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.
Lots of text, but I promise there's a few screenshots somewhere!
Change 1: Barracks No Longer Grant Command Points
It has become clear that unit recruitment structures granting additional Command Points (CP) gives spammy and turtling factions an unfair advantage and undermines the importance of map control. Spam factions, such as Misty Mountains and Mordor, are favoured by the bonus CP because their units are already cheap and so players rely less on resource structures to maintain a solid army as CP was already provided by recruitment structures. Other factions can turtle and maintain a high CP limit with only unit recruitment structures and so can draw matches out excessively.
Command points are now only granted by resource structures and some secondary structures, such as Gondor’s Stoneworker. Primary resource structures grant 50CP whilst secondary resource structures, e.g. Lumber Mills, grant 25CP. Resource structures grant an additional 25CP each time they level up. Recruitment structures no longer grant any CP.
According to testers’ feedback, matches feel much more dynamic and there is greater emphasis on gaining and keeping map control due to the increased importance of building economy structures; not just to produce resources but also to increase the player’s army limit. Whilst turtling is still a viable strategy, this change as well as subsequent changes (to be discussed) have meant that defending players have a harder time drawing a match out without actively trying to fight their way out of their base.
Change 2: Ranged Siege Unit Cap Removed
Without a limit placed on siege units, the AI would spam tons of catapults and make AI games into shellshock simulator. However, locking ranged siege units led to undesirable situations where players could not effectively breach other players’ defences such as walls and towers nor punish clumps of enemy archers.
Now that we’ve got someone who can code the AI and directly influence AI build orders and unit priorities this limit is no longer necessary. Players can now respond appropriately and with greater success to their opponent bunkering up or spamming archer clumps whilst neglecting other unit types.
Testing has shown that the removed limit does not result in siege engines being abused in PVP as it does not result in beneficial outcomes. The AI is not negatively affected and uses their available siege in a more natural, less frustrating way.
Change 3: Leadership and Armour Fix
Due to a bug existing in current and previous AotR versions patched on 2.02 v8.0.1, armour leaderships do not stack, and instead will cancel each other out periodically. For example, if you have Gloin's leadership of 15% armour, and Dain's leadership of 75% armour, they will periodically switch between their two leaderships and be much less effective than if you just had Dain in this example.
However, spells and buffs do stack with leaderships in 7.3.1. For example, if you have one leadership and two buffs of +33% armour each, after adding them up you'd expect your units to be buffed by 99% armour right? This assumption is incorrect as armour buffs are translated as damage reduction.
Those same 3 boosts of 33% armour (which are 25% damage reduction each) would be 25 + 25 + 25 which is 75% damage reduction and would be the equivalent of 300% armour, the maximum armour buff said units can receive in 7.3.1 and versions prior running off of patches 8.0.1. So having numerous spells or buffs in armour to go with leadership is actually more effective than a single strong leadership or a single strong spell boost in armour, leading to some factions with many different sources of armour buffs used together having much higher tankiness than they were intended to have.
Patch 2.02 version 8.2 included a leadership fix, so leaderships can adequately stack with other leaderships unless otherwise specified, and an armour fix as well that changed the way armour is coded so that it is multiplicative, so 3 stackable leaderships (or a leadership and two buffs) of 33% or 1,33 * 1,33 * 1,33=2,35 is 135% and will now be 55% damage mitigation. With this the 75% damage reduction cap has been removed, but since these buffs are now multiplicative you will almost never see much over 75% damage reduction. Meaning much more balanced interactions between leaderships and armour boosts.
Age of the Ring 8.0 runs on patch 8.5 which includes these fixes and factions with lots of different sources of armour buffs will no longer overperform as they do in 7.3.1.
Testers have reported the changes to leadership and buff stacking as much more intuitive compared to 7.3.1. Adjusting AotR 8.0’s attribute modifiers to use the new armour fix system gave our balance leads a perfect opportunity to assess how prominent different buffs were across each faction. For example, Woodland Realm was found to have a disproportionately high number of armour sources via hero/unit abilities, spellbook powers and structures - we have tweaked several of these sources to grant alternative buffs rather than armour. These tweaks in addition to the improved stacking system have led to more favourable unit interactions in matchups involving Woodland Realm so that their endgame does not become over-reliant on overwhelming tankiness. Such scrutiny has been applied to every faction in the mod to make modifiers such as armour and damage buffs/debuffs much healthier for the mod’s balance.
Change 4: Archer Dominance
We have noticed archer dominance after the removal of the archer debuff mechanic, and particularly with elite archers. In some games, late game armies are made up almost entirely of elite archers.
We have balanced archers - and especially elite archers - by incorporating range and damage into dps figures and adjusting prices and stats accordingly; which is a huge improvement from before, all while also making cavalry (their counter unit) a better option versus them. Elite archers, for example Rivendell Archers, Barding Longbowmen and Ithilien Rangers among others, have received nerfs to their health, crush armour and upgraded damage, so that pierce damage predominates rather than magic or slash.
All archers across the mod require more infantry support in order to operate effectively, a significant improvement over 7.3.1 as in 8.0 blobbed elite archers are no longer effective as a 1-unit type army and they must have infantry near them to protect them.
Additionally archers, even with heavy armour in some instances, will still be one-shotted by elite cavalry with the heavily reduced crush armors across nearly all archer units, meaning they will be a much riskier unit to invest in than before.
Change 5: Faction Fantasy
As players have grown more accustomed to AotR's gameplay, and in particular pvp gameplay, some factions' core design fantasy hasn’t functioned or isn’t as important as was intended. We think that factions should have their ‘fantasies’ - by which we mean the lore, themes and mechanics that make them unique - be central and their gameplay should revolve around them so that the many factions in AotR don’t all feel like the same thing with a different paint job.
Factions whose fantasy isn’t as impactful as it should be in gameplay will be receiving changes to adjust or magnify the importance of how the faction(s) were initially conceived to play.
Slow Decay is central to the fantasy of Dol Guldur and also balances the effective high/low mix of heavy-hitting elites and heroes, a strong spellbook, and affordable spam units. However, many of DG's tools and strong elites can completely circumvent Slow Decay. In the next version, Slow Decay will also affect Tomb Guard and Ravagers, further emphasising the intended design of DG - a corruption that spreads across the map through its structures and spells. Dol Guldur also now has more ways to spread Dark Presence.
- Ruinous Towers now have the Dread Presence upgrade to choose as an option over the defensive archer upgrade which greatly increases the structure’s leadership radius preventing Slow Decay, while providing the same minor leadership from Dark Presence. Hide your towers cleverly in the trees and the new feature will alone counter a majority of the damage that would be taken without it.
- The seldom-used Forest of Fear power now prevents Slow Decay in the radius of the spell along with minor leadership buffs, and the spiders that are spawned are more reliable.
- To go with the above changes, Infestation will be a more meaningful defensive power that deals small amounts of damage as well as briefly slowing enemies that are attacked; but this ability will no longer completely mess up unit pathfinding like it did before.
Dread Presence is represented by a new, fiery visual surrounding the Ruinous Tower
With recent versions Erebor has been stronger than ever (in particular cases too much so) and mostly because of the Mannish units, who have recently become very dominant due to their accessibility while also benefiting from Erebor's powers and leadership options.
In the next version Mannish units will have their prices adjusted to match their performance, with care being taken to not ruin the Mannish playstyle, but make it less oppressive and make Dwarves in the Dwarven faction more appealing. In the next version, Dwarven units will be getting a bit more of the spotlight with:
- A new ability called Natural Sprinters to the Erebor Warriors and Phalanx, which functions very much like vanilla BFME2 Guardian's Charge Attack, except with improvements being made to the consistency and reliability of the power.
It won't be as strong a buff as it was in vanilla, but it has proven to help Erebor greatly at working around the large geometry of its buildings and helping the Erebor Phalanx get that burst of speed that they normally weren't able to have to better reposition against cavalry.
- The Arkenstone fortress upgrade will become a more worthy purchase for the player with the upgrade cost discount made more significant and worthwhile at 20% from 10%.
This along with other balance changes means you'll be seeing more regular Erebor Dwarves while also feeling encouraged to purchase upgrades on them instead of skipping them for Mannish units and elites.
Thorin Oakenshield (having received all-new art) leading his Dwarves
Mordor is receiving numerous changes to further the fantasy element of the faction, and to clear up instances of needless repetition, namely Mordor’s many sword units that all perform similarly.
- Easterling Swordsmen have been replaced with a new semi-heroic unit, the Khân-bórainax which perform similarly to the Dunlending Huskarls and Khazad Uzbadul. The Legions of Morgul have been adjusted to receive heavy armour by default and have a larger battalion size, allowing them to fill the role as an elite frontline of Mordor.
- Though this isn’t related to competitive balance, Mordor’s structures are receiving new models to unify its look and feel. Mordor’s structures will feature tall, dark spires, sharp angles, and brickwork as opposed to the rather disparate visual identity of the faction in 7.3 and previous versions.
Mordor's new base is virtually unrecognizable from what it was before
After Rivendell received its buffs from the previous versions their late game has been reached much more reliably, and against some factions Rivendell can reach an elite late game too easily.
In the next version, Rivendell's economy buffs will not be as easily obtained and as such their early game units will be more necessary to utilise. Consequently, the Men and Hobbits of Eriador should have a more pronounced role throughout Rivendell’s matches in the early and midgame.
- Increased cost of Reverence of Yavanna from 1,000 to 1,500
- Decreased cost and discount of Practical Application of Fëanorian Smithing from 1,500 and 25% to 1,300 and 15%
- Decreased effectiveness of the patrol units on A Sleepless Malice by decreasing their damage and survivability
These changes aim to diversify Age of the Ring’s gameplay so that each faction’s unique identity is further solidified by their mechanics and art. Testing shows that units that were used less frequently before are now brought to the forefront much more often, creating a greater range of options and strategies that are rarely seen in 7.3.
That's it for tonight. The second part of this update will be coming soon!
By the way, because the currently ongoing Muzgash's Summer Smash tournament has resulted in two beta testers - Carliber and Old_Nosey - competing in the finals, we have decided to play these matches on Version 8.0 to show the balancing work we've done. Should be some good fun!
The Age of the Ring Team