Two down, two to go, eh readers? In the previous installment of Jarenth Plays Warlock, I put an end to Wizard Santa’s reign of mild inconvenience and unsolicited threats. This might mean no gifts for me this Christmas, but then again, I gained seven cities in the process. So I guess it all evens out. Now that I’m temporarily without any direct enemies breathing down my neck, I thought I’d use this rare opportunity to ‘explore’ the mystical world of Ainadra, a portal to which I found in Monster Central eight episodes ago.
Of course, ‘explore’ is code for ‘smash everything that moves and steal everything that doesn’t move in’.
Of course, we’re not actually in Ainadra *yet*. Quite a few turns are spent moving my army to the portal: Frost’s domain has an abundance of swamps, hills and other hard-to-traverse terrain, including that lava mess around Millpool. I get the option to research the Wind Walking spell, which promises to eliminate these rough terrain penalties, and select it without a second thought; the Invisibility spell, which follows, is a similar no-brainer. I also start casting a few basic Resistance spells on some of my weaker units — Goblin Spearmen, I’m looking at you.
Besides that, it’s just a whole lot of walking and building basic buildings. I do split one level-6 unit of Goblin Spearmen off to assault a random level-1 Neutral town I found:
But besides that, we have five turns of rather uneventful walking between us and First Contact. Researching True Sight, construction, and shooting at Flying Serpents in Vaindryn keep me occupied: the latter city has just been reinforced with some Fire Elementals and some Human Warriors, in hopes of clearing the monster infestation out.
Actually, that’s not entirely true: one unit of Human Rogues, which I’d created in one of Frost’s earlier cities to help with the capital siege, manages to reach the portal after two turns, and is sent through as an advance scout / sacrificial lamb. Here’s what they encounter:
They get murdered for their trouble, of course. But this does have the unexpected side effect of prompting one of the Earth Elemental units to waltz through the portal to my side, right in the waiting arms of my army. So I’ve basically traded one Rogue for one Earth Elemental: not a bad trade, if you ask me. Well, unless you consider that there are likely a few Elemental Portals on the other side, spewing out a nigh-endless supply of monsters, but… you get the idea.
Finally, in turn 88, after researching something called Meta-Teleportation and Mana Spring-ing my main Mana city of Krypthall…
…my unit of Stubborn Knights is the first of my Conquistadores to traverse the portal.
Over the course of two turns, my entire army walks through the portal, single-file. What initially occurs is a bloodbath: the low-level demons, skeletons and occasional angry tree guarding the entrance are no match for my multiple-war-hardened elite troops. I get my first inclination of what things are like in this different world, however, when I try to create some range for a few Goblin Archers and walk straight into a Greater Fire Elemental.
I get my first inclination of why I should care about conquering this world when I notice the Greater Fire Elemental is guarding a Holy Ground.
A Holy Ground, for those of you playing at home, is a kind of Special Resource that allows the construction of Temples. Building a Temple grants a significant favour bonus with the affiliated God, as well as the opportunity to create that God’s special units. Claiming a Holy Ground is one of the most straightforward ways to gain favour with a God, but usually, you have to defeat the resident Greater Fire Elemental to get to it.
The Greater Fire Elemental I just ran into demonstrates the level of difficulty I should expect by killing my Goblin Archers — level 7, full-health, pretty kitted out — in a single shot. I resolve to stay away from it for the time being.
But for the most part, the welcoming committee is considerate enough to die pretty quickly. Ice Ring volunteers to help speed things along, and does an admirable job at it; I build a Military Academy in Burnlin to celebrate, as well as a Barracks in St. Mouseberg and a University in Lichwald.
For my first outing, I decide to scout north, following the path of my first doomed Goblin patrol. This goes well, and I even manage to swipe a lot of Mana from an unguarded Elemental Portal. Unguarded, of course, because the resident Greater Fire Elemental is standing right next to it: only too late do I remember that my first patrol was doomed specifically because of that Elemental. I immediately attempt to swarm it with units, but my Goblin Spearmen almost pay the ultimate price. ‘Almost’, of course, because I still have healing spells, and I just got a boat-load of mana. The Greater Fire Elemental is still tough, but it’s only one unit, and a combined attack by Elven Archers and Zombies brings it down the turn after.
On the other side of the portal, I research some more spells — Shadow Bolt and Elemental Regeneration — and finish my Airship Dockyard in Krypthall. And when I say ‘Airship’, I literally mean air ship. Here, look at this thing:
I also capture that level 1 town, Spellmere, which apparently I got a quest for at some point! Kitted out with multiple regeneration enhancers, my one unit of basic Goblins was more than a match for the town’s automated defenses. Certain perks and upgrades are just game-alteringly powerful, when used in the right situations.
But you didn’t come to this episode to read about, now did you? I get my second inclination that the world of Ainadra is not all sunshine and roses when the next turn sees a three-pronged attack from Greater Fire Elementals, more Greater Fire Elementals, and vampires. I also find my second cool new resource: a Demonic Rift in the earth. The attack is tough, and my second unit of Elven Archers almost bites it, but this game is underestimating the strength of my desire to see cool things. That Demonic Rift will be mine.
It is at this point, having beaten down one Greater Fire Elemental near the northern edge of the map, that I first notice the little star icon on my Goblin Spearmen.
What this? Experimentation shows that I can use it to upgrade my Goblin Spearmen to ‘Seasoned Goblin Spearmen’. That name sounds familiar… I dash back to St. Mouseberg, and yes! I built a Barracks a few turns earlier, which allowed the creation of (among others) Seasoned Goblin Spearmen and Goblin Sharpshooters. I knew that, thought I hadn’t gotten around to it yet, but I didn’t know that this would also allow me to upgrade the lower-tier units. Everywhere, it seems.
I decide to take the plunge, and get rewarded with cooler-looking Goblins. They’re tougher too, I suppose, and they gain a few new voice taunts (though they still use the regular Goblin Spearmen taunts as well, I notice) but really, the coolness is the main reward.
Confident in my coolness, and bolstered by the Reconstruction and Eagle Eye spells I now own, I split my troops up three ways. This proves costly, as my Halberdiers fall to three-pronged Elemental fire, but all in all I feel like I’m making good progress. I even manage to use the Meta-Teleportation spell to bring some Fire Elementals — previously guarding Vaindryn — over here to bolster my forces. This other world is tough, sure, but there doesn’t really seem to be anything out-of-the-ordinary here. Nothing really awe-inspiring, you know?
It is at this point I find myself face-to-face with a dragon.
A level four, flying, fire-breathing Red Dragon.
I decide to stay out of this dragon’s field of vision for a while. There are plenty of Elementals, Undead and evil trees here for me to kill without getting dragons up in the mix.
I take my army south to confront that very first Greater Fire Elemental and end up in vision range of a second dragon.
Said dragon proceeds to murder two of my oldest, most loyal units of Goblin Spearmen. This promotes it to Public Enemy Number One status. I bring a large part of my army down on it, but it does not seem to mind much, and it flies back to its lair with my weakened army in disarray.
Ok, you know what? This was my fault, I’ll admit. Early successes made me cocky, and now I’ve paid the price for that cockiness. I’m sorry I let you down, Goblins, And Also Halberdiers I Guess. But no more. From now on, this otherworldy expedition is going to be All Business.
Just in time, too, because the first Settlers from Globmarsh are about to cross over.