Creature Upgrades

Let's talk about creature upgrades.

Being able to upgrade a creature is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you can still have army of a bit weaker basic creatures if you're short on resources, and upgrade them later, if ever. On the other hand, basic creatures may be underwhelming or completely useless compared to upgraded version (looking at you, Vampire Lords), and you are forced to spend a turn of building and extra resources on getting access to upgraded version of the creature.

The Heroes III approach of "ᴜᴘɢʀᴀᴅᴇs ғᴏʀ ᴇᴠᴇʀʏᴏɴᴇ, ғʀᴇᴇ, ᴀɴᴅ ʟᴇᴛ ɴᴏ ᴏɴᴇ ɢᴏ ᴀᴡᴀʏ ᴜɴsᴀᴛɪsғɪᴇᴅ!" is unhelpful at best. You can even tell that some creatures only had upgrades because they had to — way too many Queens and Kings for one army.

No. Upgrade is a privilege, not a right. Some creatures get that advantage of getting stronger if you pour some more resources into their training. Skeletons don't need an upgrade, their strength is in numbers thanks to Necromancy. Hippogriffs and Pegasi are already mystical flying creatures, they don't need an upgrade to present challenge on the battlefield.

Having said that, here are some upgrade guidelines I made for myself when thinking over factions and their creatures.

  • An upgrade is justified when:
    • upgraded version is connected to the basic version by lore or theme (e.g. Vampire Spawn ⇒ Vampire, Hellhound ⇒ Cerberus);
    • it's an upgrade of gear on a gear-based creature (e.g. Swordsman ⇒ Knight);
    • it changes attack method of the creature (e.g., double attack, spellcasting, melee ⇒ ranged).
  • If upgraded creature's name is basic creature plus any of King, Lord, Master, or similar, rethink your decisions.

Schools of Magic

Let's talk about magic and spells.

Being a fan of the four classical elements, I am very much in favor of keeping Water, Earth, Fire, and Air as the schools of magic. But to avoid any of the schools being inherently superior / inferior to others, each can be assigned its specific role.

What is magic usually used for on the battlefield? Well, virtually anything, but as long as we're fitting stuff into boxes, let's split them into Offensive and Defensive spells. On the other hand, by the nature of the spells, they can be used to strengthen friendly units or weaken enemies. Both of those can be used offensively and defensively, so I think it's fair to say we got ourselves a new axis, Buffs / Debuffs.

In general, an offensive spell lets you deal more damage, and defensive one will let you avoid or revert damage. So an example of an offensive debuff would be something that lowers the defense of an enemy stack, and an offensive buff would be something that increases speed of your units, allowing them to get closer to the ranged enemy units. You can see where I'm going with this.

Font: Morris Roman

So if we want to assign each school something it would focus on, we can borrow a bit from our good friend Aristotle and divide them like so. I think it's fair to say that Air with its speed and lightnings and Fire with its... well, fire plant themselves firmly on the Offensive end of the spectrum, which leaves slow and sturdy Earth and gentle Water on the Defense. Power of healing in Water and, once again, speed of Air put them closer to the Buffs than Debuffs, and the abilities of Earth to slow enemies down and raise walls and Fire to hurt them (not necessarily in the damaging sense) edge them towards Debuffs. Notice though that the focus of a particular school doesn't mean it can't do other things; for instance, Earth magic buffing defense, or Water spells inflicting cold damage.

There are also certain spells that, I think, shouldn't be tied to any particular school, as they utilize "pure" form of magic. Things like Magic Arrow or Dispel Magic can have their own little category.

Another thing that I think is worth talking about is Mass spells. Any HoMM III player knows that Mass Haste and Mass Slow are among the most valuable spells in your spellbook, simply because they consume tiny number of spell points, but produce great results. In HoMM II, on the other hand, Mass versions of the spells had to be learned separately from their basic counterparts. I think, those two solutions can be combined. A hero with high enough X Magic skill and Wisdom (speaking in HoMM III terms) that knows basic version of a spell will find a Mass version in his spellbook as a higher-level alternative. So he can cast a basic version for few mana points, or Mass version for many more.

Focus & Intellect

Let's talk about hero ability scores.

Each hero has four primary abilities: Offense, Defense, Focus, and Intellect. Offense and Defense, also known as Might skills, are added to corresponding abilities of the creatures. Focus determines power of the spells cast by the hero, be it damage, duration of status effect, or something else. Intellect determines how many mana points a hero has at a maximum. These two are called, unsurprisingly, Magic skills.

The idea is to go back to HoMM II ideas of having one type of hero per faction, which means factions will be more or less specialized in one of the two sets of skills. This can cause problems.

A Barbarian with a full week's worth of units should be able to stand his own against a Wizard with week's units and her powerful spells. Now imagine the same Wizard's clone with a week's worth of Barbarian units. Greatly more powerful. On the other hand, a Barbarian commanding Knight units will get more damage out of them than a Knight ever could.

This can be solved by abusing synergy, making Barbarian creatures weak on their own and relying on the hero's Offense and Defense, but you can probably already tell what I think of that solution.

All factions' units can be made balanced overall, with assumption that the same hero is running both armies. This isn't great either, as it makes the factions less distinct. After all, it only makes sense for Barbarian creatures to have better Offense than Wizard creatures.

Instead, I suggest strengthening synergy between hero and creatures of the same faction, and impairing it when factions differ. Normally, creatures under command of a hero of different faction would get a Morale and Offense/Defense hit. High Focus will help with control of Might creatures, reducing the penalty, and high Intellect will do the same for Magic creatures. (By the way, when I say "Might / Magic creatures" I don't mean the faction they belong to. That distinction is decided case-by-case.)

I know what you're thinking. Yes, that still leaves Wizards (who will have high Focus and Intellect) able to command basically any army. My reasoning is this: Might heroes are good on their own, and as such are a greater threat to the overall balance. Magic heroes, however, require Magic Guilds to equip them with spells in the first place, which a Barbarian player that hires a Wizard hero will be hard-pressed to find.