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Potions

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Potions:

Potions are a rather straightforward element in the silver arsenal. Their uses are straightforward, and their intricacies few. That said, they have an incredible effect on the situation they are used in, making them a great addition to your combat options despite being one use items.

Since each has a different specific use, composing a 'general' potion strategy would be impossible, so instead it's best to get straight to the individual details:

The potions, in order of their effectivity:

Chaos potion 10
Absolute protection 9
Exploding vials 8
Poison gas vials 8
Mana potion 6
Enchanted armour 4
Healing potion 3
Strength potion 2

detailed description:


Healing potion:

Damage: -
Range: self
Designed to: restore full health
Rating: 3
In the healing challenge, this item is obviously not allowed. In non-healing challenge games, food or the healing orb can replenish a hero's health for less cash that this does, making it useful only for the odd boss fight.

Mana potion:

Damage: -
Range: self
Designed to: restore full mana
Rating: 6
Useful but expensive, the mana potion is used not only for the obvious mana regeneration effect. It can also be somewhat useful for it's invulnerability. If a particularly dangerous attack is coming from a boss or crowd of enemies, quickly drinking a mana potion will avoid the attack, and the restored mana will help you get on the offensive again.

Strength potion:

Damage: -
Range: self
Designed to: increase your melee damage
Rating: 2
There is hardly any measurable difference after using a strength potion (it's a 50% increase on melee attacks, I believe). I find them useful against certain bossess that must be killed quickly in melee, but in general you're much better off with enchanted armour. Potions can't be stacked in silver, so you can only have 1 effect at a time.
Still, there's a plus side - due to their relatively poor performance, you should feel free to use these potions any time. Have fun with them!

Enchanted armour:

Damage: -
Range: self
Designed to: reduce damage to self
Rating: 4
Makes you noticeably tougher. In the challenge you will be hanging on to every shred of health you can muster, and any time you get hit will not be something you planned for in advance. On screens where you are very likely to be hit (such as the fight against fuge) you'll be drinking invulnerability potions, and you'll be spending your money on ammunition, chaos, and invulnerability potions.
This leaves the enchanted armour as an early-game version of the invulnerability potion, and thus consumption is best planned in advance when you know which rooms are going to be problematic. For a somewhat rough list of when to drink them, I'd say:
Winter - against the boss that guards the ice orb.
Spires - The large room where you obtain the long sword from a chest.
The dig - every screen (until you run out of potions)

Exploding vials:

Damage: high
Range: throw
Designed to: set monsters on fire
Rating: 8
These oil potions are useful for swarmed areas such as the sewers, and areas where guards stand still in groups or patrol until you approach, such as glass' palace. Note that enemies that walk through the fire will be set on fire, and continue to take damage even after they leave.
Does it deserve a 'rating' higher than the mana potion though? In my opinion, yes. A mana potion will allow you to cast a few extra spells after you run out of mana. Exploding vials, on the other hand, can all but clear a room on their own if used at the right time, and they cost less than a third of the gold that a mana potion would cost.
For those that haven't tried them much - damage potions scale up in damage with your character level. In the late stages of the game, a damage potion like these exploding vials or the poison gas potions will do about 350 damage per hit, and inflict about 4 hits on a target before the fire goes out or poison wears off.

Poison gas vials:

Damage: high
Range: throw
Designed to: poison monsters
Rating: 8
Useful in similar situations to the burning oil, poison gas seems identical, but lacks the fire elemental damage advantage in the sewers. Still massively useful, the poison is often better to block yourself off from approaching enemies while you kill their ranged fighters. So far I've never seen an opponent poisoned from the vials *stop* taking damage, but then I don't use them after chains, given the availability of chaos potions at that point.

Chaos potion:

Damage: -
Range: entire screen
Designed to: confuse enemies (read below)
Rating: 10
Definately a contender for the most useful potion in the game - the chaos potion doesn't quite work like you'd expect it to. You might think it would make enemies in it's landing vicinity attack the nearest target. In fact it makes all enemies on the screen ignore you completely while they kill each other. Basically, a screen-clearing smartbomb.
Once there is only 1 enemy left, it will stand still, and though it tries to dodge your attacks, it will not fight back. If more enemies come on to the screen, then the affected monster will continue to fight for you against the new creatures, which I suppose makes this *better* than a full-screen smartbomb. The effect lasts about a minute, which is more than enough time to kill all the targets with impunity.
With that effect, you'd expect them to cost an arm and a leg. They are expensive at 150 gold, but that's not too bad an issue at the late stage of the game where they become available.
You should always ensure you have 9 of these when you visit doctor bazuki (as long as he's selling them), and use them on pretty much every screen of the dig.
Awesome.

Absolute Protection:

Damage: -
Range: self
Designed to: make you invulnerable
Rating: 9
Another excellent potion. These should be drunk when you are dangerously low on health fighting a taxing boss, or in silver's palace when your ring of invisibility runs out but there are still plenty of enemies on the screen.
Well worth the 100gold you spend on them. Stock up!