92 Points to Spare - Breaking the Game

By on January 12, 2011 9:58:19 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Corbeaubm

Join Date 01/2009
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There are some extremely exploitable mechanics in 1.1 - none of which have so far been addressed by dev comments on mechanical alterations or on the AI.  To illustrate some of these problems, I've gone and busted the game using a sovereign with 92 unused points during sov creation.

 

World difficulty and AI difficulty are set to Hard.  I've made this strategy work consistently all the way up through Ridiculous, when using all my sov points.  Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if this sovereign and strategy would still win on Ridiculous, but I expected to do worse given my massive point wasting.

 

It's Winter in year 180.  I have a cash income of ~35 gildar per turn and research of ~25 points per turn (both outpacing the AI).  The only map resources I'm using are two farmlands and a gold mine (the latter of which spawned from the first adventuring tech, not from random map generation).  I am completely secure militarily, as I outclass the neighboring AIs in every way - and though I might need to grab another level of combat equipment to fight mobs, that would take approximately 6 turns given my research curve.  Oh, and I've never built a single military unit.  Soon my cash curve will explode into the hundreds, and I'll roll over the AI using my heroes.

 

The save is available from the following link:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/16960898/92_points_wasted.EleSav

 

To reach this point, I've exploited four major mechanical flaws in Elemental.  The first is that certain sovereign abilities are completely overpowered relative to other options - specifically, the resource granting abilities (Green Thumb, Attuned, Brilliant, Meditative, and Merchant) allow for an enormous head start compared to anything else you can buy (and I didn't even use them all with this sov - remember, 92 points free after sov creation).  The second is that heroes require no resources but gold, so I don't really need to worry about any map resource spawns.  The third is that trade routes give flat bonuses to gildar (road development, which governs trade route bonuses, is based on distance, but is so slow as to be totally irrelevant), meaning that spamming tiny cities across the map produces enormous cash multipliers in my home city (which I configure for maximum population growth, and thus maximum taxes).  This extremely productive city spam strategy, when combined with heroes that require only gildar for hiring and equipping, allows me to support a military while simultaneously building and supporting a super-powered research engine (just build studies in all those hub cities - you can non-stop build studies and your net cash income will still increase due to your capital growth modified by ever-increasing trade modifiers).  At first, that research goes into basic equipment techs, housing techs, economic techs, and hero recruitment techs.  Later on, my research and cash curves rapidly permit a final exploit that inevitably ends the game: armor invincibility.  Use your research to snap up the tech for Legendary Plate and magical weapons (one could also do conventional armor and weapons, but that's actually slower), and use your cash to equip a hero or two.  Because higher level armor makes a unit totally invincible to lower level weapons, your speedily equipped heroes can single-handedly obliterate every AI and win the game by conquest.

 

I wish to emphasize that the problem is not that powerful, game-breaking strategies exist.  The real problems are twofold.  First, this one strategy completely outclasses all others (with the possible exception of Arcane Arrow + Blink, though that's not mutually exclusive with this strategy).  There are no other crazy busted strategies that can compete - this is it.  This is Elemental, as it exists now, and it doesn't help that the AI doesn't realize it.  The second problem, which exists independantly of the other issues that make this particular strategy work, is that sovereign creation lacks competitive options: you can either be good (take the resource granting abilities, and then stats and background according to your preference of fighter or arcane arrow abuser), or you can suck (take anything else).  There is no real variety aside from choosing clear inferiority.  Don't get me wrong: discovering this strategy and these mechanical imbalances was fun, but now that it's known, there's really nothing left - currently, neither random situation nor opponent strategy can force me to adapt this one winning strategy.

 

I firmly believe that unless the following four problems are addressed, Elemental will ultimately remain one-dimensional:

1) Resource-granting sovereign abilities are overpowered relative to their cost (or perhaps the alternatives are under-powered - these abilities mostly eliminate the slow paced start that I read many starting players complain about)

2) Heroes require only gold.  This allows a player to totally ignore resource requirements.

3) Trade Routes are flat-rate boosts to gildar only, no matter the development level of the connected city.  This means that it's more productive to spam undeveloped cities without regard to map resources, rather than carefully placing and developing a few larger cities.

4) Armor doesn't just grant survivability, it grants total invulnerability.  I remember when attack was far too powerful relative to armor and made all battles about the first strike, but this was the wrong solution.  Instead of making one or two levels of armor advantage provide total invulnerability, HP totals should be higher to mitigate the swing factor of a single additional strike.  The only alternative would be a total reworking of the attack/defense system.

I really hope that demonstrating these problems will convince someone out there.  Someday I hope to record a multiplayer game to show, step by step, how various strategies interact (IE, this one wrecks them all).

 

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Carewolf
January 12, 2011 10:05:07 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Edited to remove my silly assumption

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January 12, 2011 10:09:53 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Fistalis,
I don't get it.. you cheat then bitch that the game is broken when you cheat...

Limited Sov creation points is a huge limiting factor. You create a super sov via cheating and then go on to say the game is broken because your faction with the super sov does so well.

 

Try reading for a change.  I not only built my Sov within the rules, I built it in such an underpowered way that I had 92 points leftover during normal sov creation.  And I still wrecked face, because I spent my few points on the only options that matter (IE, a few of the overpowered ones).

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January 12, 2011 10:11:02 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Corbeaubm,

Quoting Fistalis, reply 1I don't get it.. you cheat then bitch that the game is broken when you cheat...

Limited Sov creation points is a huge limiting factor. You create a super sov via cheating and then go on to say the game is broken because your faction with the super sov does so well.
 

Try reading.  I not only built my Sov within the rules, I built it in such an underpowered way that I had 92 points leftover during normal sov creation.

So your reducing all your stats and just choosing the buff bonuses and wonder why you do so well? LOL

Its called min maxing.. and not everyone does such silliness. I mean i don't get your point. So you found an exploit. So the game should be drastically altered because you exploit the system?

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January 12, 2011 10:13:44 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Fistalis,

Quoting Corbeaubm, reply 2
Quoting Fistalis, reply 1I don't get it.. you cheat then bitch that the game is broken when you cheat...

Limited Sov creation points is a huge limiting factor. You create a super sov via cheating and then go on to say the game is broken because your faction with the super sov does so well.
 

Try reading.  I not only built my Sov within the rules, I built it in such an underpowered way that I had 92 points leftover during normal sov creation.

 

You cant have 92 points left over.. you only start with 50. Your using a mod or something.

 

Nope - you can get even more points by downgrading your stats from the default values.  My sov had 5 in every stat save Charisma - and that's worth a bunch (which gave me 60 extra, on top of the base 50, for a total of 110).  Nor did I take all of the OP abilities - I tried to take a minimum, in fact.

 

And to reply to your edited post: it's min-maxing to make a point, the point being that the game mechanics are ridiculously imbalanced.  I genuinely don't believe that the devs know how badly imbalanced particular mechanics are, given the comments I've read here.

Though if you prefer your games imbalanced, then I don't know what to say to you.

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January 12, 2011 10:16:58 PM from Stardock Forums Stardock Forums

For posting a helpful suggestion, we can't begrudge him +4 points.. even 88 points should be enough. I like to keep at least 10 points for each stat, though lowering Int and a couple others shouldnt be harmful when all youre relying in is gold and hiring Champs.

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January 12, 2011 10:19:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Corbeaubm,


Nope - you can get even more points by downgrading your stats from the default values.  My sov had 5 in every stat save Charisma - and that's worth a bunch (which gave 75 extra, on top of the base 50).
Ya i realized that seconds after your post.

 I don't see the point though. You can min/max silly stuff like this in just about every game. There's whole sites based on the best min maxing of character skills etc in WOW or diablo 2 etc. I guess your just one of those people who constantly looks for a way to game the system rather than enjoying the game itself. Which is the same type that ruins multiplayer games in general for me. Thats not to say there aren't flaws but.. why anyone would take the time to search out min maxing of characters in a predominately single player game is beyond me.

As to the issue at hand... limited the number of sov traits one can take would pretty much fix that major part of this imho.

 

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January 12, 2011 10:21:48 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

If you prefer terrible balance in your games, I don't think that we have any basis for communication.  Game balance does not somehow prevent atmosphere, though if we also wanted to discuss Elementals shortcomings on the latter point we could definitely do that.

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January 12, 2011 10:23:28 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Corbeaubm,
If you prefer terrible balance in your games, I don't think that we have any basis for communication.  Game balance does not somehow prevent atmosphere or imagination.

 

Balance is thrown out the door when you include customization. IF you wanted balance you would be using the default sovs. You can NEVER provide a large amount of customization options while maintaining balance.

 

Any long stint or study of  MMORPGS in general would quickly show you the pains a dev can go through in order to achieve the impossible goal of customization with balance. Everytime you attempt the shift the balance one way the player base will simply find a new pinnacle of min maxing.

 

If your referring to multiplayer.. there is a reason you cannot use a custom sov in multiplayer and this is it.

 

So again i fail to see the point. Unless you expect the devs to spend far more time trying to balance out the way we custom build sovs in relation to the default sovs. Looking for a perfect balance which can only be achieved by reducing or removing customization options.

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January 12, 2011 10:29:54 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Fistalis,

Quoting Corbeaubm, reply 7If you prefer terrible balance in your games, I don't think that we have any basis for communication.  Game balance does not somehow prevent atmosphere or imagination.

 

Balance is usually thrown out the door when you include customization.

 

Um, no, not unless said customization isn't part of the game - and if it wasn't part of the game, then why is it governed with point mechanics clearly intended to enforce some level of balance?  We're not talking modding here - we're talking gameplay.  Further, while games with a multiplicity of moving parts tend to result in many busted strategies, there are still many busted strategies that all become viable (and not just in big budgets, either - go check out Cliffski's game Gratuitous Space Battles, programmed by one guy).  In Elemental, there's basically only one dominant strategy when it comes to power.

 

What I'd most want to see is a multiplicity of new abilities and equipment.  That would blow open the problem space yet again, and tweaking could provide more powerful strategies to arise (what if, for example, casters actually had useful equipment that required crystal to purchase?  Game gets a whole lot more interesting right there).  At the moment though, nothing can compete.

 

Quoting Fistalis,
IF you wanted balance you would be using the default sovs.

Laughable, given that the default sovs are in no way balanced either.  Organized, anyone?  Oh, and the strategy I outlined isn't even dependent on the Sov - it just gets a boost from imbalanced sov creation.

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January 12, 2011 10:32:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

 

  This is great feedback and definitely appreciated.  We have changes for most of these systems scheduled and without diving into all of them I wanted to let you know that it is very helpful to hear this sort of analysis as we continue to work on balance and strategy.

  I must admit that the game balancer part of me wants to remove sovereign customization from the game (which will never happen because it's awesome!) because of the inherent balance concerns it raises.  We can balance Procipenee's Attunement vs Verga's high starting strength but when we allow players to make their own it allows them to make crazy combos.  We can either remove sovereign customization, keep some traits out of sovereign customization, or make them all available and allow players to determine how tough their sovereign is.

  That doesnt mean we cant do a better job of balancing them, which we will do.  But when we have to choose between cool abilities and possible exploits in customization, we go for the cool abilities.  In my mind the true game balance assumes you are using preconfigured sov's and factions.  Players that go beyond that (and going beyond that is part of the fun of Elemental) are more likely to run into balance issues.

  But we will get better at it.

  I dont think that heroes only requiring gold is a balance issue.  We may have balance issues around how much gold the players have access to or how much heroes cost, but I wouldn't want heroes requiring materials/metal/etc.

  Caravans are an interesting point.  They just got nerfed significantly in 1.1 but we may need to think about adjusting the system so they are worthwile but don't encourage city spam so heavily.

  Armor is a known issue and will be changing in the future.

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January 12, 2011 10:41:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Fistalis,
Balance is thrown out the door when you include customization. ... You can NEVER provide a large amount of customization options while maintaining balance.
This is false for all practical purposes. The fact that it is difficult does not mean it is impossible. Furthermore, even if you consider it to be ultimately impossible, striving for an unattainable perfection nonetheless can make the game better, so complaining about this is unfounded.

Any long stint or study of  MMORPGS in general would quickly show you the pains a dev can go through in order to achieve the impossible goal of customization with balance.
How many MMOs can you name where the devs said "Balance is impossible, so don't tell us about anything that's overpowered"?

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January 12, 2011 10:43:33 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Cruxador,

Quoting Fistalis, reply 8Balance is thrown out the door when you include customization. ... You can NEVER provide a large amount of customization options while maintaining balance.This is false for all practical purposes. The fact that it is difficult does not mean it is impossible. Furthermore, even if you consider it to be ultimately impossible, striving for an unattainable perfection nonetheless can make the game better, so complaining about this is unfounded.

Any long stint or study of  MMORPGS in general would quickly show you the pains a dev can go through in order to achieve the impossible goal of customization with balance.How many MMOs can you name where the devs said "Balance is impossible, so don't tell us about anything that's overpowered"?

Lol none.. but its an ongoing process which is never finished. MMOs have the luxury of continually tweaking it since its a bottomless pit of profit with subscription fees. Its an impossible goal.. rather than wasting all the dev time between now and the end of support for ewom trying to balance sov creation i'd like to see other things worked on.

 

And its not false for practical purposes. Name one game that had a plethora of customization options that is balanced and cannot be min maxed in some way?

 

Limiting my customization options because some people like to exploit and min/max is not something i'll ever agree with. Just because a few people like to exploit doesn't mean the rest of us should deal with reduced options.

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January 12, 2011 10:46:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Derek Paxton,
We have changes for most of these systems scheduled...

That's an enormous relief to read.  Thank you very much for the reply; it's not always clear when issues are under scrutiny, or when they've gone unnoticed in the vast information flow of the 'net.

Quoting Derek Paxton,
I must admit that the game balancer part of me wants to remove sovereign customization from the game (which will never happen because it's awesome!) because of the inherent balance concerns it raises.  We can balance Procipenee's Attunement vs Verga's high starting strength but when we allow players to make their own it allows them to make crazy combos.  We can either remove sovereign customization, keep some traits out of sovereign customization, or make them all available and allow players to determine how tough their sovereign is.

That doesnt mean we cant do a better job of balancing them, which we will do.  But when we have to choose between cool abilities and possible exploits in customization, we go for the cool abilities.  In my mind the true game balance assumes you are using preconfigured sov's and factions.  Players that go beyond that (and going beyond that is part of the fun of Elemental) are more likely to run into balance issues.

Really looking forward to having multiple game-breaking abilities and strategies. 

Quoting Derek Paxton,
 I dont think that heroes only requiring gold is a balance issue.  We may have balance issues around how much gold the players have access to or how much heroes cost, but I wouldn't want heroes requiring materials/metal/etc.

I'm sad to hear it, given that this mechanic clashes with my impression of Elemental as a world, but it's understandable on many levels.  In particular, I can see how other adjustments would prevent it from being as imbalanced as it currently is.  I don't get the impression that players are intended to mass-produce Legendary Plate, for example, nor that they're intended to become invulnerable doing it.

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January 12, 2011 10:46:45 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Derek Paxton,
Caravans are an interesting point.  They just got nerfed significantly in 1.1 but we may need to think about adjusting the system so they are worthwile but don't encourage city spam so heavily.
The solution that seems (to me) to present itself from Corbeaubm's strategy is to make the cash provided by a caravan equal to some portion of the total cash provided by its home city.

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January 12, 2011 10:47:09 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Armor isn't totally unbalanced at the end of the spectrum. What I think is a contributing factor is that the AI doesn't like to produce many multi-figure units.

 

If you have an armor of 65 and your opponent has an attack of 60, they will be able to deal damage to you, but the average damage will be reported as 0. Most of the time, the damage will be blocked, but it still has a chance of hitting you. If the enemy attacks with a 4/8/12 figure unit (with each having an attack of 60), your risk of getting hit increases significantly.

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January 12, 2011 10:50:59 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Fistalis,

Name one game that had a plethora of customization options that is balanced and cannot be min maxed in some way?

Gratuitous Space Battles.  No, really, it's extremely min-maxable, with some pieces of equipment being effectively useless, but there are always other min-maxed strategies to counter any single min-maxed strategy.  Hell, it's the same principle that Starcraft, a game touted for polish, operates on - there are bad options and good options, but there is no single best option.

Note also that this isn't (at least to me) about limiting options.  It's about expanding options so that there are multiple viable options.

Quoting IBNobody,
Armor isn't totally unbalanced at the end of the spectrum. What I think is a contributing factor is that the AI doesn't like to produce many multi-figure units.

I think that it's less that the AI doesn't like to produce multi-figure units (it's been the opposite in my experience, actually), but more that they can't get multi-figure units equipped with top-tier weaponry before you've steamrolled them with your superior economic strategy based on gold and heroes.  They're dead before they can get the counter, which makes the "counter" no real counter at all.

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January 12, 2011 10:58:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Corbeaubm,

Quoting Fistalis, reply 12
Name one game that had a plethora of customization options that is balanced and cannot be min maxed in some way?
Gratuitous Space Battles.  No, really, it's extremely min-maxable, with some pieces of equipment being effectively useless, but there are always other min-maxed strategies to counter any single min-maxed strategy.  Hell, it's the same principle that Starcraft operates on - there are bad options and good options, but there is no single best option.

 

GSB doesn't have near the amount of options for customization were talking. My fault for using the word plethora which apparently didn't convey my proper meaning to you.  In EWOM you have..Equipment. Stats. Traits.spellbooks Where as GSB is pretty much equipment only. (various ship parts/weapon etc). Balancing one component is easier.. its when you have multiple separate but interwoven dynamics that balance issues truly come into play.

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January 12, 2011 11:01:22 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Fistalis,

And its not false for practical purposes. Name one game that had a plethora of customization options that is balanced and cannot be min maxed in some way?
The fact that a goal is not ultimately attainable does not mean that we should act as though the entire concept is an impossibility. Consider, if you will, the latest two iterations of D&D. Both can do just about all of the same things (although 3.5 is bad for more than a few types of games, and some systems have not yet been ported to 4e). Now, consider the balance. In 3.5, you can play a Wizard, or you can suck. In 4e, some feats and powers may be slightly better than others, but just about all possibilities are viable - you would be considerably more hard-pressed to make a character that sucks than to make one which is good. That's what we're talking about here. Corbeabm has found our 3.5 wizard, and he wants it toned down into a 4e wizard (and our 3.5 fighter buffed up into a 4e fighter).
Limiting my customization options because some people like to exploit and min/max is not something i'll ever agree with.
Nobody was proposing that. A drastic adjustment of points costs and some game systems is what's in order.

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January 12, 2011 11:02:52 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The fact that a goal is not ultimately attainable does not mean that we should act as though the entire concept is an impossibility. Consider, if you will, the latest two iterations of D&D. Both can do just about all of the same things (although 3.5 is bad for more than a few types of games, and some systems have not yet been ported to 4e). Now, consider the balance. In 3.5, you can play a Wizard, or you can suck. In 4e, some feats and powers may be slightly better than others, but just about all possibilities are viable - you would be considerably more hard-pressed to make a character that sucks than to make one which is good. That's what we're talking about here. Corbeabm has found our 3.5 wizard, and he wants it toned down into a 4e wizard (and our 3.5 fighter buffed up into a 4e fighter).

 

OMG.. get that BS out of here its 2 ed or nothing. You people and your new fangled DnD rules i swear. (wotc ruined that game imho)

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January 12, 2011 11:04:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Cruxador,

Nobody was proposing that. A drastic adjustment of points costs and some game systems is what's in order.

Bah double post intstead of edit.

No one proposed that but thats the only way your going to see real balance is removing all or reducing in part the customizations options.

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January 12, 2011 11:05:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Fistalis,
And its not false for practical purposes. Name one game that had a plethora of customization options that is balanced and cannot be min maxed in some way?


Have you played Dominions 3? That game has a truly absurd amount of customization available, and while I wouldn't call it perfectly balanced, there's certainly more than one viable and potentially successful strategy to choose from. And this is by the way a multiplayer oriented game, not just an AI stomp, so you can rest assured that all these potential strategies have been tested competitively against one another by actual humans and no clear "best strategy to easily beat all other strategies" has emerged (which is the problem with Elemental currently).

It's not about eliminating min-maxing, which is clearly impossible - if you give players any choice, ever (and if you don't it's not a game, is it?) then there will be some choices and combinations of choices (i.e. strategies) that work better than others, and there will be players who seek those out. It's about ensuring that there are different and roughly balanced ways to min/max, not just one stat to end all stats, not just one successful strategy that trumps all others.

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January 12, 2011 11:06:04 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

As much as I'm on the balance side of the argument, I don't think that a D&D 3.5 vs 4e analogy is a particularly good one for Elemental.  4e dramatically reduced D&D's scope and options, in terms of actual roleplaying, relative to earlier editions.

 

Going back though, if you think that Elemental has more customization than GSB, I really don't believe that you've ever played GSB at a high level.  I have.  There is a wider variety of equipment in GSB, in terms of effects, than there are stats, equipment, and spellbooks in Elemental.  Counting categories alone is a mistake.

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January 12, 2011 11:07:51 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

t's about ensuring that there are different and roughly balanced ways to min/max, not just one stat to end all stats, not just one successful strategy that trumps all others.

See this is what I don't get. You can't use custom sovs in multiplayer so why does it matter if there is ONE silly min max that you can walk over the AI with? Just cause it's there doesn't mean you have to use it.

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January 12, 2011 11:09:46 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Fistalis,

t's about ensuring that there are different and roughly balanced ways to min/max, not just one stat to end all stats, not just one successful strategy that trumps all others.

See this is what I don't get. You can't use custom sovs in multiplayer so why does it matter if there is ONE silly min max that you can walk over the AI with? Just cause it's there doesn't mean you have to use it.

If you want to play, then play.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  Some of us, however, would like to have a game.

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January 12, 2011 11:10:12 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Armor is a known issue and will be changing in the future.

Wait, what ? The gross overpowerness of later armor (even with 1.09p) has been a common complaint, but I had the feeling that this part was "working as intended". Did we convince Toby and you in the end ? 

If we did, please consider a rebalancing of weapons as well: some 2-handed weapons could create some issues because the basic number of attacks is 3/turn (meaning the opponent will never get the chance to survive the turn), and in general, 2-handed weapon might be too powerful compared to 1-handed, although this might actually be less dramatic with a substantial armor nerf (making shields useful !). I wonder if the AI skips using shields entirely because of that, or if it's just something Frogboy still has to work on.

Anyway, I'm really, really glad you've said that.

(Subliminal message: please make sure resources spawn inside the territory, systematically . I don't like the spawning mechanism, but if it's there, we shouldn't have techs that give our opponents an advantage. And that holds for recruitable units resources.)

 

Balance is thrown out the door when you include customization. IF you wanted balance you would be using the default sovs. You can NEVER provide a large amount of customization options while maintaining balance.

Well, that's true. Perfect balance, or even good balance, is out of the question. You can actually make it better by making the mechanisms less obvious (for Elemental, nothing more is needed: it's complex enough) and trying to reassess grossly imbalanced choices. Combining the two, you'd end up with some choices that work generally better than others, but situationally won't; and lessening of the obviousness of these choices.

 

2) Heroes require only gold.  This allows a player to totally ignore resource requirements.

That's their purpose. I think it should stay that way, but gold production needs a overhaul, because the problem is there.

The idea, in theory is that heroes can bypass material costs for equipment, but at a cost: a huge amount of gold, and so a lack of cost efficiency. They give claws to players who are lacking some resources to be able to wage war for those resources if they're smart in the way they do it. It's a quality approach, as opposed to a quantity approach. The heroes are strong, resilient and more importantly evolutive units.

Now, in practice, this doesn't work well because of the large number of issues that plague the game:

-First and foremost, the balance is really bad and largely favoring quality over quantity. That's mentioned, in other terms, in your post. 

-Gold production is exploitable, as you've mentioned.

-Heroes are too straightforward, unless they're imbued. They should rely on abilities to survive, not just straight power. In terms of stats only, they should be cost inefficient for quite a few levels (and make up for it in abilities), to distinguish them further from high-level units or recruitables.

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