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Some time back, I recorded Icewind Pass on the No Star Upgrades Challenge. (I am not doing the challenge on Hard Mode because certain scenarios are virtually impossible to handle there without losing lives.) And I need to talk about Wave 12, because I find that to be the pinnacle of the game's level design. (Although the Premium Content could leave me to stand corrected.) Why? Well, I'll get to that.

First, let me tell you the enemy makeup for that wave: there are 18 Dark Knights and 12 Shadow Archers that come from the north. 4 of the Dark Knights and 6 of the Shadow Archers will go through the mine passageway, while all of the other baddies will move through the open path. The wave before involves Gargoyles and Spider Matriarchs, so you would likely have archer towers to deal with them. You probably have northern defenses because of Troll Champions and their backline abuse shenanigans, so your funds may be spread a bit thin. And seeing as Wave 12 itself requires plenty of focus, for reasons I'll outline soon enough, it's recommended to not call Wave 13 early, because any extra Gold you could get is unlikely or make up for having to deal with the 2 Troll Chieftains and their ilk earlier.

What makes the wave so fierce is all that armor. The Dark Knights really like to sponge the arrows from your archer towers that would be around to deal with the no defense nellies. When it's already likely you have 3 Sharpshooter Towers to deal with the trolls and spiders, you're strapped for funds on things that actually can do anything worth caring about to them. This alone is why you want to avoid upgrading one of them to a Rangers Hideout until the whole wave is silenced: it is not worth 230G to increase the DPS for the wave by 2 HPs. The Shadow Archers are not worth considering the extra fund expenditure because they should be disposed of quickly anyway if they're ever in the front. Speaking of the Shadow Archers, they will enjoy shooting at your guys for the Dark Knights to move by uninterrupted.

You are consequently forced to punch through the Dark Knights' armor. You have 3 options for that: Mages, Artillery, and Rain of Fire. Thus, you have to note the following:

  • Mages are bad about controlling crowds because of low shot speed and lack of splash.
  • Artillery are bad about controlling individuals because they are UNGODLY slow and deal iffy damage for their cost even against unarmored pests. The L3 Artillery has an effective attack of 18-36 against the Dark Knights. Compared to the L3 Mage's 40-74 for a LOWER total cost, while being simultaneously twice as fast too.
  • Rain of Fire....yeah, you have only one charge for the wave. And you catch maybe only 8 Dark Knights, and certainly won't 1RK any of them with it.

What this results in is that you need good control of all 3 of these in order to smash the Dark Knights. You need optimized RoF usage and a VERY good tower setup to deal with the entire problem. Not only that, you'd also have to micro well in order to stop the Shadow Archers from destroying the soldiers you need to stop the Dark Knights from moving past the kill zones.

So needless to say, this is proof positive that armor and its countering cousin, anti-armor, are good for the standard of creativity. You are rewarded for exploring the game and certainly trying to treat it as anything but a cheesefest. There's this nice thing I came up with for games in general called the Armor Test, and let's see how well Kingdom Rush follows the criteria for passing it:

  • Defensive power can't allow for excessively mindless play - passed. Soldiers have to be managed and have low attack power, and Paladins have an increased respawn time to further discourage poor Holy Order upgrading.
  • Capped evasion ability must be forced to resource manage by a consistent possibility of instant tagging by a given foe's high power attacks - Tower Defense game. Not a problem from what I can gather. Passed anyway; Musketeers, Arcane Wizards, and the Tesla x104 hit instantly, and the Tesla can use Overcharge to manage a constant damage field triggering at a frequency that outpaces the fastest enemy in the game.
  • Anything that isn't armor busting must be too weak to be anything but support against a competent defensive power player - passed. Rangers Hideout building being discouraged is self-explanatory.
  • Armor busting itself must be incapable of soloing against a competent defensive power player - passed in general. The only real problem insofar as balance with this is the Sorcerer Mage, which can be fixed with sufficient, if very considerable, nerfing. Everything else checks out.
  • Armor busting methods must be able to flow naturally under its own good play - passed. Mages have high DPS (per G too), cannons and Rain of Fire splash against all targets, and Tesla Tower and Sorcerer Mages casually tear through weaker enemies.

So Kingdom Rush generally passes the Armor Test. However, there are some balance changes. Before any are proposed, though, let's review some things.

Let's make a table for DPS by archers and cannons:

Tower Total Cost Rate of Fire Full Damage Full DPS 10% Armor Damage 10% Armor DPS 20% Armor Damage 20% Armor DPS
Archer Tower 70G 60/45 4-6 6.67 3-5 5.34 3-4 4.89
Marksmen Tower 180G 60/36 7-11 15 6-9 13 5-8 11.67
Sharpshooter Tower 340G 60/27 10-16 28.89 9-14 24.77 8-12 22.23
Rangers Hideout 570G 60/24 13-19 40 11-17 35 10-15 31.08
Musketeer Garrison 570G 60/80 35-65 37.5 31-58 33.42 28-52 29.71
Dwarven Bombard 125G 60/180 8-15 3.84x 7-14 3.5x 7-13 3.3x
Dwarven Artillery 345G 60/180 15-30 7.5x 14-28 6.96x 13-27 6.625x
Dwarven Howitzer 665G 60/180 30-60 15x 28-57 14.12x 27-54 13.36x
500mm Big Bertha 1065G 60/200 50-100 22.5x 47-95 21.25x 45-90 20.12x
Tesla x104 1040G 60/128 (4-7) * 13 33.515625x (3-6) * 13 27.421875x (3-6) * 13 27.421875x

(Note that Tesla's listed ATK is 60-110. It actually hits 13 times in a single attack for the same input per hit on a given baddie.)

As you see, Artillery gets better when the baddies have DEF, because they aren't affected by it as much. Let's take a look at how much DEF each armored baddie type has:

Thus Artillery is better against groups of armor baddies. You can use it as a way to hit armor enemy clumps, though don't expect results before the Artillery is leveled enough.

So again, the game does a good job with general balances, but here's things that could be done for mop-up:

Towers:

  • Barbarian Mead Hall - Soldier ATK 16-24 -> 20-30 - as is, Barbarians are completely reliant on Throwing Axes to do anything useful. The problem is that their primary purpose, stopping weaker enemies, requires management. This alone makes them the risk/reward option, but Paladins are good enough at 12-18 ATK AND they have actual defense, which results in them having better net power. Yeah, fix that.
  • Marksman Tower ATK - 7-11 -> 8-12 - nothing major, but I am curious why the Sharpshooter has better DPS per Gold. I'd still feel better about this buff, though it would necessitate the Archer Tower's ATK being changed from 4-6 to 5-7. Can't say I'd be against that either, since Archer Tower is lousy, and key archer tower levels remain unaffected anyway.
  • Sorcerer Mage ATK - 42-78 -> 31-57 - Sorcerer Mage has MANY, *MANY* things that gives armor enemies problems. Not only do they debuff the armor guys and leave them vulnerable to Ranger Hideout abuse, they also pound any support such as Shadow Archers into paste. Add to it a Golem that can sit at the edge of the Sorcerer's range and the Polymorph to instantly gimp any enemy, and yeah, the Sorcerer's DPS needs to have problems.
  • SM's Golem ATK - 10L + 40-80 -> 10L + 10-30 - the Golem is a durable thing with an area attack. It should not be able to deal more damage than capped Barbarians with ease.
  • SM's Golem respawn time - 8 seconds -> 16 seconds - it's not even just the best aspects of the BMH that the Golem has, but the best aspects of the Holy Order as well. The Golem is capable of surviving high amounts of abuse, and is the special ability of a synergetic tower to boot, in case you were going to comment about Throwing Axes. It needs to have a respawn time to keep its usage from being mindless. If the innate health recovery needs to be toned up for this, fire away, as long as the Golem usage is no longer automatic.
  • SM Polymorph cost - 200 + 100L -> 200 + 150L - Death Ray is lackluster at the end of the path anyway, so a sheep that has to pass through all of 2 strategic points as a result of an end of path Sorcerer is moot. Polymorph doesn't outright kill the baddie, but considering how gimped they become in combination with the Sorcerer's multi-targeting, it may as well do that.
  • Dwarven Artillery ATK - 15-30 -> 18-36 - Frontiers actually buffed this thing to 20-40 from what I saw on a YT video. I haven't played Frontiers to know why that much of a buff is necessary, but honestly, it could easily be an overbuff as the damage per Gold is not reduced much by L1 -> L2 Artillery transition. 15-30 makes the L1 -> L2 transition lackluster, though. The damage increase is the same as what you'd deal with another L1 Artillery and you pay nearly DOUBLE the price of that. That's rather much, even for checking clump punishment.
  • Tesla x104 transition cost - 375G -> 400G - yeah, I don't see why Tesla needs to have favoritism in the transition cost. It attacks faster than other artillery towers and humiliates anything that isn't durable enough. The incredible synergy that Overcharge 2+ Tesla manages with things like Musketeers and Arcane Wizards means that the lower base cost advantage is unnecessary. Overcharge may be a general necessity, but Overcharge 2+ Tesla deserves to be expensive anyway.

Enemies:

  • Skeleton durability revamp - 120 HP, no DEF -> 100 HP, 10% DEF - this is an overall nerf, but I have calculated this revamp idea extensively enough: aside from mages for obvious reasons, only L1 and L2 Artillery get ANY significant support, and that's if they're alone, something they should *NEVER* be. The benefit of this revamp, however, is that mages will wreck Skeletons faster and thus can hit other things more often.
  • Skeleton Knight speed - 0.6 -> 0.5 - something needs to be done to make these guys resemble manageable. The problem with these guys is that they come only from either Graveyards, forcing you to have late defenses; or from Necromancers when you have bad luck. Skeleton Knights need to become slower so that they can be damaged before really getting anywhere far. It's telling that these guys are responsible for NLLing The Dark Tower on the No Star Challenge being luck based because the Necromancer can spawn THREE of the jackholes and they WILL wreck your end of path guys. That alone is an annoyance. Slower Skeleton Knights also weakens the problems caused by Demon Spawns on Hard Mode having 300 HP.
  • Demon explosions (revamp) - ~50-100 damage -> 30-60 damage, half-ignore armor - Barbarians get hindered worse in the final 3 levels by the existence of the Demon baddies. The explosions will kill the Barbarians alarmingly fast. Reducing the damage in favor of half-ignoring armor like cannons do will reduce the Paladin favoritism by making HP more useful for shaking the explosions off. Here's the revamp math for how much damage is done:

L1/Barbarian - 50-100 -> 35-65
L2 - 45-90 -> 33-61
L3 - 35-70 -> 29-55
Paladin - 25-50 -> 26-48
Paladin (Shield of Valor) - 20-40 -> 24-45

So L1 and L2 Barracks would get toned up as a side effect, but their soldiers still die fast enough. L3 Barracks to a lesser extent, but nothing major. Meanwhile, the explosions would actually not hurt Barbarians nearly as severely, so they could chop up a few more Demon Spawns more safely. Heaven knows they need it.

And that's it for balance suggestions, actually. 4 for towers aside from the Sorcerer Mage and feel free to consider a certain one of them nitpicking (no points for guessing which), and 3 for enemies who are all only in the late-game to begin with. Add in the 4 involving the Sorcerer Mage and that's 11 total. (I'll also provide a more in-depth post on the Ironhide community forum about each of the rebalance reasons.)

But yeah, the game does a nice job with the balance otherwise. And no, I'm not trying to be politically correct. I wouldn't write this post if I didn't honestly believe the stuff in it.

Expect a tower analysis in the future, by the way. It could actually be fun. (And no, that's not being sarcastic at all.)

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