It does seem like they took a step back from aoe3. I was hoping they would be big and have some kind of boarding mechanic. (I outlined this in another post lets see if I can find it… ahh here it is!)
here is how I would like to see naval combat.
You have the normal 2 types of firing ships like they have, the fast turning weaker arrow ships, and the position able fortress type cannon ones. Great for some balanced ranged warfare but is missing some elements. Such as boarding, and fire.
Warships get a boarding/man power rating, its like an energy bar that drains as the ships are touching. This is initiated by a grappling ability where instead of shooting, one can choose to grapple and board the ship. the stronger of the 2 ships energy bar then wins, as they slowly drain and a fight animation takes place. once one ship exhaust itself it is left with its remaining HP and converted to the winning player, but the ship splits the remaining boarding power, so basically that ship would have to be sent to the docks to repair and replenish to be useful, (both would since likely ship would take hits while boarding action taking place and will have no more boarding power) if multiple ships get involved to first grapple and immobilize a ship, then others can come into help board as well, and that can really deplete fast and make it an efficient conversion.
as a defense some ships might have a fire weapon that can take down ships faster than boarding can convert. (but still depletes any boarding power, well maybe not for some civs!) or specialized swivel deck cannons for the Portuguese, have a close shot gun like anti inf cannon that damages the ship a little but depletes boarding power a lot.
Now lets talk about the potential of fire, how it has been used is simply a sustaining HP reduction as long as damage is applied, then neutralized… but what if all a fire ship unit really had to do was start fires on a ship instead of continually pouring fuel onto it, starting out small but as 1 sec goes by goes to 2 alarm fire, 2 sec is three alarm fire that is self sustaining… and then it slowly depletes the HP until would eventually destroy the ship, and possibly spread to other ships if not micro ed away. This would then create ways to put out fires. Such as fire type ships being able to alternately pump water, or actually make a water ship. Each ship could have its own small water pumps that can help put out fires at small range but requires manpower/boarding power rating bar to drop to put it out. Note a 1-2 alarm fire as it grows could be easily put out by a ships own man power if they had sufficient enough of it.
transports. are slower than military units and can get grappled easily if not protected. Unloaded have a very small boarding/man power rating. But as they fill up with units this increases a lot to fully charged possibly the strongest, that would take a few ships to overcome.
Fishing ships, can transport 1 unit.
To help with native balance on water canoes can kind of do it all
canoes, can shoot normally or set fires to ships, they do not have a big cannon attack, but some special ones may have a improvised rock thrower that they stole from EURO designs (think have the Lakota adopted firearms, how these cultures may have adapted had they fought on water)
so basically the strat will be to get close start fires on ships to cause havoc use some to board (their boarding power might not be a draining force, but a punch/ immediate drop. then they start shooting again, if enough ships do this they will overtake the ship like any other) and others in the medium distance to shoot targets. Large ships can grapple and use their man power to quickly overtake canoes but will not send their manpower to fight in them, so native canoes would just sink at that point, and the large ship continues with what it has left.
Docks rejuvenate manpower for free,
Possibly fishing ships can be grappled but have more of a chance to evade, again EURO civs will not fish from native rafts. (helping balance since a large fleet of ships will be stronger, native civs will have to adapt by rushing water and making canoes cheaply to start)
merchant ships actually have a small man power rating to ward off being boarded but can be boarded, however the ship is scuttled and a small prize is awarded the player. They do not get a grapple ability so no worry, merchant ships wont be fighting each other for the lanes.
I feel like mechanics like these would create some really dynamic and interesting tactics, the SEA is a barely touched potential of a secondary type of strategy play. within the same game.
I for one would like to see more agonizing pathing of more realistic turning radius’s, ship momentum,
questions to ask? could boarding power be transferred? say a big battle ensued and more ships are low in HP but have some boarding power, but another ship needs it with HP, so you send that in to tank the front lines with good boarding power, tie up the front lines and the low HP ships provide the range support but are paper to other boarding powers if flanked.