I enjoy history and I also enjoy the unique gameplay offered by Aoe4’s civs. To be quite frank, I don’t think the variant civ idea is a bad one, and I think both the Abassid and Chinese variants are quite cool with enough new techs and/or units to make them feel unique even using mostly the same assets. However, I think 4 variant civs were simply too much work and too ambitious for the timeframe of the expansion, and while the French and HRE variants offer some fun gameplay, I don’t feel like they personally offer enough unique differences.
Looking longterm, I would love to offer some possible changes for both the French and HRE variant civs (balance permitting) that would allow for more unique gameplay.
Jeanne: Jeanne seems to be a hero unit tied to the romantic fantasy of who Jeanne or perhaps those around her wanted her to be. This is fine, but outside of Jeanne offering unique combat opportunities and supplementing lost economic and production bonuses of the base civ, I just don’t feel like she is as unique as she could be. Without adding any new art assets or anything, I feel like this uniqueness could come from just shifting around some of the French bonuses to align a bit more with her historical personality and mythos.
Normal French have essentially 3 unique unit sets: their heavy cavalry, their arbeletriers, and their royal cannons.
Jeanne historically was not well-liked by French nobility. They used her for morale, but when she was captured, they kind of gave up on her and moved on with their lives. She was able to break social norms and morays because of her peasant status and had great interest in metallugry and gunpowder. In fact, instead of the actual knights, she was placed in charge of an artillery battalion during sieges because those soldiers were considered the lowest of the low due to their dirtiness and manual labor. So my question/prompt is thus: Why not put a bit more emphasis on this aspect of Jeanne and make her variant of French less cavalry focused and more around French cannons and/or arbeltrier? Get rid of chivalry (gasp!), have Jeanne buff the French infantry/archers and artillery. French men-at-arms I think were once the only “vanilla” men-at-arms. Give Jeanne another ability to emphasize how she was a hero and bring more uniqueness to her armies. I think all of this could be done without needing new artwork etc.
HRE and OoTD I feel need a bit more love. Simply put I don’t think there’s really enough to really make these feel like separate factions. I mean yes, you do have to do different things gameplay-wise, but I wish there were more “pop” to Order of the Dragon in the vein of the Chinese or Abbaside variant. One difference between these 2 right now is definitely their economy, and while you can still go Aachen into Swabia, I think they just feel kinda “meh” because even the bonuses just don’t feel that exciting for the civ. For Order of the Dragon I would propose a much more radical redesign of…let’s call it a “landmark chain”. Keep one landmark chain, say Meinwerk into Burgrave into Elzbach to represent the more German origins of OoTD. For the other landmark chain, lean into other mechanics introduced in this expansion including a hero unit and mercenary companies and have the OoTD also cover John Hunyadi. Now, this would require new art, unit skins and other stuff so I recognize this is a ton of work into half a variant, but I think themematically it kinda works.
For the other landmark chain I would borrow from the Abbasid and just have 1 singular Age 2 landmark that can then evolve or grow, and this would be: Hunyad Castle or Corvinus Castle Corvin Castle - Wikipedia
You already made a hero unit with Jeanne in this expac, I don’t see the problem with having another one. John could spawn at the Age 2 landmark. However, contrary to Jeanne, I don’t see him leveling up, but instead acting more like a Khan. The castle would give more bonuses befitting John’s legacy at the next 2 level ups. The castle upgrade could introduce the Hussite Wagon unique unit that John could spawn, and for the imperial upgrade I’m imagining something like AoE3’s native allies. What I mean by that is that John Hunyadi was well known for incorportating mercenary companies into his armies which his son would turn into the famous “Black Army” of Hungary. Similar to Jeanne, I’m thinking John spawns these units on a cooldown timer, but maybe they have their own population limits outside of the normal 200. So, say in age 3, John can build say 3 Hussite Wagons in the field with his hero version of siege engineering. Age 4 maybe he can summon a certain amount of units to him representing a mercenary company and these bonuses would allow him to exceed pop cap. Now, I don’t know how specifically to balance these things, obviously there would have to be a heavy gold (and other resources probably) cost to each of his abilities.
Basically, long term I think it is a mistake to have each civ in the future and its variants slowly add up to AoE2 levels of civilizations. It would be very hard to maintain uniquess and balance if you use variant civs to cover all the major factions and kingdoms of the middle ages. I think this expansion was a testing ground that proved their viability; however, I would plead that future renditions be more heavily focused. Whether intentional or not, it just feels like the Abbasid and Chinese variants offer more uniqueness and I think part of this problem is simply the human limits of manpower and time. I think you guys were just a bit overly ambitious on delivering 6 new ways to experience the game. I think these proposed changes allow for the less unique variants to be more unique both from a gameplay and historical perpsective. Regarding OoTD, I think using John Hunyadi offers and introduces some coverage of Hungary and Romania while allowing AoE4 to move onto other pastures so to speak. As much as I would want an Italian faction to represent the city states, I’d rather AoE4 move elsewhere for more uniqueness to places and times like the Viking Age, the Reconquista, or the New World. Thus, some very famous Western civs may have to get left behind, but I think this only underlines the further importance of making each civ and indeed even each variant as unique as possible.
Also, I do recognize these changes would take a lot of time (at least the OoTD). I have no idea on what the roadmap is for 2024, but I think touching up Jeanne is probably more feasible short term and an OoTD overhaul maybe as a fun update for next fall?
Thank you devs for your hard work and the game!