After thinkin a lot over this recently I want to talk about the issues I personally have with the current highly metarized gameplay. It’s nit about having a meta in general but instead how the current meta makes the games kind of repetitive.
A) Low commitment strats
Most of the current meta gameplay is actually derived from a low commitment principle. Meaning that the players in most cases don’t chose one strategy and put all their effort in making that strategy work. They usually invest in several different strategic concepts without committing a lot in them at first. Good examples for that are the standard cavalry rushes where you usually don’t need a huge number of rather just enough to raid your opponent’s eco. But also in terms of investment into defences/walls or economy. We usually see players not overinvesting in either of these. Instead it’s usually an average investmen that doesn’t deviates much from player to player.
We don’t see castle age all ins vs full boom anymore. It’s just not a thing. The most we probably can get at time is a 2 TC vs 4-5 TC play.
This takes away a lot of tension. As in many cases both players have the same win conditions and the individual parts synergize with the success of each other, we often then have slow grinding games as a result of an early lead. Intead of the player in lead ether trying to use his current advantage or makes a switch to cut off the opponent’s win conditions we often seee the players in lead trying to slowly get the lead in all strategic subcategories to slowly take the opponent out of any options for a comeback.
B) Inclined strategies in a basic blueprint
To explain that I try to summarize a currently standard meta game and the goals/markers in the current metastrat.
- Decide your opener, make the buildorder you learned for that
- Get information about the opponent
- Make the typical Feudal rush skirmish, try to stabilize and pull back the opponent’s agression
- Try to get the better Castle age Timing
- Make xbow or knight and use that military powerspike with not overinvesting into either of them
- Transition into Booming behind that agression
- Add some more depth to your army comp with eg the natural trash complement or siege
- Care about strategical positioning and relics
- Try to get a faster imp timing so you can push the opponent first
If you watch current pro games you will see that this blueprint is used widely spread among them. There is hardly even a deviation in the amount of effort put in the different subparts of that blueprint.
Whilst on one side this is ofc a challenge and a fair way to determine the overall best player, as one has to manage all kind of different things, read the game, hit the timings and have the macro for performing these smaller transitions, it has one big disadvantage.
Both players have basically the same gameplan. And with so many difference makers inclined in one big meta strat, there is also almost no fallback strat for comebacks
I lately saw attempts of players behind to make last effort plays, trying to get ahead in one specific aspect. But it rarely works out. And when they see they don’t get the results for that attempt they ofc quit, which makes for a very unsatisfying ending for all participants. And especially for viewers as they often don’t even understand what was happening there, cause most players even on higher elo ranks don’t really “understand” or “read” the game situation properly.
C) Buildorders / Eco optimization
What adds to that is the steady optimization of buildorders to the established opening meta strats. Especially the most standard openings in archer and scout rush have been otimized. Whilst they are on their own already the strongest, with the buildorders otimized for them they become over time even more and more powerful that increases the burden for alternative openings. The highly perfectioned opening strats therefore make a log-in effect, making it increasingly hard for all other openings to get a footstep in. The issue emerges mainly from the food eco transition in feudal age, where you have to get from the free food to a farming eco. Both of the standard openers in scouts and archers synergize quite well with it cause they either use addtiional food gathered over the upgoing (scouts) for mediocre agression or are almost independent of the food supply itself (archers). Whilst all other types of units need food as a constant ressource, which convolutes heavily with the need of investment to transition into the farming eco.
This has become increasingly more appearant with the commodity of pushing the deer which give some extra early free food supply. This, lastly even enabled the new teamgame tactics of pre-mill archer rushes.
Interestingly we used to have drushes, even 2-militia drushes that in theory are supposed to disturb these highly perfectionated and elaborated buildorers. But as it looks like players have become so good in defending these drushes that they are rarely used anymore. And it’s kinda simple. You just need to add some few miniature walls at your ressources and you are safe. Maybe it delays your uptime by 1-2 vills, but with the established meta of spreading the vills among different gathering locations (especially in terms of food) this has rarely an impact on the actual gameplay. It just delays things happening.
Trushes also have been played so much already that most experienced players just know the technical strats to deal with them. Only civs like Poles can still use the trushes as a strategical counterplay, setting up for a favorable midgame where they can use their other powerspike. It’s less about the trush itself to deal damage but the fact that towers force the game to skip until the midgame where there is access to siege to deal with them. And if you have a civ that has an outstanding midgame this is indeed a strategical option. Especially if you also have a bonus to stone mining.
But especially this poles trush has lead to an optimization of trush counter strategies which lead to reducing other civilisations ability to perform that strat to success. It’s like the effect of franks with the scouts into knights play. If one civ is so strong in one simple meta strat, it overshadows other civs that try to do the same.
Regardless. What currently shines through is that with the established buildorders the amount of free food we have available is seemingly optimal for the two main openers in scouts and archers. It allows very tightly optimized buildorders for these strats whilst with other openers you usually will struggle to find an optimized eco setup with a decent feudal timing.
D) The importance of Timings
The game is designed around powerspikes. Which is generally a good thing. It makes it attractive to go onto the later stages, it makes for a natural continuation of both interaction but also narrative. It makes games interesting at all stages cause there is always something additional that follows on the current stage of the game. But as it currently emerged is that these timings (and powerspikes) have become too predominant. It always was that everybody had to get to the next age at some point. But there was counterplay potential by just staying quite long in a subordinate time but use the eco advantage to damage the opponent for investing so much to go to the next time. This has in regards to castle age become almost unusable. The timespan in which you can make use of that eco advantage has become so short, it’s hardly possible to build up an eco behind that to get the needed ressources for going up yourself. Players don’t even attempt this counterplay anymore but usually accept the disadvantages of worse timing over this. But if you are behind more than a minute in castle age timing, you give your opponent a lot of time to first damage you with knights or xbows and then transition into booming which takes away your minimal eco advantage that you got from going up just a bit later. This ofc also has something to do with both skirms and spears being kind of bad vs the supposed countered xbows and knights (xbows counter feudal skirms, knigths don’t counter spears with equal res, but as you need to spread out your spears to protect all eco spots. And if you do, knights become actually quite effective against smaller numbers of spears with the rules of lanchester.).
Which means there is basically no effective feudal counterplay vs both xbows and knights. You can try to make towers, but it’s a hard to perform transition and opens other options for the opponent like directly transition into booming or adding some siege.
The issue with that specific Castle Age powerspike is that it opens so many strategic options that aren’t available in feudal that basically everything you can do in feudal has a very efficient strategical castle age counterplay. And there is enough time to scout what the feudal player is preparing before castle age actually hits so the castle age player in the most games can just react perfectly to whatever the feudal player is trying. Additional to this the current cost and time of castle age is actually the least hurtful age up of all the 3. Cause you often even don’t have much other things you wanna invest into at this stage and you also don’t use that much economy by getting up earlier. Cause you have usually way more vills at this stage, having just 1-3 less working at a time with like 30-40 vills falls less into weight than with a dark age economy of 18-20 vills. As both players have to invest the same base cost, the factor which determines this econmic impact is actually the upgoing time itself. But the difference of this to the feudal 130 s is with 30 s to 160 s quite low and doesn’t represent the actual economic state of the game. It would need upgoing times of 200-250 s. With Imp it’s a bit different as in castle age you have access to full boom and therefore the initial investment plays a role there, too. Later impt timings are often a result of just booming more rather than a strategical decision of the army investments.
E) The influence of early Raids in the continuation of the game
We all know how important and strong raids are. And I don’t even want to generally change that too much. Cause in a lot of scenarios raids are the only ways to have a comeback. It’s often the basically only way if you are behind in too many or even all aspects of the game. This ofc also leads to a high emphasis on raids for agressive strats, cause the temptation of just killing the enemy eco so he has no way to comeback is huge. But especially in the early game the impact of killing just a few enemy vills is enromous. Cause not even you are killing the eco short-term, you killing it long-term as at this stage there isn’t a way to close the economic gap. You only have 1 TC and you want to have it producing at all time anyways. In one of his videos SOTL explained how much a vill kill at which stage of the game is actually worth it if you factor in the time you need to get to castle, add a TC and then make a new vill. That’s what makes early vill kills so powerful. And I want to question this interaction. Cause in my reflection and also when I talked to a lot of people here it puts a way too high emphasis on killing vills with early rushes. But exactly this leads then to games where one player is in such a big disadvantage that he is basically set to a slow starving death. And it’s no fun for either player to play this out then, just a slow grind until all comeback scenarios are closed for one.
I think this topic is vastly unterrepresented in the current discussion cause the temptation for this play is just too big. Ofc everybody likes to get an early big advantage, but I think we need to recognize that the opener strats shouldn’t be more than an early skirmish that determine the individual roles of the players. One with the advantage that tries to use that, one with the disadvantage that tries to use comeback strats or creativity to get back in the game. And the tension that emerges from it.
It the advantage from that early skirmish is too big, it becomes either a very short game or a slow grind which doesn’t satisfy anybody. Comebacks from hell are extremely uncommen, especially with the highly elaborated meta of the times or ours.
I don’t want to close the early rushes and raids. I think they are now established in the gameplay and it would be hard for the community to accept changes to that. But I hope we can find some stretching bands that reduce the impact of mediocre early raids so we get less of these slow grinding games that are really annoying for everbody.
I also have already some ideas how I would adress these issues, but I want to first get your feedback on this topic before I bias/spoil you. Just wanna say: I’m not an alarmist that overexaggerates for no accute reason without having any purpose how to adress the own made-up calamities. Just the thread is already long enough and I want your feedback first.
Maybe I’m even the only one who is bothered with the latest development and others like it as it is. I would be fine with that too.