Problem of Future Civs Going Forward: Balance

I played AoE II once in a blue moon again. But man, I see a problem for the longevity of this game. We tend to look at AoE2 with a sense of nostalgia. But it is a horrendously balanced game. The win rates show it all. It’s also not noob friendly.


Yeah, with 42 civs, how can you really balance the game? The simple answer is: You can’t.

It’s also not noob friendly. If you wish to even fantasize about a perpetually growing playerbase and bring in more players every major update, you need the game to be noob friendly.

Too many civs have various opening moves, leading to a frustrating experience for new players and returning players who don’t have different openings in their minds. Even this game is tough. How many hours of gameplay will a new player need to learn that Abbasid can boom ridiculously hard if they are not pressured? A lot. It’s not like quick cheeses in Star Craft where you can lose and quit out of a cheese (and therefore learning it) within 5 minutes. AoE takes 15+ minutes to know that maybe you’re not doing so hot and that you should have attacked sooner for newer players. It’s just a more difficult game and early game complexities don’t really help with that.

So, AOE4 is in a pickle. Adding more civs per year is part of the brand’s MO. So how do we navigate this?


We already see the consequence of this. Many of us feared that shifting the game toward incentivizing Age II will break balance. It did. Now they had to nerf it. We saw that maybe Ottomans being able to produce units passively starting in Dark Age might bring some balance problems. It did. They got nerfed a bit too. First month of this game being released, Mongols got nerfed as well. Not necessarily in terms of their rushing abilities but to their ability to follow up quickly after rushing.

So, in conclusion, I would like devs to veer away from designing civs around Dark and Feudal Age bonuses.

But the some civilizations that are suing, that historically do not have heavy units, the only thing left is to be good in the early game, or compensate with economic bonuses.

The idea of balance that players have is a bad one. Players will always put blame on other things than themselves. If a unit is strong, their idea of balance is usually to remove or nerf what makes that unit fun.

So, honestly? I don’t care too much about the type of balance players suggest. The type of balance that you are suggesting. This is a game first and foremost, and should be fun. Design should be centered around this, because the game will always ultimately be unbalanced and players will always complain about differences.

The saving grace in designing balance around unique traits instead of redesigning or pruning those unique traits, is that players will stick to them because of that unique experience. See Artosis losing his mind playing Terran in broodwar; despite his opinion of how underpowered they are, he find enjoyment in the experience with it.

I want to stress that I don’t want the game to be unbalanced. Nor am I advocating for the lack of balance. However, the type of balance that players suggest is always the wrong one. Balancing civilizations so they all feel the same is easy; simply make units similar in stats, abilities and so on. Real balance requires the guts to make mechanics unique and different, and then balancing around them to make it feel fair. That matters much more in the long run for a game that is suppoused to be fun to play.


It’s not fun for new players to get rushed by a mechanic they still don’t understand, hence the emphasis on early game mechanics of new civs (or hopeful lack thereof in the future)

Not always. Some civs are STATISTICALLY PROVEN to be more likely to win

So what you mean is that you want more unique units with more unique mechanics, since logic indicates that if a unit or civilization bonus is very strong or weak, the correct thing to do is to nerf or buff it, as many professional and technical players do indicate.

It’s not fun for new players to get rushed by a mechanic they still don’t understand, hence the emphasis on early game mechanics of new civs (or hopeful lack thereof in the future)

You can always work towards making the gameplay experience better for beginners. Design is not black and white, and you need to weight out how much of the gameplay you are willing to sacrifice for this. New players eventually become just players, and one needs to consider the transition to be worthwhile for them to stick around. If not, then they would never fully become players despite the accessibility. It is therefore a very difficult thing to put directly against each other; accessibility vs gameplay, as giving up too much gameplay suddenly leaves you with no game. Remember, accessibility can also exist in places like UI or presentation.

Another perspective is also that early gimmicks offer a sense of personality that new players can attune to quickly. If one is to play say, Rus, a new player may not fully understand at all their strengths. They will expend too many resources on Hunting Cabins, thinking it is good to generate gold, not realize that Feudal Knights are a speciality of theirs and suddenly be faced with an army at their doorsteps.

English on the otherhand makes it obvious that the Longbowman play is the way to go, through a Landmark that specifically produces them as well as it being a key, Unique unit for them to take notice of. The early Dark Age MAA is not obvious in of itself but becomes extraordinarily handy to utilize in a panic defense early on.

To summarize, civilizations with little to no identity early on are the ones most prone to just zoning out and getting caught off guard while building their city and learning the game. Your suggestion asks every civilization to have this kind of gameplay, and though you may suggest this would make it easier for new players, it just wouldn’t work. Take Rus, who only have a wood bonus in Feudal. With that alone, they can still pull off an archer rush. So, are we meant to disable any bonuses until Castle? Imperial?

I think it is better to go the other way around, where each civilization has an obvious thing that beginners can utilize. This gives each civilization a better sense of purpose and personality as well as making it more accessible for players to start playing, as they will take the bait and do the obvious play with those civilizations.

Not always. Some civs are STATISTICALLY PROVEN to be more likely to win

My statement was not expressing that players are wrong in their accusation of strong or weak mechanics in the game. It was that, they do, in fact, always complain. Whether they are wrong, or they are right–even if the game is almost perfectly balanced, there will always be finger pointing until it is ironed out until no sense of difference remains.

There is a gradient of how different each civilization can be. We can take Starcraft as an example to the left and something like Chess on the right. A decision to make AOE4 has already been made, and it exists somewhere in this scale. Where it exists, I am perfectly fine with and think the developers made a good decision. On a personal level, I think they have pruned too much since release, but I don’t criticize them for that, as it has been their attempt to balance out the game. I do remain critical of the method of balancing.

My point was not that I wanted more unique units with more unique mechanics (even though I may prefer that), but rather that when balancing units or mechanics, one should be careful to not balance out uniqueness.

I have given this example elsewhere before; but say the Landsknecht posed a problem in multiplayer. One nerf could be, “only deal splash every 5th attack”. This is infact a nerf. But, is it a good nerf? In classical game design, this would be a bad one, for you can achieve the same effect without hurting what makes that unit different. For example, by simply reducing the damage output, speed, health or armour.

Players are often quick to express distain for mechanics or units when overtuned, and not being designers, may propose ideas of nerfing fundamentally important elements to gameplay experience. The case is usually that one can achieve their desired effect without tarnashing the mechanic they so despise in those complaints. Not always, obviously. The point is, players are quite blind to how balance works and are often reactionary in response to imbalance.

One of the more saddening examples in my opinion is the Streltsy. It is currently still a very powerful unit, but for the wrong reason. While it costs less than other units, can run, its main ability cannot effectively be intentionally be used by the player in a meaningful way. A much better nerf in my opinion, would have been to alter stats, costs or the direct strength of their mechanic.

There is of course those players who will look at that and say “good”, because it is balanced. But, in the loss of the units richness, these types of nerfs or buffs create homogenized gameplay that will overall hurt the experience in a way that could have been avoided with a little more care and thought.

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It’s also not noob friendly.


Yeah, with 42 civs, how can you really balance the game? The simple answer is: You can’t.

Noobs love variety of Units!
They don’t play specific civ looking at its bonuses, they mostly choose those civs because:
1 - Their ancestors
2 - Loves that civ history
3 - Watched a medieval movie and wants to play that civ
4 - Prefer a specific unit, mostly unique units
5 - AOE2 got lots of PVE & SP content compare to AOE4

The variety of civilizations seems good to me, the selection of maps also influences the winrate, with a range of 47% to 52% of winrate in civilizations it is acceptable to me

Sure, and we can have a lot of civs. But we don’t have to make them too unique in the early game. Because it’s very frustrating to learn which civ does what and get rushed by something you’ve never seen before and be behind everyone else in a 40 minute game. My whole point is to lessen early game variety.

AOE isn’t Star Craft and will not end in 15 minutes, so the time it takes to learn is a lot.

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But we don’t have to make them too unique in the early game.
There is a way to do that, I agree,
Early in the DARK AGE, players should have less variety of units and technology, when they age up a variety of units and technology should increase considerably without decreasing the overall uniqueness of all civs.

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