Please scroll down and view my fixes for the HRE under Landsknecht and “So what’s the fix?” - I think they add some flavor to the faction without being overpowered.
The HRE is underwhelming as an infantry-based faction due to their over-reliance on Gold combined with minimal gathering bonuses and weak Military units.
- Introduction -
I’m an Age 1, 2 and 3 veteran. I like Age 4 but I’m not in love with it. I really wanted to like the HRE as I tend to favor Infantry-focused factions in RTS games where Infantry is the primary effort of assault that is supported by Cavalry and Artillery. From training with the Army, and interest in Roman culture, I’ve grown fond of creating a solid center-force that breaks the enemies center.
I’m not making this post because I believe the game doesn’t fulfill the ‘power fantasy’ of the HRE, I’m making this because I believe infantry for the HRE, and the faction as a whole, suffers from multiple overwhelming costs compared to other factions. Please keep in mind the basis of examples within my post assumes equivalent skill of players and is, of course, not true in a game of differing skill. However, I believe the HRE is so bad that even a moderately skilled HRE player will lose to a low-skilled player of another faction.
Problem Statement - The HRE struggles due to Relic’s design decision of intertwining the weakest AoE 4 unit archetype, infantry, in conjunction with the most restricting resource, gold. There are two main reasons for this: 1) The HRE’s economic weakness when compared to other factions and 2) The design and upgrades for HRE infantry.
**1. Economic Issues:**
All factions have to balance their gold expenditures on 4 things in the early game - Age tech, Military units, Military upgrades and Economic upgrades. Most players rush the early economic techs, as they provide the most rewards, and develop some sort of army based on their chosen first military spawn. The main issue for the HRE is that, when compared to other factions, they have no way to boost their economy early without making deep sacrifices that also compound into costing them more as the game progresses.
---- So what does this look like In-Game? ----
Well, as the HRE imagine that you’re playing against the wildly popular French. As per usual you stop building villagers at your TC so you can build a Prelate in conjunction with your Tech 2 landmark. This has two critical costs.
1) The first cost is the building price of a prelate which delays your wheelbarrow upgrade, the 1st mining upgrade, the first woodcutting upgrade or any other economic upgrade you want. How long does this delay it for? Even if it is just 30 seconds to one minute the timeframe adds up. As this timeframe adds up it is compounded by other upgrades being further delayed in their respective fields as well. It might not seem like much, but a 15 second delay within the first 4 minutes has huge ramifications in a 45 minute game.
2) The second cost is that you’re now one villager behind within the first 5 minutes. Let’s assume that a Prelate can provide equivalent or better benefits than a villager later in the game, but a villager early has far more impact than a Prelate early. Having one worker, being boosted to +40% gather speed by one Prelate, does NOT equal two workers at +0% speed. Having one villager limits the resource types you gather, the buildings you can construct, etc etc. This is why villager raids in pro-games are so important. Given the math and the fact that gather speed is based off of multiplicative bonuses, rather than additive ones, it’s roughly 2.2 villagers working at the same rate as 3. This means you’ll start making more money when you have more than 2.2 villagers at each site… but by then the opposing faction will have multiple more villagers without the subsequent gold cost.
**----Let's make this issue even trickier and consider other factions:----**
At the equivalent time in-game the French are constructing a landmark that gives +30% more value from traders OR making their cavalry more intimidating. They’re benefitting from a compounding economy due to passive bonuses of cheaper upgrades, cheaper buildings and faster villager production. Their Royal Knights, which have more health, armor, mobility, no competing gold costs and an equivalent cost in comparison to any of your units instantly places you into a defensive position.
Sure, the French are bad, but what about the Rus? Well the Rus get free gold from their scout killing wildlife, free gold for a one-time wood investment and the same problem the French give you with their own early knights. They have done all of this without delaying villager production. Are they as bad as the French? No. But they are bad enough that you’re still behind just by the nature of faction design.
Laugh in Longbows. But seriously, not only do they get a building that equates the cost of two archery ranges but also can contain you since they can produce from their landmark without paying the additional wood cost of a military building all while not paying a penny in gold. It’s very frustrating facing 15 longbowmen in Tech 2 at 9 minutes or so - but while the French and Rus get knights to help - the HRE get crippled.
Bonus Argument! - The economic benefits mentioned here do not take into consideration France or England’s T3 landmark which helps them even more.
The common counter argument to these points in an RTS is that the units mentioned above require more workers for their equivalent cost compared to your gold-costing units. This isn’t the case in Age 4 - these units are nearly identical in price to your units but with a better statline and being more readily produced via landmarks.
**So, the HRE is on the backfoot when the game starts.**
What is the natural reaction by most HRE players? Wall-up early… which cripples your economy even more.
Remember - since other factions don’t have to fear you as much as you fear them, getting walls up is more important for you than it is them! This gives your enemy MUCH more strategic flexibility to focus on eco, military, tech or defenses. Remember - you’re stuck on defenses.
Now about getting that stone… Guess what you have to sacrifice? That’s right - gold. Gold you’d otherwise spend on your vaunted Prelates or Man-At-Arms. You can’t sacrifice food since you need villagers, nor can you sacrifice wood since you need houses and buildings. If you’re against a cavalry faction you better double up on these resources as well so you can spam spearmen. Tie this part into the benefits I listed above - specifically the gold other factions are accruing via opportunity cost, passive income, villager harvesting time, villager production time or otherwise. The Rus being incentivized to hunt means less villagers on food and more on gold. The French getting more villagers, and spending less gold to upgrade them through economic tech, means more money on eco to boom earlier. The English get to boom for free while going to Tech 3.
**What landmarks does the HRE get in order to offset their economic and roster cost?**
Well… not much. Not as much as other factions. But you do get some help.
Tech 2 Landmarks: --Meinwork Palace-- OR --Aachen Chapel–
Depending on how you position the Aachen Chapel Landmark you can boost the villagers tasked to a gold mine + an additional nearby resource depending on your map layout. It’s 40% multiplicatively which is nothing to scoff at since that’s equivalent to the first upgrade… BUT! remember that in order to garrison a Prelate you had to build one by delaying villager production… which brings us back to the ever present issue of compounding disadvantages for the HRE. Also note that this landmark is one of the few that are conditionally based and, due to its importance, a ‘forced choice’. Going the other landmark helps in terms of reducing the cost of your initial Prelates in conjunction with unit upgrades, especially since it removes the wood cost of an armory. This was a nice thing for the HRE to have and does undercut my argument a little… until I discuss the units themselves (see part 2).
Tech 3 Landmarks: --Regnitz Cathedral-- OR --Burgrave Palace–
As a landmark look at the Cathedral’s benefit given the game circumstances… it not only requires an external resource to create resources, (relics), but it’s also extremely unlikely to be utilized since you’ve ceded map control to build walls defensively. The Burgrave palace helps you get immediate defenses up, replacing the stone cost with the Tech 3 cost, but does nothing to increase your map presence.
This brings us to another opportunity cost that the HRE struggles in - you need 1,600 gold (Tech 3 and Tech 4 gold cost, plus the time cost of construction) so you can access… cheaper villagers?! This is why so many HRE players push for a timing attack in Age 3 - the costs for advancing to age 4 which include diminishing effects on your units and increasingly powerful passive bonuses for other factions, makes you much weaker then them at that stage. Most civs are in a position to ‘boom’ as they go into Tech 4… read: Macro spam. So yeah, if you’ve gone to Tech 4 and built the landmark that creates villagers cheaper and faster… you’re probably so far behind it’s not even funny.
Note - I realize most of this was done to make the HRE terrifying in the late game. After all, in a perfect world, the HRE would need to spend less population on villagers than other factions when maintaining a ‘booming’ late game economy due to the benefits of Prelates. This is evidenced by the design decision to give their buildings more defenses (for gold, of course) The problem arises in the same manner it did for the Byzantines in AoE 2. Defensively designed factions always have a significantly lower win rate than others - and the HRE has to sacrifice so much early, compared to everyone ele, to achieve this.
**2. Military Issues**
After all this discourse on economy let’s talk about killing things… and admit that the HRE infantry is actually pretty bad. The best way to summarize this in a single question-
**What unit or composition of units does the HRE have that influences how the game is played?**
The answer is none - we’re a jack of all trades. The intent was for your units to remain in the fight longer than your opponents, from the healing and buffs from Prelates, while slowly breaking the enemies center… But doesn’t happen because you’re outnumbered, out-kited or Stutter stepped while being out-economied. Now think of the “elite” units for other factions… each of them has an army goal you have to worry about. China is the exception here (given that they’re universally ranked as the worst) but at least their gunners are ranged and anti-armor.
You might be thinking “You don’t go right for Doom-Stacks in an RTS nerd!”… which you’d be 100% right to say. A Doom-stack does, however, influence and shape the decision making, values, skirmishing and raiding you are doing throughout the game. The best example I can reference for this is Starcraft 2 - there’s a common meme that Protoss players can “F2-A” their army at the end of the game to win because they’re a ‘late game’ faction. You’d be laughed at if you didn’t acknowledge that the Protoss had to build some sort of unit variety before the Colossi / Immortal / Stalker deathball… but once they reach a ‘point’ where the other units bought time, and careful micro has preserved the units that the Protoss player needed, the meme goes that Protoss players just simply win because they are so strong. So I’ll ask again - What units does the HRE have that they want to preserve because they’re threatening? Look at the matchups below for further examples.
English vs. HRE
Around Tech 3, or any period where fighting intensifies, the English will be fielding Longbows, Men-At-Arms and Siege. The English Man-At-Arms are comparable statwise to the HRE Men-At-Arms - they have a significantly slower attack (2.00s), about 20 less health, but more bludgeon armor (roughly English 10 vs HRE 8 with all upgrades). They’re also not the focus of the English army - they fix your units while the longbows snipe your Prelates. Or shoot your Men-At-Arms in the back when they retreat. Hell, the English even go with cheaper siege in the form of Trebuchet’s since they have a unique tech and landmark to support it. All of this means they’ll have more gold for more Men-At-Arms with more armor than yours due to their unique tech. You’ll also have significantly less because - surprise surprise - you’ll want to keep them healed with your Prelates (which means that Prelates have either left your economy lines or you had to produce even more - which means even less inferior Men-At-Arms than the English. Oh, you’ll have even less than that too because, if you want to buff your infantry with your Prelates, you have to research the upgrade which costs… gold.)
This upgrade brings your Man-At-Arms in line with theirs… which they’ll have more of. It also does nothing to aid in ranged damage protection which Longbows and Trebuchets with the exploding shot will amplify.
(Note - yes, I know the research for Trebuchet’s is bugged, which means this matchup will get even worse). Want to field some Landsknecht’s to balance it and break the English Man-At-Arms front? Good luck with their 100 gold cost and meager 2 armor.
French and Rus vs. HRE
French Knights are… uhh, knights. Knights are good. But French knights are like, super Knights. So they’re super good. They have more damage, more health, more armor, auto-healing without the need for priests, yada yada yada you’ve heard all the anti-French posts so I won’t go into anymore here.
Rus has early knights. Hell, Rus even gets a landmark making their priests cheaper… which become Priest Knights! These Priest Knights then poke your units and run away, making Rus knights even better! All while your units develop late-stage pneumonia from running marathons in Russia to try and catch them.
Here’s the underlying outcome that an HRE player experiences in regards to above -
It’s not that I’m losing to these armies that’s frustrating, it’s that I am severely restricted by the faction mechanics and unit limitations*
There’s very little you can do before you’re outpaced by your opponent.
**So how bad is the Landsknecht?**
I say this as literally as I can - it’s a bad unit. It’s a bad unit in terms of its stat line and it’s a bad unit in terms of expressing player skill. Not only does the Landsknecht lack a meaningful method for expressing my skill as a player, but it also ONLY excels when the opposing player lets his army clump as the game likes to do.
Think about that - a unit is bad when you try to use it and good when the game is bad. The French are rewarded for the micro of cycle charging. The English are rewarded for the micro of stutter-stepping with Longbowmen. The Rus are rewarded for having their warrior priest play tag with enemy units. The Chinese are rewarded for… Ok, well, ignoring the Chinese… The Landsknecht either dies because it just sucks or does well because the AI tried to fit 100 Soldiers into a 1x1 inch box.
I’m going to state it’s stat line and let the numbers speak for themselves.
Cost: Can be built in Tech 3
Base Variant Without Upgrades:
Damage: 17 AoE at 1.25 rate.
Melee Armor: 0
Ranged Armor: 0
Movement Speed: 1.25/s
Build time: 22s
Elite Variant with Blacksmith Upgrades:
Damage: 23 AoE at 1.25 rate.
Melee Armor: 3
Ranged Armor: 3
Movement Speed: 1.38/s
Build time: 16s
Elite Variant While Inspired with Blacksmith Upgrades
Damage: 26 AoE at 1.25 rate.
Melee Armor: 4
Ranged Armor: 4
Movement Speed: 1.38/s
Build time: 16s
`Just for fun let's compare the HRE Landsknecht to a French Royal Knight.`
Cost: Can be built in Tech 2
Base Variant Without Upgrades:
Charge Damage: 29 + 10% bonus melee damage after a charge
Melee Damage: 20 at 1.38/s
Melee Armor: 3
Ranged Armor: 3
Movement Speed: 1.62/s
Build time: 35s
Veteran Variant: Does not include Blacksmith upgrades
Charge Damage: 36 + 10% bonus melee damage after a charge
Melee Damage: 24 at 1.38/s
Melee Armor: 4
Ranged Armor: 4
Movement Speed: 1.62/s
Build time: 35s
Elite Royal Knight Variant with Blacksmith Upgrades
Charge Damage: 46 + 10% bonus melee damage after a charge
Melee Damage: 32 at 1.38/s
Melee Armor: 8
Ranged Armor: 8
Movement Speed: 1.62/s
Build time: 26s
Just for emphasis here they are condensced at their peak.
Royal Knight w/ Ups ------------ Landsknecht w/ Ups and Inspired
Cost: 140F/100G-------------------C: 60F/100G
H: 270 -------------------------------- H: 95
Charge: 46 + 10% Melee ------- Charge: N/A
M Dmg: 32 at 1.38/s ------------- M DMG: 26 AoE at 1.25 rate.
M Arm: 8 ---------------------------- M Arm: 4
R Arm: 8 ----------------------------- R Arm: 4
MS:1.62------------------------------ MS: 1.38/s
Build: 26s---------------------------- Build: 16s
**Yikes.. Wait, I want to say that again. YIKES**
Ok, let’s put this in perspective… A Prelate has more health than either variant of the Landsknecht at the same stage of upgrades. The OLD Prelate, walking around with a CANE, has more 35% health than the Flamboyant, two-handed sword wielding 20-something ELITE Landsknecht. The base Prelate health is 90 - when upgraded it is 130.
To be 100% fair the MS was a bit closer than I actually expected… which means I get more time to watch them get run down or filled with arrows.
Note: The Prelate tooltip for ‘Inspire Infantry Unit’ states “Infantry Armor + 5”… As you can see it only goes up by 1. I’m guessing, since it’s not 5, it’s a similar equation to the MS granted by the HRE unique tech.
**So what's the fix?**
I first off want to state I don’t want any nerfs. That’s right, not even the French. When balance patches focus on reducing player power it creates frustration, eliminates the unique-ness of a faction and causes players to leave. Sure, sometimes they are needed, but I think it creates a more enjoyable climate when everyone has something within their faction to be excited about vs. everyone becoming more ‘samey’.
1: Add a 3.00 tile ‘Musket Shot’, useable once every 10 seconds, to the Landsknecht.
This range prevents them from getting the first shot on low range units, such as Hand-Cannoneers, while also giving some much needed protection and zoning against Knights and cycle-charges.
It fits the theme of the HRE forcing on again, off again engagements so their prelates can refresh their units.
It forces players of other factions to continuously micro archers or Longbowmen to stay at maximum range - a still viable tactic given the Landsknecht’s abysmal armor and life stats. Remember that this unit is 60F, 100G and easily killed - it needs something you might think is initially OP to be good.
2: Let the HRE construct Monasteries in Tech 2 and enable a research option for Prelates to convert single units.
There’s a discussion to be had if adding a route for the HRE player to build Prelates, outside of your TC, is OP or not… but for the villager construction time, 150 wood, cost of research and 100 gold I’d argue not. Whether or not Prelates are enabled from the building is irrelevant though - think of the minigames that arise from the HRE having conversion capable monks this early. French players would be restricted to delaying their attacks, buying the HRE breathing room. The HRE could blitz this upgrade vs. the English and go for Veteran Horsemen. Can this effect be cheesed? Sure… at the enormous investment of 100 gold early.
Note - Compare either of these changes to the current meta where the French are placing the same gold on the line with next to no risk due to Knight mobility and healing.
What’ll probably happen in the next few days, specifically French nerfs, will boost HRE capabilities. I still think that there needs to be a rework of the faction, specifically the Landsknecht, and they’d feel more rewarding. Thanks for reading if you stuck around. I love RTS games, I’m passionate about them. Curious what the community thinks.