Despite what I wrote above, I decided on one more game by following what the game mandates : one army=one hero.
I played Pariden, large map, challenging, dense monsters, custom sovereign (fire/life mage.)
I had the luck to start close to Magnar whom I dispatched before turn 30.
This let me a large area at my disposal.
Anyway, by the end of the game, I controlled 80% of the map, where I actually had the opportunity to destroy monsters.
I also did not raze any lair, so that some monsters woud later spawn, artificially increasing the amount of available XP.
The results where interesting and absoutely confirm what I have defended before:
* I 'finished' the game at level 17 for my sovereign (not too bad) ; I eschewed any XP bonus giving skill as I know they are worthless. I did not have access to tutelage until late game. Of course, I tried to have her do the most difficult fights.
* My first hero ended up at level 14, the third at 10. I recruited Ascian whomI gave an army and he increased one level (he started from 11) ; my third hero was a commander and ended up at level 8. She (Jesselda) was so weak that I had to remove her from any combat (she'd die one time out of two) and stuff her in the adventurer's guild. Her army went to the next hero who took a level. I clearly had no room for any more heroes, so the last one also stayed home.
* Most heroes where useless in combat. Mostly, their sole purpose was to watch and accumulate experience. While they could participate, they were weak enough that they made no serious difference ; and placing them in range of enemy units did put them at risk of dying from an unlucky blow ; something trained units don't fear. This stayed true throughout the whole game, except for my sovereign (fire mage), who was in the end game a true power to recon with, say from level 8+ after getting fireball/savant ; but even then the power was severely checked for lack of mana. It would only slowly increase with the number of fire shards and mana availability. Still, the true underlying reason that this hero could really compete at high level was that she stacked a tremendous amount of enchantments (9) which for exemple increased her dodge by 30 or natural resistance by 110, making her impervious to many attacks.
* Armies were interesting to say the least. The typical army would be one hero and two units. It would later be one hero and three units, mostly for confort and to allow for one unit to rest while the other two fight. No more was ever needed . And units aways did at least 80% of the fighting job. I could verify this with the five armies I had roaming around, most of them with no magical support. These small armies would of course get upgraded as I'd get better equipment/increased sizes. Still, non upgraded troops from middle game stayed quite efficient by the end game. For exemple, a typical unit equiped with leather/boar spear (nothing fancy!) was attack 5 men 75, defense 8, hit point 160. It would survive deadly fights with its companion unit in the army. Of course, upgraded units with 37 attack and 6 men were vastly superior! But even Ascian, with three lowly units (4 men 52 attack/10 defense) would stay competitive.
* The only opponents that were difficult were dragons and haunts. Dragons were kept for the sovereign, as well as haunts if possible. The latter are very fast and can quickly overwhelm a small army such as I used, and I did not want to increase my army sizes. Dragons pose another challenge with their high attack and devastating breath. I would later change my sovereign army for a ranged attack army. Attack 125, defense 17, hit points 165, 5 men. Three of these, plus my sovereign (who dealt equivalent damage as one unit) would usually down a dragon in but one round.
I have yet to finish the game (I'd want to so the master quest), but am always pulled aside by stupid factions asking for suicide.
So what conclusions to a draw from this:
* Fire mages utterly dominate other mages. Other lines of mages should benefit the damage increases (for exemple, a slow could be increased in effect by the +xx% damage bonus the mage has.) They should have 'mass' spells to compete with fireball (mass haste, mass slow...)
* The current tree has the very detrimental consequence that non essential skills are never chosen. This is accentuated by the fact that one knows that the number of skills to choose will be severely limited (see the levels reached in that game)
* Hero XP stacking penalties must be removed. Heroes are weak enough on their own. No hero can compete (with the exception of the fire mage) with a good trained unit. My armies proved me that point numerous times. Even my second hero, an assassin maxed in the way of dealing damage, would always pale beside his units. True, he'd have some 'cool' abilities. But these are mostly fancy, and don't turn the tide of a combat. Even a critical hit wouldn't deal as much damage as a standard unit...
* Units dominate over heroes, by a long shot.
* Make the commander usefull! Or make him get XP by staying home. Granted that the command ability is superior. But he uses it once and is done for the combat...
* If with the XP penalty is removed, XP should be slightly increased so that clearing such a map would let one reach level 20+. I also think that, without increasing too much XP, it would be a good idea to give heroes 'free', but random skills in addition to what they gain now. Possibly one every two levels. This would have two effects:
- increase the heroes efficiency with more skills
- give the player the possibility to use skills he would never choose on his own
Possibly, the current scheme could be changed, so that skill choice is done as in FE (so a random selection of skills), with the bonus skill (every two levels) picked from the skill tree.
If I finish the master quest, I will post what army requirements were necessary. I think I'll need one more unit in my sovereign army, for a grand total of 5.