Unit Formation Rework

To sell this game battles need to not only look cool (for spectators; streamers; casters) but they also must FEEL good to execute. It shouldn’t feel like we’re fighting game limitations. It should feel like we, as the players, are the limitation. It’s an important distinction that isn’t so much a logical equation as it is, hidden under the aura of “immersion”. For something to pass the “common sense” sniff test.

AOE’s Developer team clearly put some energy and thought into the Unit Control and Formation system. I’ll admit I have no idea what the internal developer vision for the gameplay experience is. My perception is that by creating these formation systems, AOE’s Dev team would like to see them viable and thus used. As I am a huge micro-nerd and I play a Micro-nerd civilization (Mongols), I’ve written this as both 30% bug considering my assumption of vision and 70% feedback. In hopes of helping encourage or inspire the team to find value in reworking this system into a viable state.

Currently, due to the universal grid system, Building Control and Unit Control are bound together. I won’t go into too much detail about how this effects the skill ceiling for brevity’s sake. In short, the player has to choose between comfortable unit control bindings or comfortable building control bindings. Blending these two bindings creates the awkward situation of making either Building or Unit Control bindings comfortable, and the other awkward. The assumption being this will be fixed in Season 2.

My prediction is that Micro/Macro skill ceilings will dramatically start to increase once those two control schemes are unbound from each other. As players are no longer fighting input limitations, and battles are more clearly being translated unto the screen. Which I think, is good for everyone. Way more fun to watch and play. After Fully Customizable Key bindings however, actual Unit Control Buttons are going to be the next big hurdle that players will have to fight their input devices for.


  1. No Passive Behavior Button.
  2. Stand Ground Cancels on Repositioning/Movement
  3. Box Formation
  4. No Ability to adjust formation priority in unit composition.

Why are these Issues?

  1. Scouting and Patrol Behavior is the most obvious and used issue with lacking a passive behavior button. Scouts are designed to scout not fight. Currently however if while scouting, especially on patrol looking for the enemy being greedy, if the scout runs across an enemy blob, it’ll charge into it and die. In the most optimistic light, lets call it heroic. Otherwise it’s pretty silly.

  2. Stand Ground seems partially developed. Currently it causes your units to “stand their ground”, attacking whatever they can without moving and also blocking unit from passing. If you move units that are “standing their ground”, the command will untoggle. I know logically that makes sense, but from a gameplay perspective it’s not fully filling the niche that players need.

We need a button that does everything Stand Ground currently does but allows us to reposition or move without it untoggling. If the contradiction is in the name, change the name to “Defensive Stance”. This will allow elements with proper compositions to use forests, hills and chokes. It will also dramatically increase the micro potential of field battles, as ranged elements that have guard detachments in their control group (normally spearmen) can shift their formation to deal with flanking Horsman without breaking formation (after their reposition movement is complete)

  1. Box Formation is a typical formation for protecting sensitive assets. The cost is that you have to produce more melee Infantry to support a smaller contingent of ranged/siege and spread that melee across four planes. The advantage is that you’re less susceptible to being flanked.

  2. Formation Priority in Unit Composition. Currently the priority for non-siege units is Scout>Khan>Lancer>Horseman>Spearman>MAA>Archer>Crossbow. Each formation has an internal composition logic for where each of these units will go within a formation based on it’s type and size. For example: in a wedge formation of Spearman/MAA/ Archers will always have a spearman be the lead unit.

Now formations don’t work in a video game like they do in real life. That’s obvious enough. Lot of RL viables that just don’t exist in games, like the fear of death. So, the question becomes how to make the idea of formations work within a virtual environment. What purpose does it serve?

In the best case world, we’d put the responsibility of answering those questions unto the player. It’s a strategy game, they should be strategizing. If that’s too much development work for the return, then the baked in strategy has to optimized to make sense in a majority of the situations.

For example: MAA should have priority over Spearman in formation placement. They have the highest armor and in wedge, would be the first units to be auto attacked by archers. In line or DRD (dress right dress, the “no formation” stance) that would make MAA the center and Spearman the Flanks. Where are Cav going to try and hit? The Flanks. So that makes sense.

Another example: That Khan has the second highest priority. This works well when it’s being used to lead horse archer elements, as the Khan passively heals, and it’s likely he’ll catch an arrow while poking that element around. This works terribly when it’s in charge of an Infantry element, as not only is his movement reduced to the slowest element but he’s now in front of his entire battle line. Great for speeches, not great for longevity or tactical sense.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading! I know this isn’t in the bug report format and leans far closer to feedback than a traditional bug, but ultimately, I see a bug as anything that is shifting gameplay experience away from the vision and simply wanted to make sure I did the best I could to give the developers a chance to tweak/fix/develop an area of content, that I think the AOE experience could be greatly improved from.



Thank you for all of your thoughtful feedback! There is some discussion about formation improvements internally—stay tuned!