Using the Lord Of The Rings movie license, The Battle for Middle-earth is a Real-Time Strategy game based upon both the renown literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Players are given control of enormous armies in the many of the epic battles depicted in the film. From waging all-out combat among the vast forces of good and evil to controlling your favorite heroes and characters to managing the troops.
Beta testing for version 8.0 started in August of 2021, and so has been underway for a year now. Since then, we have implemented a great deal of balance changes that, when 8.0 releases, will drastically alter competitive gameplay in comparison to 7.0 (and its patches). To that end, we decided to publish a type of article we haven't published before - solely focused on introducing these competitive balance changes, directed squarely at the ever-growing AotR competitive scene. Note that the following changes are neither complete nor final - these are examples that represent the direction in which we're aiming, the specifics may still change before release.
This is part 2 of 2. Find part 1 here.
As players have gotten more comfortable with pvp in Age of the Ring, particular spellbook powers and paths have become much more dominant over others; in some cases they are starting to completely overshadow other choices. Some notable examples of these issues are listed below:
In 8.0 the most notable powers are being adjusted, either because they were better than all the alternatives and necessitated a nerf, or they were too effective in their spell path and were moved around to balance them out and make games more interesting.
Previously underutilised spellbook powers are now much more prevalent in our beta matches; players have more difficult choices to make when purchasing spellbook powers as they now have multiple viable options leading to different spellbook routes. Similarly, overperforming spellbook powers, such as Elvenking’s Patience, are still seen frequently in matchups and continue to be impactful but no longer provide such an unfair advantage to the player casting the spell.
Age of the Ring has expanded the hero rosters over all playable factions with many more heroes than existed before, often with abilities that go outside the scope of the base game; as such, measures have been taken to carefully address problematic heroes - or heroes that too strongly synergize within their faction - to avoid over-reliance on them where they often make (primarily pvp) games less interesting when they appear. We are doing this while also trying to limit hurting the pve experience in the process.
Heroes that accumulate large amounts of value without much input necessary from the player have been looked at and, in cases that found them necessary, adjusted for the next release. Note that the list of heroes listed below isn't exhaustive.
Also included are examples of heroes or hero powers that were less effective than they should be that are receiving adjustments or buffs in the next release.
Gondor has a high amount of single-target damage powers which can often be stacked against a single hero/target, so a change has been made to reduce instances of Gondor heroes nuking a single target. Specifically, Beregond's Defender of the White City arrow deals now less damage against heroes.
Gandalf wasn’t a very noticeable hero in 7.3.1, often being too easy a target to focus down while relying on the opponent to repeatedly make large mistakes in order to get value. In 8.0, Gandalf’s seldom-used Prepare for Battle will be replaced with a new power ‘Rekindled Hearts’, which functions as a personal combat buff for Gandalf while also countering debuffs to nearby units and reducing unit recruitment times. Flame of Anor will now gain power as Gandalf levels to give Gandalf better options when closing to melee range isn’t feasible, and Gandalf’s mounted stats and shield bubble will be more reliable and give Gandalf the necessary tankiness he needs to be on the frontline.
Eomer's Spear Throw and Thirst of Guthwine when combined with each other could deal a massive amount of ranged damage that left little room for counterplay on the receiving end. Thirst of Guthwine now only increases Eomer’s melee damage so that whilst he can still inflict heavy damage, enemy heroes are no longer guaranteed kills when using Thirst of Guthwine and Spear Throw.
Eomer’s Stand Your Ground was not a very useful power at level 8, providing very little to the player despite the high level requirement: its small radius and meagre armour buff rarely made a difference in combat. Its radius has been considerably increased and the ring now provides a greater armour buff as well as damage, in addition to the knockback and fear resistance.
Oakenshield Erebor has the advantage of a larger hero roster and two ranged heroes, both of whom deal high damage and so require little micromanagement to make a difference in combat. In order to tune down the dominant nature of these two archer heroes, Kili and Bard the Bowman, we've reduced their damage to be more in line with archer heroes of their price. In 7.3.1, Bard's Debilitating Shot is a death sentence for most heroes due to how significantly it slows and for how long this effect lasts. Debilitating Shot’s slow amount and duration have both been decreased so that the power’s strength is fairer for a level 1 ability.
Reign of Ironfoot (after nerfs to its Mannish units) doesn’t have the same versatile hero roster of Oakenshield’s reign and can struggle at herokilling, as such King Brand’s Black Arrow has been adjusted to be better at that task. Its effects now scale per level: initially reducing target enemy’s armour at level 1, knocking enemy units back at level 5 and finally slowing target enemy unit’s speed at level 8.
Galion's Bad Batch has been capable for some time now of decisively changing outcomes of battles. As a result, Galion, an early game hero, gains a unjustifiably large power surge for his cost at rank 7. We have therefore decreased Bad Batch’s radius and duration reflect Galion’s early game status.
Radagast's Aiwendil is an extremely effective slow that is available at level 1 and in many cases is able to shut down the slowed unit/hero completely, especially when combined with Woodland Realm’s various other slow down abilities. Its effect has been changed to debuff enemy armour rather than movement speed.
Mouth of Sauron has always been a versatile hero who often outshines Mordor’s other heroes and is singularly difficult to take down due to his default durability and significant armour buff via Ambassador. His health has been decreased and the armour bonus granted by Ambassador has been decreased - Mouth of Sauron remains versatile but is no longer as durable.
Gorbag isn’t a very useful hero on Mordor in 7.3.1, his toolkit is intended to serve as a hero killer but his abilities are locked behind higher levels so that he is forced to level up in combat before he unlocks his potential - a difficult task, given his low health. Gorbag has been rebalanced to fill a role of an early hero killer with adjustments to most of his toolkit: Dropkick has been moved from level 3 to level 2, deals increased damage and now properly stuns enemy heroes. I’ll Bleed You has been moved from level 5 to level 4 and deals increased initial damage and damage over time. Loyalty of the Eye’s armour debuff has been reduced but Gorbag specifically deals additional damage against the target hero. Gorbag is now a legitimate threat to enemy heroes as he has early access to a stun and a reliable source of damage at earlier levels.
Wulfgar has been a versatile and effective hero that outshines many of Isengard's other early hero choices and often provides too much very quickly to Isengard’s Mannish side. Uruk-hai are often neglected in 7.3.1 because Wulfgar’s leadership provides an enormous damage boost to both the early game Wildmen and elite Dunlendings. His cost has been slightly increased and his leadership has been adjusted so that he initially grants +33% damage at level 1 before increasing to the existing 50% damage buff at level 5. Wulfgar’s Crow Banner summon has been adjusted so that it only summons the Huskarl battalion at level 8. King of the Hills is now unlocked at level 10, rather than level 8.
Lurtz has received some buffs for the next version so that he is more useful to Isengard: Relentless Warrior now grants Lurtz additional armour and lets him deal splash damage. Lurtz can now stealth in trees to effectively set up ambushes and catch heroes off-guard with Cripple.
Aragorn is an extremely cost-effective hero killer - he is durable and deals excellent damage even without his Anduril upgrade. We have removed bonus damage he deals against heroes so his Anduril upgrade is more necessary for late game hero slaying.
Additionally, the Sons of Elrond have been found to be exceptionally powerful, and combined with Rivendell’s spellbook can be nigh-unstoppable if recruited early against particular factions. We have adjusted the bonuses some of their abilities grant them: reducing Gwenyn’s damage boost and armour loss if one of the Sons dies, decreasing Gwenyn’s passive armour and damage leadership and nerfing Elladan’s Bright Blade cooldown and stun duration.
Golfimbul brings a lot of value for his price and performance: effectively harassing enemy economy with Misty Mountains’ cavalry while also being able to deal with enemy cavalry due to his splash damage Golfimbul’s price has been increased slightly to better reflect his performance while his melee weapon splash radius has been reduced.
Great Goblin can be an inconsistent and risky hero to use so changes have been made to make him a more tanky and reliable frontline hero: increasing his armour considerably and increasing damage against structures so that he can assist in siege situations.
Saenathra has incredible survivability in 7.3.1: she can move over impassable terrain and teleport across the map instantly with her accessible Burrow - making her nigh unkillable if micromanaged well. She also does not trample pikes initially so she is very forgiving; however, once she reaches level 8 she gains the ability to trample which hinders her performance rather than improves it. She has therefore received several changes: her health has been decreased, Burrow’s cooldown time has been increased and Endless Hunger’s effect has changed so that it now unlocks the ability to move over impassable terrain instead of trampling. Smaller adjustments to Saenathra include decreasing Web of Lies duration and radius and decreasing the amount Feast, My Children! slows enemy units.
The Necromancer’s leadership has been improved as it was pretty poor for being the faction leader of Dol Guldur. Necromancer's Dark Presence now grants +33% damage and armour from +15% and now also provides fear and terror resistance.
Similarly to Saenathra, Cargast has shown to be difficult to kill due to his speed debuff to enemy units and personal speed buff, his high armour and his lifesteal - forcing opponents to rely on stuns and slow down abilities to catch and kill him. Cargast’s speed debuff has been slightly nerfed as well as his health and armour; leaving more room for counterplay against him. Some of his abilities have been tweaked so that they are easier to use: Spell of Barrow buffs Risen Dead near Cargast instead at the target location now. Dark Awakening now summons Risen Dead at a faster rate and these summoned Risen Dead last for longer before despawning.
Similarly to the changes to spellbook powers, the changes to hero ability sets have led to shifts in how often members of factions’ hero rosters are seen in beta matchups. Gorbag has been seen to cause havoc against unprotected enemy heroes when well micromanaged and is regularly an early choice for Mordor, behind Nazgul. Conversely, previously overtuned heroes such as Wulfgar and Bard the Bowman appear consistently in matches still, but their impact now better reflects their cost and place in the faction. Reducing the over-reliance on certain heroes also opens up different strategies for factions: for instance, the choice between Uruk-hai and Dunlendings has been reported as no longer as one-sided thanks to the changes to both Wulfgar’s leadership and Lurtz’ improved combat stats.
Cripple powers can be inconsistently applicable, with some being effective where others can’t be used, so confusing interactions with cripple powers happen where you aren’t sure if a cripple power is usable or not against your opponent's hero. Heroes that specialise in more than hero killing that also have accessible and long lasting cripples and stuns are often very effective investments and it can make the game into "stun wars" where particular heroes in some of the factions with the most effective stun or slow are rushed first, which makes the game less interesting and fun to play in pvp. Some ranged cripple abilities go into cooldown even if the target moves out of range, and some abilities miscast often due to a bug.
The change to cripple ability filters has led to much healthier interactions in which players have more opportunities to catch and kill heroes that they previously would not have been able to, such as Elessar, Necromancer and Galadriel. Effective micromanagement of these heroes is now considerably more important as they are now more vulnerable compared to previous versions.
The changes to Heroic Statues and Wells have been received very positively in testing: turtling is still a viable strategy but is no longer as frustrating to deal with as an attacking player as these support structures no longer grant such overwhelming bonuses.
Gameplay has become noticeably clearer thanks to the standardisation of ability descriptions - players should now have a much better idea of a power’s effect and duration before they cast it. The adjustment to level up bonuses rewards players for keeping their units alive better, this encourages proactive micromanagement of units to recognise when to engage and disengage from combat whilst maximising experience gain.
The tweaks to Gundabad Berserkers and Iron Hills Warriors has reduced the overreliance on these units in the late game. They continue to play a significant role in MM and Erebor’s late game units but other, previously less utilised, units are now seen more, including monster units and Khazad-uzbadul for example.
Dol Guldur has greatly benefited from the aforementioned changes: they are much better equipped to deal with fliers thanks to the more easily unlocked Bring It Down! power as well as Blighted Trappers’ more reliable performance as a more elite ranged unit. Unburied Wights provide a unique answer to late game upgraded armies and provide challenging strategic decisions on when to invest in the Wights’ rank upgrades and rely on one horde’s powerful debuff or to recruit more Wights instead.
Dunlendings continue to be powerful endgame units but their accessibility now better reflects their performance. This and the previously discussed changes to Wulfgar give Uruk-hai units more time to shine in the mid-to-late game as Isengard needs more time and resources to reach Outriders and Huskarls.
Marchwardens are now appropriately the elite unit of Lothlorien and their place in a level 3 Garrison is much more justified than their previous place at a level 2 structure. Whilst still a devastating ranged unit, Marchwardens have considerably more counterplay thanks to their nerfed crush armour and reduced range.
After all that text, here's a few screenshots that are loosely related to the balance changes we discussed:
We hope you've enjoyed this thorough bit of insight into our balancing process and the progress we've made addressing many of the issues brought up by both community feedback and internal testing.
The Age of the Ring Team
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