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Let's balance Battalion Wars - units and AI

Well, Battalion Wars is definitely a solid game. At the moment, I'm trying to get myself to LP it, but with me still waiting for data recovery, it won't be an easy task. And, of course, I'm even on this Wikia. But few if any games can be too careful about balancing units, and Battalion Wars is no exception.

We start with AI units compared to the player unit. The player unit gets a power boost, which actually results in a bug when you open fire at an enemy and then transfer to another unit. I'm not going to get into details of the bug, comment if you want me to talk about it. I'm going to mention that Advance Wars: Days of Ruin has a similar concept: you load your CO onto a unit (for half the unit's price) and the unit gets power boosts depending on the CO. Beyond pricing, there's only a FEW weaknesses you'd have to worry about at all when using the CO system at all aside from the money expenditure (don't forget that money basically amounts to score to an extent):

  • Penny can call Rain and destroy her own Vision via the Fog of War. Of course, the other guy's Vision is only a meager one, but if Penny can't work with sight units, she won't be much better off.
  • Caulder's healing costs money. Of course, he's healing FIVE HPS PER UNIT IN HIS ZONE. IN FREAKING FRONT LINES. Lack of reinforcements? What's that? (Yes, you can see why I make a joke in my Days of Ruin LP where he is an Olimar abuser. Olimar: Tether recovery weakness? What's that?)
  • More ATK means more potential suicide units. But due to offensive charging, the only one who would really suffer from this is Tabitha, who can in turn try to put herself in the Anti-Air Tank, a mutli-counter unit that you'd inherently want to protect while having it open up thick defenses. Besides that, suicide units is situational in actual competition, since it still puts you behind if their intended purpose fails miserably.

So in case you don't get the memo, there is no real cost to COing a unit. Everybody will do it. It's as bad as C-Sticking in SSB, which only has the flaw of needing a finger to move the C-Stick, but anybody who has played Battalion Wars 1 will find that to be a pathetic joke, and bear in mind that I myself am a lefty, for whom the GCN controller wasn't exactly built for, but I still managed Perfect S-Ranks, no casualties (asides from Solar units in The Guns of Tiki Bay and Tundra units in Siege of the Vladstag) in in every map.

But I'm getting off topic. I'm supposed to talk about the manual unit. Well, in BW, the manual unit gets the added advantage of being player-controlled, which means evasion, accuracy, and tactics. The AI units are actually denied the first two in general. Thankfully, achieving the mass unit synergy is at least harder because you're also getting attacked by the enemy in all likelihood, but that's the game's premise. Really, the manual unit has clear advantages over an AI unit. But the problem isn't the idea of giving the manual unit a power boost. It's actually not giving AI units hyper accuracy and evasion.

Yes, I'm saying that. The AI not getting hyper accuracy/evasion would seem to be a good thing because otherwise it makes creating army synergy less difficult, but the problem is, the evasion failure results in stupid scenarios. Not just Bonus Mission 3, it turns Guard commands in BW2 multiplayer into a complete beginner's trap, especially in Destroy All Tundrans and Donatsu Island, where Artillery can just shell the flag and end up blasting the infantry to Kingdom Come. It's stupid.

And yes, bring back Y button movement. The AI would end up being smarter anyway, which eliminates the main worry about it. (Spamming it to make the AI actually active.) Also, let opposing armies have infantry grab the same flag at the same time, because having just one infantry grab it to prevent the opponent from doing the same is so dumb. Especially on Assault.

Continuing on the AI, there's also the matter of anti-air units in general. Those things need to have a zoomed out minimap under manual control, more freaking lock-on and attack range, and be active about any air units within lock-on range. They can have their (AA) power nerfed, they're supposed to be hyper accurate to kill air units anyway. Speaking of air units, nerf the air units' defense so that they are actually vulnerable to machine guns, but buff their AI so that they can actually try to grab Jerry Cans, and also stay out of AA (not air-to-air) range unless ordered otherwise or simply not feasible in which case try to attack enemy units. Have the navy AI actually try to grab JCs as well; it's stupid they don't because sea units are supposed to be Mighty Glaciers.

Enough about the AI. Let's get to the units, starting with the Grunts. Grunts appear on every map besides Exchange of Fire. And generally, there's more of them than any other individual type of infantry. But there are some cases where that doesn't hold true, so it's up to individual unit type balance to keep things from destablizing save the day. Only, that doesn't happen. Why? The game says that Grunts actually have the longest range out of any infantry. But whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Unfortunately, the game is LYING there. The truth about their range is actually stupid: it's HORRIBLE. I'll bring up Assaults because those things are similar and I'm going to make a comparison.

Assaults are the same as Grunts, except their machine guns are stronger and they can keep rapid-firing by basically playing balance-the-meter. They are broken in the first game, seriously edging on broken in the second, and just plain superior to Grunts in nearly EVERY way. Yes, nearly EVERY way. The problems? First, Grunts being slower than vets, which is stupid because they already can't do anything decent on their own to non-infantry units or anti-infantry buggers, the former even with manual control. Heck, EVERY Nintendo Wars installment makes Infantry faster than Mechs with no problem thanks to this, why can't BW? Second problem is that Grunts have freaking less range, but Assaults stupidly get to be snipers. WHY?!?!? Oh, you say I'm lying and point out that Betty says that Assaults are less accurate at a distance? That's like saying the Fire Emblem 10 Longbows are less accurate at 3 range than equal stat bows. (I'm aware that Longbows suck in that game to the point of being situational. Bear with me.) Tell me how the equal stat bow is going to be used as a 3 range weapon. Don't even bring up Marksman, that's a broken 3rd tier class, that shows the programmers' laziness at that. Anyway, I don't need to mention the better firepower.

Assaults do have a weakness compared to Grunts: their slow startup. Mind, they can get around this by starting up before starting to hit the enemy, but if they're forced to combat roll, they have to deal with it again. However, the problem is, this requires that they are overwhelmed by such heavy fire that their support is already hammered or too far away for that to be plausible. Kuju should tone up this weakness, probably by slowing down the rapid fire gain so that playing balance-the-meter is harder, so that Assaults can be balanced.

Bazookas are just mishandled, mainly. In BW1, they were underpowered; not only did they do less damage than a MORTAR, their attacks were dependant on how fast they moved, which means that their 4x multiplier for full charge could only be applied at close range. BW2 removed BOTH of those issues, and made Bazookas at least overpowered as a result. Fixing the former is quite fine to an extent, but getting rid of the latter was unnessary. Distance fire inherently means you don't have to worry about counterattack aside from the opponent closing the distance. Emplacements can't do this because they're stationary, and vehicles are already such big targets that they even need armor so that they can take the inevitable abuse. Consequently, manual Bazookas can be a pain to deal with in general. Which is a shame because Bazookas are my favorite unit in this game. (It helps that they can even move at a decent speed, which is more than what I can say about Nintendo Wars Mechs, which make the game balance so dang fragile, aside from the Game Boy Wars 3 Bazookas, which actually get 1-2 AT range so it'd be actually EASIER to stabilize the game balance.)

Mortars may be a bit underpowered. As player units, they just don't make that much of a difference without a high enough number of them, even though they do damage both infantry and armor alike. They do punish clumps and stationary defenses, sure, but aside from that, mobile infantry can just fight them at inconvenient ranges. Though AI enemy Mortars do have the potential to be nasty by making your infantry go flying with one good shot, and it's infrequent for the player to get non-NPC air units. Still, Mortars just don't make frequent enough appearances to make a final call. Which is a shame, because Armada and Destroy All Tundrans could make use of them.

Flames are actually nicely handled for the fact that they have lopsided matchups. Against vehicles, they are barely going to barely scratch the paint, and they can forget about hitting air or sea units. But what about infantry? Simple: Flames deal a LOT of damage to infantry in a hurry, with a continuous attack no less. Granted, Flames have short range, but they can hit any and all infantry within that range. It's actually a good way to punch a hole through a thick cluster of infantry, allowing for more effective defense destruction, although it can make camping worse when the enemy's infantry simply get burned down by a manual Flame.

Anti-Airs (the vets) were beyond broken in BW1 because they dealt too much damage to EVERYTHING. BW2 toned this down, thankfully, though they still aren't perfect. But they should be covered by the AA ability revamps I pointed out earlier. AAs can also hit infantry on flags. It doesn't do much damage, but it does knock AI infantry off. I'll take it.

Now onto the vehicles. First, the Recon. With hyper evasion, Recons are going to be a nasty pain to kill, because they'll just sit from a safe distance away and never get hit by explosive shells. What they need--and yes, they need it anyway--is an armor nerf. That way, they have to keep moving or get showered by machine gun fire, rather than be able to be content in sitting in one area when there are no Bazookas, Mortars, or vehicles to try to challenge it, knowing that the other infantry will just get laughed off.

Artillery is naturally tricky business. Of course, it naturally has the trait of distance fire, so a manual Artillery has no problem picking off enemy units and punishing any approaches. It actually encourages camping because going near the center without heavy caution becomes an invitation for being slapped around. Overextending is bad to begin with, but just extending at all becomes a rough job when any fast units end up answered because there isn't enough of them, while everything else simply gets devastated. What to do? Well, probably balance other units, including but not limited to vehicles.

Which brings us to the tanks. Okay, why do the Light and Heavy Tanks have the same freaking speed? I don't get it. Light Tanks are supposed to be more mobile, not simply smaller. Heavy Tanks also seem to have the same--or certainly similar--armor value as Light Tanks. Granted they have higher HP, but when the unit is bigger, DEF is very important simply because it's going to get hit more by high ATK stuff. As it is, Light and Heavy Tanks are too similar, a problem that needs to be fixed. Also, both tanks are actually faster than vets in BW1, why make them both as slow as Grunts in BW2? The Heavy Tank I can understand somewhat, but the Light Tank?

Battlestations, meanwhile, get to abuse infantry sniping, high HP and DEF, and just plain monstrous ATK. However, it's a freaking big target that is vulnerable to air unit raids. While the Battlestation isn't flatly broken, it does need extensive playtesting to make not so situational-overpowered. I do like the revamp it got in BW2, where rather than simply being a bigger, better Heavy Tank, it could range fire at an arc. Now the problem is balancing it out so that the weaker tanks don't get killed because they would get auto-hit by the manual weapon at close range, and making sure air unit abuse doesn't kill the damn thing too easily. Probably manual weapon ATK nerf, since the Battlestation already has plenty of toys to work with, but a minor DEF buff in return.

Anti-Air Vehicles, I didn't cover somehow. Basically, they're a vehicle version of AA Vets, and I can't think of any buffs or nerfs that I haven't covered for them.

Well, that's all the land units. Only one fast unit in the bunch and it's the Recon. Closest thing to that is the Light Tank, but even that would have trouble with Artillery shenanigans. New land units? Well, here's my suggestions, albeit from Game Boy Wars 3 or Days of Ruin:

  • A Rocket Launcher that would get to be a multi-fire indirect, but they'd have less offensive and defensive power than an Artillery, and less range to stop camping shenanigans.
  • A Humvee that would move fairly fast while carrying bazooka shell payload, but would be vulnerable to machine gun fire. It would answer Artillery quite nicely by forcing it into max range and evading its shots.
  • A Buggy with grenades--again would move fairly fast but would be vulnerable to machine gun fire.
  • A Tank Destroyer that would be a Glass Cannon version of the Light Tank. No machine gun defenses.
  • An Anti-Tank indirect that would have a weapon that works like the BW2 Battlestation's manual weapon. No other weapon defenses, low armor but it would be a small target.

Now that that's done with, we go to the air units. Which in general need an armor nerf, because they are too powerful otherwise. Scratch that, they're too powerful anyway, but the excess defense against machine guns doesn't help. Air units need to be able to die as quickly as they move, with or without dedicated AA units. Otherwise, they'll just evade everything else to make killing them a miserable pain, while abusing the third dimension they get to work with.

Starting with Fighters, which are basically air-to-air units. At least, they're supposed to be just that. But they can do one ridiculous thing on a couple of Assault maps: attacking destruction objectives for decent damage to make sure they're finished off. Not just the Barrage Balloons on Aces High, I also mean the Turbines on Aces High, the Generators on Lighting Stirke, and the Solar Panels on Lightning Strike. All three of those are grounded and supposed to be basically immune to Fighter finishing strikes. Why can Fighters destroy them at all? WHY?!?!?

At least Fighters are fine otherwise. Them trying to take on ground units is thankfully a dangerous proposition, and they're supposed to be dangerous to most if not all air units.

Bombers............oh good heavens. Well, they're supposed to deal quite a bit of damage at least. But problems occur when you give them too much armor. Okay, so they're attacking an already existing unit group, like that's new, from another unit group where all the units that can attack it don't have to fear strong counterattack. But I think a minor armor buff would work wonders in freaking killing them. Well, okay, I did address that problem, it's a general air unit problem to begin with.

Strato Destroyers......these things just don't make enough appearances. There are only 4 altogether in BW1, and the only ones in BW2 are in the last part of The Reckoning. Where you would want to manually control the Battlestation, since that part inherently punishes taking too long and the AI Battlestation stupidly hits the laser guns first. Well, what Stratos do is that they can continuous fire on air units, and they have an auto-bombing system as well. They would be Attackers from Super Famicom Wars and Game Boy Wars 3, but they are too slow, turn very slowly and have no real defenses from rear attack. They have thick armor, though, so they can definitely work with frontal attack.

Hmm, maybe they should add the actual Attackers from SFW/GBW3. They'd have pitiful defenses and slow moving attacks, but who would really say no to flying while taking Peppy Hare's advice AND being able to attack ALL units for decent damage? Basically, they'd be the air's Bazooka Vets.

Anyway, we have Gunships. Well, these things aren't broken, although they're easy to control. Mainly, the problem is how easy it is for them to avoid AA range. Flying low? Those AA units will never touch you. Machine gun fire? What's that? And if you're too far away, the AA units can't lock on to rip you apart. But I addressed that already.

So what to add to the air force? Well, the only things I have in mind besides the Attacker is the Lite Fighter, caled Duster in Days of Ruin and based off of that, and maybe the Anti-Submarine Helicopter from Game Boy Wars 3. Anything else, I'm not sure.

As for the navy, what we have is the Battleship, Dreadnaught, Submarine, and Frigate. The Dreadnaught is basically to the Battleship what the Battlestation is to the Artillery. That leaves 3 units, and they all involve a triangle, so it shouldn't take too long.

Well, the Battleship provides range fire against surface units for the navy. It gets countered by the Submarine, which dives under to be Nigh Invulnerable. Which is actually more limited in AW because you can actually still lock onto a dived Submarine with your own manual Submarine or Frigate, and then proceed to deep-six it. The Frigate, as a sea unit, is very fast, but can't do anything that an enemy Battleship wouldn't laugh off, instead using AA missiles when not locked onto a Submarine, while using depth charges to hit Subs. Basically, due to the bad AI, it's definitely preferable to control the Frigate to keep it safe as it is.

Yeah, that took one paragraph. That's how underdeveloped navy is, for the fact that naval warfare in real life has actually been in significance much longer than the air warfare. (Aerial warfare only saw any significant role as early as the Civil War. Naval warfare was around in 1210 BC.) Worse yet, there's only one decent AA unit and it instagibs the Bomber and Gunship on sight. Fake Balance, anybody? Seriously, give at least MOST ships decent AA ability. Even some okay machine gun fire would do, as long as Bombers don't have a field day when the sole threatening navy unit is scrap.

There are sea unit ideas between Days of Ruin, Game Boy Wars 3, and even Custom Wars (an Advance Wars fan project):

  • Gunboat (Days of Ruin) - Fragile Speedster that does quite a bit of damage to ships for its cost
  • Hovercraft (Custom Wars) - kind of similar to the Gunboat, but can travel on land AND water, but also has vulnerability to machine guns. Would be particularly useful for stopping Battleship slippery slope.
  • Aegis Warship (Game Boy Wars 3, counts as Destroyer from Custom Wars) - anti-ship ship with thick armor. Would also be able to lock onto, though not damage, dived subs.
  • Aircraft Carrier (all 3) - pure air support--provides AA and also supplies air units. No/very limited weapon defense against other ships.

Well, it's a start at least.

And that should cover all of them. Next blog post: the Skirmish and Assault maps.

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