The following started as a list of changes I’d like to see the devs make to AoE2 and has since turned into three separate sets of ideas:
A plan for the next DLC
A new concept for naval warfare
Miscellaneous changes to existing civs or other aspects of the game
For the sake of manageability and organization, I’ve presented each of these sections in a separate thread, rather than together, but please note that they were originally written in the order just given and that in the second and third sections, I may reference previous sections. I apologize for any tedium which may ensue from this; I recorded these ideas a few weeks ago (had trouble making an account on this forum for some reason and had to get in touch with support), and besides the fact that I’m therefore less than enthusiastic about revising the text to make each section stand independently of the others, this would involve a lot of restating which could prove tedious in its own right.
(See “1 - DLC for Mainland East Asia” for general remarks.)
EDIT, approximately 1800 EST 15.10.: Adjusted the formatting, tried adding links to the other threads, but it will only allow me two links per post and there’s already another one below, so it looks like I can’t, for now at least.
The first problem confronting naval warfare in AoE2 is map- and economy-related (and here I’m specifically considering “true water maps”, where the players start on separate landmasses, e.g. Islands, or where there is at least quite a bit of water on the map, e.g. Baltic). On land maps, establishing map control offers at least two clear advantages: first, you can expand your economy freely and second, you can keep your opponent bottled up and reacting to you rather than building up tempo. The latter dimension applies on water maps as well, since the player who wins at sea will be able to invade the opponent’s homeland while thwarting all reciprocal attempts. However, the first of the advantages mentioned, namely the free expansion of your economy, does not transfer to the same extent. It is true that on some maps, non-home islands with precious resources offer an economic incentive to control the seas. More generally, fish offer a resource found directly on the water. Yet what the game badly needs is at least one additional option that derives immediately from the simple fact of controlling an expanse of water. In this regard, two possibilities stand out, and the implementation of both of them together would likely yield more than the sum of its parts.
The first of these would be to introduce the direct harvesting of gold at sea. Just as fish and turtles have been used to represent deposits of food in water, why shouldn’t, say, oysters represent deposits of gold? (This could be a slightly fanciful reference to the trade in pearls on the one hand, and to the high historical value of certain maritime commodities on the other, such as various products acquired by the hunting of whales.) Moreover, such an innovation offers the flexibility of being customizable by map – Four Lakes is a good example of a map that doesn’t need this, in my opinion, and that’s part of the reason I already mentioned above that I’m only considering “true” water maps here (same goes for Frigid Lake, Kawasan etc.). Maps like Islands, on the other hand, would benefit significantly from this. The change would obviously have implications for the Japanese and possibly also for other naval civs, e.g. if the Japanese bonus was subsequently restricted to food and another civ then received a similar bonus pertaining specifically to gold gathered by Fishing Ships.
One might object that this would fundamentally change the logic which has underpinned the relationship between naval production and a maritime economy since the inception of AoE2: one can only harvest food at sea, but no naval unit costs food, so that – barring the pretty inefficient use of Market shenanigans on a massive scale – a strong land-based economy is the only way to sustain a strong fleet. And yes, this change would upend that relationship, but I’d argue that that would be all to the good, because this system never made even the least bit of sense! The idea that a state like Venice became powerful at sea entirely because it was powerful on land and then – more to the point – remained powerful at sea by becoming even more powerful on land, rather than by building a mighty maritime trade empire, is completely counter to that state’s historical development. Of course developing a maritime economy should allow players to directly improve their navy using the resources thus acquired (see below regarding further changes to this effect).
As a second possibility, Trade Cogs could be significantly improved. This has the advantage of not adding an altogether new dimension to the game, though of course it would only affect games that aren’t one-v.-one. There is a pretty strong historical argument to be made that the Trade Cog should be a significantly better unit than the Trade Cart. Its superior speed is already reflected in the game (1.32 compared to 1), but it is hobbled by the facts that 1. trading between Docks still seems to provide less gold than trading between Markets that are at an equivalent distance from one another, 2. there is no good way to set a Trade Cog to move between two specific docks or to follow a general route (e.g. “Behind my home island” rather than in front of it, where the enemy is) and 3. Trade Cogs are more likely to interfere with each other than Trade Carts are because they are often hugging a coastline. Much of this was addressed in African Kingdoms, but plainly the changes were not dramatic enough, and a second round of improvement is overdue. Ceteris paribus, a Trade Cog should provide significantly more gold over a given period of time than a Trade Cart – at least one-and-a-half times as much, and probably more like double.
More generally, it might be worth asking why trading with oneself is still impossible in the game. It has never made sense that as you enter the post-Imperial Age, you gradually become unable to produce the very same powerful units that your civilization’s dynamism and bounty have lately given you access to. By all applicable logic, you should be on your way to early capitalism, creating heavy cavalry, gunpowder units, professional infantry and archers etc., not suddenly fielding a ragtag host of light horsemen and javelineers (the halberdier actually does make some sense in this regard, and is thus excepted). However, I recognize how drastic a change this would be, and will say no more on the matter here.
Finally, the addition of the occasional gimmicky map to the map pool could help here. Adding special buildings or sites to maps for tournament play or casual community games is nothing new; why not at least provide the option in more standardized play? (I know Megarandom can theoretically provide this already, but the whole point of that map is that you don’t know what you’re getting – I’m arguing for a fixed option rather than a random chance.) One possibility would be an Islands-style map with several small landmasses featuring a Feitoria which changes control (i.e. effectively the Plenty Vault from AoM). This would encourage players to island-hop and contest specific sectors of the map both at land and at sea, fighting off the coast around the desired island while simultaneously deploying parties of land troops to vie for the Feitorias. One might argue that this is not really different from the aforementioned practice of placing gold and stone deposits on islands, but in fact the advantage here would be significantly larger in the early- to mid-game, at least as long as the map didn’t also feature a paucity of gold and stone on the players’ home islands (the reason being that you have no real incentive to start mining off of your home island until you have to, but the Feitoria would start providing you with extra resources the moment you seized it – in other words, this would be like immediately gaining extra villagers, rather than gaining the potential to employ your villagers more effectively in the future).
There are lots of other possibilities – outlying islands could have neutral docks along their coasts which, when destroyed, would give the player who destroyed them a lump sum of resources, to represent maritime raiding, and which one could alternatively choose to trade with. Any changes of this sort would introduce a lot more dynamism and short-term payoff to naval combat.
The second problem with naval combat is the lack of unit variety. For the moment, let’s avoid getting caught up in debates about nomenclature; plenty of the old names could be retained, though at present it’s a real patchwork, given the effects of The Forgotten in particular.
I envision the following types of ships:
Ship A – what we’ve hitherto called the Galley-line; it would launch a single projectile over a moderate distance with relative accuracy.
Ship B – the Fire Ship; would deal lots of damage at close range.
Ship C – the demolition ship, exploding to deal massive damage to all targets within a given radius.
Ship D – basically the Portuguese Caravel, i.e. a scorpion-at-sea, firing projectiles that deal damage to everything they pass through.
Ship E – for transporting units.
The basic principle of “Ship C beats Ship B beats Ship A beats Ship C” would thus be preserved. The addition of Ship D, however, would add new versatility to naval combat, supplementing or even supplanting Ship A in certain situations (like at bottlenecks), Ship C in others (scorpion-like ray attack would be useful against massed fire ships). Ship E may also merit a (very) weak attack; it does not really make sense that these ships are completely defenseless – If nothing else, the troops being transported in them could throw missiles at the approaching enemy (this is a potential argument for the ship’s attack increasing if it is currently transporting units, just as in the case of troops garrisoned in buildings – though even then the attack should of course remain weak).
Furthermore, the traditional gold cost of Ship A should be replaced with a cost in food, and Ship D should probably also cost food and wood (this type of change is currently being implemented in AoE4, and Spiritofthelaw has already assessed it as a possibility for AoE2). This would further break down the foolish older logic of “the resources you get at sea can’t be used to directly improve your sea power”. The other part of the changes being applied in AoE4 – the codification, so to speak, of significant bonus damage to cement the rock-paper-scissors relationship between the main types of ship – is something I believe we should not add to AoE2; it doesn’t address either of the issues described above, and threatens to make naval combat less dynamic and flexible.
The game would also benefit from the addition of more naval unique units and from the reform of some existing ones. Currently, the game includes four of these: the Caravel (Portuguese), Longboat (the-civ-that-must-be-renamed), Thirisadai (Dravidians) and Turtle Ship (Koreans). The Caravel would retain its basic identity, effectively becoming a stronger version of the generic Ship D. The Turtle Ship does not require any special adjustment. Regarding possible changes to the Longboat and Thirisadai, see below.
The Malay absolutely deserve a naval unique unit, which for now I’ll call a Djong. The ship would be fast (Caravels move at 1.43, that is probably a good figure) and would attack with one main arrow and one or more additional, weaker ones, like the Longboat and Thirisadai. This attack would be mediocre, however, and the unit’s real strength would lie in a “boarding party” mechanic, which would allow it to convert an adjacent enemy ship using the same process as a Monk does. Units with troops garrisoned in them could not be converted, first because this would complicate the mechanic, second because the presence of troops represents the ship’s ability to repel such a boarding party.
The next-best candidates for a unique naval unit would be the Italians, Sicilians and Turks. In the case of the Italians, the Genoese and Venetian navies offer a plethora of options, such as the buzo, which as I understand it is a large war galley (as the Genoese Crossbowman is already one of the Italians’ unique units on land, a Venetian ship seems appropriate, for balance). Since the wars between these two states included the first use of gunpowder in naval warfare, at least in the West that I know of, the Italian’s naval unique unit could feature a powerful gunpowder attack. The Turks could receive a naval unit, too, to complement this – the game does include a scenario for the Battle of Lepanto, after all. (The way in which in the devs depicted the rivalry between Teutons and Lithuanians through mechanics – e.g. Teutons get more mêlée armor but the Leitis ignores it, Lithuanians get faster Monasteries but Teutons are less susceptible to conversion – was really exciting; this could be a naval version of that.)
The most obvious choice for the Sicilians would be a slightly weaker version of the Longboat, with a transport capacity of five. This would represent both the civ’s Norse heritage and its maritime migration to Sicily. Alternatively, however, the Longboat itself could be reimagined. It only makes sense that Longboats would be able to carry a small number of troops – a raiding party, in effect. This could even specifically exclude villagers and possibly also other units like Monks. I assume the reason such a feature hasn’t been added is because of concerns regarding inapplicability: If the Longboat becomes theoretically more powerful by gaining this capacity to transport, its price should presumably increase, but this means that it will become proportionally weaker as a warship, i.e. in all situations in which the player isn’t actually taking advantage of its ability to transport units, one will have overpaid, even if only slightly. This could be fixed in a rather unorthodox way, namely by providing the Vikings with a third, Dock-specific unique tech that could enable the transportation of units on Longboats, but that represents a dangerously tangled departure from format – hence the proposed alternative of giving Sicilians a unique unit that would basically be a more accurate, intuitive version of the Longboat, or even of giving this unit to both civs. Another possibility would be to increase the Longboat’s attack proportionally as more units become garrisoned in it while only raising its cost very slightly.
As for the Thirisadai, I’m no expert on the Chola navy, but this Reddit post is worth reviewing:
Having looked at the links again recently, it would seem that a lot of what was being addressed has been removed and revised, but the basic issue presumably remains, since the AoE2 unit is still apparently based on a fabrication – the author of the post recommends at least renaming the unit to ########## or Kalam, which would be easy enough, I should think; no re-skinning or other major overhaul necessary.
As it happens, however, the Thirisadai does need to be adjusted significantly for other reasons. First, the unit should be made available in Castle Age in some form. The Chola empire reached its apogee long before the period which the AoE2 Imperial Age corresponds to (however rough that estimation necessarily is). Also, from a balance-and-mechanics standpoint, it simply becomes available too late. Wootz Steel is already a potential late-game bomb, and civs usually shouldn’t have two of these – even though in this case they are divided across land and water – since it skews their balance too heavily away from the early and middle phases of the game (which you obviously have to survive through if you want to ever use that big late-game feature).
Furthermore, they would benefit from filling a specific niche more clearly. I haven’t played Dravidians much, but on paper, it looks to me like they’re difficult to mass because of their cost, and since they’re slow, all the other ships that you’ll presumably be producing alongside them will have to wait for them. At that point, the cost-benefit comparison of getting somewhere less quickly versus maybe packing a little extra punch doesn’t look very appealing. You’ll probably just opt to invest equal resources in other ships, instead. This lack of purpose is further exacerbated by the fact that they seem to be best against Galleons, raising the question: Why not just use Fire Ships, instead? And indeed, there is no very compelling reason why the Thirisadai should be so slow.
I do like that they fire multiple arrows – that’s something that’s been underused to date, which is why I’ve suggested it for the Djong and the Sicilians’ Longboat-like ship (instead of adding a unique unit, a given civ could also receive a civ bonus that would allow its Galley-line to fire a few secondary arrows, or something like that). But especially when I compare the Thirisadai to the Longboat, which is the other volley-shooting ship in the game at present, it just seems terribly underwhelming – two more attack and, admittedly, a lot more armor and HP, but this is bound to yield diminishing marginal returns in a lot of situations. And to be clear, that’s comparing it to the normal Longboat, not the unit’s élite version (which admittedly entails the flat cost of researching the corresponding technology).
Region-wide units would be a really exciting addition to the game, as well, but I’m simply out of my depth when it comes to proposing historical examples that would correspond to the civs currently included in AoE2. It’s a shame that we’ve never gotten to see war canoes, but the appropriate civs aren’t really present in the game, at least as far as my knowledge suggests. If they do ever make an appearance, that would be another great way to apply the multiple-missiles mechanic. Also, I don’t know enough about medieval naval warfare in the Mediterranean to say, but in Antiquity, plenty of ships featured bronze rams – if it’s historically accurate, a ship that could toggle between shooting arrows and a mêlée attack could be another option. But in short, the proportion of civs with a unique naval unit should be expanded quite dramatically, from about one in ten at present to something more like twice or even thrice that.
Finally, there’s the Cannon Galleon. One possibility here would be to let a civ receive it one age early. This would make it feel a lot like a unique unit for that particular civ. Otherwise, this unit occupies a clear role and doesn’t seem to merit any significant adjustment.