Faction Balance in .97:
As I like to tell our testing team: A new patch is a brave new world. However, far from the bleak, dystopian future that the term suggests, new patches afford us the opportunity to restructure and reevaluate our approach with the ultimate aim of improving on what works and discarding that which does not. For this reason .97 is a watershed moment in the development history of Reforged. Prior to .97 our method for evaluating faction strength has been 1 vs 1 formats on 'balanced' maps, that map inevitably being Grassy Plains, as the primary building block for the assessment of faction strengths and weaknesses and thereby the fundamental format that the mod is balanced around. There are great reasons to do this: It is totally flat and so eliminates any possibility of interference from terrain or other invisible variables and gives us a clear picture of how factions and individual units stack up against each other. The small format is ideal for players with lower end PCs and are far easier to set up if you're short on time. There are however significant cons to this approach: First and most obvious is that flat terrain with no obstacles lends itself well to only a few different playstyles, namely those that revolve around skirmishers and cavalry. Second is that in order for every faction to be balanced primarily for 1 vs 1 it is nearly inevitable that each faction must be working with the same toolkit, or else they are simply deemed not worth taking. Given the limitations of Med II it is not really possible to give everyone the same tools in a unique way, so consequently a purely 1 vs 1 focus leads to homogenization. Team dynamics serve unique faction identities better than a 1v1 focus ever could because we can maximize specialization by operating under the assumption that weaknesses can be, and indeed should be, compensated for by judiciously choosing teammates who synergize well together. I think that ultimately a team centric approach to faction balance will make a far more compelling multiplayer game than everybody being the same so they can play 1 vs 1 games on Grassy Plains.
The recent winter tournament has been a proof of concept in this regard. It features maps with a variety of terrain, including hills, chokepoints, small townships and even the occasional river, and mighty alliances composed of many different factions. We have seen artillery heavy builds, support focused builds, infantry only builds, builds with no skirmishers, alongside the fan favorites of cavalry heavy and balanced armies which is something previously unheard of. The outcome of games wasn't determined by archers and cavalry, but by teamwork active use of terrain to gain an advantage over one's enemies, consistently smart decision making, preparation, and one's ability to read the field. More importantly than simply composition is a fundamental change in mentality. I have seen players immediately move their armies to merge with those of their allies and then advance together with formidable layered defenses which combine the strengths of their respective specializations, whereas previously many team games came down to multiple 1 vs 1 games taking place simultaneously with the survivors converging on each other in the closing stages of the game to clean up, rather than fighting alongside their allies the entire time.
The result, to put it mildly, has been spectacular in every sense of the word. Larger battles with teamwork that is a pleasure to watch and satisfying to participate in. The Grassy Plains 1 vs 1 model by contrast just falls flat.
The goal of .97 is therefore depth, and replayability so that in the event we do not see a solid LOTR RTS in the coming years then there is an option for players to enjoy which is fun, balanced, creative, and, as much as it can be anyway, true to the source material we all love. To this end we have added small terrain type bonuses to the majority of infantry in the game, as well as penalties for polearms/cavalry when fighting in the woods; Further standardization of unit sizes with stats to match; increased speed for all units in the game which gives .97's combat an excellent flow; Revaluation of certain units such as shock troops who have recieved further increased speed and a 50% increase to their charge bonus; New maps such as Minas Ithil and Minas Morgul; Three new factions and a host of new units for existing ones and one of the biggest additions in Reforged's history: the addition of a beta version of single player campaign.
.97 has a lot to offer players both new and old and the Reforged Team is excited to show you the results of our hard work in the New Year!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and we wish you all a prosperous New Year!
-The Reforged Dev Team-