The issue with variants isn't historical accuracy

While we can probably mostly agree that the concept of variants is a good idea and would have been good if done well, we also all know that the specific variants chosen are extremely unpopular among the community - polls have consistently shown that an overwhelming majority of players dislike at the very least the names of the variants, including a poll on this forum that shows a whopping 91% disapproval.

Note I’m not talking about variant names specifically - this has been the focus of the criticism (which comes down to the fact that apart from Jeanne, the names are all the info we really have) but ultimately the theming of the variants is really the core issue that manifests itself in their names (although the names could certainly be a LOT better).

But why exactly are the variants so unpopular? I think we really need to get to the heart of this problem to provide good feedback here. And I keep seeing people talk about “historical accuracy”.

This is problematic partly because it’s easily defeated by all the many ways the game is already historically inaccurate that we happily accept (“you play as France vs China in Arabia”), partly because it makes it easy to paint all those who oppose as a small minority of history nerds, but mostly because it just isn’t true.

It’s not about historical accuracy. It’s about the player fantasy of the game.

The point is that in this game you embody a great power of history - you attach yourself to it - and for a moment you become immersed in it. Hundreds of years of its history, culture and military become one with you. You field unique units that represent the coolest aspects of its military structure, even if they’re somewhat fantasised at times. You use unique mechanics that represent interesting facts about that culture’s society and governance as it developed through the ages. You research unique techs that represent that civilization’s own notable innovations.

And then you duke it out with other players representing other great powers of the past, throwing all the great feats of your very civilisation at an enemy who is doing the same to see who comes out on top. It’s an extremely appealing, epic concept and one that has propelled this series to popularity. I mean heck, it’s called Age of EMPIRES for a reason, right?

And these variants utterly destroy that fantasy. They obliterate it. The moment you pick up your favoured Delhi Sultanate, a powerhouse of a state that conquered most of the Indian subcontinent, click the queue button and find yourself doing glorious battle against… wait… the Order of the Dragon? A short-lived group of a few aristocrats? Jeanne D’Arc? A peasant who was historically relevant for 3 years? Zhu Xi’s Legacy? What does that even mean? That’s the moment it all comes crashing down - suddenly you find yourself in a nonsensical parody of the series. Feeling like at this point it may as well just say “NASA” or “The BTS Army” on the other side of the screen.

To illustrate the point further, imagine a historical RTS (maybe even an AoE game… AoE V?) that’s similar in general gameplay, except instead of picking up a nation, you play as a hero, and everything else revolves around that hero. On release, the lineup of playable ‘leaders’ includes the likes of Jeanne D’Arc, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, Wu Zetian and Barbarossa. The game, in turn, is designed around representing these leaders, rather than representing the progress of a nation. This would actually be really cool, and may well end up a very popular game. Why? Because it’s a different fantasy. There isn’t an awkward mismatch between two fundamentally different concepts. Now, you can embody a character, and compete gloriously against other great people from history. See how different that is? (see: civilization series)

The point is, the issue here is player fantasy and immersion, and that fantasy is based on theming and thematic consistency. And this is the point that needs to be addressed. It’s not historicity at all, really. Jeanne D’Arc could have ended up wielding a hand cannon if she lived a bit later, just like the Abbasid Dynasty probably would have used cannons if it was around a bit longer.

“Ayyubids” is a reasonable fix. That name at least somewhat addresses the thematic consistency of the game. Order of the Dragon, while real historically, is incredibly niche, minor and generally unimportant relative to every other civ that’s in the game. It’s straight up bizarre having them square up against the Mongol Empire in a game that still doesn’t have the Khmer, Norse, Aztecs, Cholas etc. “Zhu Xi’s Legacy” isn’t really anything and Jeanne D’Arc… I mean we’ve all heard enough about Jeanne D’Arc.

Some people just want ‘fun’ RTS mechanics and don’t care about the core fantasy of the game - I think the devs may well be this camp, but I’m not convinced that even a majority of the actual playerbase are. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the developers aren’t taking this problem seriously because they don’t understand it. The fact that they don’t understand it is evidenced by the fact that this bizarre decision was made in the first place, but on top of that, the way the problem is being communicated by the community is in my opinion inaccurate and that’s making it even harder to reach a solution here.

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I made a topic a couple of days ago, where I tried to tackle this from a different perspective, but overall I was thinking this. The moment I read the title I thought “The issue is immersion”.

As I did there, I’ll bring a counterpoint. That immersion can be preserved in Custom/Skirmish. In QP/Ranked no but I think one can handle that, fly over. After the novelty effect has faded I doubt many will play the variants, unless they become meta… It’s difficult to be immersed when your trying hard to win.

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Will have to see when the game comes out, but imo the hate towards variant civs is almost certainly far lower than would be expected from reading these forums. The reddit has almost nothing bad to say about them (since the first name update), and even back when the names were bad, about half of people liked or didn’t mind the names.
The forums in general are far more critical/negative of changes like these. The streamers/youtubers have been very excited for the patch, and I doubt the average casual will care much.

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personally i love the variant civ concept.

Will probably main Jeanne Darc, regardless of balance.

Also can’t wait to see the other civs concept

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It’s all about immersion but when you talk about that, people will immediately throw “you’re playing Chinese against Malians on France…” at you.

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This the best post I’ve seen so far on this topic, at least it represents my thoughts 100%.

I hope in the future all hero/elite troop variants are put in their own game mode and be separated from the real civilisations, it would make a lot more sense. It would also allow more fun mechanics without turning the game into a nightmare to balance.

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How many time we have to repeat that you’re not fighting against Jeanne Darc, but you’re fighting against the French. Jeanne Darc is the name of the civ variant bonus not the civ.

Same for Zhu Xi, the civ isn’t called Zhu Xi, the civ is called Chinese and Zhu xi is the name of the variant, not the name of the civ which is still chinese, french hre

It is true that the forums are representative of the wider population, but they are representative of the hardcore fan base.
And usually when the most die hard fans have such a negative and controversial reaction you can tell that something is wrong…

So I have to limit myself to some part of the games just to do the effort of preserving something that should be at the core of the game?

And I won’t rely on “many won’t play the variants”, especially because what’s the point then.

I believe that they have realized now, the problem is that there isn’t much do now…

They probably weren’t prepared as they didn’t anticipate the possibility of such a negative backlash (this is a social physiological effect that I cannot remember the name now…) and also now cannot fully take a step back on everything, especially not on joan, as it’s their poster figure.

For the rest I agree with you reasons, but apparently some people cannot imagine that you might see the game form a prospective different from theirs.

Probably because they are too afraid that the game could fail if they say anything negative.

So we have 2 French civilizations, they are just lazy to add actually new civs so they made a copy-paste and tweak a couple of numbers on the copy?

I hope that the next civ will be the army or charlemagne, or the la hire alone as a one man army. Come on, who doesn’t love la hire…

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Nah, I think they will go to another historical period…maybe antiquity or the 20th century…

When I play against the AI, I choose civilization that make a plausible matchup and a map and biome that fit. I have the control, me and my friends enjoy playing this way.

That said, when I go QP, I throw all of that to the wind. I’m going up against a random civ controlled by a human, so I can’t demand a plausible fight. I’m trying to friendly win.

What I’m saying is that by playing QP you are already compromising on immersion. Now that’s getting pushed harder and the Devs could be blamed, but if you want to keep playing QP you’ll just have to compromise some more. If you can’t do it, you can resort to Skirmish/Custom.

You have the right to feel displeased, though.

I agree with you!!! most of us, love the new ideas, the innovation and the passion behind all these new “civ” variants, but we just hate part of the execution, this is primarily due to labelling them as “Civs”, which they obviously are not… and due to some of their names, they are just not right… please Devs look at the Ayybids, we are all glad and happy!! so excited! because they fit in the game!! I am sure we will be happier too once Jeanne D’Arc, the order of the dragon, and Zhu Xi get to fit in the game, but for now… they do not. we should just call them “factions” and adjust their names a bit. and make a distinction between a faction and a civ.

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then they should specify this in the User interface, make a distinction between a Civ and a variant. so we know we are playing with the Chinese but their Zhu xi variant.

A self selective poll, on a forum that has always been ridiculously negative towards the game, means absolutely nothing. That’s why Microsoft spends money on doing surveys as people typically go to forums to complain. The survey results when the civs come out I’m sure will tell a different story…

Poeple want more civs, they’re getting them. They all sound fun and based in history even if its a “what if” as explained by the devs.

Also lmao, its destroying your power fantasy, You want to play something more historically grounded? Go play CK3 or another grand strategy game. This is Age of Empires, which has always been goofy and historically sketchy with it’s history.

Gameplay > Complete historical accuracy

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Exactly all of this

And to add to this the positive responses from seeing the civs(every time they do a reveal, like the ayyubids this week) heavily out weighs the complaints about civ names, anywhere else.

Exactly. Nevermind the level of spam about the same things, like repeated complaints about ottomans being weak of all things :roll_eyes: We see exactly where this forum lies