In my opinion the patch is split between disputable design changes, good balance changes and just random number tweaks that sometimes worry me.
The design changes are things that I sometimes strongly dislike. The RE patch has a pretty good civ identity. There are all sorts of different civs that do all sorts of things. There is basically a civ for everyone. The ESOC patch has often mistaken design changes for balance changes and this patch really increases those design changes. I don’t really think it’s for the better though. Some things seem poorly thought out, some things just straight up remove defining characteristics of civilizations and some just seem really random. I have always disliked these changes; Like I said, RE has a really nice mix of civs. There is almost the perfect mix of things. Some civs are a bit one dimensional, but that’s fine imo. There are 14 civs, you don’t have to like every single civs. If some civs are more catered towards a specific playstyle (“one dimensional”) then that is fine; after all, if you want to play a very flexible civ then you are free to play for example France. Some people enjoy playing a very limited civ, and try to get around those limitations and use their strengths. I believe RE should offer something for everyone. Of course, some people are going to strongly dislike some civs. However, I believe that you shouldn’t try to avoid people disliking civs, you should design so that people will have something they love. So let the civs be diverse, and sometimes one dimensional; there will always be that one civ somebody loves within the 14 extremely diverse civs of RE.
Now in this patch there are a few design changes that bother me:
1) The banner army changes to China. One of the integral parts of China’s civ identity is that your armies train in the banner armies. This isn’t just a ‘gimmick’ similar to Russia’s batches, this is something that deeply affects all decision making with regards to China. That is because not all unit combination banner armies are available. China is actually limited in the army compositions they can make. It’s often said that China is weak to cavalry for example, because they can’t make a good anti cavalry banner army. And that’s fine! It leads to strategy. For example this leads to China players often electing to go for the Intervention shipment first, because that gives them something to balance out their army composition. This also leads to other players going for specialized cavalry strats against china. I recall a game where LordRaphael went for almost full cuirassier with very early cav combat cards against China. This was a really awesome strategy that abused this part of China civ design.
The proposed banner army changes take away this entire dimension of China, and replaces it with nothing. There is this defining and extremely unique aspect of China and it’s just removed from the game. I hate it. I loved how China made you play differently than normal civs because your army composition was so limited. I loved how you could (and almost had to) abuse China’s inflexibility in army composition to succeed against them. I loved how I would try to play around the fact that China can’t just mass skirms without producing Chandaos. I am extremely sad that for some reason this very cool, defining and integral part of China has just been removed.
2) The Portuguese changes. The Portuguese have always been a very turtly civ. You get lots of Town Centers, but otherwise have very little going for you, and you have to turtle a bit to make use of it. The Portuguese are one of the few turtle civilizations in the game and are thus one of the few civs that can really give a player the joy of playing a turtly style. Although maybe the old changes weren’t the greatest, they at least tried to keep Ports true to what they have always been like; an FF civ that makes a lot of villagers.
While these new changes aren’t that impactful, I really dislike them. Moving the upgrades around seems to once again fundamentally alter the design of civs. Ports have never been a civ that would win by very effective, strong units. Ports are a civ that wins by turtling and dragging the game into a point where their economy is much better. I dislike that it might turn into a civ that can play colonial musks similarly to how Brits can. Getting strong upgrade cards is almost a specific civ bonus in itself, so you’re really changing the civ design a lot by moving these cards around. I also think the hunting/berries gather rate change is somewhat random. It doesn’t really fit the design of a turtle civ at all.
3) To a lesser extent, the 6 coyote shipment for Aztec bothers me. If this change is impactful, it will really change the Aztec build order from the ground up, whereas otherwise it’s a bit of a useless change. I think it might have been better to look at other aspects of the standard Aztec build order, and to try to make what they were already doing a bit stronger. One more elegant change would be to slightly buff some aspect of the firepit; for example slightly reduce the time it takes to build a warrior priest. I'm also a bit said that the Aztec hero can't be revived with the healing dance anymore. I always thought the Aztec explorer stuff was really cool and unique (ofc, it was a bit overpowered with the covered mode bug). I hope it can be viable without healing dance. I must admit I don’t really understand the core of the Aztec balance problems, but I hope a solution can be found to the balance problems without trying to turn something unused into the solution to the balance problems.
4) Sioux is still in a terrible state in my opinion. I love their RE design. Sometimes I just really get that itch to play a super mobile, raiding oriented civ like Sioux. I just love running around with Bow riders, catching villagers left and right and just being all over the map. I really do feel like EP has taken a lot of this away and I think that what is left of Sioux is a bit bland. The war club change for example seems to not fit Sioux at all. Isn’t it supposed to be a very mobile, cavalry oriented civ?
5) The same is true for Spain. I get that Spain can be a bit one dimensional, but it’s one dimension that is at least very unique. I’d much rather see the patch make sure that their FF is competitive and strong, than to see the patch try to just give them a better option than to FF. In that light, I still don’t really understand the Spanish gold change and I still don’t know why unction keeps getting buffs. The lancer change is at least a bit flavorful and sort of fits their playstyle.
6) There are many more smaller changes with design effects that I dislike. Why give settler wagons a higher herdable multiplier? I loved the challenge of trying to get around this small handicap and German age 1 is already pretty smooth. You’re just taking away a unique quirk that can be played around with skill. I dislike how abus guns suddenly have to be worse against artillery, I really loved that unique aspect of them. Did we really have to take away the cool cease fire india strats (which can totally be countered by just running away in time.. it’s usually successful because aoe3 players have a bad reaction time) instead of just nerfing the civ in general? You take out something cool under the flag of balance.
Now there are a lot of number tweaks to units. For many of these buffs, I’m praying that it doesn’t actually end up making the units viable. It’s sometimes assumed that adding more options makes the game more interesting, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Adding more things can also distort what was once carefully balanced game design. For example Halberdiers are a scary thing to buff. One has to wonder what the game would actually look like if Halberdiers were viable. If instead of making just goons against cav, you could make a combination of a Halberdier meatshield (which is now actually strong) and a ranged cav backline. Hand cav is hardly viable as if. If you end up buffing the anti cav in age 3, I honestly doubt that we would ever see hand cav again. It also has the dangerous side effect of being an unforeseen buff to civs that actually can make halbs, which could ruin the balance that has been so carefully iterated upon. Of course just this one change isn’t terrible, and I’m sure with this change halbs will still be terrible. However, this EP makes dozens of these changes and I’m sure a bunch of them will have undesired effects, for what’s otherwise very little gain (you’re just tuning something irrelevant that stays irrelevant).
Some examples are the TC no build area for TPs. I don’t know if this has been given proper thought, because it just straight up sounds game breaking. Imagine being a civ that can’t easily grab a TP early (eg. Dutch, Japan, 200w start China, Russia). Now imagine being up against an ATP civ on Florida. You should realize that this will mean you’ll be playing the game with two 30 attack extremely strong outposts around your town center, possibly denying you multiple hunts. That would just be beyond ridiculous. This is probably something that the patch team didn’t consider yet (because I cannot imagine how anyone would think such a scenario is okay…) and that just goes to show how risky these seemingly irrelevant tweaks can be.
The native TP xp trickle is another one of these examples. Do we really want natives to be viable? First of all, viable natives pose a serious balance issue: Natives vary a lot in strength and in unit types. So naturally, match ups are going to be wildly different based on how strong the natives of a map are for that match up. The natives also have upgrades that really favor different civs, which will give more balance problems. It’s going to be really messy. Secondly, if this is actually strong, it kind of takes away the uniqueness of the civs. Instead of civs doing their strong strategy, they will be doing their variant of the generic native strat. Instead of civs being limited by what units they can actually make, they might just get natives that completely nullify their weakness. Just imagine Dutch actually having a strong anti cav alongside their skirms.. It would completely ruin their design for me, because I love having to play around the the handicap of not having good age 2 anti cav.
There are so many more of these. Do we really want spies to be viable? Do we really want Dutch to be spamming envoys into every fight? At some point Otto’s church upgrades will be buffed to the point that an otto turtle boom is the main playstyle, I don’t think that would be desirable. Do we really want India to be incorporating Flail elephants to their playstyle? Should Japan’s weakness to artillery be taken away by buffing Yabusame? Is it really fun for Samurais to be viable? These are all things I am scared about. I hope many of these will turn out to be insignificant (it does seem like they are intended to turn out that way).
But then still, even if most changes are insignificant, I see another problem. This entire patch is filled with so many insignificant tiny changes. Why are Beisteros 400w cheaper? Why do great bombards train 15 seconds slower? Why is 200f, 100w 100c infinite shipment changed? Why is the building line of sight for Ottoman consulate removed? Did we really need this buff for Steppe riders? Did rocket train time really need to be reduced by 8 seconds? Did priests really need to be 50 gold cheaper? The effect of this is that it’s really bothersome for players that haven’t been following the scene, or are new to (competitive) aoe to get into ep. I really dislike that aspect of it too. It always used to be an EP philosophy to stay true to RE, because the game design of RE is what everybody liked and because that made the patch more attractive to people not already playing it. I’m very sad this philosophy is dead. I do like the follow the game from time to time, but all these random changes make that a lot less fun. I also really think the current philosohpy is too ambitious. You can blame other people for not testing the beta, but the bitter truth is that currently testing these huge scale changes is just not possible for our community. I remember testing an iteration of EP at one point, and by accident discovering that walls were literally broken (units could just walk through them). However great the developers are (and trust me, they are pretty damned great), there might always be gamebreaking bugs too and obviously many of these changes could be gamebreaking as well. The previous scale of EP seemed much more realistic and suitable to the state of the game/community.
At least hopefully the balance will improve. I hope some of this criticism will be taken into account. I really believe the new design philosophy is harmful for the success of this patch. There are always some good things though; I do like the treasure changes (although, once again a long list of changes that makes it harder to get into EP, in principle it’s good). I also can appreciate the plantation change and the reverts of some older changes. At least you didn’t nerf Dutch so I should be happy right!? (/s)
ESOC Patch bug fixes
- Changdao cover mode attack standardized to deal half the damage of regular attack.
- Indian Monks now have the previously missing AbstractElephant tag.
- The Aztec Heal Dance no longer affects "knocked out" War Chiefs.
- Other players can no longer see if "2x" shipments have been sent, via deck inspection.
Tiny nitpick: These should probably be listed under balance changes. They are pretty impactful. I think it's a more transparent format to have gameplay affecting bug fixes under the balance changes. This way it kind of seems like you're trying to get away with some nerfs by calling them bug fixes.
That being said, and maybe I should have started by saying this: I am really grateful for the work the developers have put into this patch. This patch is beautiful from a technical perspective, and the functionality is so much more than I could have ever imagined. It’s just amazing!