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DevDiary 18 - Legion Battle Improvements


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Ave, and welcome to our 18th dev diary – the second after the release of Expeditions: Rome. As we mentioned last week, the first major update is currently undergoing testing. We were hoping to release it last week, but QA did their jobs well and found a new issue that had slipped into the game due to one of our stability fixes, so we had to push the patch until this week so we could get that fixed first and give QA time to re-test the build.

In the meantime, those of us not already working on the first piece of DLC have set our sights on a much-requested set of improvements to a certain system in the game, namely the legion battles.

The legion battle system has been a challenge right from the start. We knew we wanted to represent the large-scale battles of a Roman legion somehow, and give the player a feeling of being a grand strategy commander handing out orders from on high, but at the same time we didn’t want to cram a whole wargame into our tactical RPG. During the prototyping phase we intended battles to simply be resolved by a die roll based on the strength of each army – but it seemed too simple. Later we briefly considered representing it by a re-interpretation of a Roman dice game called Tali – but we decided that would be far too abstract. We knew we needed to do something that would sell the fantasy without ballooning out of scope to take over the whole project.

What we settled on was a resource management system where you balance your losses against the risk to your centurions, a desire to scatter the enemy troops, the likelihood of getting some loot out of it, the morale and experience of your legion, and so on. Success is still essentially a dice roll based on your legion’s strength compared to the enemy army, and you would always be able to win as long as you paid just a little bit of attention. However, you would have some control over how well you come out of it in the end: how great your losses, how good your loot, and whether the enemy survivors would retreat to fight another day.

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Now that the game has been out for a few weeks, it's clear that the system was not received well. Although Expeditions: Rome is a premium single player game, we’re committed to giving it the post-release support it needs to remain an excellent and beloved game for years to come, and the big thing we need to address is how to make this legion battle system more interesting.

There are limits to what we can do. We are still not planning to turn this into a real-time grand strategy game. It must remain a relatively minor part of the game loop that doesn’t overstay its welcome and get too much in the way of the core gameplay of Rome.

We have perused all your feedback and identified the following two major criticisms: First, it’s too difficult to understand what’s going on and how it works; second, it feels random, not giving you enough agency over the outcome of battles especially in the beginning before you have a chance to unlock new stratagems and level up your centurions.

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With that in mind, we’ve decided to make the following changes. First, we will remove the “challenges” that pop up during each phase of a battle. These are the “attacks” and “defences” you see getting either succeeded or failed by your chosen commander, based on his character class and his command specialisations. This will also have the benefit of making each phase shorter, for those who don’t wish to skip them entirely.

To replace this system, we plan to add new trackers that compare how many points your centurions have in each specialisation compared to the enemy commander. To refresh your memory, the specialisations are Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, and Logistics. Each specialisation your centurions have will be added to your count, and your chosen commander will get their specialisations doubled for this purpose. The enemy’s specialisations are deducted from your count, and each tracker can go into the negative this way. To help you visualise it, here is an early mock-up of what two of these trackers may look like in the UI. Each line marks a point where a new effect will be unlocked:

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In each subsequent phase, every stratagem you play will add points to or remove points from these trackers. This will simplify the stratagem cards as well, reducing the plethora of largely unexplained effects to a combination of specialisation points. The enemy will also play stratagems that affect these trackers, and you will be able to see at least some of what the enemy is going to do before you make your own choice.

At certain tiers, each tracker unlocks a new effect: a bonus to your defence or aggression, a new loot crate, a morale bonus, ultimately even forcing the enemy army to scatter rather than retreating. This means the new system allows you to aim for tangible goals: rather than a card just making you lose slightly less manpower, you might be trying to build up to reach a certain tier of Artillery in order to unlock a particular effect, and which cards you draw in the following phase will determine whether you succeed or fail. Inspecting these effects and deciding what to aim for based on what the enemy seems to be focusing on, and what stratagems are at your disposal, will give you a better sense that you’re formulating and following an overall strategy, and that you’re going up against another commander with their own strategy.

To give you some idea of what these effects could look like, here’s a screenshot directly from the design document. Please note that this is extremely work in progress, subject to all sorts of pending iterations, and reproduced here over the dead body of the technical designer (he will be missed):

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Since we’re removing the challenges that were formerly based in part on the chosen commander’s class, each class will instead apply a specific overall bonus to the outcome of the battle, similar to how certain perks (namely Cautious, Reckless, and Medicus) already add specific bonuses or penalties to a battle when a character with those perks is selected. These bonuses will not only be more significant and tangible than the previous effect of the commander’s class, but will also be completely orthogonal to the specialisations, creating more variation in possible outcomes based on who you choose to command the battle.

In addition to these core changes, we have a few minor tweaks planned. First of all, losing battles will now affect the legion’s Morale directly: before, the morale effect was tied to the specific set of stratagems you would have to choose from if you lost a battle, but this just seems like the game is forcing you to make a bad choice. Simpler to just deduct the Morale directly if you lose. Second, winning a battle will always give the legion Experience. In the current system, Legion Experience is based on relative losses during a fight: if you loose 100 more manpower than you kill, you lose 10 Experience, and vice versa. However, losing Experience feels bad, so we’ll remove that.

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And finally, this is not a simplification but rather an effort to bring the system in line with expectations and with the core fantasy: attrition during each phase (how many men you lose or enemies you kill) will be based on the relative active manpower of each side, rather than now where it is essentially a predefined random range that increases in each phase.

Once we have these changes in place, we need to test it and iterate on it, paying special attention to how well we explain how the system works and what you as the player should be thinking about during a battle. Though we are removing some of the more confusing aspects of the system, we are adding new elements to it as well, and we want to make it clear this time what’s going on during each phase and how your decisions have affected the outcome.

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We’d love to hear what you think of these changes. Please leave your comments and questions below and we will be guaranteed to read them. We will as always have a Dev Stream on Twitch this Wednesday, February 9th at 1:00 PM Eastern / 6:00 PM GMT at http://twitch.tv/thqnordic, where Senior Producer Brad Logston will host Creative Director Jonas Wæver to talk about our plans for this system and what other things we’re working on for future updates. We will answer any questions left on this diary, and we’ll of course try to answer any other questions you throw at us during the stream.

Until then, Valete!

 


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Can the difficulty of legion battles be made to increase with the difficulty you select for your game at the start? All the legion battles seem extremely easy, and on Insane difficulty that is a bit of a disappointment. 

Given this new system you describe, can you add buffs to the enemy commander's specialization levels (or debuffs to the player's specialization levels) based on the difficulty selected at the start of the game? This is just an idea. But my overall point is the tactical battles scale in difficulty with the difficulty level selected. Can you make the legion battles do this too? And if they already do, can you make it more extreme so the legion battles are a challenge on higher difficulties?

 

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1 hour ago, GOWLIKEABOSS said:

Can the difficulty of legion battles be made to increase with the difficulty you select for your game at the start? All the legion battles seem extremely easy, and on Insane difficulty that is a bit of a disappointment.

Or even better, make a seperate setting  specifically for legion battles, so you can adjust it during a playthrough when it feels like it is too easy.

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Can you please add mouseover tooltips how survival- and success-chance, as well as insubordination risk are calculated, when the commanders for selection are presented?
I think these values don't have a tooltip atm and this would help understanding these percentages a bit better. Players will then also know how to affect them in a positive way.

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A few more questions:
Will there be also changes to the way centurions earn xp during legion battles?
Will we see how much they earn? Do commanding centurions earn more xp?
How much does a 50% unlocked perk contribute vs a fully unlocked perk. (infantry for example)
Will one infantry perk add 1 towards the count or is it a higher value?
Why do some centurions only have 4 perks instead of 6?
What happens when all perks are fully unlocked, will there be more ways to improve the centurion other then his morale or will the progression end at that point?
 

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Also what's up with cavallery, range and infantry units during the legion simulation? Is there any way to use them strategically? (flank with horses, skirmish with archers...)
You cannot buy them seperately, so why are they shown there, what role do they play during battle and what determines their ratio?

Edited by Rulin
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Well i like your plans for the game.

Could you add more troops to the enemy (maybe scale with difficulty) and make troop numbers effect the outcome of a battel in a bigger way (if you outnumber your oponet 3v1, victory should be much easier to achiev ).

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These seem like really interesting changes. Thank you guys for looking at community feedback and integrating it so quickly. Looking forward to seeing what final shape these take, and having it in the game.

As it pertains to this as well, I would really like to ask for a colorblind feature of some sort if possible. I have no idea if this is already something that is in the works, and my apologies if it is. However, it is quite difficult for me personally on this game to see some of the UI elements, and different gameplay details.

Such as:
1) Charges remaining on tactical items. Almost impossible for me personally to tell the red from the black on this.
2) The pips on negative status effects. I'm assuming that you can actually tell how many pips are colored red? For effects like bleed. I personally cannot.
3) Weirdly, as I normally don't have issues with blue (unless it's close to purple), the water indicator when travelling is actually really hard to discern. I can tell, but it is oddly not easy. I thought for a while that I just had too much water, and didn't concern myself with it, until I got notified my guys were about to dehydrate haha. As I only passively looked at it.
4)  Those mock-up indicators for the trackers. Those images are big, so I can again see the red on the black. But it's not too easy, and I can already tell that when implemented, that if smaller, will be all but invisible to me.

As for what form the colorblind feature could take. I personally would advocate for allowing the user to select the colors themselves. For example:spacer.pngspacer.png

If not something like this. I think just having a toggle for punching up the colors might work. Part of the problem is how de-saturated they sort of are. And maybe included with said toggle, making the reds, orange.

Just please don't do the color filter that some games do. Where all colors are changed in the game, and not just UI elements. I don't know if some people actually prefer these, but personally I hate this implementation of colorblind accessibility. I don't want the entire world a different color, and to completely tank artistic intent/vision. Just to make gameplay significant UI features easier to see.

Hopefully this is something that can be implemented down the line, and isn't too intensive to do so. As I'm sure the team is busy enough. But at least me personally, would love to see this changed.

Thanks a lot for reading! Sorry about the short essay haha.

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First of all, it is a great game! Congrats to the whole team.

On legion battles, I feel they make the game distinct and feel natural to the environment. I do however agree that it needs work and the direction the devs are thinking on are promising. Here are some changes I feel might be worth exploring:

  • Optional tactical missions before battles. Outcomes affect bonuses, penalties, loot and other variables. Duel to small scale (2-10 people), multiple and/or random objectives (kill lieutenant, destroy supplies, posion water, set traps, etc.). Available for Companions and Praetorians as well as Centurions.
  • Optional tactical missions during battles, with similar possible outcomes, scale and objectives as preparation missions. Tiny map with fighting soldiers serving as boundaries. Only available to Centurions, accompanied by random allied soldiers.
  • Option to autoresolve battles.

Other systems might also benefit from a revision:

  • Party: the division between Praetorians and Centurions seems forced and ends feels limiting.
  • Auto level up: I would like to be able to create "skill templates", that we can assign to a party member so that they level up automatically getting the skills in the chosen template.
  • Items: very soon in the campaign items start flooding in with small but relevant different skills and stats, making outfitting the team start to feel more like a chore than an enjoyable experience pretty quickly.
  • Weapon actions: I like how weapon action variety open new tactical options. But given its impact on tactical missions (my most enjoyable aspect of the game), it seems excessively random and out of the player's control.

Hope some of this helps.

Cheers

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I am very happy with the changes you propose! I enjoyed the battles so far, yet wholeheartedly agree that it becomes somewhat boring- I just skip every phase now, since I cannot influence what is happening at all until the next strategem gets picked. Perhaps that could be changed as well?All-knowing me considered adding the possibility of upgrading your unit types in the camp, and launching a "special attack" on an specific enemy unit, like an Onager-volley or a cavalry charge, by clicking on the icon during the phases, so that one can achieve certain goals like "rolling up the enemy`s flank", "breakthrough the center" etc. But I totally understand that there is no limit to what one could add, which would lead to what you want to avoid: a new game within the game.spacer.png

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Thanks for listening to the feedback. These sounds like good changes. I do second the suggestion of adding a difficulty setting for the legion battles specifically. For me the main issue was that they were simply far too easy. I didn't even come close to losing a single battle in my entire playthrough. If I'm not challenged at all there's no incentive for me to understand and engage with the system regardless of how simple or complicated it is. Still, I get some players who just want to get on with it would only be frustrated if challenging legion battles gated them from progressing, but a difficulty option could service both types of players.

Edited by Osgear
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Hello. First of all, congratulations on this project that will certainly go down in history! I know that this is not the moment and it is not the topic of the current issue, however, being Brazilian (Brazil), my biggest indication of improvement is that the Portuguese language would be incorporated, in the future. It's very frustrating to have a game of such complexity and importance of dialogues and having to deal with languages that don't make the experience 100% pleasant. All in all, I'm very excited about the experience I'm having and the attention to many details that are perceptive. Strength and prosperity!

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Is it possible to work in some abstraction of terrain into this system?  I mean something that could be done in advance of a battle to potentially give one side or the other a lopsided advantage.  For example an optional tactical mission or even a text-based event where a successful result allows the player's legion to have favorable terrain; a failure give the enemy favorable terrain; and a middle-ground result does not offer a terrain advantage for either side.

I'm thinking of the times while you are kind of stuck waiting for the enemy to attack your legion base, for example.  Why not use that time moving your praetorians on the campaign map, trying to trigger some terrain advantage?

On another note: sometimes there are lulls in the game flow where it seems like you can't find any tactical battles or role playing opportunities for you main praetorians (until you conquer x more provinces, etc.).  The terrain idea above might offer one extra opportunity for that kind of interaction during those lulls.  But other opportunities would be welcome.  Or will you maybe release an editor at some point where we could add more of our own?

Thanks for the great game!

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Looks promising. 

Just one thing to mention: nearly half of my time is spent on the big map, so it won't be inappropriate to add more things in the legion battle. The game time is nearly half to half on both RPG and grand strategy side, but the content of two sides are unbalenced.

If devs really want to focus on RPG side and keep the legion battle simple, just reduce the region and add more story quest. Comparing to Viking, Rome in current state lacks interesting quests and story. Fixing this will make the game time lean to the RPG side.

Or makes one more step on the legion battle - give it a bit more complexity. Maybe a small card game like gwent will give players both playability and grand battle atmosphere. So that both RPG and grand strategy side are pretty much equally fun, just match their game time.

Edited by Suli
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Hi devs, 
Some of what you say sounds exciting; I like the idea of having specific goals to achieve on these trackers. I also like the idea of competing against an enemy commander. 

My current issues with the legion battles are mostly that I don't understand how the mechanics work. What does +20% defense actually mean, mechanically? Ditto for attack. Also, the "returned men" mechanic also feels unimportant, as I rarely even have the option of choosing a tactic (I've unlocked them all) that would cause men to go missing. So unless I fight back-to-back battles where I randomly get a tactic to make men go missing, and then in another battle get the tactic to return them, it's never an advantage to have an option to return men. 
Unlocking the stratagems also felt...like a mistake in retrospect as I had no control over what tactics actually appeared. I couldn't edit out a tactic I didn't like, I couldn't customize my hand, I just added all available tactics until it was a massive randomization fest. Even the Lucullus gambit only came up as an option ONCE for me in the Asia Minor campaign, and that was taking in a battle over a farm. I declined so it might come up in the concluding battle, except it didn't. The gambit in Egypt never came up at all. 

Your proposed solutions sounds interesting. Eliminating the challenges is a great choice; I skip through them anyway, as I have no control. Gaining experience, EVEN IF YOU LOSE, is how I would implement that mechanic, as that best reflects how experience is gained by armies, and would make every  battle feel like progress. 

Ultimately, I would implement more choice. More choices per phase, more choices to customize decks (get rid of specific cards, upgrade specific cards, make sure specific cards are available, or at least more likely, for an upcoming battle), more choices to train your commanders in specific customizations, more choices to how to adapt to the terrain, more choices to enhance your legion before an important battle (events where I can pay resources to get a one-time or enduring bonus, such as hiring auxilia with cash, training the men to adapt to the terrain by spending rations to fund training marches or hire local guides, using servi to construct fieldworks or fortified camps, using medicine to heal troops ahead of an important battle) some way to use the resources I have collected to affect my legion more directly. Even a bonus to both sides dependent on the number of friendly adjacent provinces would feel like a tie-in with other layers of the game. 

Currently, I mostly feel like I can have very little effect on a battle, that the cards I choose from are too random, and that my choices are uninformed by how the mechanics of attack/defense actually work, and that morale is treated like manpower by the current system which doesn't make sense (those should definitely be two different tracks). I would love to see more player agency and more informed choice. 

Most importantly, I WOULD LOVE SOME DLC, YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST!!! Keep making great games and great improvements, and I'll keep happily buying, playing, and recommending them. (and cleopatra really needs a romance scene with a female PC, that was such a missed opportunity in my current playthrough)

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Quote

We knew we wanted to represent the large-scale battles of a Roman legion somehow, and give the player a feeling of being a grand strategy commander handing out orders from on high, but at the same time we didn’t want to cram a whole wargame into our tactical RPG.

One of the most prominent and fun aspects of this game are tactical hex-tile-encounters... after introducing grand-scale legion battles (great!) wouldn't it be only consequent to apply hex-tile tactics also for legion battles instead of this comparatively flat and random-based card-system? With Centurio characters influencing how Centuriae move/attack/defend, depending on class/unit etc pp.

It's pretty obvious that such a thing would bring quite a developmental effort with it, but maybe this suggestion could be taken into account for future dlcs or games. Anyway, keep up the great work!

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Thanks again for the live stream on discussing Legion Battles. I wanted to provide some additional feedback when improving Legion Battles that may not have been addressed fully in the article or live stream.

  1.  Tooltips: For the longest time, I had no idea how Morale or Strength affected the outcome. For example, understanding every 10 points of Morale increases my Army Strength by 100 with a tooltip decreases the player confusion and burden. This can be applied to all Legion UI elements where a value or calculation occurs.
     
  2. Positive/Negative Specialization Effects: Tooltips will be super important in understanding this new feature with what effect is active and what effects are possible with each specialization. In addition, I believe this system may benefit more from a small rock-paper-scissors format. As a player, if I know Infantry has a slight advantage against Calvary, and if I know the enemy Commander may have a high Calvary specialization, I may be inclined to lead my legion with a high Infantry specialization for that battle. In this example, if the enemy Commander is Positive 3 +25% Aggression for Calvary and I am also Positive 3 +25% Defense for Infantry, it would normally be a "wash". I would have no incentive one way or another in this scenario. But if for each advantage you gain an extra 5% for example and with Infantry > Cavalry, the result would be still Positive 3 +25% Aggression for the Calvary Commander but as the Infantry Commander, I would have a +30% Defense. With this in mind, you could do something like Infantry > Calvary > Artillery > Infantry with Logistics being a more generalist specialization for loot and morale.
     
  3. UI Color: As the color blind post touched on above, the red pips on the dark blue background are difficult to read and I am not colorblind. I never know how many stacks there are on a bleed target for example. Instead of pairing the red with the dark blue, I would suggest changing it to black pips on a red background similar to how other games show health damage on your hp bar. With Bleed or similar, for every two or four stacks you can use a thicker dividing bar to create more noticeable sections or instead of linear representations, use round radial representations with pie chunks instead.

    I suggest a similar  improvement to Water. The white transitioning to light blue is completely unnoticeable to me, I need a sharper contrast between two colors to know I am running out of water. Changing white to black or another dark color will help a lot.
     
  4. Legion Commanders: What is the purpose of the other 3 commanders in a battle? How do their specializations, level, equipment worn, or experience affect the outcome? If they don't affect anything at all, it seems counter-intuitive to show them on the victory screen. I agree with your assessment during the live stream. Having 3 combat specializations with only one weakness limits choice. Updating Commanders to have only 2 Combat Specializations and 2 other non-combat specializations will help a lot in making each Commander unique. Understanding how a Commander's level and equipment affect the outcome will further increase Legion battle clarity.
     

Thank you so much for the opportunity to help. As an Application Analyst, usability is a important assessment in most of my work.

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