Why are military mechanics so different in DE? AoC gave the devs a perfect path to how military unit mechanics should work, and they made small tweaks that completely unbalanced a delicate and nuanced rock-paper-scissors dynamic. Here’s a list:
Knights and scouts should move through archer units like water, and yet due to the ridiculous bumping mechanics, it’s often better to attack archer-line units with 5 knights instead of 10. AoC wasn’t perfect with bumping, but DE makes it nearly useless to make knights in 1v1 matches.
Cavalry archers: They’re faster, more expensive and have more HP than xbows. Unless you have a ball of archers large enough to one-shot the CA, CA should win small-to-medium size matchups decisively against crossbows (and for 20 years they did). Now, their enormous hit boxes cause them to bump into eachother, their rate of fire is either slower, their firing animation is slower, or something is different because stop-microing them is a recipe for failure. Much like knights, it’s useless to make them in 1v1 when your opponent goes xbow. Even with husbandry, ballistics and thumbring, they just aren’t worth the cost (even as huns) because crossbows mow them down.
Archers/Crossbows: it might sound strange that I’m listing these here because by all accounts a ball of xbows is completely OP against pretty much every unit in castle age, but they make the list because their accuracy when firing at moving units in feudal age/pre-ballistics castle is terrible. Villagers that are running in line with arrow fire evade damage 100% of the time, when in AoC those arrows landed. The same holds true for 45 degree angle movement where in AoC those arrows sometimes landed when firing against a single unit. Now they never do. You no longer have to move units laterally to avoid taking fire, you can move them in a straight line as you run to garrison in your TC without fear of any of those arrows hitting their mark. It makes feudal age warfare far less effective, and given DE’s abject fear of giving someone a bad or hilly map, or a woodline that is anything less than stellar, an aggressive feudal age is complete folly.
All of these deviations from previous versions of Age of Empires have created a less nuanced and less fun military experience. The game is almost purely about macro now, with this great funneling of meta into crossbow civilizations and an incentive to get to Castle age quickly in order to skip the early game where military is now practically useless.
Devs, if you have one takeaway from this post, please make it the archer/xbow death ball. Archers are supposed to die when melee/cavalry units descend on them. Realistically, a group of giant horses or heavily armored men would never bump off of a few archers; they’d run them right over. Make the archer-line hit boxes smaller because the death ball is no fun at all.