bare minimum to even be a scenario and not a random map. The dialogue of the Khagan at the start barely even pretends to be a character and not the narrator;weaksauce story elements on board. The objectives are unclear and dont tell you if your fighting a hopeless battle or what. The mapping is about the bare minimum you could get away with too. After a couple of hours I have suffered enough and quit.

Cyprus Rating: Mediocre
I vaguely remember this mission, I am skipping it. I remember it has a lot of tedious walking around and very mediocre battle engagements.

Langshang Jiang Rating: Dont Want It
Never played this one and I hate it already. Naval combat down an awkward corridor with keeps firing on your from clifftops and then a timer on top of it all. Ugh, whatever I am skipping this one too. The map design seems OK but its too cramped to be enjoyable.

Kurikara Rating: Good
This seems promising with nice map design, usually the best indicator of a good designer, or atleast one that cares about his map. This scenario was truly a refreshing breeze after the last dozen maps. Good B&D with nice space to work with in front of your fortress city but you need to fight for it. That said its very easy with tens of thousands of stone on the map and plenty of gold. I did nothing but spam samuari and overwhelmed everything. Satisfying and fun romp though. The carts delivering gold over the mountain is a good idea but fails to work because the player can wall off a safe corridor for the cart;therefore he doesnt need to work for this free 1000 gold at all. The finale assault on the imperial city was one hell of a battle with endless waves of my samurai dying to buy time for the trebs to reduce their military production buildings. Good gameplay, was laggy due to HD Edition being bad. I love this map and want more like it.

Bukhara Rating: Somewhat Good
I like this B&D with its nice region portrayal;the players town area is nicely defined and usable. I dont like the illusion the scenario casts that you need to protect your allies, as they forcibly join you later on, so you might as well just take care of your own business. This mission throws way too many enemies at the player for his puny population cap, esspecially when the advice is to make halbs and skirmishers. Perpetual light cav spam can work here though, as the enemies want to counter attack and often traverse the map repeatedly heading for the new location of my raiders. Meanwhile strike teams of paladins take out military production facilities. The AI breaks down badly under the pressure and their attack groups eventually end up jerking back and fourth. The saravan persian cavalry offered as mercenaries are useless on this map with their bad pierce armour and many mangudai type enemies. There is a side objective to restore the silk road which sounds cool but I think its utter nonsense;the enemy attacks are far too strong for this luxurious maintenance of towers far away. The allied betrayal at the end is a letdown since the gokturks are nowhere near as strong as the white huns were. The one sided beatdown to end the scenario is anticlimactic.

So that does it for the Forgotten Battles, and the entirety of the HD Edition pre-DLC campaigns. Looking back in retrospective, and having played all of these in a row, its very clear the pinnacle of design came with the Dracula and Bari campaigns. After that a rapid regression set in, really from the tail ends of those campaigns, and the missions became wildly varying in build complexity and map design. Those maps like Bari2 had plenty of bullshit but also provided some engaging and memorable gameplay;it seems the baby was thrown out with the bathwater instead of just working on the weak points and maintaining the strengths established. I also dislike the cinematics, dialogue and story elements at nearly every turn, with only a few missions having a decent story aspect. That is very disappointing to me, since out of the three pillars of a good game the story is the most important for a long lasting effect, and certainly the most difficult to pull off. I was bitterly disapointed with these campaigns for this reason when I first played them, as I was expecting a serious focus here on writing something good.

Individual mission ratings going forward are now scrapped for a campaign summary.

So, the Afrikan Kingdoms campaigns are up next. With a heavy heart I wearily embark on this next task...most of these missions had received just a marco polo skim as I was in disbelief at the low build quality. You can usually see if a scenario is interesting or good by the minimap, and these all have simplistic minimaps. Voice acting makes an appearance in the cinematics from now on, and I only wish I could say it was good;unfortunately it seems we couldn't bring in pros so I am guessing the FE team contributed their voices here. For the reason that they might be reading this I will refrain from fully expressing myself, but I dont like the voice acting one bit. Simply not clicking the skip button will be a challenge in of itself.

Following a FF battle we transition into one of those weird B&D with a feudal age start, but the only thing to do is go castle ASAP. Looking at it now I see its trying to be intentionally simple;the change in design philosophy since some of the clunky B&D(prithviraj2) mentioned above is striking. On one hand its an improvement, since the map is more open and conducive to playing, but the gameplay is so simple and straightforward. The freebie armies you get handed are a bit much, and almost insulting especially considering the stingy 120 pop cap. Our first opposition is the gothic huskarls, while we have just been handed the camel archer as a UU, nice. The enemies dont seem to have any economy;the score indicates infinite resources assigned. A soulless grind of a game commences as the scenario is reduced to pure military exertion with nothing spicing it up. The enemy city is boring to take without villagers to slaughter at some point, as well as give it a sense of life. And whats up with the cinematic boasting about the nimble berber horsemen, that had literally no impact during the scenario. The heaviest paladin is just as fast as the speediest light cavalry or cav archer...

Another FF battle of minimal complexity yeilds control of Toledo and a B&D commences. Again the enemies have no villagers whatsoever and cheat in all their resources;the game feels lifeless with no movement on the map. The mapping does look pleasant, and I like how there is plenty of room to move about in;I extend the walls of the city to the bridges and close off economic zones and begin booming. But I am taken aback at the stillness, the quiet desolation of this map;the enemy bases are lifeless husks which remain inert, and conquering these cities are unfulfilling. There are some good points here with the wonders being built and needing to knock down each city in turn, but the way its executed lacks any energy. The scenario is very simple with little going on to it;the offer from a trader to buy chemistry seems randomly added on and made me scratch my head a bit;I guess the point is to let your camel archers do 50% more effective damage to huskarls, but still only 3 HP worth. Also, needing to wait 30 minutes for a reinforcing ally to arrive makes you think you will see some pressure, but nothing happened at all as the passive enemies await your development. The trifling attacks they finally launch upon my walls after my economy is massive are just silly.

The resources available are staggering, and with the 200 pop cap I quickly acquire an incredible store of resources with which to conduct siege assaults with. Amusingly the AI marches through my allies base to reach me, my supposed berber allies who are at war with the goths also just let them pass through. The pace of the gameplay is lethargic to say the least;I sit back on purpose and await developments just to see what happens, but their wonder construction is incredibly slow;I build up to tens of thousands of resources, and can simply flood the cheap berber knight to swamp the wonder city and smash it when desired;heck, with the red wonder, their villagers refused to take shelter and they ceased production for lack of builders. The way the gameplay unfolds, its like I used the resource cheats except I didnt. For instance I threw down 5 castles in range of the northern towns castle which handled their army, while my trebuchets pounded the city into submission under their cover;and then I still had 6k stone in the bank and more mines available. I deliberately cripple and avoid killing seville so I can pound all 4 cities into submission, and have 30,000+ gold and 4.6k stone remaining despite making 16 castles.

In summary, a baseline B&D experience that is modestly enjoyable, but only a bit more so than an ES mission really. Its not particularly engaging as is;El Cids Toledo was both more engaging and frustrating with the difficult to break city at the end;that fortress is memorable while the free trebuchet, capped rams and nearly infinite resources here make it a cinch. There are some good points like choosing which 3 out of the four to conquer(although its not much of a choice;you would have to be crazy to choose smashing that quad castle fortress of red), and having capped rams in castle age is good since the battering ram is stupidly weak, but its just kind of blah the way it plays out.

Where exactly is Septimania? I'm not asking because I dont know or cant figure it out;I'm asking because why isn't the cinematic showing any maps? What a setup to figure out...97 units and two cities. I can barely figure out what to do, but its 200 pop and imperial age research is available in a B&D, so I guess the boom is on. I am relieved to see no heroes are joining us;the weaklings we have been cursed with up till now have only been a hindrance. So this map is looking quite interesting actually except I see no villager economies again, le sigh. The clean elegance of these maps is so lovely to see, and the connection between forests and water is blocked by rocks, very good;this is an important point some later maps will miss completely. This map has a pleasant macro buildup to it with plenty of resources for a boom, but I find this is rewarded a bit too early push reveals the enemy is far more upgraded than us and I have to fall back suffering massive damage. A replay later, and I simply change to be completely passive building up to a maximum strength economy and then spamming cavaliers and camel archers with 8 trebuchet;this combo is fatal to the AI and we roll over each city methodically. I wish that early aggression was a little more feasible here. To solve the 2 base dilemma, I simply put down 6-7 layers of unconnected rows of fortified walls in the leftmost base, and delete everything but the mining camp in the corner;this managed to fool the AI into sending its men only to my main base, where I built walls but didnt close it off, so they would continuously feed into my castles and stables production area. Once the mines in the corner are exhausted, you dont need this base anyway.

Ultimately its a decent B&D that provides a baseline enjoyable experience, but I find it unsatisfying too. The enemies threw in the towel amazing quickly as their easily reached castles fell;I didnt even intend to provoke a resignation, and was sending my men into the gap to slaughter all as they suddenly delete themselves. That absent villager economy makes the cities feel a bit lifeless and makes it clear your just conquering military camps, although the trade carts moving about countered this somewhat. The enemies are very static;the units they field at the end are the same as at the beginning, and they cannot ramp up to meet your military;once I was pop capped (and had removed most of the useless starting units) I steamrolled without any real opposition. We only took losses because their huskarl\halbadier composition countered our units. I feel like earlier aggression should be viable, and by choosing to attack sooner the player could catch them with less upgrades and a slower to create military. Its all a bit simplistic, and furthermore it looks like to me it could be so much better than it is without extensive modification needed.

Aw come on, we skipped the berber defeat? I wouldnt have minded some kind of impossible win scenario followed by an escape. A long winded and tedious fixed force scenario now commences. I only played a part of the way through and called it a day;these FF missions need a lot more effort invested into gameplay than this, or LB\Ingo level storytelling, to be fun and engaging. I already remember some other boring FF in future campaigns that I will be skipping most likely.

Berbers5:Another B&D preceded by a loot-the-resources FF against passive and boring enemies. Unsurprisingly a very long winded buildup follows, already in the imperial age with little resources and 5 villagers only. This mission is bizarre with a huge, overwhelming mass of paladins spawned in and are idle almost adjacent to your economy area. The gameplay sees the player pressed into a tiny corner of the map being swarmed with paladins, trebuchet and trash units. Unnatural and clunky, even though the player can dominate with heavy camels and camel archers I dont enjoy it one bit. What great raid? The player is forced into a macro war and has to fight for every inch of terrain right from the start. I loathe the enemies usage of large fleets of galleons here up the rivers.

Coming back to this at a future date, I restarted this mission with a new strategy;luring the paladins away with some light cavalry to make room for walls for a decent base, and then an extensive walling project commenced. I later managed to convert most of the purple paladins and used them to deal with any attacks the AI happened to launch. But I was disgusted by my attacks into blue;they defend their land base with a flotilla of galleons from many angles. Being quite annoyed and having 35k food, I put down thirty stables, deleted most villagers, and sent hundreds of hussars, a dozen trebs and a mixed group of paladins and camel archers into the blue base;with the hussars providing mechanized chaff cover for my good units, the base was annihilated promptly. Similar assaults are launched upon the fortresses guarding the rivers, and finally an all out wave to break the production facilities at their main city. I finished the map with 12k gold and see four piles of gold remaining on the minimap, so maybe I was a touch too stingy. I still have camel archers and paladins from the start, sheltered from harm by those hussar.

This mission was modestly enjoyable I suppose, but there again isnt too much satisfaction in smashing these cheater towns that have no life or vibrancy to them. The massed galleons on the rivers put a sour taste in my mouth, and I was just spamming fast fire ships from a dozen docks to hunt them down when suddenly to my relief we picked up the win. The campaign story ended on an anticlimactic if nothing stands between the berber armies and the rest of europe, then what...?

Berbers summary:The shift in design style is stunning and complete. My complaints about the wildly varying levels of map design and gameplay quality have been addressed by the introduction of symmetrical scenarios that have been rolled off a factory line. Any of the individuality and potential sparks of genius sometimes seen in the HD campaigns have been stamped out and replaced by professional, watered down, samey content. Most of those missions were not good anyway but to see this direction taken is just disheartening. An art form has been reduced to an assembly line.

The storytelling in these Berber cinematics is a little better than the HD campaigns even though we still lack much in the way of maps so we can visualize what is happening without checking the wiki. The voice acting on the cinematics is more tolerable than I recall, although the ingame dialogues from units is difficult to listen to. When I fired up these campaigns for the first time, I was expecting Blizzard quality voice overs, or atleast ES quality, so this was very frustrating at that time for me.

All that said, I wouldn't rate a single one of these missions highly enjoyable or more than mediocre. Thematic gameplay is entirely lacking especially in those first three B&D;I think you could take those missions, swap the civs randomly, and create a new story for them, and no one would have ever known or suspected they were intended for play as the Berbers. The finale also isn't anything like a 'great raid'. This campaign really need one more scenario to create a climactic ending;I feel that mission5 ends in an openended way that doesn't finish the story.

The replay value is also very low exactly would you go about playing these missions differently? Most dont have sidequests or optional allies. The AI cheats everything in so there is no reason to try rushing strategies. There isn't much difference depending on who you attack first. There are no missions where you pick a base site. There are no complexities to figure out...they are one and done, once you beat it I dont see any reason to ever revisit these.

So Sundjata or the Malian campaign is up next. Why the heck doesn't the first cinematic have a single map in it? Where are we and what are we doing? Off to check the wiki to bring up my own maps for context since the 'pros' cannot be bothered to provide one. This story sounds like its attempting something clever again, and I think the writing and voiceover is a slight step down from the Berbers campaign.

My favorite, a FF escape mission with units that cannot see past their own nose. I remember the first time I played it wasnt clear which way to escape and I ran headlong into the camels. I like this mapping even if the terrain mixing is a bit ragged;for example look those savanna tiles in the desert patch outside the starting mountain valley;you can see jagged lines and individual tiles easily. The resulting B&D when we soon arrive at the village is quite unappealing;trapped in a palisade encampment with the enemy sending annoying swarms of fuedal units. The enemy units tend to circle around the entirety of this base which leads them into your economy;this poorly designed base is a far cry from the wonderfully functional bases seen in competitive arabia, if only the player was simply left to his own devices with an open base. The AI is practically designed to be bad on purpose with individual unit micro on their swarms. An important part of arabia 1v1 is being able to raid the enemy economy;here the AI cheats for everything, spoiling the experience and denying the player any ability to fight back. This is also a failure of thematic gameplay with the malians have a fascinating pierce armour bonus on infantry per age, yet being in a situation where melee units are worthless. Your hero is properly balanced though, a very tough unit and quite useful. This mission doesnt have much going on in it either, literally an AoE1 scenario. Not to mention having to whittle these full health buildings down with towers everywhere. I simply prefer a random map experience against the barbarian over this.

The cinematic for this one has a map...and all it shows is the Great Baobob Tree on top of africa. I am noticing these cinematics often cheaply recycle the same visuals over and over again. Crossbowmen, Skirmishers, Horse Archers, Scorpians, Mangonels;does this enemy unit roster sound like its encouraging use of the malian infantry bonus? Sure we resist them much more than normal, but its hopeless and distinctly unfun with the AI performing individual unit micro. This mapping is appealing even if the technical execution on terrain mixing is a bit eyebrow raising. This gameplay is trash again...stuck in the fuedal age while every enemy brings castle age tech from the start...why do I have cavalry archers in my base when I cannot afford to make any units and am just reaching castle age? On a positive note, this is the very first AK mission that has the enemy gathering resources...! Ultimately the mission can be cheesed by using your tough infantry to escourt the relic in a suicide push into the designated zones even though the faction in question hasnt been damaged a bit. Seeing the player in question just delete all their units and castles right in front of you just because we set off a trigger is bizarre. The enemy early pressure is way too strong, and then their mid to late gameplay is just anemic;this is a classic flaw with B&D. Nothing happens when the enemy captures your relic cart...could have been an interesting way to spice it up with some mission to retrieve it. Again the ending cinematic recycles the baobob tree map.

This fixed force mission saddles the player with light cavalry and cavalry archers while sending him into a crowded cliff maze. His units have no upgrades, while the enemies have +3 pierce armour thanks to the malian bonus. I often complain about a lack of thematic game design in these FE missions, and this mission has the audacity to reverse it and make a situation where its the enemy benefiting from being malian. I dont like these type of FF missions and skip it.

The map design is interesting on this one, a dried up river on the other side. But the players base is ugly with the many shallows. The terrain mixing leaves much to be desired, again with the tiny single tiles of one terrain clearly visible everywhere. I am convinced there are designers out there who are unable to see terrain changes of only one tile! That must be why they leave these ugly bits;they cannot even perceive their existence.

A straight up B&D with no premamble or FF before starting, all well and good. This mission tries to present a wood limited situation where you need to keep a dock alive and supply routes maintained, but one of your enemies and potential allies has a large forest you can mass chop down, so I found this to be an irrelevant focus. Saving the dock on this map is idiotically difficult, I dont see how with the numerous and relentless attackers there. You have no economy for a long time either, and an annoyingly limited pop cap. Needing to make a castle in your allies town after paying 1k gold is something I frown upon, as its a massive expense hidden behind the upfront cost. The enemy focus on ships is very annoying in this mission, they are not fun to play against and fill up the river with their annoying sound generators. This mission goes back to the cheating ways with a free economy for the main enemy depriving the player of any chance to raid their limited wood economy, for instance. I guess its alright;get the two allies, fill the center with castles, then launch suicide strikes against their castles and stables. I would say its rather boring to wait for my economy to fill up my resources before deleting villagers to switch into offensive mode, the result of a too-limited pop cap. Its a decent mission.

This mission reminds me a little of the Pyrus mission from the Rise of Rome campaigns. Another straight to the point B&D against a massively entrenched enemy;the player is being encouraged to aggressively fight for a neutral land. Meanwhile the sea is ever present giving enemy ships access to just about everywhere so its a multifront struggle. Atleast the AI has an economy this time, refreshing to see and gives the player a way to weaken the fortress defenders.

This actually alright. Almost good. But the difference in tone to prior scenarios is clear and striking;the difficulty has fallen off below any other Sundjata mission. Infact this designer must certainly be inexperienced for this is such a cakewalk its hard to imagine how this is considered balanced. Also the entire coast being left accessible to the players cannon galleons seems rather naive. The fortified siege onagers embedded into the walls are hardly dangerous, for immobile onagers are easily sniped by trebuchet. And the first mission in two entire campaigns to use a non-cheating AI is doomed by that very fact, as not enough care was taken to give the defenders a good economy, and they were starved out of resources very easily by the cannon galleons, which can reach part of their farmland and all their gold mines. On top of that sniping the wonder with trebuchet from the water would be very easy since the AI wont have military where its getting shot at by ships. Finally the vicious enemy who we have been struggling against for 6 missions is weakly guarded by a small force almost overcome by a single champion wave;his hero unit is very easily sniped by anything.

I replayed this scenario some time later, but this time used the resource cheats to send the enemy a 10k spread of each resource. This playthrough confirmed my impression of the map as too straightforward and a bit naively laid out, as the designer didnt seem to anticipate some basic moves the player will make to make it a cakewalk;most obvious of which is simply walling off the neutral landmass you are intended to fight over. Despite the infusion of cheat resources the AI didnt accelerate a bit and its army of two handed swordsmen, pikemen and fleet of war galley ended up pounding away at a triple layer of fortified wall for a very long time. Still, this battle became much more interesting as the AI army was much larger and relentless and actually pushed me back as I underestimated their strength, and allowed them into the gates...eventually I wiped them out and pushed into their farmland, but they continued to show up with more armies in formation so some nice battles erupted. Things got slightly more interesting when I let them finish their wonder on purpose, but my cannon galleons opened up holes in the wall along the coastline and took out their siege onagers, and successive waves of champs tore down the wonder and killed the enemy leader. So its a decent mission for sure but it could use some more punch to it, and maybe a teeny bit more going on with their AI which wasnt that smart about attacking with its boats. The malian champion excels in finishing off these cities with its 1+7 pierce armour which makes cleaning up pleasant. Their siege onagers cannot defend their buildings as they hold their fire to avoid friendly damage and arbalest and castle fire just does nothing.

Sundjata in the end we had one of those 'clever twists' in the cinematic which are beginning to annoy me...we earned that win, didn't need a magical thingybob... The story is alright I guess, but that gameplay...I just dont like how those first B&D were setup at all. The Berbers B&D were boring and simplistic, but these were just plain annoying and unlikable seemingly designed to irritate the player. The finale mission was the best of them all, but it needs to be spiced up with just a bit more difficulty;so strange to miss that the finale is a anticlimactic comedown.

Portugal up does anyone remember those portuguese nationalistic fanatics in the Ask Sandyman threads? Those guys would never give up advocating for their beloved Portugal to be a civ, and now they have their wish and a campaign too.

This halffixedforce and half B&D mission see you wandering about collecting remnants of a shattered army having just lost a battle;you are tasked with destroying multiple encampments with full health buildings and no siege weapons, though on a second playthrough I found a ram hidden off to the side. The enemy AI has a huge response distance so their units will trickle in piecemeal even from the encampments which looks messy;the gameplay is the opposite of being finely crafted. The map design is somewhat poor as well;sometimes the detailing makes a scene look alright but the water terrain is looking quite odd, and many areas are very mundane with messy foresting. Its not terrible as some parts look alright but its inconsistency detracts from the experience. This FF is just kind of meh, not bad not good. The transition into the B&D sees your FF units become worthless as a reward for carefully taking care of them, as they do not benefit from upgrades. A simple fix would be to just give all player units on the map at that moment stat boosts to reflect how they would look if fully upgraded later, and maybe some extra HP to reflect their veteran status.

A tepid B&D commences with split bases;one is more of a fortress which covers a bridge, and the other base has the countryside and religious structures. Your hand cannon, genoese crossbowmen and normal crossbowmen can sit at the end of the bridge and mow down the trickling enemy attackers with ease. The 100 pop cap means those troops you fought so hard to preserve in the FF means you need to delete your own men to make room for villagers. The player lacks good economic development areas so the build up takes a long time. The hints seem to think crossing this bridge is difficult because its covered by a fortress, but a ram on stand ground solves that problem, and you only face about 5 units at a time as you push into their city. An underwhelming and lethargic B&D which I literally won with only the FF troops and nothing I trained or researched with the villager economy. I found myself increasingly baffled by it as the game went on.

Oh, this mission makes my head hurt. Could it be made any less appealing? This B&D has a very messy start with a reliance on transport ships to boot. After being hassled awhile and annoyed at the uselessness of naval control I throw in the towel and skip it too. Slow paced to boot and with a tiny pop cap.

This mission starts off with a great multichoice:taking your friend to the villages to gain their aid, or handing him over to be executed to gain kilwa's trust. Unfortunately this mission can be broken so the player has to avoid cheesing to get a game. The players transport ships lack enough carry capacity and this obnoxious unit is frustrating to control as always. The water terrain on this map is poor and its such a shame because thats what your looking at much of the time, and also because HD Edition provides the tools for fantastic water terrain. I do not enjoy sending my transport around to pick up small and inconsequential numbers of shipwrecked men. Busting the full health kilwan castle is not that fun without siege available.

A formless(undefined lands) B&D commences eventually and I dont get the objective...destroy a wonder, but where, and why? Eventually I locate the enemy while getting an economy setup, and notice it seems to be a bit near the shore...heck demolition ships might even hurt it. After a grinding buildup waiting for techs and resources I dispatch a large fleet of cannon galleons and galleons to smash the wonder and win the mission on the spot.....what the heck even was this mission?

A fixed force mission defending a wonder from a segment closed off from another factions city;I actually like this one. Or I did before, but it seems a bit broken at the moment. I recall it definitely being possible to push into the city but this time red was making crazy numbers of dodging crossbowmen and I had no resources to do anything but hide in my base. I dont get it and I am getting frustrated and annoyed with these scenarios. Skip. But I do recall it being decent last time so I am quite confused.

Ugh, I cannot stand this one as well. The cinematic promises an epic showdown against a coalition of powers, and then we need to do stuff like converting neutral troops while not killing any. The map is cramped and awkward, and the whole setup is unappetizing. I try for awhile before giving up.

Portugal in summary...I just cannot agree with the design philosophy seen in these maps and it consistently produces unappealing setups and awkward maps with slow pacing. Some scenarios wont appeal to certain people and demographics, and these scenarios were simply not made for me.

Continuing with the Ethopian campaign. I dont know if I should keep noting this, but no map of any sort yet again;I am not sure any FE cinematic in all of existence has a proper one. I dont like this story one bit with the man and his son, and the voice acting feels very contemporary as does the writing.

An escape B&D where you defend a camp while trying to build up to make a push to bring a unit to a spot on the map. This B&D is simply balanced poorly;the enemies launch ludicrously early and frequent attacks and batter down any method of resistance. I have played the barbarian 1v1 on hardest a lot recent, and that AI is a joke compared to this pressure. These FE scenarios simply dont have the credit built up to earn any attempts, either;you cant demand the player overcome difficult barriers to play without demonstrating you have something worth working for. And I would bet a considerably sum of money that the other scenarios will not escalate up from here significantly;you put your easiest scenarios at the front of a campaign, and the hardest at the rear. Thats just basic design. This mission also fails to block off the gaps between forests and rivers, something the Berber campaign did well with;this feels like regression. The AI is cheating like mad again and has no discernible source of income. The armies defending the camps are unreal in strength;I am skipping this one. The only way to win seems like sitting tight with a defensive army in a palisade chokepoint while microing two squads of scouts to both knock down palisade gates and distract enemies from killing the gate breakers.

Let me describe a recent feudal age war I had to show how its done right. So I played the Barbarian 1v1 on Hardest with the ages locked to dark-feudal;the AI had the upper hand with its cheats and my out-of-alignment feudal rush, and I was trying to hit it from multiple angles with skirmishers, scouts, archers etc while fending off large raids on my base. Eventually the damage I inflicted upon their economy told and I managed to equalize and then seemingly get the upper hand;I tried breaking their massive force of scouts, archers, men at arms with my own force but failed with many losses and had to back off and keep dancing around, before finally amassing a seemingly sufficient force;I go in, lure them into defending an exposed lumbercamp, and sweep in from the side and fully commit with every unit in a bloody battle, and manage to come out on top. They throw in the towel and GG. Notice how the Barbarian doesnt cheat in 5k of all resources in a desperate attempt to turn it around, and how villager and military losses actually make an impression upon it and the resulting gameplay is effected by earlier gameplay results.

See, this AI in yodit1 sends massive armies but killing them off is meaningless because the exact same army will come again in a few minutes. There is no point in trying to hit them where they are weak since they just cheat in all units. There isnt a hint of a competitive battle going on;I am fighting a cheap arcade game intent on stealing my nickels. I have no enthusiasm or interest in trying to figure out how to win this.

This B&D mission is some kind of lite-RPG offering a bunch of sidequests while balancing base buildup. Several minutes elapse before noticing we have a split base, some fishermen to the north with towers. What the heck and why? Incredibly the enemy have castle age fleets while we once again are in fuedal, and their docks are virtually a stone throw away. I am beginning to despise this mission already. They even bring hero arbalests to attack this separated base;you cant make this stuff up...the map design is alright, but again the water is bizarre. Our main base gets attacked by castle age units with all castle age upgrades while we are in feudal and just clicking up...cav archers, camels, shotels, etc. I strongly dislike this type of lopsided gameplay and have no interest in trying to overcome such a mission.

The scouts report paints a highly appealing and good scenario;lets see how this limited-resource B&D actually plays out. This map actually manages to create a nice region with varied terrain despite having basic terrain mixing. This scenario amazingly enough goes in for a pop300 setup, and the moment I saw that I was very suspicious that the balancing would be off, and was proven right. Infact I won this scenario at exactly the 1 hour mark as the enemy leader was daring to lead an elephant column outside of his base. This mission could hardly be called anything but a cakewalk as certain naive balancing decisions are on display, such as the failure to recognize how powerful 300 pop is for the human.

So the mission actually plays out in a somewhat enjoyable way;the player must find a starting spot as nomads, and resources are indeed somewhat scarce, but there is plenty for a traditional fast castle and triple TC boom, later adding on a fourth to go imp while still making villagers. There is a timer mechanic for attacking the main enemy, who is readying his forces, but the time is a whopping 45 minutes so I knew I could macro up into a 120-140 villager economy no problem then. While going to imp, I started massing crossbows from first 5 and then 10 stables, later adding a dozen stables and also making trebuchet. The cyan enemies had launched an attack around this time which was repulsed;their armies only had feudal age blacksmith upgrades. This held true for even the main enemy of the scenario, even after awakening and leaving his base, and I hardly need describe the outcome between fully upgraded ethopian arbalests and anything with only feudal age upgrades. Even before the leader had died, two columns of my troops with trebuchet were headed for the main enemy base from both sides of the river, and one had already broken the gate and approached their main castle;their entire base was in shambles. The cyan kingdom already lay in ruins and had resigned. This game felt like a superpower invading a third world country.

This is another one of those scenarios that could be great, even awesome with some tuning. The early gameplay was nice, and maybe some small scale feudal age warfare for control of resources would have been nice;as is I boomed up to imp before being attacked. I think the problem here is the authors macro game isnt up to par and it wasn't realized how insanely powerful the player could become;that thing about scarce resources became a nonissue as my arbalest packs pushed unstoppably through the map securing many woodlines and resource piles. The main enemy was almost defeated by the time that 45 minute timer expired, and the objective hero unit falls somewhat easily despite 800HP and 8 pierce armour. An entire stack of arbalests does too much damage, after all. Even if I replayed and held back on purpose, it seems like the mission will resolve in a very simple manner anyhow;the objectives and dialogue indicate the enemy king is headed for an allied castle guarding a pass, and it will be all too easy for a pack of halbadiers to assassinate an elephant general with some covering troops to assist.

In summary a decent mission but its such a cakewalk I am left scratching my head in confusion especially because the last scenario was absurdly difficult;now the pendulum swings far in the other direction. This fascinating scenario seems wasted. That is another major frustration point for me with these FE missions;often so close to being good, yet still far away.

This map provides a setup related to the RISK maps in the form of stellae, which generate whatever resource for the controller that is designated by nearby gaia objects;therefore control of these stellae is of the utmost importance, and the AI would be expected to fight for them. They sort of do, but only a little;a purple passive faction seems to send scripted attackers\garrison troops to hold them, while the red faction launches attacks on the player and sometimes attacks the stellae with goodly armies, but again never increases their army size from the start of the map. Ultimately it is extremely easy to dominate the stellae with massed arbalest and never let them go. You can put down castles near the two shallows exiting their main base and garrison the area with arbalests or whatever and the stellae control will never be challenged again. The natural consequence of this undisputed control is that your resources pile up sky high. Another issue is the fact that in all RISK type maps its ussually made clear on the minimap where a control point is, but there is no such indicator here since the stellae tend to be single placement gaia objects with no buildings nearby, meaning you often drag the camera around over the desert trying to find them, and its unclear who owns what and where.

This missions starting point is highly irritating. The enemy sends at the 12 minute mark a dozen crossbows, a dozen pikes, and a trebuchet to the stellae near your base;and at 15 minutes attacks with them at your base if you avoid aggroing them. You start in feudal with very little, only five knights which those units described above annihilate. The layout of the map is ugly in a functional sense and poorly designed for any smooth gameplay;a logical castle site is deliberately blocked by a few forest trees which cannot be deleted, for instance. The enemy AI attacks your base from nonsensical directions requiring a walling project to redirect their pathfinding. Later on though, the enemy never varies or escalates their attacks, so your arbalests with increased fire speed dominate all. It becomes a cakewalk after a frustrating, chaotic opening;unlikable for seizing both ends of the stick.

All this isnt to say its a terrible mission;its a decent play when you get over the opening hump frustration. But this map has a lot of potential in it to be much better than it is. The lack of polish is evident;heck, the final objective misspells 'detroy', its certainly a small detail of little significance, but if something that obvious is overlooked it makes you wonder about the build quality. There is a stellae on this map where the purple forces surround it but not capture it, leaving it perpetually in your control despite the enemy seeming to think they own it;thats an example of the little details being overlooking showing up in gameplay. And again this is payed for content not someones hobby project on the blacksmith;rhetorical question, but why cant these details have been polished long ago?

The mission wraps up with an assault on an anemic town that most ES towns put up a stiffer fight than;I was very surprised to see the AI indicates it has a villager based economy, not cheating. That is strange because it has so few of them and is eventually unable to train many units. Modestly enjoyable at most, quite underwhelming in the whole;the whole affair seems like the bare minimum you could get away with to call it a finished scenario.

This is like some PTC nightmare map but it turns out to be fun by the end. It seems to be a B&D and there is no stone anywhere;a market and a slow buildup from one TC commences. But we are massively housed so we need to take care of that with our very limited villager and resource slow paced. This map is poorly designed for a B&D with little space to breath in and the author using nonbuildable terrain for decoration including forest trees instead of straggler trees in farm areas, but eventually the players economy gets up to full power as the AI can only launch limited attacks on you. Advancing into the city while commencing mass crossbow production, I see the roads are barricaded so that the player is the one who can decide when to commence the action on his own terms;Red starts launching decent attacks on my city from inconvenient directions but I am OK with this as I am established and have upgrade advantages;my arbalests begin handling them and I begin pushing out to establish frontiers. Unfortunately this mission lags a lot with many units stuck in the city and the AI telling them to attack constantly. Also not a fan of create object attack waves right in your face with siege onagers too. Looks like Siege Onagers and Heavy Skorpions are available, and a merciless advance commences rolling along the streets dispensing death;quite entertaining. Unfortunately the FPS nears 0 and pathfinding is impossible, so I have to call it a day there. I sortof like this map on the whole, interesting setup, but the lag ruins it.

Yodit in summary...a highly inconsistent campaign with the balance going in both extremes of easy and hard. The first two missions are so absurd and unlikable in their challenge offered that I have no interest in playing them, then a cakewalk mission was next, followed by a scenario that has an absurd amount of opening pressure which then collapses into also being a cakewalk, and a finale scenario which is almost entirely passive allowing the player to call all the shots, and then lags itself out. That is totally backwards;the hardest scenarios should go in the back, and the easier ones in front to build up to them. The same holds especially true for mission three;a build and destroy that starts hard and ends easy has it totally backwards. The best B&D out there either get harder as the mission goes on, or atleast hold it steady throughout.

And finally, the reason I started this entire writeup, the Rise of Rajas campaigns. Before I skimmed them a bit and picked a few to play, and have played the entirety of the Khmer campaign, but there should be plenty of unfamiliar maps to run through.

On to Gajah Madah as we set sail into the pacific, the tranquil sea....hereby known as the Malay campaign since I dont want to type that repeatedly.

Woah! Do you see what I see in this cinematic? A map showing the action to unfold. At last. As described before in the playthrough thread, a good scenario. A lite risk affair with four active players, choosing your way to dominate the map and which enemy to take out first etc. The mapping complements the gameplay nicely even if the forest edges are simple. Just a good scenario overall. Honestly if every mission was more like this one I would be praising these campaigns often.

This B&D mission tasks the player with setting up a base and reaching a friendly castle isolated and under attack in the center of a hostile city, meanwhile fending off raiders on his own base. I find the early pressure here to be unacceptably strong;they bring elephants, swordsmen, and skirmishers, and these attack waves repeat on a dizzyingly fast timer;its almost an aggressive AI. The players forces are puny unless you count a pack of gaia elephant units you can find on the edge of the map. I find this mission to be brokenly difficult and after several replays could only survive by putting my TC in the wooded corridor and stone walling with monks or alternatively in the cliffed corner area;but then I was too slow and flatfooted to get ready in time to save the king. I dont get how to beat this scenario, and I dont want to know how quite frankly. I dont like it, I dont like the malay tech tree and it just doesnt feel appealing. I enjoy trying out impossible maps to see whats up like 'Siege of Medieburg' on moderate or Call to Arms on Hard in the village battle, but there is a big difference between this map and other maps that were rumored to be impossible that I finished;those other maps were appealing and played well.

Here is how I think this mission is beatable;there is a thin corridor of actions which the player follows much like a build order, and a certain unit loadout to create, and a way to handle the incoming attackers somewhat reliably;and once the player has discovered and mapped this set of actions, he can repeatedly thread the needle and beat the scenario reliably. I am not enthused about discovering this specific methodology;because the scenario offers middling prospects of being good enough to work hard for anyhow. I could just watch the vipers video and emulate his actions to beat it, but I am not interested in doing so. The player needs more to work with here; more starting units, a better base, or more resources and technology, or all three. The enemy isnt even that strong;its just that you start with nothing.

You might be wondering why I dont just turn the difficulty down...and I did try it on standard, and as expected another problem rears its head. One of the most common problems B&D face is endgame sag, where they start out strong and end up weak and easy, resulting in an unfulfilling mission. That is certainly the case here;the enemy ceases putting up even a hint of a resistance and I deliberately left the allied castle to its own devices, and even an hour in it hadn't fallen yet;my ally singlehandidly pushed back the rebels too. Sure, I would like the start to be easier, but then the whole mission becomes easy. You need to play B&D on hard so they stay engaging through to the end.

I love the concept of this scenario, colonizing islands who then become tributaries. And I loathe its gameplay;first of all its naval based which is just bad automatically because AoE2 has a bad naval combat system, and also its a cramped and finicky start again. The AI can hit much of your base by sailing along the coast, and even worse they tend to land crossbows in your resources there too. And then there is the fact you need to defend those tributaries, and its very difficult to control space in AoE2 unless there are wallable corridors. I just dont want to play it, and I dont like the experience it is offering. Yeah I am skipping this.

This one reminds me of Ceaser from Rise of Rome, the start is near identical. A B&D with an extremely cramped start and a naval focus, this one is going to struggle to hold my attention. The designer has prioritized looks over gameplay with that annoying pier near your dock, as the fishing ships struggle to pathfind through it. And yeah, I definitely dont like this mission either. The enemy naval pressure is far too much and from multiple angles with better upgraded ships at times. Just how is this enjoyable I will never understand. Skipping.

I dont get it, how did we lose control of our own capitol? The cinematic said we had an army in there to strongman them... This mission sends us on a FF hunt for a B&D base as usual;bland enemies along the way. I dont like the bandits scattered thoughtlessly like creep terrain over the entire map;your starting unit roster struggles to handle this task. I find it exasperating that constant naval attacks are launched against our starting base. We are no mighty empire, we are pathetic weaklings struggling against long odds;I loath this cognitive dissonance between what the cinematics claim and what the game environment offers. I couldnt get into the flow of the game with the enemies just nonstop hounding me whereever I went, and just as I was planting a second sneaked base on the other side to finally clean out the bandits there, a wonder timer for only 300 years was started;kill the princes or lose. I quit then in some disappointment...why do some of these missions want nothing more than to heap pressure on the player so badly?

In summary, malay started out very strong with a nice mission, but followed it up with a long string of missions I either dont get, or dont want to get. The story went in for something clever again, but I think if you go clever you really need to master it perfectly, and I just find the writing quality with the cinematics to be shoddy, nevermind how the ingame scenarios have very little story presence. Why cant we just focus on the presentation of history?

Moving on to the Khmer campaign, I decided to replay this one as well despite already posting a playthrough of it. I will just keep it short as the ones above. (EDIT;and end up making it far longer) I constantly complained about the difficulty here before, but I seem to be struggling with every mission lately so we shall see.

Jumping into a B&D, I realize a likely reason why I perceived this campaign as so easy;its a smooth and pleasant mission to play, but also even on hard there is enough stone for multiple TCs and a full wall, and the players base area is wonderful like a random map. With this I can become comfortable and get invested into the mission, and after that happens I will pound it into the ground and think its easy, because I wanted to try harder. Those Malay missions were not too difficult;I just didnt like the challenges offered along with the gameplay and wanted something else, so I was in no mood to tolerate anything like cramped bases. This is just a far superior mission in design, reminding me more of those bland but playable Berbers B&D. This mission could be far more difficult and I would be willing to tolerate it and level up to meet it because its so smooth to play on.

In stark contrast to the other missions from early Sundjata, Yodit, and Malay the first attacks come at 15:00 in the form of light cavalry harrass;they bounce off my walls of course, but that also means I dont actually need walls on a replay. I have the choice to cheese it with walls or play honorably, and that choice of how to play is key for a good game. I can see now I was being a bit harsh before and its a reasonably fun mission, although it can hardly be denied that the enemy attacking faction should bring atleast a few more men...I mean half a dozen scattered units dont do much. And those battle elephants are more more entertaining than the ones the Malay are saddled with. Even though I like the mission, its still a far cry from Bari or Dracula and it has a ton of room for difficulty hikes. They are plenty strong on defense, they should just send stronger attack groups.

This map is another prime example of both why these scenarios are actually far more enjoyable, and why they turn out to be relative cakewalks. Numerous scenarios before now have kicked off a build and destroy with a small amount of resources and few if any TCs and villagers, resulting in a long and painful buildup;here we can throw down multiple TCs if desired, and still have resources for walls and military. In short, the player has options and can make descisions. But this also means a decent macro player is in his element, for with walls and multiple TCs comes a strong, safe economy and a massive military exertion against which the AI has no chance, atleast in this map. And knowing HD Editions tendency for lag, it would be hard to scale them up without handing them too many advanced upgrades, something seen in many prior B&D by now;I often complained of enemies having castle age upgraded units while the player was in fuedal. I prefer the enemies to use quantity, not quality, as a difficulty mechanic.

This map does some things I dont like, but they are mitigated by the smoothness of the resulting play and the open nature of the terrain as well as a clearly defined settlement area. There are too many units stationed about, looking good in the editor or screenshots but just being annoying ingame;although they do allow for a quick pushout, they are so random in nature I dont want them much. Plus that initial exploration stage;we have decent but not great vision over the area, but if its a rebellion of our own kingdom shouldnt we know what the lay of the land is? Besides that I already know what the map looks like from a prior run, so its slightly annoying to scout it again just for the priviledge of placing building foundations.

I tried playing with no walls this time and recieved a fairly good game;despite coming from three directions the attacks were managable with soldiers garrisoning the routes. There was so much stone I couldnt resist throwing down castles, and had every route covered with one with ballista elephants and monks underneath them. Even with that and a serious economy, I still had room within the glorious 200 pop to create an offensive force of elephants and went on a rampage through the northern towns into orange. Although the task force killed many buildings it was clear we couldnt fully win, so I sent the survivors out of the city back home. Man, these units are so tough! Not many units can just walk out of a fortress and get back to heal like that. This is amazingly good after the lousy malay elephants. Even though it was entertaining, its a bit cakewalky and my resources are piling up despite using the costly elephant only. The final purple fortress in yellow is heavily garrisoned and two entire stacks of elephants at once fail to wipe the place out. Since the first attack with elephants failed, I follow the only logical route and order dozens of stables built outside their city, build up to the popcap in elephants, and order an all out charge, which finally gets the job done. I ended up with a big ole grin on my face as the elephant herd got the job done, so I guess technically the scenario did its job well.

Well, I hated this mission before as it puts emphasis on the hit and run nature of the default AI. Even their ballista elephants hit and run. I shouldnt need to explain how absurd it is for a man holding a crossbow to dodge being slashed in the back while reloading for a 180-no-scope shot on you.

That said, I came back after finishing the khmer campaign and buckled down to persevere through this mission. I picked the merenary groups with rattans and skirmishers to best counter the ranged enemies. After this I headed out with my envoy, luring back troops and dispatching them as appropriate, with infantry getting kited by my own arambai and cav archers, while my tough ranged units handled their squishier ranged units. I found some ships and cleared out some war galley on the river with the help of the envoy, who held the fire of opposing ships while my fire ship sneaked into position. There are a ton of elephants controlling a crossing which should be softened with the demo ships, and after that I lure and kill them efficiently. To do that I dance around at the edge of the ballista elephant LOS then run behind them to get between them and the patrol point, at which point the arambai can ussualy shoot them in the back freely without being aggrod, since they prefer targeting the envoy on their patrol route. Now we have to face fully upgraded crossbows which exceed the definition of obnoxious, as well as plenty of mixed ranged units to boot...le sigh. I just dont understand it. I notice these ranged units are willing to follow me, so I put all my cavalry to the far left of the shallows and lure them across it, and have them charge into their backs. Dealing with the arambai in the town was a whole nother ordeal...I tried luring them out while every mount I had moved along the edge of the map and up behind them, and lost 3 light cavs to kill them, and my envoy down to 25 HP. Later on I start using herding against their ranged units...drawing them forward, then rushing past to get around behind them, then pushing them into my own ranged units. After picking up some halbs at an intersection, I return to the towered wooden bridges and start luring all the units out, then pound the towers with my elephants. I tear down the blacksmith and barracks thinking they might hold a secret, but nope. Many enemies past here;I am a little confused why the hints say there are secrets but I find nothing. I reach the goal after luring many enemies but I head back to the crossroads where I recieved the halbadiers to see how that is. But there are only more enemies with no secrets so I reach the end of the level and win.

Yeah, well, I think this mission is just too simplistic to be good. I dont really feel like I went on a journey since the map design doesnt convey anything more than decent terrain work I would expect out of any map. There is no characterization here, no sneaking the gunpowder barrels into the castle or the like. The comnbat gameplay is very mundane, and some encounters are simply enemies standing still which I consider bottom of the barrel content;you cannot go any lower than that. I dont know that the mission needs to be on the level of Ulio\TKBM adventuring but it surely needs more triggers to create deeper gameplay to be enjoyable to me. I have a hard time enjoying such a simplistic mission, and I am going to beat a dead horse to life if I mention those kiting crossbows one more time.

This mission again has a nice startup to it with plenty of resources to make some moves to customize your town and just barely enough space to live in if economized on. The starting army size is good to allow an early push, but it again leads to a chaotic reorganization, assembling many tiny units into one usable force is a little annoying. The naval aspect of the scenario inevitibly bring it down a bit;for example invading the towns on your landmass involves getting shot at constantly by galley even though your in the middle of a village. There could be more consistency with mission2;destroying the towers or key points no longer yields control of these identically layed out minibases. The enemies attacking with fully upgraded imperial naval units is less than impressive, though, reminding me of those malay missions. Sure we are fighting a thassalacracy, but I much prefer fighting against overwhelming quantity rather than quality.

This mission plays out in an enjoyable way, even if its a one sided romp. While booming on my mainland, all available military units converged in the nearby land bases and crushed them, while some monks and ballista elephants joined by standing troops. After that I transported a dozen villagers to the other mainland and built castles and stables;after this I was ready for nonstop elephant spam and pushed through to their main castle, smashing it after several failures. Gold was slightly tight so I actually sold a bunch of stone;despite that I finished with 3k+ stone and much more on the map, such as on the island in the center I didnt touch. After destroying all their bases I found I had to contend with their remaining fleet and was surprised to realize they had a naval base with a castle in the center...well, I guess that makes a lot of sense. We converge on the island from all sides with mass produced fire ships and pound it into oblivion with cannon galleons. Nice mission, I wish they were a bit tougher on land though. Its just too easy to be called Good even though the smoothness of the gameplay makes it very approachable.

This B&D goes in for a deathmatch style game with vast enemies and vaster stockpiles of resources for the player to use;an elephant frenzy blowout makes for a fitting finale. This mission does a good job of presenting the player as ruling an actual kingdom, with cities and massive armies ready to move out in stark contrast to how the malay campaign presented its 'empire'. As always the resources available and building space allows for a strong economy to be established, leading to enjoyable macro play. That said the massive army of 100+ units is really overdoing it a bit since its a bit tedious to marshal these widely scattered units together into a cohesive force.

This mission is a solid Good mission, I have to give it up. Before I didnt like it much since it lagged so badly, but it seems like through some cosmic coincidence I didnt feel much lag at all;maybe going for the conquest win and not the wonder win helped reduce AI pathfinding. I do have a much more powerfull processor than I did in 2017 but in my experience it hasnt changed much in other scenarios, and we saw some very laggy old FE scenarios in this new playthrough.

This mission is amazingly well balanced after many cupcake missions;the two enemies fielding many elephants and arambi make a fierce and unrelenting attacking upon the center area which I struggled to deal with satsifactorily. (aka trivialize) Needing to struggle to exert dominance is a refreshing changup from previous missions;now our mighty economy has something to exert itself against. The problem is our elephant ballistas dont deal much damage, and the battle elephant struggles to close with arambai and even other AI ballista elephants using the detested individual micro, so the enemy force just lingers on forever;not to mention their own battle elephants also take a long time to kill. I decide to settle things with nearly a dozen castles in the center, dispatching melee elephants to deal with trebuchet and mass deploying monks for rapid healing on our high HP units. Having establish solid passive defences I dispatch all the elephants to eliminate the source of the red trebuchet, the only things that truly give us grief. Having 6 or 7 relics and many gold mines allows for very careless use of monks which continue to convert orange elephants as a distraction force. These arambai are flipping absurd BS though, why the hell are they so resistant to ballista elephants...once reds castles fall, however, the difficulty falls off to token levels since my castles are no longer threatened by trebuchet. After this we converge with all elephants on each neighboring city and pound them into submission fairly easily. I was a little dissapointed the mission ended with defeating 3 of the five enemies, as my elephants were entering multiple towns in force and I was eager to dispense more revenge after having been pounded on from so many angles. Good mission I have to say, more satisfying to conquer than building the wonder and also no lag this time for whatever reason.

Khmer in summary...what can I say, probably the best overall FE campaign. Its high points are no match for Bari's or Dracula's high points but aside from that FF mission it provided a great deal of classic B&D entertainment and maintained a more level and consistent experience throughout without any BS factors appearing like they do in Bari2. The continuation of the maps into one another and the way each mission played out with the possibility to control territory made you feel a bit more like you were maintaining an empire. The lack of villager economies to raid to weaken your enemies was a bit unfortunate, as every mission boils down to sending waves of the mighty Khmer battle elephant to assassinate hard points. One of the most enjoyable things in AoC is pulverising or raiding your enemies economy, and the satisfaction from seeing scores of villagers slaughtered is unparelled, esspecially if its in multiplayer. Sweet revenge after having been hassled in the B&D by the enemy.

Burma...I dont recall this campaign besides dipping my toe in the water and not finding the temperature to my liking. Well, I enjoyed the Khmer campaign more than I did the first time so lets see.

Eh, Not feeling that cinematic writing, and the dialogue at the start seems a bit anachronistic with a nationalistic appeal. The difference in style here is striking;a cramped map like the malay missions, but atleast we have enough resources to get going quickly enough. The player seems to have a choice between fast castling and upgrading his strong starting units, good stuff. The difference between the burmese and khmer elephants is noticable...these sluggish beasts are less appealing to command. I fail to kill the king in time and he flees to a castle, but my starting force is plenty strong enough to handle one castle so he dies in the end shows up with hand cannons, what the heck? I kill them off and convert their elephant archers, while pushing through some red bases. But honestly this mission is rubbing me the wrong way, and I am a bit demoralized about continuining. Its a very cramped affair with no room for development, and the gameplay is dink and dunk. After looking about the map for a bit with marco polo in a contemplative mood, I end up deciding to skip this one. Maybe its not dreadfully bad, but I dont see sufficient enjoyment or satisfaction on the table to be earned for suffering through finishing these enemies off. I am glad to see the enemies appear to have villager economies but so many other details are backwards from the prior missions. This map is way to small for this.

This B&D is a bit more open but also is not particularily appealing;the scattered forest trees every in my base are both an eyesore and a development roadblock. Note how random maps dont do this...carefully considering how to provide the player with an enjoyable economic development is important too. I notice the enemy again have villager economies which is an encouraging point. This mission feels a bit naive with regards to many aspects;the reinforcing gaia army is easily reached and used to crush your enemies, although its good this gaia is post imperial age so their units dont become worthless later. This scenario plays out in such a messy way though;map is way too small, enemies on all sides, player has a massive domain without much going on in it. The enemy sends crossbowmen to harras, and somehow they end up walking into my castle. My starting army can crush their economy too readily...I want to work for that a little more, ya know. Killing off their villager economies is satisfying only after a long gruelling battle for it. I have to laugh a bit as our fully upgraded gaia troops face completely unupgraded yellow soldiers...the cinematic claims we are in for a tough situation so what the heck. This map has many gaia units an villages that join you with no explanation or dialogue, and they provide exceptionally strong hero units when they do. I hate this messy and cluttered gameplay and am very stressed out by it;besides that its very easy because the fully upgraded gaia units dominate everything. I am done with this mission.

I came back to this mission a week after writing the above and tried playing it with a fresh look, but its no good;I find this B&D to be completely intolerable. The enemy is landing troops and sending ships;an enemy to the far right is sending land troops, and the yellows are swarming with crossbows. All of these attacks are inconsequential and easily wiped out by your gaia troops, those hoplite-like hero infantry with 2+4 armour, but its so unpleasant to play. Your base is simply ugly and unappealing to behold;its a rough edged mission on a cramped and cluttered map. I am in disbelief someone finds this fun, but yeah I guess there is no accounting for taste...

Oh dear, this mission conjures of memories of those AoE1 Ingo scenarios I never liked...stuck in a hostile city with a civilian unit and needing to escape. This mission allows for some wacky outcomes;I managed to convert the assassin and also two battle elephants, knocked down the fortified walls, and tore down their B&D economy before it could get started. You can attack and badly damage or destroy multiple factions if desired and ruin the whole scenario, so the player needs to be willing to cooperate with it to get a decent game.

I restart several times until I hit upon what seems like the most standard way to play and get started with a B&D;that place with the komodo dragons seems like an iconic spot for a city so I throw down a TC there even if its not the best location. This B&D offers a nice choice of objectives to win, as well as an optional ally to consider. That said its rather naively setup;I can still easily destroy or ruin multiple AI instead of building up, if I wanted to do so. Their bases are very soft and accessible. I am relieved to see a villager economy rather than cheating AI has been implemented. My impression of the B&D being soft are confirmed with a fairly easy buildup as the starting pressure is crushed by your own units, and my +7 attack champs tear through blue like a hot knife through butter. Around now my orange allies turn on me, and they put up a strong resistance until their standing army of monks and arambai is broken, and after that they dont put up a fight as their exposed economy is torched. Its great that they have a raidable economy, but the entire thing shouldnt neccesarily be out in the open and unprotected;maybe a rear economy or a small safe one would be good to give them a base income. As is these AI have no late game strength so its all over as soon as you get rolling. Winning felt like playing an ES mission. The map isnt well designed for the red AI either, there is a spot where half a dozen villagers and cattle where trapped between some buildings and a cliff. The red AI was one-and-done also;losing their army and TC instantly in the first battle and not able to rebound with any more troops. Its a decent B&D mission which was modestly enjoyable but a bit cramped and those AI need to last a little longer.

This fixed force mission reminds of the Babylonian fixed force from AoE1, using priests to convert elephants and move forward step by step. Its certainly different, and I like how we can convert the leaders of bases to capture them. I am surprised to note that enemy ranged units are not kiting us down;thats very good. I am a little confused why we are given the ability to train units, since I have monks and elephants, and converted every elephant I saw so far. Its a bit rinky dink in that respect as you gain such a disparate force of random gaia units and conversions, its a bit annoying to command. I prefer having 3 unit types at most in my army;I take the strongest or most usefull units and leave the others behind. There are some interesting things here like the Nat Enchantressess who will powerup for every one of your units they kill, becoming a serious threat I imagine, but your elephants can stomp them flat with no worries. I actually love the idea of this scenario but there isnt much execution...not much puzzles, no ambushes, no depth of any kind added to the combat. The barriers to progress are largely units left sitting in your path;a few times units were put on patrol loops so they were a little more dynamic and could potentially surprise you, which is good. Despite having some positive points I cannot say it was particularly enjoyable with such simple gameplay...I was left desiring more by the end. This is just a mission that needs more depth and complexity.

Yeah, I cannot stand this fixed force affair. The enemy outrange the player units which are unpleasant to control, and the 'defenders' are attacking me more than the other way around. They have too many upgrades and my elephants do not recieve any benefit from their Howdah since we dont have plate barding;therefore they are just bad elephants with no bonus compared to the lovely khmer elephant. This mission is simply poorly designed for a good experience;I am not sure it needs much elaboration on since the deliberate design descisions are what leads to this, and since it is deliberate its more a matter of taste. The layout of the map is unappealing with no sense of geography to it, just an endless city.

Burma in summary...this campaign has some positive points that I have been clamoring for such as vilager economies, but the tradeoff was handing in the smooth gameplay from Berbers or Khmer, exchanged for awkward cramped rinky dink scenarios. The map design suffered as well, an unappealing old school AoKH type at work. I would have prefered random map quality if only for the benefits it brings to gameplay. And I found the writing quality in the cinematics to be rather mundane and poorly written. Unfortunately I have to concede many of these Burma scenarios I dislike for reasons of personal taste, but at the same time I dont see why crowded, clunky and messy gameplay would be appealing to that many people. There are plenty such scenarios on the smithy over the years that I ignored or wont play, and I dont make a fuss over scenarios I disregard because I am disinterested, but the difference is I had to pay for this one...

On to Veitnam, but I no longer expect much feeling demoralized and discouraged after the last campaign.

Alright, some guerilla warfare against the mighty Ming. For anyone that knows the Europa Universalis series, fighting Ming as Veitnam is surely a fearsome prospect... This mission looks more appealing with smooth mapping and open areas;the terrain mixing isnt that good but its sufficient I guess. And wow, this mission is testing my patience with ballistics crossbowmen right off the bat. I like how the garrisons are patrolling around instead of standing still, that is important. I am somewhat confused and puzzled by this mission;we are told to scout carefully for a base site, but even after marco poling and examining the entire map carefully, I can see no better spot than the one we stand on at the start;and beyond that, there is no other spot for massive enemy patrols with huge LOS are everywhere, restricting movement.

The scenario seems to be expecting us to reinforce our allies at some point, so I hurry to build up with triple docks along the beach and many fish traps as well as deep sea fishing expeditions. The scenario seems to be rather passive, so I start relaxing and enjoying the buildup while plannong on how to whomp all these chinese. The Rattan Archer is one of the best UU and I aim for assembling a large squad of them. I am displeased to note this scenario is laggy right away, possibly from those patrols which wouldnt be a problem in the userpatch. I buy a little stone and mine enough for two castles and mass Rattans. Once I have about forty of em I start liberating gold\stone mines and clearing villages, leaving towers for elephants to mop up. Purple has starting attacking my fishery slowly, but I amassed a pile of food sufficient to last for quite awhile, so I waste no resources or pop cap no defensive ships.

Around now my allies are losing badly, and I find some of the chinese garrisons are annoyingly strong with siege weapons, as well as my economy being anemic from lack of pop cap and resources to mine. I dont like how I need to defend two bases from reasonably strong enemy attacks and also have to clear out villages with only 100 pop to do it with. Winning the game is somewhat tedious and dreary with a great deal of commitment needed to protect your useless allies while getting ready to whittle down each village garrison in turn. I was also surprised to see controlling the villages offers no tangible benefit aside from having another portion of the map accessible to your villagers without towers shooting at them.

Its a decent mission as is I guess, but the lag spikes and lag waves removed any enjoyment I might have had otherwise. I think the allied cities need to be way tougher, or have some kind of economy you can help prop up;they are just way to much of a burden on 100 pop.

A DtS of sorts commences with the need to break out of an incirclement;the gameplay is quite simple as the enemy AI is not clever about attacking, and only slowly makes headway against your ally. I never helped them once and they were surviving just fine. Some scripted attacks against key points would have made a good difference here;as is it feels quite simple and bland. I was surprised the 'objective' was so easy to fulfill, only to find out I needed to bring soldiers there, only afterwards;these objectives are confusing and unclear. I didnt realize for awhile that the soldiers were actual units who had to have a path cleared, as the scenario was a bit too messy to see this right away. I was unimpressed by the enemy choosing to bypass the fortress and start attacking my rear instead;they did so in a trickling inept fashion, and it was annoying to combat;mere harrasment. Overall I didnt like it much;a messy, unfocused DtS that rewards excessive walling strategies(with houses). The fortress is awkward to navigate and my allies troops often obstruct alleyways needed to move;very unpleasant map.

Winning this map by conquest certainly seems to be possible;the ming attackers are somewhat weak with an easily beaten troop composition;the map has a good deal of gold on it to harvest, and the veitnamese have elephants that could smash their limited troop production centers. It would be quite an ordeal, and with a scenario of this quality I have no interest in trying. When the map ended I had established a wall of elephants, rattans and monks at the first broken gate where most enemies came, and their attack waves couldnt budge us backwards one bit. Pause micro monks would probably get the job done too;we have the +3 range upgrade so they are good. I sectioned off my rear economy with housewalls so I had a large resource stockpile too.

What the heck is with this fixed force mission? You want me to break barricades that are covered by multiple bombard towers with a completely unupgraded army that has no siege? Yeah, I can just pause micro with light cavs to dodge all their shots, but just why? The other option is patrolling light cavalry underneath their towers, but I view that as an exploit and poor game design on ES's behalf;I do not want that emphasised as a means of gameplay. I am not playing such a poorly thought out scenario. There is virtually no chance such a designer is going to strike gold later on.

A siege battle with a somewhat slow buildup;the player is on the back heel in a cramped swamp with a 200 population limit. The best course of action seems to be to get a pair of early castles and some rattans while building up to full strength. After this I realized something curious;the seemingly strong enemy were very poorly upgraded and could barely even fight back, nevermind the high population limit for the player allowing for large armies if desired. This lead to a steamroll gameplay as pure rattan archers found no resistance and I walked all over the lifeless and inert enemy bases, again lacking any villager economy or signs of life. For an example of naive the balancing is, at one point a scripted wave of knights charge out of a fortress to counterattack your siege, but these knights have only +1 against your maxed out rattan archers which are better than arbalests. Ditto for a similar wave of two handed swordsmen. Its past 50:00 and my rattans with 6+4 pierce armour are fighting crossbowmen with 5+2 damage...that isnt particularly engaging. They do have heavy skorps but they only do about 10 damage, and your rattans can easily damage them from afar.

The scenario tries to spice up this difficulty problem with a ming fleet faction which lands units all with 160+HP and castle age upgrades with onagers etc;I still found a full stack of kiting rattans could deal with these waves fairly reliably. Furthermore the scenario kindof hands you the solution on a platter, instructing you to build a castle on a hill where the transport ships will be mostly mowed down. I think its a good idea but it just needs some more execution to feel solid, and it cannot make up for how lacklustre taking the fortress felt. This invasion fleet tries to land near where your constructing a wonder to replace a destroyed wonder, but its very simple with an aggressive AI;as a DtS segment its not that compelling. The map is tiny and the fortresses you take are puny;a larger map where you build this wonder in the center of a still active enemy, and defend it from multiple fronts with street warfare might have been interesting.

This scenario has a decent skeletal structure but the balancing and pacing dont result in an entertaining game. This mission, like so many other FE scenarios, doesnt take care of the little things like removing map revealers from finished objectives, something I find understandable in a community map where your taking spare time from work or your other hobbies to make it but not a map where your getting payed to put hours into it. Typos in the cinematic are unimpressive...a "save position"? Above all else this is a very simple B&D.

The opening skirmish is unimpressive with very bland map design. A triple base B&D commences which atleast has open terrain to build up in, but the split focus is a bit overwhelming to handle, much like Ghengis4's invasion of persia and russia. This bland and vapid B&D allows for an uncontested buildup, only sending attackers around 20:00-25:00 and it looks and feels like an ES mission. That macro buildup is extremely slow and tedious with little resources, and the mapping quality is poor. This map is a little too large actually. This mission lacks character and soul and I grow weary of it and throw in the towel as my troops sweep aside some random map settlements. This one could almost be an ES mission if I didnt know better.

Ack, this campaign has six missions, not five like the rest. And I thought I was finally through. This mission begins with a small battle which is quickly spoilt as the enemy arbalesters do everything they can to prolong the battle by kiting around. This B&D has a pleasent build up to it with a rapid development, though being forced to fight off attackers under cliffs protected by their towers is not so fun. Their attacks are surprisingly strong considering the doubled bases and I lose one base entirely because I didnt realize it was even under attack;the constant alarm bells going off obscured this. They wiped out an entire army of fully upgraded infantry and elephants like nothing...sigh. Restarting, I built up again and this time made a maze for the constantly attacking chokonu\cavalier\skorpion swarms then sat back to build up resources for a siege. To my astonishment the population cap goes to 250. This combined with decent trash units and our unique skirmisher leads to an obvious tactic. Our mechanized chaff units of halbs and imperial skirmishers charge into the middle of their base simply to keep them off my trebs while said siege weapons pulverize their production centers. This tactic seems more like a chinese move than a veitnamese one, but with our huge economy we are pop capped perpetually despite losing tons of men. This tactic carries the day with great ease;the once seemingly strong AI crumbles like its made of paper machue. The garrisoned fortress was another matter;they constructed such absurd amounts of men, and with such a narrow entranceway, that the AI was almost stucked in their own fortress by their own mass, and getting in was darn near impossible. This lead to the neccisity of simply sniping down their production buildings by suicide charging trebuchets into an ever increasing gap, and alternating which gap you charge so their army got stuck in the other one. This map also had tons of resources on it, and with a completely passive garrison AI, a likely best strategy is to just sit around mining everything and twiddling things before actually attacking. Eventually I wore down the garrisons ability to make troops and overwhelmed them even with 20k gold in the bank and climbing. Those difficult to traverse cliffs around their base are very annoying with HD pathfinding.

All in all the finale veitnam mission is alright, a somewhat enjoyable game. The pathfinding around cliffs made it exaspherating to win. If only all the missions here had been this decent at minimum.

Veitnam in summary...I feel the build quality was the lowest yet seen in HD and they were surprisingly inconsistent. The mission veitnam5 was on the level of an ES map with more units. Others were medicore and just barely playable, but they certainly dont entice the player to get invested. That writing quality is bad in the cinematics again, the final one "things didnt keep being so great" what the heck is this?

So, with that I managed to play every HD scenario in only a few weeks span. I thought replaying through every ES mission was ardurous, but these campaigns so often managed to offer unpleasant and wearisome scenarios that it was more miserable by miles. Putting aside the pre-DLC era campaigns, I would put most of the focus on the DLC era with Rise of Rajas and African Kingdoms. Many of these scenarios, perhaps the majority of them, fall into the mediocrity exemplified category. They are baseline playable scenarios that are simple and straightforward affairs without too much going on in them, and certainly nothing innovative is happening;only rarely does something interesting show up as in the burmese mission with four monks holding relics, or the ethopian3 mission with the scarce land and varied kingdoms. Perhaps that is the most striking feature of these campaigns...the sheer lack of innovation and creativity. This is partly because every scenario is very simplistic with its use of triggers;ingame dialogue is nearly nonexistent. Most scenarios setup a simple premise and let the player loose in a basic B&D;I wonder if the average mission doesnt have 20-30 triggers at most.

When I use the term mediocrity, I am not talking about average...most of these scenarios could indeed get a modest blacksmith rating because that rating system can easily be gamed by basic technical proficiency. Speaking for myself, any scenario I make could get a 5 in mapping, and a 4 in both story and creativity with a baseline effort. Thats just how the system is reward merely decent maps like my "Siege of Nicaea" with good ratings. Mediocrity to me is when you make a basically playable and technically complete scenario, and at the first moment it reaches that status you stop working on it and leave it as is without any improvement or refinement, and you just accept this basic thing as presentable. Only a designer with a strong talent and immense experience could end up making a good or better scenario this way. Those Berber B&D exemplify this perfectly;just look at those maps and see how dull and simplistic they are without anything interesting happening, but then see how much room there is to work with;complexity and villager economies could easily be added on. The AI could be made to escalate its attacks with time rather than being a fixed in stone affair. There could be infighting between a city or two, or maybe some friends to make. Those Berber maps felt like blank slate template maps that layed a foundation for a good or even great scenario, and then the designer didnt build a house on that foundation instead being satisfied with simply laying a good foundation. Community maps like the "Wreck of the Santa Maria" also display this attitude, and in that case its perfectly acceptable since its a blacksmith map your providing for free, and I can choose to take it or leave it. But that DtS could be so much better if it was worked on more to unleash more of its innate potential;that is the difference between a merely good or decent scenario, and the great or legendary scenarios. These FE scenarios so often and clearly display the potential to be so much more than they are, and that is dissapointing to percieve as I play.

The inconsistency of difficulty was striking in some campaigns. Some campaigns did not vary wildly;Berber and Khmer for example, held a very consistent level of difficulty with a slight ramping up over time, very well done there. But some like Sundjata, Ethopia and Malay had insanely difficult missions with the enemy attacking with far superior troops or ships in both quantity and quality;and then they had their missions which were cakewalky or easy, and the difficult missions were randomly sprinkled in among the cakewalks and the most difficult campaigns had finale missions that were too easy. I think its pretty obvious some of these campaigns were built by commitee and others were designed by one guy working in a linear fashion, and assuming I am correct the one-guy-working-linearly approach has clearly superior results as the coordination wasnt there with the commitees.

Some campaigns and missions were simply to not my taste. I think the Portugal campaign exemplifies that;I personally dislike these missions for reasons of taste, not because they are objectively awful, even though I do struggle to understand how they could be fun. But there are many blacksmith scenarios with a high rating - Crusade The Beginning, Bleda the Hun, Macbeth - that I never found so amazing and offered only meagre experiences to me despite their objective build quality or high complexity. I have been playing games for over twenty years;I have played most RTSs, the total wars with their campaign mode, the Europa Universalises with their unsurpassed grand campaigns, the civilization series and space 4xs like alpha centauri, and of course all those community maps on the smithy. I know what I like and what I dont like by now, and I am not particularly keen on trying to adapt myself to extract some enjoyment from some awkwardly designed scenarios that feel uncomfortable. At this point a good scenario needs to come to me, not the other way around. Thats just how it is when you choose to develop a scenario for a twenty year old game...

The most dissapointing element surely has to be the storytelling. I think its just poor accross the entire swath of FE scenarios with only a handfull managing to be decent. The writing consistently has a contemporary feel to it;it doesnt feel like a person from back then is speaking one bit. Its never compelling or memorable as so many legendary blacksmith works were. These designers have told great stories outside of their FE work...HS's Storm on the Steppes is fantastic, and Al Kharn ussually brings nicely written dialogue with a smart story focus;no idea who the rest of those guys are. I was bitterly dissapointed in this aspect when I loaded these up the first time, and its the most important part to nail for a long lasting work. Gameplay and especially mapping deteriorate over time;its storytelling that transcends aging. I would emphasis the story direction as a major weakness...such as in Yodit\Ethopia, I do not care about daniel, his fathers trade business, or any of that nonsense. Tell me about the kingdoms and tribes of the region and the events unfolding. I am dissapointed to see the writers consistently shy away from historical events and focus on clever storylines and their characters;whom do not recieve ingame development as a community map character often would.

Here is a concrete example of weak story Khmer2 the player is tasked with ending some rebellions against our leader, whose name I cannot hope to spell nor remember. A map is shown similar to a bitmap of the rebellions, heading towards our capitol city. But why? Who are these people? Where is their economic and population power base? Why do we start in the position of them owing us their allegiance? How do they think? Its bland, its meaningless, if it wasnt based on historical events I would say its just a poorly thought out excuse to justify the gameplay in the coming scenario, as this empty story would be better than just tossing the player in with no text at all. Most of the cinematics and story of the entirety of the FE campaigns fall right in line with this, or they spend half their time or more describing their own characters and narrators whom I couldnt care less about. I just played SotS again and the difference in dialogue and story is shocking, its better than the FE stuff by miles. You get a strong sense of the harsh environment, the rugged character of our hero and the desperate plight of his people, of the savagry of the steppelanders, about where and why we are in the world. The dialogue writing itself is better and more enjoyable to read than any of the cinematics or ingame dialogue presented in these campaigns. How does such a talented individual perform so much better in his blacksmith work than in his professional work? I can imagine some theories on that...

The cheap production quality of these campaigns is always obvious;another sand grain in my eye. The cinematics seem impressive since no community map have tried to match up against the ES cinematics like this, but actually the drawings while good are always small and frequently recycled. Note how the ES cinematics almost always display maps showing cities and empires and important going-ons;note the continuation in those cinematics from the brilliantly inspiring AoE1 ES mission briefings with their colored maps and units with movement arrows. ES AoK maps dont have bitmaps;they use the cinematics for that. These FE scenarios lack the awesome bitmaps seen in Ingo works or other community creations, and the FE cinematics lack the maps seen in the ES cinematics. Their repetitive nature and sometimes misplaced usage that doesnt always complement the text is underwhelming to say the least. They are not a positive element of these campaigns to me. Pay the drawing guy more and have him make larger depictions and more of them...also make sure a map showing the conflict zone appears in each opening cinematic at least.

Also the audio...I just dont like the voice acting. Its nowhere near the quality of my favourite games, and it sounds like the FE team themselves had to pitch in to make it happen, I dont know. Look, if you submit a scenario on the smithy with amatuerish voice acting I will be very generous and tolerant there;but this is payed for professional content. I expect voice acting on the level of Starcraft or ES scenarios, not community works. Some of the cinematic voice overs such as Berbers and Khmer were acceptable, but then the ingame unit dialogues sounded even worse to me across the board. I dont want to harp on this too much since I have no desire to bash amatuer voice acters.

My combined rating of the HD campaigns, if I had to put a number on it, I think the most sensible number would be a 5\10. This represents a meh experience that wasnt particularly satisfying. There are enjoyable scenarios to be found scattered in there, and campaigns like Khmer are worth playing, but largely I didnt enjoy most of them, and strongly disliked a surprising number of these scenarios. Although the build quality and difficulty are obviously better than the ES campaigns, my recent playthrough of all the ES missions found many less situations where I was hating the scenario;they are for the most part far more approachable and smooth to play, even if their population caps, pacing, low difficulty, etc leave them devoid of much entertainment value. These campaigns place most of the burden of being good on their gameplay, which is simplistic and the usage of triggers minimal;the complexity is low, especially in the DLC era campaigns which no longer even try to be great. The problem with aiming for the foothills is you most likely wont end up hitting a mountain by mistake.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
posted 08-21-19 06:22 PM CT (US)     832 / 901       
Also checking out SotS and The Quest

Thought I should revisit HS18's Storm on the Steppes;I always regretted the review I made on it since I hadnt figured out how I wanted to do them yet, and it was quite shaky, oh well.

This B&D map started with a fixed force engagement that set a good sense of thematic gameplay;your heavily armoured units vs the lightly armoured but numerous swarming horsemen;these engagements do well to craft a sense of dread and urgency as you search for a home. Even after searching for a settlement to build up in, you need to defend and build a castle from several waves of horsemen, before finally settling into the B&D. Its all nicely handled and esspecially the audio usage creates a good mood and atmosphere, although in my case my mood was highly frustrated after getting my hide pricked full of arrows. This is engaging and memorable gameplay you dont forget so soon.

The first time I played, I noticed from the lack of terrain borders and sparse trees that the player would be under pressure from all angles;the key is gaining a safe economy. Therefore I housewalled like a madman, only leaving gaps and corridors that led underneath my castle, to feed as many horsemen as possible into a meat grinder. This time around I decided not to do any housewalling and try to man up against the enemies;I had briefly tried this and given up last time. The only exception was some houses under the towers to the south to keep them a little safer. I started making monks, knights and got the cavalry armour upgrade, very important;also hand cart and steady villager production by using the boars. My strategy is simple;knock out West Valon by microing our 2+4 knights with monk support. My first push came too soon, and I was sent scurrying back under my castle with the loss of one knight, but I kept adding on knights and monks and felt I had enough around 20:00ish and started pushing hard. The victory condition to defeat West Valon involves simply killing the majority of their army, but this is not easily done as they spam units like mad. Luckily I had judged my force strength correctly as their cav archers did little damage to my men, the monks kept pushing forward, and any tough melee units of theirs got swarmed, and soon my knights had their buildings spawn points covered by knights who ran new recruits through;at 26:30 I finally managed to make them concede and their base and town center joined my side. With this victory in hand I collapsed in relief;this was very tense and stressfull to pull off, and I couldnt shake the nagging fear of failure and annihiliation that would ensue if I lost control of the offensive.

Now that I had the corner of the map, I could have a safe economy without walling, and I started getting things in order there with farms, chopping trees and mining gold all in relative safety. I decide to try to break the 1 hour mark for victory and brace for some intense and extremely frustrating micro;this games pathfinding and combat engagement system is such garbage I often cannot prevent myself from yelling at the screen;here is an example, say there are thirty of your knights surrounding your battering ram;then say there is a enemy light cavalry attacking that ram. So you tell all the knights to attack that light cavalary, and what happens? They literally move away from the light cavalry to form up in that oh so fancy formation before charging. I will go into rant mode following this chain of thought so back to the AAR. I have a solid force of knights, monks, and I add in a dozen or two skirmishers which are very usefull against mangudai;then half a dozen rams are built as I tribute the gold for the siege ram tech and the 50% ram HP upgrade. Following this I take everything south to Geroth;the skirms try to stay near the rams and shoot at mangudai or pikemen, while I try keeping the knights on defensive attacking light cavalry, sending them to hunt siege weapons, and also attacking mangudai, who tend to stand still as they aggro on the skirmishers. This is one hell of a stressfull push, and I lose control slightly as my focus is overtaxed and all my monks die to towers. I remove villagers at home for more pop as I spend all my gold on troops;one castle falls and then just barely another;and now that two thirds of Geroths Mangudai training capability has been removed, the third castle falls effortlessly. The victory message scrolls at 50:42.

Just to be clear, that was done with pause micro. So its fine if you dont consider it legit;although I personally despise real time mechanics and prefer the Europa Universalis format with pause and finer time controls. Or Total War does it better too with pause and speed controls and infinitely better unit control and prediction.

The enemy attacks are a bit too crazy in my opinion, but I guess I did select Hard so I cannot complain too loudly. The way to trivialize it is with a massive housewall and corridor filled with pikemen, skirms and maybe some monks and push this forward to attack;that is what I did in a previous playthrough. The play testers include 1302, a player similar to me in skill level, so its not too surprising the scenario puts so much pressure on you, in addition to HS18's own arabia acumen.

The mapping is awesome here;I love these steppes. The ruined structures are very cool but also a missed opportunity to do something like side quests, although the scenario is a bit too strenous as is without adding more to fight.

I dont like the population cap much;110 is an annoying way to add difficulty, as obviously if the player had 150 or 200 he could just spam trash units. But I am more of a macro player who enjoys being at 200 pop and most B&D keep trying to go oh so low. Heck this game only supports a miserably low amount of units on the map in the first place. Even Total War doesnt have enough.

I tried playing on standard, which I found a mixed bag improvement. On one hand its certainly easier;more upgrades to start, the enemy horse archers dont hit and run. But these upgrades also detract from the gameplay because you can no longer choose to purchase items at the blacksmith. I also think in just the case of horse archers, hit and run kiting is acceptable;I would prefer to see the player buffed economicly to be able to handle the threat easier, rather than have the threat neutralized like this. This playthrough was amazingly easy;I had trained a dozen pikemen in addition to msot of my units surviving the FF, so I headed over to the corner player and engaged them head on with just the knights, and then withdrew to the monks and pikes which were coming up;a nice battle ensued with us slaughtering their army all at once, which set off the condition for their surrender right there and then. This isnt a fault of the scenario...standard should be easy, almost a cakewalk. Even with how easy it was, I could only speed up winning to 37:10...its still difficult to break castles protected by mangudai, since they render ordinary rams obsolete, and getting a good economy is somewhat time consuming regardless of starting position.

Rating my enjoyment is very difficult...because the scenario is so stressful and requires so much exertion I find it scary to consider playing again, which is why I hadnt until now. I said before the scenario was just trying to annoy the player to death or something like that, but I see now the author probably just likes this experience himself and is very comfortable being harrased on arabia. When comparing this to the Khmer campaign (also by HS18) its a bit of a shame the two couldnt find more of a meeting ground;I much prefer the idea of playing the Khmer maps as they are approachable and smooth to play with the player having a larger population and being powerfull, but they are not nearly as engaging or memorable, and their gameplay is more bland and vanilla lacking the thematic setup seen in this scenario.

So I decided to replay The Quest and comment on it a bit;this has some relevance to the FE campaign playthrough I am posting sometime here. Its no secret I dont like the FF in those campaigns, and back when I posted a playthrough of Khmer I hated its lone FF so much I wouldnt play it. I often complain about simplistic FF sections leading into B&Ds having men standing around on the grid doing nothing as bottom of the barrel content, and I believe we see some of that in The Quest. So lets see how it handles things;its been awhile so I dont remember the gameplay too well.

Right off the bat we see something almost no FE campaign has, and something the ES campaigns do have presented via cinematic, and something the AoE1 campaign briefings handled brilliantly;a map showing the area and the various actors.

The starting town, I have to admit, if I first saw it when playing the FE campaigns, might have made me lose interest already. But we gather our men and head out of town, and our characters exchange some dialogue;before there was any gameplay, there was something to read and think about. The first fight against standing still troops is mundane as I head down the road, but at the crossroads I am surprised at how engaging this next battle is, and it kills off most of my men due to careless control;this fight brings in two additional squads of men down the road to reinforce, and this adds some dynamism;the player cannot assume the men he sees will be the only men he fights if he engages carelessly. This fight at the crossroads is balanced nicely, and we see mostly melee units out of our enemy which are always more fun to fight against than ranged units. Its not that amazing or anything, but its not barebones or bottom of the barrel simple either. I recall when I first played I restarted the first 10-20 minutes probably a hundred times trying to learn how to kill off the various enemies without losing my precious men;I simply hadnt seen such a difficult mission since I was fresh off ES works. Something I disliked here was the trade cart unit;its just an annoying useless fella.

I poke around on the wrong ways a bit just to see what the player would encounter;more stiff fights, some hand cannons that can almost kill your heroes, and plenty of knights. I think by now the player would be in a carefull exploratory mood and try to poke around for easier methods rather than assume he can roll over all opposition carelessly. I am utterly relived to see the enemy crossbowmen do not individually micro our men down;I thought that was the case, but I would have been very sad to see my memory corrected otherwise. We get some knights soon after the tough crossroads battle, but note how we have some dialogue with these fellas instead of them being simple gaia units. Most FE FF would offer a one way declaration of loyalty, and often units would join up with no explanation given whatsoever.

I was surprised at how brutal the next fight was;after you pass the handcannons with yet more dialogue about those high powered weapons, I engaged some troops down the road and ended up having an onager opening up from my flank with more supporting foot units while my knights and several more men were killed in the struggle. I really like this;there is plenty of room to restart and play these fights better and try to keep my men alive. I dont think I lost a single man in Khmer3...nor was there a fight where anything unexpected happaned. I think this difficulty is perfectly balanced on a razors edge and provides depth for replay. I do remember being frustrated as hell by this back in the day, since I was accustomed to beating the ES FF with no or little losses, but its ok to be frustrating if you have something good to offer and demonstrate its worth beating;the minimap is the first clue this is worth it, the constant dialogues and story elements increasing your attachment to these characters is another reason. And beating these fights perfectly and throwing down a save file after was quite satisfying.

I decide to try pushing on with only my heroes remaining, and head down the path leading to the monk's village;I think the player would naturally head back if he hadnt already gone down that road, simply because the fights in the other direction were becoming so tough. The sidequest to get the relic is lame;the dire wolves have always been bugged and have no effective damage output;pikemen do cavalry class bonus damage against dire wolves so a single pikeman can beat 3 of them no problem, and then you need to wait for a slow monk to get the relic. Ugh, backtracking. Times like this make me wish the userpatch had the 4.0 and 8.0 speeds from HD Edition.

The terrain mixing is a little weak at times, I have to say. Like along this beach there a visble bits of grass and its very boxy and clearly tiled. Much of the forest grass consists of large patches of grass with sometimes some mixing to break it up, and the trees placed by the terrain tool leave those ugly bits of leaves underneath. Yeah, well, this scenario was made a few months after the game came out so what can ya expect. Overall it looks decent enough to not to be a distraction or anything though.

With the monk fights are a bit easier as I use the highest LOS unit for scouting, and now we can plan out our engagements better. Some FF out there give the enemies the same or better LOS than you do, and this reduces the strategic value of the gameplay since you cannot choose your fights;they are simply forced on you essentially at random. We proceed down the road and get more dialogue;note how our female character is the one to uncover the merchants identity and move the plot forward;she has a feminine role which I like in contrast to the male warrior roles of the other characters. Subterfuge;Its one of many gameplay elements that doesnt exist in AoC but is added here via triggers but esspecially clever dialogue usage. The Khmer3 FF mission had nothing happening in it besides bog standard combat.

We arrive at a formidable obstacle in the form of a castle, and are finally rewarded for suffering the management of that trade cart;the explosion of this barrier was quite satisfying back in the day, though this time I wondered why there were no units there too. After this we see a rare bad gameplay descision though;5 pop transport ships, which are a slap in the face if you kept every unit alive till now. Crossing the river might take a reload or two since your helpless ships are easy prey for ballistics galleon. Oh boy, that water mixing...even ingo leaving the single tiles of water patches in?? I completely forgot there was an island in this river, landing on it and getting my transports killed exploring lol...had to reload.

Landing on the other side, I mess up with earning Ornlu's affection;see, the deer outlines on FF or RPG maps drive me nuts as they walk through trees, and I instinctively shoot them with ranged units anytime I walk past one, and you need to feed this deer to Ornlu to gain him;nice to gain a strong hero incase your force is weak like mine is. The battles along the road here are rather mundane, except I dared to take on a pack of hand cannons and knights with so few men surviving and bought the farm;so I reload and cowardly sneak my way to the castle with the aid of my monk's high LOS. On of the few terribly bad things about the userpatch rears it head here as the AI targets your monk far more than the ES AI would;just makes no sense if the monk isnt attempting a conversion;I hate it. We arrive the the capitol without much more incident;the scout warning us of danger then running headlong into hand cannons himself was amusing.

Just out of curiosity, I head back to an older save file and head north through the path in the trees, arriving in the corner directly above the enemy base. I once lured out and killed off this entire base and managed to assasinate Belisarus, so I am wondering if this is possible once more; I dont know why I do these things...I have my four heroes, one monk, a single pikemen and a single crossbowman. The first challenge are the siege onagers and bombard cannons, but these are easily lured out since they have huge LOS and siegfried kills them while they chase my crossbowman. Its important now to lure units just beyond the enemy AI response distance so reinforcements dont flood the spot your units are. I lure off and kill batches of units such as hand cannons, and begin converting their knights even though they have massive conversion resistance;to do this wedge your monk into a forest corner and place your units around him on no attack, then have your toughest hero or another knight go out and lure the enemy knights;dont attack them, just go near them and let their LOS draw them in. The knights wont target your monk if they cannot pathfind to it, so soon I have a decent squad of knights built up and the camp is weakening quickly. But then it seems the scenario is a little different than I remember since they are training crossbows, skirms and hand cannons out of their archery range;I cannot convert them and killing that building would be impossible under these circumstances. But the AI is surely designed to only build a set amount of those units, so a new strategy commences;luring the ranged units out of their base to a different location, far enough so they dont return on an enemy response call. I get the entirety of their replacable ranged units lured over by the boar and they seem to be passive there, and I do the same with the pikemen being trained out of their barracks. They have a large force of very aggressive huskarls and knights but I also lure them off with a sacrifical knight to a distant region. I smash some trebuchet and rams and am surprised to see create object triggers create even more trebuchet which I also smash. Things seem much more difficult since last time with more and better upgraded knights issuing forth;soon enough these better knights are on my payroll after a lot of dancing around. I notice these knights seem to replenish infinitely so I eventually sacrifice another converted knight to draw them off to a distance location. Something very pecular now happens;I go in to attack Belisaurus a little bit, to see if the base is finally clear, and indeed it is as no one comes to his aid, but when I go to retreat from the tower fire this hero unit actually follows me up to the map corner where my units can gang up on him all at once. I guess the AI controlling him was the same as those very aggressive huskarls and knights that were willing to follow my units forever. Belisauris is now dead, and I head to the capitol to pick up the instawin, just as soon as we wait a bit for a timer to activate the enemies and the win condition.

So obviously no one would actually play like that, so I reload back to before I started killing off the enemy camp, and instead head into town to take control. I am not fond of this B&D, having only beaten it once most likely as anytime I played this mission I would just skip it at the end. There is some interesting points, and its somewhat difficult so it remains engaging even now, but it has many aspects I dislike. For one its 75 pop;another is the terrain tool forest trees outside the city, which obstruct development;there are no clearly defined player lands upon which to develop. A positive point is starting with 12500 gold and only a burning have a choice of spending the gold on lots of wood, food and stone for a quicker start, or hoarding the gold for expensive units later. I like buying enough stone to fullwall and make some custom castles with a row of towers encased in fortified walls, since ordinary castles are unavailable. A half dozen monks make a ton of sense to convert incoming cavalier which are then turned upon the enemy siege equipment;these monks are walled in seperately. I also delete one of the gates and create a corridor of walls which the enemy can pathfind through to my TCs and eco etc, recieving a hail of tower fire as they go. The hints show this scenarios age;who would forget about blacksmith upgrades? I dont like the pacing on this B&D buildup...slow as molasses and you do better with monks. You could easily win this with no villagers if your patient with monk walls. My defensive preperations were maybe a bit too excessive since the scenario gets trivialized here with my cavaliers and huskarls slaughtering the enemy siege and anything else getting chewed up by the mass of towers. The enemy loses steam quickly after the early pressure, too dependent on create object triggers and standing troops. Their waves dont seem to contain trebuchet later on, and when you have fully upgraded keeps and walls everything was getting killed so fast I couldnt even get conversions off. I won the scenario without mining a single piece of gold;that said I like how the map has little pieces of gold scattered around on it to hunt down if you need it. The ending is spiced up by having belisaurus escape his base when you come for his head, and repeatedly running for it until he hides on an island, unless you anticipate and kill him on the road of course. Although you are restricted from bringing too many men, I just hid a transport full of cavalier I trained myself offshore and assassinated Belisaurus the moment he appeared.

So, that was quite lengthy, but its the first good scenario in AoK history and perhaps the most influential? Dividing it into two halves, I would say the FF section is enjoyable, a solid Good scenario still, while the B&D is not to my taste, with poor pacing, difficult building areas and unoptimal balancing with the enemy starting a little too strong and finishing weak. They bring so much in that first wave you really need to brace for it, but then the followup is underwhelming. The few good B&D in the FE campaigns such as Dracula3 are far superior, and even the mediocre Berber B&D are more approachable and easier to play, while on the FF side of things this is vastly superior to any of those FE FF missions which tend to lack any depth to their gameplay and definitly lack any story and character development. On the blacksmith I would give it a 4.0 or higher still.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
posted 08-22-19 03:07 AM CT (US)     833 / 901       
Thank you for the quite detailed writeup, Kataphraktoi. Storm on the Steppe was designed in leisurely fashion over the course of two years in bits and pieces, depending on when FE work contracts were or weren't running; in sum it probably had the same amount of time invested in it as an entire DLC campaign (but wasn't affected by work deadlines) so it's not surprising that in some regards it surpassed the retail missions.

It's one for the experienced connoisseurs of B&D gameplay, though. Some of the design choices would definitely not have flown in an official product because of the level of game knowledge that probably even Standard difficulty demands. I am rather proud of certain things, though, such as the rather simple system that I used to randomize the order and direction of the enemy attacks that occur while you are constructing your castle.

I'm also very much indebted to the generosity and skill of Gen_Rhys_Dallows in recording the VO files that brought my writing to life in that mission. His work certainly surpassed that of the original ES voice actors, at least the lines where a reasonable comparison is possible owing to similar dialogue contexts.

~ Forgotten Empires ~

Storm on the Steppe | Galderton Hill RP | Proud member of Stormwind Studios

"Deyr fé, deyja frændr, deyr sjálfr it sama; ek veit einn at aldri deyr, dómr um dauðan hvern." - Hávamál 77.
posted 08-24-19 09:48 AM CT (US)     834 / 901       
Hockeysam, we are going to have to agree to disagree on this voice acting point...You might as well tell me to enjoy a certain food I dont like as try to argue otherwise.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
posted 08-24-19 07:29 PM CT (US)     835 / 901       
How could you dislike the voice acting in SotS? It's amazingly well done if you consider it is all done by one guy! Excellent quality.
posted 08-25-19 03:41 PM CT (US)     836 / 901       
I am talking about the FE campaign work, not SotS.

Re-reading his comment I see he was specifically talking only about SotS...well, my bad then.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel

[This message has been edited by Kataphraktoi (edited 08-25-2019 @ 03:44 PM).]

posted 08-27-19 03:03 AM CT (US)     837 / 901       
@kud13: If you have time, pls check your steam account. I wrote you a message there. Thanks!
posted 08-30-19 09:43 AM CT (US)     838 / 901       
Played Hammister's "Far Side of the World", as well as my first playthrough of "Thrones of Iberia". Will probably do another one of that, trying to side with Cordoba before doing a review, but I quite liked what I played. This formula of exploring big maps littered with stuff to find, enemy bands to encounter as well as side-stuff like diplomacy with the existing Spanish kingdoms (Leon, Castille, Aragon, as well as Portugal) and side-quests that encourage additional exploration just works for me, compelling me to keep exploring the map.

Difficulty still feels off- if I don't rush into Castle Age and keep exploring, there's plenty of Gaia units to protect me whiel I build up a strong force. The unique unit I can recruit by bringing horses to the stable are "Knights of the order"- basically souped-up Boyars. Having an entourage of those bad boys following my exploring hero around the map makes things too easy.

My first try I went with allying Portugal (angering Leon), and later Aragon (aggroing Castille). Those 2 kingdoms are located in the centre of the map and Castille also had a forward castle making them easy to defeat. Might do it the opposite way to see if that's significantly more difficult.

Overall, though, really liking this style of scenarios. Hoping Hammister continues making them.
posted 08-31-19 09:46 AM CT (US)     839 / 901       
Overall, though, really liking this style of scenarios. Hoping Hammister continues making them.
Thank you kud13. Looking forward to your review. I hope I can go back to scenario design soon.
posted 09-02-19 03:56 PM CT (US)     840 / 901       
My RiverRaids scenario received a major update. With the listed improvements, bugfixes and balance changes on board this red-headed problem child of a scenario should be a solid step closer to being finished off and complete.

"Excellent could be any map that has the quality of a ES random map or ES scenario. AoK is an excellent, award winning game. That's where I'd start." -AnastasiaKafka

"Hard work is evil. Bitmaps are stupid. Working on a scenario for more than one afternoon is stupid. Triggers are stupid. Testing your own scenario is stupid. The world is stupid. You are the Greatest." -Ingo Van Thiel
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