First, a basic summary of the problems and strengths of the Elephant Archer.
Slow, durable, and heavily armored, the Elephant Archer is the toughest archer unit in the game. This durability comes at a cost, however; it is the most expensive archer unit in the game, and does not increase its offensive capability in exchange for this cost, with the same attack and rate of fire as a standard Cavalry Archer. An army of Elephant Archers will have dramatically more health, but a fraction the offensive power of an equal-cost army of standard archers.
While this can make a large force of Elephant Archers seemingly unstoppable, the cost of achieving this force can make it nearly impossible to realize. This is compounded by the fact that Elephant Archers have the most armor classes of any unit in the game, making them vulnerable to counter-units, such as Pikemen or Skirmishers. They also have a significant weakness to Monks, a weakness shared by all Elephant units, amplified by their lack of Heresy.
With all of this taken in mind, Elephant Archers do not typically function well as the main body of an army.
However, Elephant Archers are not useless. While vulnerable to counter units, they are resistant to units such as Arbalesters (taking only one damage per shot when fully upgraded), as well as power units such as Knights, which can kill Arbalesters in just 4 hits, while requiring a full 28 to kill an Elephant Archer. In addition, their bonus damage against buildings can effectively increase the building and wall damage of a group of archers, an area where archers are usually weak.
These strengths are compounded by the Elephant Archer’s lower speed and shorter range. In typical combat, an Elephant Archer will take the front position, becoming the default target of hostile archers, requiring the enemy to micromanage their forces to a greater extent. In the face of melee attackers, the elephant will block approaching forces, as well as absorb un-targeted attacks, significantly increasing the durability of a mixed force. Lastly, when fleeing, the Elephant will move slower than the archer units, once again blocking attackers and defending weaker units from pursuit, allowing much greater leeway for fleeing ranged units to micro down pursuers.
An excellent example of how this plays out ingame can be demonstrated by facing Indian Hand Cannoneers against standard Elite Skirmishers. Normally, 40 Hand Cannons will die to 40 Elite Skirmishers, a very efficient trade for the player using the Skirmishers, with an average of 22 skirmishers surviving. By comparison, if six hand cannons are swapped for three Elephant Archers(retaining the same total resources), the results will be reversed, with the hand cannons often winning without losing a single hand cannon. While this example does not fully translate into real games, it does demonstrate the effect a few Elephant Archers can have.
Elephant Archers, therefore, should not be viewed as archer units so much as defensive units, best used in small numbers as part of a mixed force to protect vulnerable archer units from attack.
I think this is a pretty good assessment of the Elephant Archer, and it likewise shows the problem with the unit’s upgrade cost.
You see, the Elephant Archer costs 170 resources to construct, and its primary utility is in its health; if you’re not using that health, you’ve really got no reason to have the unit at all. But the Elite Upgrade costs 1800 resources, and only gives +1 attack(16%) and 50hp(a ~16% bonus). Consider, for a moment, how many elephants you would need to build for this upgrade to be more cost effective than just making more?
One Elephant has 300HP(after bloodlines). 1800 resources would buy 10.5 of them, or 3150 HP. That means the player would need to expect to build sixty-two elephants for this upgrade to be worthwhile! Bearing in mind that this is a unit which, even in the best case, you probably won’t want more than 5 of at a time. A game would need to last somewhere on the order of two or three hours for that to pay itself back. It’s simply never going to happen.
At the moment, the Elite Elephant Archer has a fairly standard/high unique unit upgrade cost. It can be compared to similar upgrades, such as Elite Samurai(33% bonus hp, 50% bonus attack), or Woad Raider(25% bonus hp, 60% bonus attack). 83% and 85%, respectively.
Now, assuming those types of bonuses are a fair degree of power per resources, that’s about 21 resources per percentage point. Using this rate, a fair upgrade cost for Elite Elephant Archers would be about 38% its actual upgrade cost, putting the new upgrade cost at approximately 385 Food, 300 Gold.
This seems much more fair to me, and I would like to propose that it be changed to this number.