Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic - Skills and Character Builds

Dark Messiah of Might and Magic - Developer's Console
This post has information and commentary on Skills and Character Builds in Dark Messiah of Might and Magic -- PC version, regular edition, HARD Difficulty.
For an index of all our hints and walkthroughs for this game, click here.

I recommending getting the Heal spell as soon as possible. That said, unless you fight extraordinarily badly, Combat doesn't really get very hard until Chapter 5 and there is an excess of Healing Potions and Food Rations that you can probably get by without the Heal spell for a long time. Until Chapter 5, there are only two times when you are really swarmed by enemies -- Chapter 3 at the warehouse, and Chapter 4 when you have to defend the ship.
If you can survive without Heal until Chapter 7, attacking in your Demon Form recovers Health.
To fool around with various builds, I recommend using the Developer's Console to give yourself a bunch of skill points and experience them so you know what you would like to aim for.

Here are the Skill Points you can earn by Chapter:

ChapterPointsRunning Total
Chapter 167
Chapter 2411
Chapter 3718
Chapter 4725
Chapter 51641
Chapter 6849
Chapter 71261
Chapter 8970
Chapter 91484

Our Character Skill order was...

Combat 1-3
Strength 1-2
Magic Affinity 1
Endurance 1-3
Critical Hit 1-2

Combat Skills

Melee - levels 1/2/3, cost 1/2/4
Because Mana recovers slowly and you don't always have a sniping position, you need to have some competence in melee combat no matter what. I recommend quickly getting Melee Combat and Strength to help dumb down combat. Typically you will need a mix of Power Attacks and kicking to win. With Melee skills, you can viably use your Flurry and still win. This is important because enemies (especially on Hard Difficulty) are remarkably good at not only dodging your Power Attacks but simultaneously returning one of their own.
If you focus on Melee, Strength, and Critical Hit, you can keep up with the game as at Chapter 5 you will be able to use any melee weapon you find even and still have points left over to have purchased the Heal spell.
Note that you can perform the full range of maneuvers only with a sword, dagger, or staff. Miscellaneous weapons like the Axe, Blacksmith's Hammer, Club, Hook, or Pickaxe cannot be used to block (you can still block if you have a shield) or perform maneuvers like Charge or Leap Attack. You also cannot impale an opponent with them. The special abilities also do not work with your Demon Form, which you get in Chapter 7.

Melee 1 gives you an unlimited chain of Flurry of Blows. It's hard to tell what this actually does, but theoretically there is a pause between your Flurries, during which time the enemy can get in a hit or kick. With this, you can fight a bit more safely and mindlessly by forcing your enemy to take the defensive. When they block, kick them and flurry again while they are exposed. By Chapter 5, with Melee 3 and Strength 2, you can basically flurry at Orcs to kill them because their shields are only 60 Durability (but the bucklers are 240) and can't take many hits before shattering. With a long weapon like the Orc Cleaver, you can even hit more than one target at a time if they are close together.

Melee 1 also gives you Charge, which is remarkably hard to use because enemies dodge very easily, and you often lose track of where they are during and after the attack. Even if they didn't dodge, the initial shield bash can push them out of the way of your follow-up weapon stroke. Try to either sneak up on them or use it in a corridor where they can't get out of the way. It is a two-part attack, and with sword and shield, there is still a good chance that only the initial shield bash will work.

Melee 2 gives you the critical ability to use Shields, which can completely stop any amount of damage and deduct it off your shield's durability -- Even a Cyclops bash. Later, when you get indestructible shields, you can basically stop any amount of damage. It will not, however, stop you from being poisoned by a spider even if you took no damage from the hit. If you are blocking and you issue a Kick command, you will instead perform a Shield Bash, which costs no Stamina to do.
The Lightning Shield (requires Melee 3) can stun target when you parry -- even mages who cast a Flame Arrow at you that you block with your shield!

Melee 2 gives you the Disarm ability, which can be tricky to use in the heat of combat and in any case opponents will try to pick up weapons when disarmed, or they can kick you.

Melee 3 gives you the chance to Break Parry with your Flurry of Blows. You will probably not notice this much if you are already using your Unlimited Flurry and kicking.

Melee 3 also gives you Leap Attack, which from now can replace kicking anyone down a ramp or stair and possibly every Power Attack you make -- It has astonishing backward force, able to fling opponents clear across a room for additional hitting-and-object damage. Short creatures like Goblins are very good at dodging this unless they were running forward.

Melee 3 also gives you Whirlwind, which is a dumbed down Adrenaline Power Attack. Normally, under Adrenaline, you need to Power Attack someone before your Adrenaline ticks down and you lose the edge. As soon as you connect with a Power Attack, your Adrenaline bar drops back to zero. But that one attack is typically a guaranteed kill against non-bosses. What Whirlwind does is essentially free you from having to aim a Power Attack fatality -- It just hits whoever is nearby.

Archery - levels 1/2/3, cost 1/2/4
At long range, arrows arc and it's hard to estimate what that arc will be. Both hits and near-misses can alert the enemy (but not always -- sometimes you will see Goblins oblivious to arrows sticking out of their clubs), resulting in melee in a hurry anyway. If you have good concealment and a sniping position, it doesn't matter so much whether you have a good bow or not because you can remain hidden or remain inaccessible to melee and use attrition.
If you don't have a sniping position, it still won't matter whether you have a good bow because you'll have alerted other nearby enemies and be in melee after your first shot (it takes a remarkably long time to switch to your melee weapon, so if you don't switch right away, you'll be giving your enemies a free Power Attack at you).
I recommend delaying getting Archery until there is a bow you really want to consistently use. Instead, sneak up to a reasonable distance where there won't be any noticeable arrow arcing and go for shots to the head for an instant kill against an unaware opponent with even your basic Short Bow.

Archery 1 gives you Eagle Eye, the ability to Zoom in. It helps when going for short-range head shots, but at longer range you still need to deal with arrow arcing due to gravity.

Archery 2 negates the bow sway effect when you notch a bow and the crosshair wanders until you steady your grip. If you use the Rope Bow in combat (+1 damage instead of +2 for the basic Short Bow), you not only get unlimited shots, but after the first arrow is notched the bow sway is gone and notching subsequent arrows do NOT result in new bow sway. You cannot, however, get fire arrows with the Rope Bow the way you can with a regular bow by pointing it at a fire.
In late Chapter 5, there is a Bow of Winter's Breath (requires Archery 2) that can be interesting to use because it freezes an opponent, just like the Freeze spell.

Archery 3 gives you a faster fire rate. You really still need Strength to increase the damage per shot for faster kills since you cannot block with a bow, and if you kick or are hit, you have to reload your bow. Useless if you are swarmed, of moderate use in one-on-one if you can keep your distance. Also useless if you have a good sniping position because you have all the time in the world to kill your enemy.
In late Chapter 6, there is a Bow of Fiery Rage (requires Archery 3) which gives fire damage and is another interesting bow to use as it can help you set fire to oil flasks and zombies.

Strength - levels 1/2/3, cost 6/8/10
This gives you reliable damage with your attacks, including ranged attacks. You need Strength 2 for Orc Cleavers and the Earthfire Sword in late Chapter 5, and Strength 3 for the Souldrinker, available slightly earlier than the Earthfire Sword. If you're giving the Souldrinker a pass, then the next good Sword that needs Strength 3 is the Sword of the DragonClaw, which you can't use until Chapter 9.
For only +1 more damage, Strength 2 seems to cost a lot at 8 Skill Points, but it lets you use some really good weapons you can get in Chapter 5 where you can first get Strength 2 -- The Orc Cleaver and the Earthfire Sword. The Earthfire Sword is especially useful because if you set a creature alight, it will die in short order no matter how much damage you had done to it; and setting a zombie on fire is one of the ways to permanently kill it.
Defer getting Strength 3 -- Save up 10 points and try out the Souldrinker before deciding if you want to invest those points right away. An additional +3 damage is useful all around, but you may have other skill priorities before then.

Critical Hit - levels 1/2, cost 6/8
This is available at the same time as Strength. In melee it is less reliable as it applies only to Power Attacks and then only a fraction of the time. However, an early advantage over Strength is that it gives you access to better Bows even if you don't have the Archery skill (including the Elven Bow, one of the best bows in the game), and it applies to all bow attacks.
The Elven Bow is also interesting because it comes with a sight -- If you normally play without the crosshair for extra realism, this bow has a built-in crosshair.
The more interesting swords require Strength. With Critical Hit, you are capped at the Superior Naga Silksword. It's fairly good on its own and you can get it fairly early in Chapter 5, but it is also one of very few weapons that takes advantage of the Critical Hit mechanic. With every other weapon, you are relying on the small percentiles you get with this skill.
To maximize your fighting ability, I would take Critical Strike at some point, but later in the game unless you use bows a lot.

Adrenaline - cost 12
This costs a lot of Skill Points and is a long way down the skill tree. If you focus on Combat Skills and short-cut by taking Critical Hit instead of Strength, you can see it in Chapter 5. But whether you find it worthwhile or not is debatable. Adrenaline builds when you score hits with anything, and slowly ticks down. When you score a hit with a spell, bow, or melee power attack under the effect of Adrenaline, it is used up and you get a spectacular effect with your hit. Against non-bosses, this is generally something immediately fatal. So that is the net effect of Adrenaline -- You get to kill something immediately. Not a boss, and probably something that's half-dead anyway if you were in combat with it. This Skill lets you have two kills instead of one but doesn't really help you accumulate it or retain it. I recommend you first focus on fundamentals and get this much later -- Helping you fight better or smarter.

Magic Skills

Magic costs a lot and there isn't a reliable source of Mana Potions. Your cheapest attack (Fire Bolt) is easily dodged by the opponent, more so than arrows because it travels more slowly. At best, magic is a secondary attack unless you have a lot of Mana Potions because they cost a lot to cast.
That said, there are interesting strategies you can try if you have time on your side to regenerate your Mana. Each spell has its unique advantages and disadvantages, and if you use them right, they can be very useful. The trick is to know when to use them for maximum effect.
To make playing a combat mage more viable, you could also speed up your natural Mana Regeneration with the Developer's Console "mm_player_time_to_add_mana" command. Enter this command and an integer; entering 0 for the integer sets your Mana to replenish entirely instantly.

Dark Vision - character starts with this spell; 0 Mana to cast
This spell gives you extreme light amplification and you see everything in shades of blue and white.

Flame Arrow - cost 1, 4 Mana to cast
This spell is fast to cast and you can put out several quickly, but to aim it you need to hold the attack button down -- Which means you can't pump them out rapidly. But if you don't aim, enemies can dodge this very easily.
It can set things afire, so if you hit someone with an oil jar and then hit them with Flame Arrow, they are as good as dead.

Fire Trap - cost 2, 15 Mana to cast
If you have time on your side, you can lay down up to four traps (the maximum; after that, the earliest trap you laid is replaced by the latest one). Against tough opponents you can lay them down on top of each other -- and on Hard Difficulty, you need to do this. Damage appears to be somewhat random, so two traps are the minimum if you want to guarantee killing anything.
It's possible to use this in combat, but the range is short, there is a slight delay before it explodes when you cast it under someone, and a very long delay before you can cast it again.
It must be cast on the ground and not on walls or ceilings. It is triggered by proximity to its (X,Y) coordinate -- that is, if you cast it on a balcony, someone walking underneath can trigger it. It detonates with an area effect blast that can hurt you.
You can manually trigger it by throwing an object onto it.
One use of Fire Trap is to secure a defensible position and thin the opposition coming at you, especially if you know where they'll be coming from. Essentially, if you have time to lay the traps, you are guaranteeing yourself up to four solid hits against them. If only one or two are coming, they are as good as dead. I would still recommend being competent in combat first however, since you will not always have the luxury of time to prepare traps since encounters are frequently scripted.
Since it costs 15 Mana, if you have the Ring of Arcane Brilliance (+10 Mana), even with no points into Magic Affinity you can cast this spell twice before having to wait to regenerate your Mana.
The usefulness of Fire Trap diminishes in Chapter 5+ when enemies like Orcs can survive two, possibly three Fire Traps if they are not set afire.

Freeze - cost 3, 15 Mana to cast
This spell casts quite quickly, but the cooldown time (time before you can cast it again) is enormous. You can basically have only one freeze effect active. A frozen opponent is not necessarily vulnerable to an impale or instant kill as if an unaware opponent. For an impale, you still need to knock them down first.

Fire Ball - cost 7, 8 Mana to cast
Slow to cast, but like Flame Arrow, you can direct it by holding down the attack button. The blast can hurt you. It knocks enemies down, which can further slow them down, but unless the area is very tight, you are unlikely to keep them from swarming you with repeated casting of this spell.
If you have a LOT of time, it could be interesting to set up a kill zone with oil splashed all over the area first.
One thing Fire Ball is good at is killing flying creatures because you can direct its flight to chase them -- and flying creatures dodge very quickly, typically able to dodge bow or ballista fire unless you project correctly where they are moving to.

Lightning - cost 7, 8 Mana to cast
This spell is very slow to cast, it travels quite slowly, and the damage is very low for the Mana cost and where it shows up on the Combat Magic skill tree. However, under the right circumstances, you can do a lot with it -- It damages every enemy it goes through, and you can bounce it off a wall once -- theoretically to get a second hit on the same enemy.

Inferno - cost 10, 20+ Mana to cast
You get a flamethrower effect that covers up a lot of your screen. Theoretically excellent in tight quarters where you can garden hose everyone. The initial cost is 20 Mana, which also gives you a few seconds of burn. You can thereafter sustain it, but the Mana cost is astounding -- maybe 5 Mana per second -- but even burning through a total of 100 Mana might not be enough to kill an orc or zombie (although it will probably set them afire, which will ultimately kill them). Range is quite short, and because it takes up so much of your screen, you will probably have lost sight of the enemy and have to turn it off to get your bearings.
Hard to use compared to the Mana cost and Skill Point cost, but if you have Mana Potions to burn and under the right conditions (e.g., a corridor), it can be devastating.

Telekinesis - cost 1
For some secrets (replacing statues on pedestals in Chapter 5), this spell is mandatory. It also lets you pick up and move various things that you cannot normally do so. For example, it can grab a dead bird, which you can't grab by hand.

Heal - cost 3, 10 Mana to cast
Restores 15 Health over about 2 seconds. Negligible cooldown time, and you can cast it without having to ready the spell -- you just hotkey it and use it like a potion.

Charm - cost 3, 15 Mana to cast, lasts 30 seconds
This spell has a rather short range and a very long cooldown period. Basically, you can only have one target Charmed at any one time. Don't expect them to actually kill anything for you, however. Great if they are coming at you in a corridor since your temporary ally will then block everyone behind him.

Sanctuary - cost 7, 25 Mana to cast, lasts 20 seconds)
This spell gives you 20 seconds of invincibility for 20 seconds, which may be just enough time to get the edge over your opponents or run away to a better or safer location. It costs 25 Mana to cast, so the Ring of Arcane Brilliance (available in Chapter 2) will be required if you haven't invested any points in increasing your Mana.
Overall, I would consider this spell a bonus to have and not something to depend upon. You should be fighting competently or cleverly, and save this for emergencies. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic has a ridiculously dangerous environment (e.g., instant-kill spiked panels everywhere) to allow for smart fighting and characters that are not straight-up combat builds.

Weaken - cost 10, 15 Mana to cast
The effect is temporary. Best used under Adrenaline because you can shrink down and walk over or kick (squash) an opponent.

Miscellaneous Skills

Stamina - cost 1
Take this when you are going for Endurance. You will probably not need it before then, although if you like kicking a ridiculous amount, then having more Stamina helps.

Endurance - levels 1/2/3, cost 4/7/10
If you are good in combat and able to deal with opponents dodging, then you may want to consider getting the Sanctuary spell first instead of Endurance to wear armor. Chain Mail (requiring Endurance 1) is available in Chapter 3, and Plate Armor (requiring Endurance 2) is available late-middle in Chapter 5.
Sanctuary is an interesting alternative because you've probably already gotten the Heal spell early and it is only 7 skill points more for about 20 seconds of invulnerability.

Vitality - cost 12
This is roughly the same as wearing a Ring of Regeneration -- that is, it works very slowly. If you have the Heal spell, you will probably accumulate an excess of healing potions for emergencies. And outside of combat, you can switch out whatever ring you are wearing for the Ring of Regeneration or simply wait for your Mana to recharge and cast Heal on yourself. At 12 skill points, it is pretty steep considering the alternatives. I would delay getting this.

Poison Resistance - cost 6
Poison Resistance will not protect you from losing all but 5 Health Points. All it really does is slow down the Health loss, which is normally about 3 per second. You could probably do better if you let your health tick down to 5, let the poison expire, and then quickly cast Heal or drink a potion.

Alertness - cost 1
Almost all the secrets are accessible without a sixth sense. You really need to just explore and try things out. Most of the secrets are locations anyway, and won't show up in blue -- instead, you just need to explore where you can go and look around.
That said, if you want more Mana for magic, you need to take this anyway.

Magic Affinity - levels 1/2/3, cost 2/5/10
Increases your Mana Reserve. Even for a warrior, this can be handy if for no other reason than to be able to cast Heal or Sanctuary more often.

Mana Regeneration - cost 12
Doubles your Mana Regeneration. Useful if you keep burning through Mana Potions by casting a lot of spells. If you find yourself with a large reserve of Mana Potions, you might want to skip this skill since out of combat you generally have all the time you want to let your Mana normally regenerate.

Burglar - cost 8
There are two skills unlocked for a whopping 8 Skill Points. Unlocking Doors is useful in very rare situations where keys simply don't exist for the lock. Otherwise, you can always look for a key. Quest critical locations tend to be well guarded so chances are you'll have to fight your way through the key holder or key location anyway.
The skill to Detect Traps helps to be prepared for traps, but often you need to get through anyway, and there is always a way. Play smart and save 8 Skill Points.

Stealth - levels 1/2/3, cost 2/4/10
The abilities unlocked here sound good, but in practice, Stealth is very hard for two main reasons.
First, your Stealth indicator doesn't tell you how well an enemy can see you. Depending on your actual cover versus their line of sight, it can be completely incorrect. It is better to use instinct and try to keep completely behind their line of sight.
Also, you can use the ability to lean to the left or right. This lets you stand completely behind an obstacle (e.g., next to a window) and lean over to look or even shoot your bow (e.g., standing next to the window, you can't look out of it; lean over, and you can). Even though by leaning over you can see the enemy, they almost ways cannot see you even if you stay leaned over for a long time or if the game has calculated your concealment to be zero (e.g., you are standing outside a building and looking into it through a window).
Second, the Backstab ability given to you by Stealth is great because it is fatal if you pull it off, but if you can get that close you might as well stand off a bit and shoot them in the head for an instant kill instead of risking detection. In both cases, these instant kills only work if the enemy is still unaware of you, which can be tricky to do as enemies like to look around even when standing still. What Backstab has over a head shot is that it doesn't need to actually hit the head. When the enemy moves or looks around, you could miss your head shot and hit somewhere non-fatal instead.
Overall, I recommend ignoring the Stealth skill and focusing first on survivability in open combat.

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