Artificial intelligence and more

Legends of the Ancients, or LotA in short, is a campaign for Heroes of Might & Magic V.

Its main audience are experienced players, who love to be challenged, not so much by arbitrary difficulty but rather by being smart at the strategy game.

LotA was created by Marzhin aka Julien Pirou. LotA was deemed so good by Ubisoft that they hired him to work on Heroes VI and VII. You find his excellent writing and map making in the campaigns of these games.

Currently Julien works on his own tabletop RPG Lore & Legacy.

Books

LotA is divided into four books of which each tells a story with its own focus, but all stories are interconnected. Each book is featured in its own campaign.

Marzhin wrote the stories for all four books but produced only the first two books himself. These campaigns are excellent in the diversity of challenges each map offers, and have high production values with upgrades to the music – you will encounter many memorable tunes from Heroes III and IV –, well realized art and excellent writing.

Quantomas AI

The original LotA campaigns were produced for the Heroes V Tribes of the East vanilla expansion, and as such featured the vanilla AI, which can be indecisive and slow at times and also uses substantial cheats (like double creature growth and building twice in a town per day) to make the game more difficult.

What you can download here is a version of LotA that has been reworked for the Quantomas AI, which doesn't use cheats and simply makes the game more challenging by playing better.

With it come a host of additional improvements, in particular for the LotA campaign, which are discussed further on. For the time being just remember, in the campaign the heroic difficulty comes additionally with tougher guards in treasure vaults, abandonded mines and military posts. If you rather would play the game without the stronger guards, choose the hard difficulty instead. These two difficulties play otherwise mostly identical.

Book 1 – Fires from the North

Book 1 tells the story of Malustar, who plans to conquer the world of Axeoth and has to acquire the means to fulfil his goal. You play as the Inferno faction here.

The first two maps are in principle 1v1 duels that are quite challenging.

The next two maps, mission 3 and 4, place you in the roles of Emilia Nighthaven and Solmyr who have to defend their land. Mission 3 is a large scale 1v1 duel. Mission 4 is special in the sense that you have to play without owning towns, where you have to fulfil tasks step by step. It isn't the strategic gameplay many veteran players seek but it is so well done that it is a highlight in its own right. It may be a bit easy if you play on hard, but if you play on heroic difficulty, the heavily guarded adventure map sites will give you plenty to think about to win this mission.

Mission 5 features Malustar's next steps and is a 1v1 duel across a distance. Again, if you play with the tougher guards on heroic this mission offers you a lot of treats and great sights.

Mission 6 tasks you with the retrieval of an important artifact for which you have to venture deep into well defended enemy territory. To make this mission more strategic, the enhanced edition that features the non-cheating AI adds a seafaring faction that will require you to defend your towns while you go about your quest. It is a fitting final for book 1.

Book 2 – The Sunken Kingdom

Book 2 sets a different tone than the previous book and has you stepping into the shoes of Harke, once an elven hero, now a traitor.

In general these missions are less about grand strategic gameplay but rather immerse you excellently into the plight of the protagonist. This isn't to say that these missions don't give you a lot to think about in order to win these missions, in fact they do.

Marzhin has obviously acquired a wide range of skills that are in display in book 2 to make the maps a place of wonder.

Mission 1 requires you to escape patrols and enemies alike. The enhanced edition adds properly working patrols (in comparison to the scripted ones in the original) and on heroic difficulty denies you a lot of easy paths to make the journey worthwhile for the veteran player.

Mission 2 is an asymmetric 1v1 duel, but the map is well suited to balance the odds but you have to be smart.

Mission 3 has only one strong opposition faction, that could also be evaded, but it is a fantastic map that entertains you and rewards you with unique sights that you rarely find somewhere else. It is also very satisfying to win it.

Book 2's final mission 4 is shorter but requires you to pass a good number of challenging tasks that you have to get right by playing your battles with considerable skill. If you underperform in one, the subsequent ones will give you a Herculean task.

Improvements in the enhanced edition

The most significant improvement is naturally the enhanced non-cheating AI. It not only plays faster, it gives the strategically designed maps a new life, as both you and your opponents follow the same rules.

A large part of the maps have been rebalanced and feature stronger opposition now. In some cases enemy heroes that were spawned have been replaced with heroes who naturally assemble an army in an assigned town and attack the player when their time comes. It makes for a more natural gameplay. It also allows the challenge these heroes pose to graduate more nicely with the time the player needs to complete the mission.

The maps have been tested thoroughly on heroic difficulty, i.e. with the tougher guards for treasure vaults, abandoned mines and military posts.

On one map patrolling heroes, who previously just walked back and forth between two points (so that you could technically ignore them) have been replaced with proper AI patrols. I.e. if they spot you in their area, they will attack you if they are stronger.

On another map an additional faction has been added to keep you on your toes.

Some adventure map sites that are mission objectives have been upgraded with an additional neutral hero defending the target, if you play on heroic difficulty.

Scripts have been more thoroughly tested, there were numerous cases that prevented winning a mission or had a boss hero appear on level 1. A good deal of bugs and malfunctioning script behaviour has been fixed.

On one map you could get stuck because the AI summoned a boat away on which you arrived. This has been fixed by slightly changing how summon boat works now. For details check the included manual.

Some adventure map objects simply didn't appear if the option no eye candies was selected. This has been corrected by a fix in the program itself. Some map tiles were missing or simply had the wrong texture which has been corrected. In some cases adventure map objects like rocks and walls have been added to show the player that a tile isn't passable. Passability errors, where you for example could bypass a guard unintentionally, have been fixed.

Spelling and typographical errors in the dialogs have also been fixed, so that the story is more polished. The previous split of book 1 into two parts has been mended by extending the game's limit to six missions per campaign. The glaring clipping error on the title screen has also been fixed.

On one map the animations and special effects have been properly aligned with the adventure map sites these are targeted on.

All in all it is a raft of fixes, changes and upgrades that have been applied. But that isn't a criticism of Marzhin's original work. Its production quality was already very good, but for a campaign that includes ten missions, and given the complexity of the game, quite a lot can go wrong. And if you are just one man, you can't test every map countless times if you ever want to get your work finished.

Nevertheless the upgrades are considerable and even if you have already played LotA before, it is absolutely worth revisiting.

What is ahead

With book 1 and 2 now complete and reworked thoroughly, the question is what will come next.

In principle book 3 has been produced already by mctronic and could be given the same treatment. Unfortunately, it doesn't feature the same strategically minded maps as the previous books, which means, if I am going to rework it, it will be much more work to revise and upgrade the gameplay.

Book 4 needs producing from scratch, so far we only have Marzhin's script for the story.

But at some point you need to be realistic what you can afford to do. There is so much work on my desk already and I also have to go and develop my own game. So realistically I can only work on an overhaul of book 3 and the production of book 4 will only happen, if there is substantial support for it.

That doesn't mean that I am abandoning Heroes V, not yet at least.

What I am currently working on is the strategic planning upgrade for the AI. Technically it will make the AI complete, it will bring all its elements together, and it will mark the step from a prototype that is maybe at 5% in terms of playing strength to full release: an AI that masters the game and challenges you by using all features of the game with a strategic purpose. It cannot be stressed enough that this is a giant step and a feat that no game has managed before.

Needless to say it will change the way maps play out fundamentally. It will be worth to revisit all your favourite maps again.

Just don't make the mistake to wait for it to try out LotA. LotA is more than worth playing already in its enhanced form. A quality campaign that has been honed and fully polished, with an excellent story told by Marzhin in writing and visual splendor, related to you in the best possible form: a strategy game that you have to win by using your wits.

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