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Page 2 of 4The Might skill tree has options to pre-place troops, make some of them stronger, and is focused mostly on melee skills. The Mind tree is focused on general combat, army, and experience enhancements. Finally, the Magic tree provides access to the different spell categories (order / distortion / chaos), and anything related to learning or enhancing spells and effects. As each class gets a sprinkling of runes on level up, but significantly more of one type than any other, the Warrior will generally find it easiest to focus on the Might tree, the Paladin on the Mind tree, and the Mage on the Magic tree. It's a great system that allows any class to pick a few skills from each of the trees or specialize in unique ways. Posts in the official forums have also confirmed that several different paths through the trees are equally viable to the end of the game.
Part of the main strategy and enjoyment of the game is in gathering the right troops to complement your play style. Sometimes you take what's given, but as the game progresses you'll have virtually unlimited choices to make. There are so many spells and unique creature abilities that during one game you can and will likely change up the definition of your army to suit the situation and what was actually available in your game. You see, all (well, most) army stacks you encounter or which are available in buildings, as well as spells and treasure -- are randomly generated. In one game you might find the Resurrection spell sooner and your new strategy could then be to improve your healing skill, while a new tactic could be to save your spell points in combat to replenish fallen troops near the end. Likewise, in one game you might have access to Evil Beholders but in another you may only find normal Beholders, which can change your strategy. In an unexpectedly pleasant twist, you can also find a wife to marry and then have up to 4 children, which take up some of your wife's new item slots but offer unique bonuses. Yes, divorce is also possible, but your wife gets some of the money and takes the kids.
To get new troops into your army you must usually purchase them from buildings. Recruiting troops costs both "leadership" points and gold. Each single creature (which range from level 1 to level 5 in power) costs a particular amount of leadership and gold to recruit -- the more powerful the creature, the more leadership points and gold it costs. Your leadership naturally increases by picking up leadership banners strewn throughout the land, completing some quests and gaining ranks as the treasure searcher, or simply by going up levels and choosing to upgrade leadership as opposed to say, one of your other three main stats (attack, defense, and intellect). As far as gold goes, you'll be accumulating it through completing quests, after every battle, selling items you find or accrue, or simply by finding piles or chests of it while exploring.
Naturally after battles, some or many of your troops will get depleted, and so you'll have to revisit some of the buildings to restock your army with fresh troops. This becomes a critical component of gameplay, and sometimes the trusty troop that just got wiped out came from a land far away, and so you'll have to either trek all the way back to its purchase location, or simply choose to use a troop type that's more readily available. If your army is ever defeated, though demoralizing it's not much of a problem as the King reimburses you with some extra gold to purchase a new stack of troops, and then you're back on your way.
Other than a few minor issues with gameplay which I'll touch on, it must be said that they really hit a bullseye with not one but three quick save slots (by pressing F5) and very fast load times. As for gameplay, the addictiveness that comes from slowly building up your character and the options available with spells and skills, exploring each new beautiful area, and seeing what types of creatures you'll fight against or are available at the various shops and buildings, provides an immensely satisfying experience I am rarely drawn into this heavily... perhaps once every few years at maximum. I expect to be keeping this on my computer for a long while and I've even heard word of an expansion on the way.
Now for the mildly negative, which should not in any way dissuade you. The most major (and fixable) of the minor issues is that players are virtually forced to explore every niche of the beginning four areas for battles and quests in order to progress to the next continent. Even when you complete nearly every quest offered and defeat every enemy in these areas, you're still just at the point where you are powerful enough to enter and defeat creatures in the next area (Freedom Isles) without heavy losses. There needs to be more balance here with experience and leadership more generously given, at least at the beginning. I for one happily explored every nook and cranny, but foresee more casual players possibly being deterred. For such a huge game, the early portion should be the easiest (with sufficient challenges and rewards for willing individuals) and should not require quite as much exploration or questing to move on.
One other issue I've touched on was the quest journal and desiring a slightly more descriptive or ordered quest list. Finally, it would have been nice to have seen female alternatives for each class. Though in this game gender is aesthetic only and has no real influence on gameplay, in a role-playing game, getting into character is important and more choices here would have perhaps led to a more personalized and stronger feeling toward the character rather than one well done portrait. The game could have easily modified its story (and even added husbands) to accompany this.
Gameplay suggestions for improvement (via patch / expansion / sequel):
1. For each class, two male and also female choices to broaden the appeal, for each of the five major races in the game: Humans/Elves/Dwarves/Undead/Demon. (Right now there is only human.)
2. Each of these races might receive a special "racial ability" that gives them one or more small unique advantages.
3. Quest Journal update to include locations (not necessarily a marker on map, but at least a continent/area description of where the quest giver was or where you need to go), and possibly categorized by quest location
4. Reduce the requirement to explore nearly every inch of a prior area to move onto the next. Some necessary exploration is great, but characters should feel powerful enough to defeat initial battles in a new area when doing approximately 2/3 to 3/4 of the prior area as opposed to 9/10ths. I am not talking about hardcore tactical specialists here either who know every in and out of the game and how to exploit Impossible armies with a stack of peasants, but your average to above average player.