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:
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, added links to the other threads.
I have left out a lot of gripes here either because I deem them too minor to mention (mostly regarding balance issues that I’m sure the devs are already resolving anyway) or because they would involve the overhaul or deletion of entire civs (“Goths” – that’s all I’ll say on the subject). This also seems as good a time as any to note that I love this game and believe the devs have generally done a good job with it - otherwise I wouldn’t play it or be posting any of this.
-There are three other civs that I would have liked to see in the game. I say “would have liked” because once three more civs have been introduced, the game will be saturated, and I imagine they’ve already chosen which civs those will be. Thus, if the above proposal for a DLC focusing on mainland East Asia was largely an idle hypothetical, the following are downright whimsical suggestions, and I’ll make them only briefly and then move on to more substantive remarks.
Muladis, Muwalladin or a similar label ought to have been used for a civ representing Islamic Iberia. It feels imbalanced that we got not only Goths, but also Spanish and Portuguese, i.e. three civs that can be described wholly or partly as Christian Iberian civs, but that Al-Andalus was never directly represented in the game, the Berbers having had to stand in.
The civs occupying the band running east-west across Africa along the latitude of the Sahel, Sudan and the Horn remain underrepresented in the game. Mali is presumably thought of as a stand-in not just for the realm of that name, but also for Ghana and Songhai; analogously, Ethiopia is probably imagined to encompass other states like Aksum. Even so, this is poor coverage; the Kingdom of Benin, the Kanem(-Bornu) Empire and the Mossi people are three obvious West and West-Central African candidates that could have improved on such a record. (I mentioned above how great it would be to see war canoes; I’m not positive, but insofar as I’ve seen illustrations of Nigerian war canoes before, I imagine Benin might be one civ which could have featured these.) The Daju Kingdom or the Fur people in general could have been introduced to give Sudan some representation.
At least one more Indian civ would likely have been in order, and there was no shortage of additional ones to choose from (Guptas, for example, or Gangas with focus on the Eastern Gangas to represent Kalinga and other regions of eastern India that aren’t really covered by the existing four civs).
Last but assuredly not least, the Kurds should also have been included as a civ. Biji Kurdistan.
I’ll be very excited if any of these do happen to make it in to the game – fingers crossed.
-The armor upgrades should be renamed as follows. Even this new set of names would constitute a crude oversimplification, but much less of a mouthful and also at least marginally more accurate than the current scheme (the biggest offense in this regard is the completely unnecessary inclusion of the word “armor” after the word “barding”).
Archer: Leather Archer Armor, Quilted Archer Armor, Composite/Metal Archer Armor
Cavalry: Scale Barding, Mail Barding, Plate Barding
Infantry: Scale Armor, Mail Armor, Plate Armor
-Monks should get region-/religion-specific skins: American (already exists), Christian (already exists), Buddhist/East Asian (still a pretty egregious amalgam, I admit), Hindu, Muslim and Tengri/steppe. Besides this, the Ethiopians and Lithuanians should each get their own Monastery and Monk (depicting Ethiopian Coptic Christianity and Lithuanian polytheism, respectively).
I can appreciate the argument that units should generally look the same regardless of civ, and in most cases, this is a valid point, but a few exceptions should not cause any serious problems (so far, the trade cart and naval units are the only such cases – I see no reason why adding the Monk to this list would prove overwhelming). Against this position I would like to point out two things: first, that the monk in particular looked very, very different from civ to civ, given ceremonial dress etc. Second, the absence of a weapon should help players identify this unit – as it is unmounted, unarmed and clearly not a Villager, persons should usually be able to deduce that the unit they are looking at is a Monk.
-The Monk should be renamed “Cleric” and the Monastery, “Temple”, since not all of the religions implicitly featured in AoE2 had monastic traditions. (I won’t even get into the names of the various Monastery technologies, mostly because there’s no way to render them very inclusive anyway, so that it matters less that they’re so overtly specific to Christianity.)
-Even setting aside these questions of renaming, however, the Monastery technologies may merit consideration here for other reasons. As just mentioned, the current system represents a thoroughly Christian perspective. An engaging and more plural alternative would be to rename Faith “Syncretism” and then create an either/or relationship between it and the Heresy technology (though some civs could still lack both). In other words, civs that largely observed faiths like Catholicism and Sunni and Shia Islam, with their strict and elaborate codes of religious law and a tendency to regard heterodox behavior as dangerous, would get the Heresy tech. Other civs would get Syncretism, the idea being that even if you were to convince someone from these civs of the superiority of your beliefs, there would be a chance of them just incorporating those beliefs into their own practices of worship, rather than immediately defecting to your side in a fit of born-again redemption.
Maybe I’m over-interpreting, but a similar policy already seems to have influenced which civs do or do not get Heresy – I just think it would be fun to turn this into a more even relationship, rather than a similar positive-negative, “some get this, others don’t” type of dichotomy.
One could even add a third category named “Hierarchy” (or something similar) which would render the civ’s monks immune to Atonement-facilitated conversion but wouldn’t affect its other units.
-I’m not sure which civ this would be appropriate for – that would have to be researched – but a warrior-monk-type unit could prove an exciting addition to the game. At present, the only Monk-like unique unit included in AoE2 is the Missionary; the unit I am proposing would 1. be able to convert enemy units like a monk and would be affected by the corresponding upgrades, 2. probably be produced at the Monastery or maybe both the Monastery and the Castle, 3. have an attack of some kind (necessitating the use of a button/hotkey to specify whenever right-clicking a unit is to convert and not attack) and 4. lack the ability to heal. To be clear, like the Missionary, this would be an additional unit, not a substitute for the ordinary Monk.
Lots of exciting combinations would be possible here, e.g. if the unit were otherwise vulnerable against cavalry, it would still be able to threaten the Knight-line (and some similarly vulnerable ####### ### with conversion, creating a rather unorthodox set of strengths and weaknesses.
-The Siege Tower will never be a very useful unit, to be sure. If it were removed from the game, nobody would notice. I do think, though, that improving it a bit can only be to the good. To this end, it seems fair to give it a ranged attack as long as there are troops garrisoned in it, the strength of which would correlate directly with the number of troops inside. One could also limit this to archers (except for Teutons, of course, whose civ bonus should extend it to infantry). Like I said, it would hardly make the unit viable in any proper sense of the word, but maybe we’d at least see it every once in a while on closed maps.
A second possibility would be to give the Siege Tower to a specific civ as a replacement for its ram-line (not so far-fetched, since the Siege Elephant has already set a precedent here). In this case, the Siege Tower would receive an anti-building mêlée attack of the same or almost the same strength as the ram’s, and one could even incorporate the suggestion made above (ranged attack if garrisoned) and then render it possible for players to toggle between the two options (another precedent set by the latest expansion, this time by the Ratha).
Quite a few different civs could plausibly receive such a unit – combining the tower-part with the battering ram seems to have been a very widespread technique. It would be on-theme for the Teutons to get a siege unit that also allows garrisoned archers and infantry to fire arrows. Such a change would also be intuitive enough for the Slavs, with their cheaper siege. Insofar as this type of unit seems to have been at least somewhat common in southwestern Asia, the Saracens and Persians could be considered, as well, and besides these, any of the great marauding civilizations like the Huns, Mongols, Tatars etc. would be a logical candidate. A new civ would also come into question – like the Tibetans, above, in which case the unit could even become region-wide instead of unique to one civ, e.g. the Tibetans, Tatars and Persians could all receive it (see above).
-A hotkey for “de-select all units that are at full health” would be great.
-It’s interesting to me that we’ve never seen a “poison”-style mechanic in the game, where hitting an enemy unit will cause that unit to move more slowly, take one damage every few seconds for a little while or something else of that sort. Such an ability could be unlocked for certain units through a unique technology; I don’t really know what civs it would be appropriate for, because I’m not sure which ones historically used a high proportion of poisoned weapons.
-The Byzantines should be renamed: Romans. It is understandable enough that they are called “Byzantines” and “Eastern Romans” in other contexts which do not exclude the original Roman Empire, or even in cases in which the Holy Roman Empire constitutes another game faction/realm. Since the civ which usually represents the latter in AoE2 is named the Teutons, however, rather than, say, the Holy Romans, there is no reason not to call the Byzantines by the name they used for themselves, rather than one invented subsequently.
-The Caravanserai (Hindustanis) could become a sort of TC for Trade Carts, i.e. 1. Trade Carts could garrison the building, 2. the building could feature a “Send back to work” button and hotkey analogous to the one for villagers in other buildings, 3. garrisoned units could fire arrows and 4. the Caravanserai could provide five population space. The unit needs strengthening and this seems like the most intuitive way to go about that.
-The Atheism unique technology (Huns) should be replaced with something more relevant (that doesn’t have to mean more powerful, there just needs to be a reasonable chance that this tech will be worth researching in a match with the Conquest victory condition; even something like pure relic-hate, e.g. “All garrisoned relics immediately and permanently stop providing gold”, would be more interesting).
Also, I’ve never understood the name of this tech. I know that not much was recorded about the religion of the Huns, but is there even a shred of evidence that they were “atheists”? And if they were, was it in a way that set them apart meaningfully from other religions that either feature no god, at all, or at least invoke the idea only in a minor, even peripheral way (e.g. Buddhism)? In short, this tech isn’t just mechanically uninteresting, it’s also thematically unclear, at least to me. Something evoking the terror and dread inspired by the Huns in their enemies would make more sense, if the revised version of the tech were to be similar to its current form.
-In its current form, the Samurai is not likely to ever see much play. I can only speak from personal experience, but when I play the Japanese, my opponent very frequently avoids creating their civ’s unique unit as a precaution. I then in turn decline to create Samurai, opting in favor of other units whose strengths won’t be underutilized. (This condition improves somewhat in larger games, where a single Japanese opponent isn’t likely to dissuade three or four players from all creating their respective unique units, but I hope we can all agree that no unique unit’s focus should be oriented around 3-v.-3 and 4-v.-4 play.)
As I understand it, the Samurai was originally supposed to be very similar to the Bengalis’ Ratha unique unit. I’d love to see it become something more akin to that original design, i.e. a mounted unit with the possibility of switching between ranged and hand-to-hand attacks. No doubt some will argue that this would be redundant, since the Ratha has been added to the game in the interim, but I don’t see why such a broadly applicable mechanic need be limited to one unique unit. Moreover, the Samurai could easily be rendered very distinct from the Ratha, e.g. by giving it lower HP (thematically justified because only horse and rider, no chariot), slightly lower mêlée armor (i.e. base armor would be 1/1 like the Samurai in its current form), a high rate of fire (to mirror the Japanese civ bonus for infantry) and a slightly higher speed (1.35, same as a Knight). Beyond this, its mêlée attack could be lowered slightly and its ranged attack, raised (e.g. 9 and 6 for non-élite version, versus 10 and 5 for Ratha). Thus, whereas the Ratha is more of a mêlée unit by default, ranged unit as the situation demands, the Samurai would tend more in the opposite direction. One could reinforce this mutual divergence by giving the Samurai a range of five (if I’m not mistaken, all other mounted archers have a range of only four). As a further measure to render it sui generis, the Samurai could cost gold and food instead of gold and wood; this would synergize nicely with the Japanese bonus to Fishing Ship efficiency.
The Samurai could also retain a small bonus against enemy unique units (the hope being that if this bonus were decreased significantly, it wouldn’t cause opponents to completely forsake creating their civ’s unique unit). That said, one worries that unless the bonus is reduced to a truly negligible amount, the problem described above will persist.
-The Cumans, Goths, Huns and Mongols all have features that remind us of the land-based nomadism or semi-nomadism that characterized their civilizations during all or most of the period covered by AoE2 (I say “land-based” to avoid getting into other cases like that of the Sicilians): Cumans have the special feudal age, Huns don’t have to build houses, Goths and Mongols have the hunting bonus. The Magyars and Tatars warrant similar bonuses, but don’t currently have any; this should be corrected.
I don’t want to get too bogged down explaining my reasoning here, but I do want to at least summarize it in broadest terms: AoE2 is a really, really abstract game (arguably the main reason why the other titles in the franchise have struggled to develop a comparably large and lasting appeal). Nobody expects it to reflect reality in detail. But at least some general thematic adherence to a civ’s historical characteristics is necessary; otherwise the game becomes less intuitive and convincing (it’s one thing for a unit to look a little unrealistic or for a technology to be strangely named here and there, but I think most players will agree that to, for example, have made the Mayans a cavalry-and-gunpowder civ would have been an annoying error).
This adherence to a civ’s historical way of life has always proved challenging in the cases of the nomadic and semi-nomadic civs, because they diverge the most from the more settled and, in many respects, specifically European model that serves a generic base for all the game’s civs. The existence of this single generic base is central to the game: If civs were more distinct from one another, players would have to learn altogether different principles and playstyles every time they tried out a new civ (as is the case in #### ## Starcraft). And in several cases, the developers have done an excellent job of paying homage to a civ’s nomadism while remaining within this familiar framework (the Cumans and Huns are the real success stories in this regard). However, all of this being said, in a game that already focuses very heavily on Europe, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect at least one of a predominantly nomadic civ’s features to set it apart from this generic, settled model. Both of the cases listed above – Magyars and Tatars –were prominently nomadic for a significant part of the timespan covered by AoE2. That should be more evident in their makeup.
Some persons will point to the Magyars’ one-hit-wolf-kill ability and to the Tatars’ improved and more numerous herdables. Let me say first that the latter is a really brilliant pair of civ bonuses – one of the most elegant in the game. It absolutely should not be changed. However, it does not represent nomadism so much as pastoralism – if somebody who knew nothing about the Tatars were to play some AoE2, they would probably just assume that the Tatars, like the Britons, were simply a civ that had raised a lot of sheep as livestock, not that this had any nomadic dimension.
As for the Magyars, their woodsmen ability is better than nothing, but it, too, only implies a nomadic way of life in a pretty attenuated sense. Moreover, the Magyar case offers special opportunities that one absolutely ought to capitalize on: For one thing, unlike many of the nomadic peoples featured in the game, the most famous episode of their migration was the flight before other advancing peoples (compared to the conquering journeys of Huns, Mongols etc.). Also, it makes sense for their nomadism-related bonus to come early in the game, since they ultimately settled in Hungary (and indeed did so on the earlier side, measured by the chronology of AoE2). One really unconventional option would be to make their units move 10% faster in Dark Age and 5% faster in Feudal Age. Even if that particular idea doesn’t appeal to you, it hopefully illustrates the potential for an unorthodox, thematically well-founded civ bonus. In the proposal for the Jurchen, above, I mentioned several further possibilities, including a hunting bonus that would cause food to trickle in without having to be deposited at the Mill or a TC (presumably unbalancing for the Magyars, though, and therefore inadvisable) and lowering the stone cost of TC dramatically. The general principle underlying the latter could be tailored to the criteria described above – specific emphasis on capacity to retreat and adapt plus main impact during early-game –, e.g. the Magyars could gain some variation on the ability to move or rebuild their TC (representative of leaving Etelköz for Pannonia). (Disclaimer: I am not taking any money from Rubenstock or Lyx.)
For the Tatars, one might consider the ability to create a unique unit like a “raiding cart” that can in turn create the civ’s main unique unit, the Keshik. Below, I recommend removing the Timurid Siegecraft unique technology from the game; it could be replaced by a tech making it possible to create the unit just described (to clarify, below I also recommend untethering the Flaming Camel from Timurid Siegecraft and making it available already in Castle Age). Since it produces units, the “raiding cart”-like unit would merit a building hotkey, allowing the player to select all of them at once. This would make the Keshik easier to mass and exceptionally mobile.
In a sense, this is very similar to the Berserk’s regeneration ability. The latter is clearly to be explained in terms of the unit’s historical capacity for long-distance raiding. The gradual restoration of the unit’s health represents its ability to operate far from a central base. The introduction of the “raiding cart” would, in effect, do the same for the Keshik, albeit a bit less metaphorically. Perhaps the cart could even produce Cavalry Archers, as well – that seems too powerful to me, but maybe I’m mistaken.
Another intuitive comparison is the Sicilians’ combination of Donjon and Serjeant. Admittedly, the Keshik does not build the “raiding cart”, nor can it repair it, but the idea reprises the special relationship between a civ’s main unique unit and a building – or in this case, a unit – that produces only that main unique unit.
-The Karambit Warrior (Malay) should be replaced. The reference to the karambit does not necessarily need to be changed, though it could be replaced by one to the keris, and the ugly and unrealistic depiction of dual-wielding could also be dispensed with through this change.
A possible revised version of the unit would no longer only occupy half a population space and would have noticeably better stats, but would still be light infantry suited to jungle warfare, a fact represented by an ability to pass through trees – with the caveat, however, that there has to be a clear tile adjacent to, or perhaps just within two spaces of, the tree that the unit is trying to pass through. That way this would only be possible if the band of trees being traversed was relatively narrow or if the trees were not clustered too thickly, and maps like Black Forest would continue to function as they’re intended to.
-The Malay should get a naval unique unit, like a war djong/junk. Probably there’s a more technical term, but I don’t know it. See my thoughts on naval combat, above.
-The Nomads unique technology (Mongols) is both boring and rather illogical. In terms of gameplay, it’s something of a back-foot option, so to speak, that will never help you to generate tempo or press the advantage. I assume its weakness is very much by design, and that’s understandable given the many powerful advantages that the Mongols enjoy. That doesn’t mean the tech has to be so broadly reactive and inapplicable, though.
It also doesn’t make much sense. From a historical and thematic standpoint, the Mongols were nomads when they dwelt on the steppes; the only period of their history that could be identified at all with a comparatively settled way of life would be the era succeeding the death of Genghis Khan (i.e. of the various successor realms: Ilkhanate, Golden Horde etc.). But with this technology, the exact opposite seems to be implied: Your people build houses and live in them for a while, then become nomadic only once they’re driven out of these. As presumably already became evident above, I’m all for civ bonuses, unique technologies and so on that acknowledge a civ’s nomadism, but – ironically, given its name – this particular tech does a really poor job of that.
There seems to be something of a pattern here, since the Huns, a civ with some similar features to the Mongols (not just in terms of their various bonuses, but also their history in the game, e.g. the fact that both have long been regarded as powerful civs), have a similarly dull and nigh-on useless technology. Again, I can appreciate that there are concerns about unbalancing one or both of these civs, but I don’t think that’s an excuse to give them techs that have virtually no value.
-The Obuch (Poles) is a weird, boring, improbable unique unit and should be replaced. An alternative would be a heavy cavalry unit, which could for example be named the Pancerny. Similar to the Cataphract, this unit would have extra cavalry armor, rendering it less vulnerable to the Spearman-line, to camels etc.
Beyond this, a number of signature features could prove suitable: 1. preserving the Obuch’s ############### ability – I don’t personally care for the mechanic, but if it’s retained, so be it, and since it seems to be inspired by the Obuch’s namesake, the cavalry pick, the Pancerny could feature that same weapon (which would be realistic, unlike the Obuch’s use of it); 2. introducing a soft version of the Leitis’ ability, i.e. negating armor up to a certain amount. (E.g.: The Pancerny attacks a unit with 0 mêlée armor and then another unit with 2 mêlée armor. Since the Pancerny negates the first, let’s just say 3 armor of its target, it will deal the same amount of damage to both units.) 3. Alternatively, the Pancerny could be armed with a lance, instead of a pick as proposed above, and could then possibly have a range of one, like the Steppe Lancer, or 4. it could toggle between lance and pick, with a Ghulam-like attack for the former and a more concentrated, single-target attack for the latter (see the description of a possible Jurchen unique unit, above).
I acknowledge that this will make Poles even more cavalry-oriented than they already are, and this is doubtless the reason why they were given a non-mounted unique unit (a standing practice going back to AoK, viz. the Franks’ Throwing Axeman). But they’re the Poles; cavalry is simply what they do, and they should either never have been added to the game, or they ought to be represented accordingly. It’s already bad enough that the Hussar was introduced in AoC as a lighter cavalry unit rather than heavy shock cavalry; an infantry unit with a silly ability wielding a cavalry weapon is simply not worthy of this civ. The solution to the already heavy focus on cavalry (or more precisely: to all the corresponding vulnerabilities) is not to avoid cavalry at the Castle, but to instead provide the Poles with a cavalry UU that isn’t as susceptible to the standard counters.
-Slavs should be renamed: Rus’. The fact that they had ever had this broader name has to do with the history of the game: The Forgotten was regarded as a last expansion that could cram into the game a few civs that would have been especially obvious candidates to include in AoK or AoC.
This was a noble effort, and in its context, the very broad label: “Slavs” made sense. Now, with the inclusion of such peoples as the Bulgarians and Poles in the game, it no longer does: We have here three separate civs, one of which has a name that ought to encompass all of them. This would be like naming the Spanish “the Iberians” even though the Portuguese are also present in the game. Moreover, there is already a clear precedent for this sort of renaming (namely: Indians into Hindustanis).
(Addendum: For those who feel that it would be inappropriate to rename a civ “Rus’” during Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, please note that the Kievan Rus’ are cited as a source of ancestral heritage not only by Russia, but by a number of Slavic peoples and former Soviet states, including Ukraine – viz. the tryzub, or trident, which is the civ’s symbol in AoE2 and is also featured in various Ukrainian insignias and emblems. In short, anyone with a sense of this civ, its history and the history of its reception by subsequent cultures could not reasonably regard such a change as pro-Russian.)
-Timurid Siegecraft is boring. I suggested an alternative above, in the section on nomadism (and for those concerned about the ensuing lack of Tatar bonuses pertaining to siege, note my recommendation above to give Tatars the proposed Siege Tower unit, along with Persians and Tibetans).
To be clear, I’m not proposing that the Flaming Camel be eliminated, merely that it be untethered from the tech. There is absolutely no compelling reason for having made the unit this difficult to access (both in terms of the tech as an added hurdle and of limiting the unit to the Imperial Age rather than introducing it already in Castle Age). One could even consider having the Stable or Siege Workshop provide an alternative or additional production site besides the Castle.
Which brings me to a further source of confusion: The devs themselves don’t give the impression that they really know what they want this unit to be or do. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but to my knowledge, oxen and camels laden with incendiaries were mainly used against enemy siege engines. Use against cavalry (whether elephant, camel or horse) also makes sense, since the damage dealt in-game presumably represents the animals being frightened and scattered by the fire and loud noises. And making these applications into a dual focus for the unit, combined with its greater blast radius compared to the Petard, would give it a completely separate function. Recently, though, the devs gave the Flaming Camel a hefty chunk of bonus damage against buildings. A bit of bonus damage I can understand, but since the unit supplements, rather than replaces the Petard at the Castle, the recent change seems to introduce unwarranted overlap. Instead, the Flaming Camel should represent a faster, primarily antipersonnel version of the Petard.
I freely admit that I don’t much care for this unit. Of course, AoE2 is a wargame, but even by the corresponding standards, this is a pretty grisly concept to have introduced to the game: An innocent animal is being forced to spend its last moments in fear and anguish before becoming an anonymous casualty in the wars of men (and an inevitable one, unlike a warhorse – for the latter to serve its purpose, it must survive, whereas in the case of the former, it must die). I also recognize, though (and this applies to everything I’ve written here), that revising a game can often feel like little proverbial bang-for-buck, and that the dev team probably isn’t eager to altogether remove a unit that it spent time conceiving of, animating etc. Given that fact, i.e. assuming that the Flaming Camel is here to stay, it should become available earlier (and possibly also be made easier to mass), and Timurid Siegecraft should either be replaced with something altogether different or increase Trebuchet range and improve some feature of both Flaming Camels and Petards (e.g. damage, blast radius, speed or creation time).
-Turks should be renamed: Oghuz. Their current name made sense with the release of AoK, when there were no other Turkic peoples represented in the game, but since the introduction of Cumans and Tatars in The Last Khans, this name has not made sense – a situation perfectly analogous to the case of the Slaves, already addressed above.