Ever since the launch of Age of Empires Online, we’ve wanted to make some major changes to the way the technology tree works. Today, we’re announcing a complete rethink of how it impacts the game, and the result is a full review and redesign of each civilization’s tree.
We're making these changes because there have always been quite a few concerns we’ve wanted to address. The biggest issue was that unlocking units as you leveled was a slow and painstaking process. Because so many units required technology points, it took a significant amount of time to unlock a basic arsenal of available units. This essentially meant that players were only using Spearmen for the first few levels, which led to uninteresting gameplay.
We don't believe that there's much value in a slow introduction to the unit roster. As a result, once you reach a new Age, all of the available units will be immediately unlocked for free.
After we made this change, we realized having new units with each Age wasn’t that great without the appropriate tech to go along with the new units, so we've added what we call "Factory Techs." These are upgrades for the Barracks, Archery Range, and Stables that are designed to improve the units those factories build. Best of all, these upgrades are also unlocked for free, and they're available as soon as you get access to the building.
We think upgrading units is fun, and having the choice to upgrade your units early on is critical, but in order for your civilization to progress as you level up, we still need to lock out certain technologies. We took a simple approach to this: All unit-specific upgrades—we now call them Champion Techs—generally increase the versatility of the unit, rather than making it flat out better with Health and Damage bonuses. This means that as you level up, you’re unlocking more tools in your toolkit.
One of our other concerns with the current trees is that a significant portion of the tree is left unlocked when you reach level 40. While this provides some interesting choices for where to spend your points, we strongly feel that decisions (and ultimately skill) in RTS should come from tactical gameplay, not from decisions made before the mission starts. Like we’ve seen with Champion mode, having all options available is more compelling and leads to a wider variety of strategies and counters.
As a result, all level 40 characters now have enough points for a fully unlocked tech tree.
After reviewing the point distribution at level 40, there were two other smaller areas for improvement. First, we changed the requirement for every technology to only require a single tech point. This may seem trivial, but the intent is that each technology should be roughly equivalent in overall value. Second, we wanted aging up to be a significant milestone. Now you’ll get 5 tech points every time you reach a new Age (levels 3, 7, and 15), and 1 tech point for every other level for a total of 52 tech points at level 40.
Star Techs were another area we felt needed improvement. We think that purchasing premium content should have benefits immediately, not at the late game. Because Star Techs were not available until level 20, many players who purchased Premium content didn’t get a chance to use them. We also felt that the Star Tech passive bonuses were counter to the rest of the tech tree and frequently a point of confusion. So we’ve done two things - for one, Star Techs are now available at Age 2. Additionally, Star Tech now behave like regular techs – they have a traditional resource cost and must be researched while on a quest. Like the Champion Techs, our goal with the new Star Techs was to provide more versatility rather than flat out bonuses.
Finally, we’ve made a few minor cosmetic touchups to the tech tree. We feel that the heart of each civilization is their Military, so we’ve made this the first (and primary) tab you see. Technology tool tips will now show upgrade cost and research time, and units will show all of their base stats. We’ve also done a full naming and tuning pass on the entire tech tree for each civilization to add more historical flavor and variety of gameplay. The artists have done a fantastic job of updating the visual style of the tree based on all of these changes – including new icons, new layouts and new unique backgrounds for each tree of each civilization.
All of these changes have resulted in a fairly different gameplay experience. As a result, we’ve completely revisited the unit tuning for each civilization. There are also some other major balance issues we’ve addressed as a part of this. This is a pretty big shift, and we’ll be going into detail on the specifics of these changes in another update. Ultimately, we want to further emphasize specialized unit roles and ensure each civilization feels sufficiently different.
This is probably the largest and most significant change to AoEO that we’ve made so far – and we’re really happy with where things stand after these improvements. We look forward to your feedback once the update has been released.
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