It turns out that every single VS map has horrible problems.
Storm the Palace
Favors: Xylvania (attacker - blatant advantage, very near auto-win)
Problems: people tend to believe that the Assault Maps give the attacker in general TOO MUCH of an advantage. Sometimes, this is genuinely true, but other times, what's supposed to happen is the defender is supposed to make use of crowd control or AI unit attacking. Storm the Palace is pretty much the latter in general.
Or at least it would be, if not for one problem: Xylvania's Gunship abuse. The Gunship can sneak behind one of the first 3 objectives and you will never be able to destroy it while it's hiding behind the objective. If the AA Vehicle tries to chase it, the Gunship is too fast for that. It effectively 1HKs the objectives just by getting close enough, and there's enough terrain to make sure that can happen. Not enough for you? How about this: if the Gunship gets behind a Missile Silo, it can actually snipe the Radar Array from there and turn THAT into scrap, all the while being safe from the AA Vehicle. So it effectively 1HKs not one but TWO objectives by doing one thing right. And if it wants to get behind the OTHER Missile Silo immediately, it just has to have made it to the first silo with enough health, which shouldn't even be hard thanks again to the terrain.
In short, Frontier will be lucky if they can reduce the time anywhere below 4:30. This is simply WAY too much time for one segment of a 2 segment level because they're completely reliant on emplacements and a single mobile unit to throw off the Gunship repeatedly. And Frontier has only 1 Flame Vet too. Xylvania can just chip Frontier's HQ defense, if they're even smart enough to anticipate any sneak HQ capture strategies on Xylvania's part, which they will already need to because Xylvania won't even have much in the way of emplacement resistance to wipe out. Actually due to underwhelming emplacements. Of course, if Frontier tries to counter Xylvania's sneak HQ captures, it's going to stretch its already meager forces thin.
Causes: misplaced objectives, manual unit defense boost (Gunship), overpowered Gunship, underpowered MG Towers, Bazooka Vets don't have a distance penalty like they should
Trapping level: too low for defender
Destroy All Tundrans
Favors: Xylvania (attacker - very near auto-win at least)
Problems: as it turns out, the first phase is laughable. The AA Vehicle rips apart the Bombers AND the Radar Arrays, and it can easily get past the Light Tanks so that it doesn't get turned into a wreckage. The Bazooka Vet can sneak by on the chokepoint in the second part and abuse their own distance fire too. As a result of having THREE methods of attacking the objectives safely, the dumbest one of which one of which needs to worry about only two units altogether, the amount of time attacker gets is maximized. Expect Xylvania to have 6 minutes to capture the HQ defense.
The clincher is what Xylvania can do to the HQ defense itself. The Artillery fire actually makes Flag Guarding a bad idea, since the infantry will get massacred. But what really hurts is that Tundra can't do anything very well if Xylvania's vehicles are on the river. If they try, Tundra's Light Tanks will get massacred and Xylvania will have a free path to the flag. If Tundra blatantly camps, Xylvania just chips with Bazooka Vets. Either way, Tundra can't do anything very well, simply because their Light Tanks are too slow to close the distance on the Artillery, and Xylvania can just chip.
Causes: objectives taking excessive damage from AA missile fire, too much time for attacker, Light Tank isn't fast and durable enough to close the distance on Artillery placed on the river
Trapping level: too low for defender
Favors: Anglo (attacker - blatant advantage, very near auto-win)
Problems: starting off Armada is a naval battle. But keep your pants up, because Solar can sneak a Gunship behind the Sea Forts and effective 1HK it because the only unit that can hope to hit it, the Frigate is not fast enough to chase it to avoid having its shots blocked by terrain. Oh, and guess what? It doesn't even 1-round a manual Gunship either. So both Sea Forts will suffer effective 1HK.
The ironic thing is, if not for this, this map would be no less than a slight advantage for Anglo, since Anglo can easily spawn camp Solar in general here, as Solar has fewer units for some stupid reason.
That is actually in spite of the problems that plagues Anglo on the land portions. First and worst, Anglo has only ONE anti-armor unit altogether, a Heavy Tank, compared to the 2 Light Tanks that Solar gets. The Heavy Tank is a durable unit, but it's a lone unit that is going to get smashed hard by the FOUR units that can all attack it for decent damage. Once the Heavy Tank is scrap, the Light Tanks have free reign while Anglo has to wait for the Heavy Tank to respawn. Anglo's only chance is to keep destroying the AI Light Tank and sending its Flame Vets to burn the Bazookas. And it has to grab the AI Light Tank's Jerry Can or the manual Light Tank WILL scrap it. And believe me, because the manual unit's defense boost is ridiculous. It doesn't even help that the Heavy Tank itself is less durable than it should be.
This isn't even the only problem, unfortunately. The Lighthouse is in a rather out of way location. Anglo's supply point is placed about halfway between Solar's own supply point and the Lighthouse, and it's right at a junction where the 3rd path leads straight to the HQ. So either guard the Lighthouse and watch the HQ's emplacements get massacred with a possible easy HQ capture, or guard the junction and watch a Light Tank sneak by and destroy the Lighthouse. Don't even have the Heavy Tank available? You don't get to choose what the opponent will do.
The only thing that really helps Anglo is that they can at least TRY to hold the HQ with a manual Flame Vet to scorch the infantry while being such an incredible pain to kill, thereby making the flag so hard to snag in a small timeframe. If not for all the Solar-favoring shenanigans, this would actually create a blatant advantage for Anglo.
Causes: too much time for attacker, manual unit defense boost (Gunship and Light Tank), excessively limited AA ability of a navy, Solar has fewer units during naval segment (helps Anglo), Anglo's anti-armor force is limited, underpowered Heavy Tank, one objective is seriously out of way, manual Flame Vet is hard to kill (helps Anglo considerably, but not by a sufficient amount)
Trapping levels: too low for defender in sea, too high for attacker on land
Favors: Frontier (attacker - blatant advantage, not auto-win but advantage on overcentralizing factor)
Problems: you would think that a map called "Aces High" would have decent emphasis on air combat. Nope. All the air sections amount to at the highest level of play is this: Frontier destroys Tundra's AI Fighter and then picks off the objectives with ridiculous impunity. Frontier's manual Fighter simply will do barrel rolls while sniping the Barrage Balloons, and their manual Bomber will simply survive and mock Tundra's efforts to shoot it down, especially thanks to the manual unit defense boost. Frontier doesn't even care about letting their AI Fighter(s) live once Tundra's own AI Fighter is toast, Tundra simply can't do anything to slow down Frontier without sheer luck. And the manual Bomber only needs one good pass on each turbine because the Fighters can finish off the objectives from there, just to add to the stupidity.
But the common problem is easily the Helipad being an overcentralizing factor. Whoever grabs it first gets 4 extra Grunts, which actually is a lot when you consider that neither side has more than 12 units starting to begin with. And the Helipad can't be captured by the other side whatsoever. So by grabbing the Helipad, you've basically won REGARDLESS OF WHICH SIDE YOU ARE ON. Just to make things better, the person who loses the Helipad skirmish could actually succeed in triggering it anyway. WHAT?!?!? They lost control of the area, so they don't deserve reinforcements. But no, the Helipad has to have a low amount of capture effort required. FOR GOD'S SAKE, I AM NOT FIGHTING SAMI IN ADVANCE WARS AND HER BLOODY VICTORY MARCH!
Oh, and guess who is favored in taking the Helipad? Yep, Frontier. They can just bomb Tundra's infantry into oblivion just to minimize Tundra's ability to KO the manual unit whenever they try to take the Helipad.
The weird thing is that the Helipad capture is only an auto-win for Tundra. And all because of one unit: the freaking manual Assault Vet. It can even turn Frontier's extra Grunts from THEM capturing the Helipad into target practice, and it survives WAY too easily against the manual Flame Vet because of the manual unit defense boost in combination with the medpacks.
Causes: easily destroyed objectives, low numbers, Helipad strengthens low numbers problem, manual unit defense boost (Bomber, Assault--helps Tundra), overpowered Bomber, overpowered Assault (helps Tundra)
Trapping level: too low for defender on air portion, too low for either side on Helipad capture, too sensitive on land portion
Favors: Tundra (defender - blatant advantage, very near auto-win)
Problems: thought to be a balanced map, Cold War turns out to favor Tundra a heavy amount. Now the first and third objectives have at least minor favoritism for Xylvania, but the second objective is where Tundra makes the X-ers' lives really miserable.
Let's start with Xylvania's advantages. They have a Battleship that, of course, slowly respawns, but it can actually do a number on the Concrete Barricade, destroying it fast, and it can even go under the bridge where the Bomber can't get at it very well, which also allows it to destroy the emplacements by the HQ early without fear of taking any heavy damage.
Of course, that's all Xylvania really has to give the Tundrans a headache. Tundra can simply plan around keeping the Bomber alive, which isn't even difficult because Xylvania's AA Vets don't even deal nearly enough damage to destroy the Bomber easily enough, and will simply get bombed and mocked. Even without that, Tundra can soldier wall with backing Artillery fire and focus on butchering the AA Vets so as to create a drastic cut in Xylvania's AA power. The Heavy Tank will become a walking target--that even gets 1-round-KOed by a good manual Bomber pilot--and so will the Battleship. And just to make things better, there are Jerry Cans all over the place to keep the Bomber alive. Not to mention the Battleship's own Jerry Can heals the Bomber by SO MUCH. So maybe the Battleship can bridge camp, but that's if it ever gets the chance.
The inability to advance on the ground very well at all is particularly bad on the 2nd phase. On the first phase, Xylvania do at least have a wide space for using a manual AA Vet to evade shots and then smash the Bomber. Xylvania doesn't get that luxury on the second phase, as it's forced to go through a closed space on a snow hill, where either they get bombed or their forces get massacred by the Artillery while having to deal with the same soldier force waiting on the snow hill. Tundra does not have to care about keeping its vets alive, because its own supply point is closer to the snow hill than Xylvania's, there is no way for Xylvania to protect themselves from the Artillery fire that Tundra can't cover against, and as soon as the AA Vets are decimated, the Bomber will flatly laugh at everything else Xylvania has for a while. And it can even easily spawn camp the Battleship to keep the southern Fuel Storage safer.
Causes: quickly destroyed first objective (helps Xylvania), manual unit defense boost (Bomber, Heavy Tank when Bomber is destroyed--helps Xylvania), underpowered AA Vets, overpowered Bomber, underpowered Heavy Tank, Battleship bridge camping (helps Xylvania), Artillery with infantry walling on hill easily punishes the land approach on second objective
Trapping levels: too high for defender
Favors: Legion (attacker - blatant advantage, auto-win, would be auto-loss without its own abuse causes)
Problems: all of the Assault maps have bothersome execution, but Lightning Strike's easily stands out as the worst. Let's first start off with the natural unit setup: Legion has Grunts, Assaults, a slowly respawning Battlestation, and 2 Fighters, along with Mortar POWs that become possible to free after the first phase, while Solar has Grunts, Bazookas, Missiles, a Heavy Tank, and 2 Gunships. Naturally, Solar will target the Battlestation and swarm it into oblivion. Even if the Gunships are destroyed first, which is unlikely because Gunships are too durable, they still will have done a lot of damage, just in time for the Heavy Tank and Bazooka Vets to finish it off. If Legion is on the first phase, they won't even have Mortars to help them destroy stuff for the Battlestation, although what they do is guaranteed to amount to mere potshotting to begin with. But of course, what happens when the Battlestation becomes scrap? That's right, Legion loses too much offense against the emplacements and destruction objectives.
Or they would, if not for overpowered Fighters and Assaults. Both are obnoxiously hard to kill and they turn out to deal RIDICULOUS damage to the objectives. Fighters are easily the worse problem, because they laugh at AA Vets' attempts to get them whatsoever, all the while mocking the Generators and the Solar Panels, and freeing the Mortar Vets easily to have them potshot emplacements. Assaults can still keep the time lost to Fighter deaths minimized, although they do have to slog their way to the objectives more or less. It is not unreasonable for Legion to have 6 minutes to work on the HQ defense, which as usual easily results in chipping their way to victory, especially when the Fighters have so much open space that they are easily trusted to AI control.
Causes: Battlestation gets destroyed too quickly by low-flying Gunships (helps Solar, causes their would-be auto-win), manual unit defense boost (Gunship--helps Solar; Fighter), overpowered Gunship (helps Solar), underpowered Mortars (helps Solar), Fighters and Assaults can attack destruction objectives for decent damage while surviving easily
Trapping levels: too low for defender
Problems: I actually left this map alone for the longest time because I just don't get along with bland maps. All it is is just a skirmish between two armies, each one having a Heavy Tank and some standard infantry. And it's not even useful to make use of terrain. So there's a low amount of strategy to work with.
But this isn't its fatal problem. Oh no. See, there's a bunch of Auto Guns near each player's spawn point, so as to stop spawn camping. Here's what happens: a player can easily place ALL of their units within the safety of the Auto Guns. There is nothing with enough speed, range, or power to destroy some units in this camping ability and escape successfully. As a result, if you try to attack, which you're supposed to do to gain points, you WILL fall behind, no questions asked. This problem is so bad that it's not implausible for two deserving 5 star players to end up in a match that NEVER ENDS UNTIL ONE PLAYER JUST QUITS. Even Exchange of Fire is still infinitely better than this map. That is saying something, as I'll indicate below.
Simple version: camping, first to attack loses
Causes: no center control incentive, lack of anti-camping units
Trapping level: too low
Exchange of Fire
Problems: while Exchange of Fire does deserve plenty of ranting, I have to talk about how I feel about navy in this game first, because certain Stop Having Fun Guys will think navy is an inherently bad idea that shouldn't be in a war game. Never mind that that is an inherently stupid sentiment. The things that gets detested about navy are low unit counts, high difficulty in contesting key areas, and lack of a link between land and sea units. I'll actually grant the last one, but even then that would be fixed by a hovercraft unit that can combat any surface units, since that would actually provide the land force a defense against Battleship shenanigans but the sea units would also have a way of attacking without a Battleship themselves. Contesting key areas, however, doesn't work as an argument, as Cold War shows. And low unit counts isn't inherently a bad thing. They do it in Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn, in the first 3 Part 2 chapters, where you get only a few units, all new and without suitable level up opportunity, and have to use them wisely as a result. Sometimes, you just want to have 4 quality units over 18 soldiers, and it's not like winning with the former against the latter always isn't requiring skill. The Assault maps are meant to prove that. So navy isn't bad, just tends to have bad execution like a lot of stuff in FERD.
However, having few units is actually a problem in this case. The BW2 navy isn't terribly deep, unfortunately. They generally have some degree of AA, yes, but the whole thing pretty much to rock-paper-scissors with each corner unit specializing against one of the 3 unit branches. What really makes the whole thing a problem is the excessive incentive to have the Frigate as the manual unit. The Battleship can't evade enemy fire very well, it can't lock onto dived Submarines, and it's just a target for enemy Submarines. The Submarine is equally unsafe as it gets hit easily by the torpedoes and depth charges. The Frigate is the only thing that can survive being self-countered or hard-countered, by tanking out the Frigates and dodging the shots of the Battleship. And guess what? The Frigate still has the clear majority of the navy's AA firepower. I'd be fine if it was a lower amount simply so that sinking more navy units rather than just the Frigate allowed for aerial approach, but nope, the Frigate has to be the one to do all the AA work.
On top of that, EoF itself has problems. At least there are emplacements near enough the center that they can be sniped by the Dreadnaught (that's right, the Dreadnaught, not the Battleship), so both players ultimately get points, and one of them gets First Strike, minimizing the chances of a tie. But that's the only good thing. If a player's Frigate is deep-sixed, their only way of stopping the Bomber from hitting the Naval Guns, which even provides 200 points for destroying, will be unavailable, given that the AA Towers suck at hitting the Bomber. However, if you have your navy anywhere near the opponent's side, they get swarmed easily, and the Naval Guns will even hit the sea units like bullet trains. Including the Submarines even when they're dived. So the Frigate is easily protected AND you'd want to protect it.
What's really aggravating is that there's NO incentive to keep attacking. The emplacements get destroyed once and then do not come back whatsoever. So whoever gets the early lead wins. If the opponent attacks, they will get massacred and give the player EVEN MORE of a lead. There's no way to hit-and-run fast enough or anything to keep this from happening.
Simple version: oversimplization, limited center control incentive, camping, slippery slope
Causes: messy navy, limited center control incentive, lack of anti-camping units
Trapping level: too low
Problems: okay, so we have Border Patrol. Now keep in mind that my play amount on BP is low, but this is because on it, whoever blinks first loses. Seems like a good idea after EoF, but the whole problem with rewarding a person for having a better state of body like speed and not a better state of mind like patience is simply that being innately faster requires NO work. You are rewarded or punished according to a factor you can't do nearly enough about.
Now what happens on Border Patrol? Simply that there is only ONE AA unit per side, a freaking soldier at that. And it's aggravated by the lack of terrain cover to keep it safe from overpowered air units. As soon as one side's AA unit is nixed, the other player will have their Gunship butcher everything else and laugh. Except the other player's Gunship, because Gunship VS Gunship combat isn't terribly good in this game, even with manual aiming, as the Gunships don't even deal good enough DPS to each other. (There is a reason why Gunships self-counter in the AWs.)
So long story short, the Gunships are easily kept alive and it can easily become a matter of who can destroy the most units if either player blinks. There's no strategy in that. All the whole thing degenerates into is a meager high score race. That would be fine on a level that blatantly expects such things, but not a level where strategy is supposed to be important.
Simple version: camping, shooting minigame
Causes: only one AA unit per side, excessive difficulty in keeping AA safe, overpowered Gunship
Trapping level: too sensitive
Problems: Sand Castles thankfully has less camping problems, simply because the Bomber is powerful and there's only 1 AA Vet. But the very things that kill the problems? Well, remember how I complained about the "high score race" problem that plagues Border Patrol? Well, it plagues this level too.
I'll be fair: Bomber should be rewarded to an extent, since it's hard to control, which makes the map somewhat balanced. However, the problem is that it can manage to spawn camp the opponent. This alone ruins the whole thing because there is NO point in trying to make progress. Infantry get decimated and nothing can be captured. So once again, it comes down to who kills the most infantry. Argh.
At least the map would be more or less balanced if not for the Bomber piloting overrewarding.
Simple version: bombing minigame
Causes: only one AA unit per side, overpowered Bomber
Trapping level: too high
Problems: ho boy, Donatsu Island. You'd think this map would be balanced, but it has SO MANY PROBLEMS. Let's start with the early game: all either side has are infantry. Both players will want to rush the Airbase with their Grunts and Flame Vets, no questions asked, simply because even if either side is delayed, one player will get the Airbase before the Artillery can come in and do anything to stop them, as there isn't even a flag to lower at the start, and the Flame Vets will decimate either side's infantry fast with NO way to stop them. It doesn't even help that Flame Vets move faster than Grunts, so they decide a single area even more easily.
Now each side does have an AA unit that has less limited use if the Airbase is taken, as that would mean it has a valid target to attack. So you would think the Airbase isn't such a big deal. But no, if you remember Border Patrol, you'd remember that the Gunship butchers the AA Vet. Once it does, there's nothing good enough to ground it. And of course, only one player even has the Gunship, so they have free reign on whatever they bloody well please, especially the opponent's Artillery. What makes this even worse is that the AA Vet can't even chase down the Gunship very well, so the Gunship can find an exposed area to hit anyway.
The ironic thing is that if not for the Airbase's stupid low difficulty in capturing quickly, Artillery would be breaking this map so badly. Why? Because rushing the Airbase would actually be PUNISHED BADLY. The Artillery would keep shooting at the flag and kill any enemy infantry that try to snag it. Want to kill the Artillery without a Gunship? Too bad, you have to cross a freaking open bridge to approach it. Your AI forces would get obliterated, and manual Bazooka shenanigans would get intercepted by infantry as well, with more effectiveness than what's pulled on the manual Light Tank. (I'm looking at you, Destroy All Tundrans.)
Simple version: Grunts slower than vets, overcentralizing factors that are decided quickly, slippery slope, lack of feasible land method of dealing with Artillery
Causes: no way to counter Flame Vets early enough, overly easy flag capture, overpowered Gunship, overpowered Artillery, faulty terrain
Trapping level: too high
Problems: despite its balance flaws, Battlestations is surprisingly one of the more balanced maps. But it comes at the cost that it's such a slow map.
Thankfully, the balance flaws are more or less limited to in the early game, where there are no AA units at the start, so the Gunships have free reign on EVERYTHING that isn't the opponent's own Gunships, which themselves do not get killed, but have hideously underpowered self-countering. Granted, the self-countering could just as easily turn a Gunship mirror battle into an overcentralizing factor, until you realize that the Gunships already have the problem of being overly durable to begin with.
Also, be sure to watch out for the opponent abusing this to try to capture your own Factory if you're not looking. Somebody tried this on me and it forced me to destroy their Gunships with manual aiming. At least they ended up with a point trail.
Once the Factories are captured, you get two vehicles. Now you still have only 1 AA unit total, but thank God it's a vehicle, which means it can resist MG fire and air attack. However, the other vehicle is the Battlestation, so please keep it safe.
There is another thing to watch out for: spawn camping. One player can deliver their entire force to spawn camp the other player's infantry. This is the only good thing about the slow pace of the units, as you can intercept such attempts much more easily. If they try it, be sure to destroy the opponent's Battlestation first and foremost to force it to deal with its immense respawn time, using manual aiming with your own Battlestation if you have to, and keep your AA Vehicle nearby to have it laugh off any Gunships. Once the opposing Battlestation is scrap, the opponent won't have a sufficient force to threaten either of your vehicles anymore if they're still in good shape, and you may wish to have infantry supporting your attack now.
But it's bothersome having to counter spawn camping in the first place, especially when the method of countering involves the map's bad pace. Now what makes the pace bad to begin with is simply that it's a pain to do ANYTHING that won't be countered upon seeing on the map. Gunships are the only fast units you have, but those will get decimated by AA before they can deal any serious damage. And your land units will get beaten up by the Battlestation VERY easily as well. Yet if you manage ANY decent offense with the Battlestation, it's a lot of free points for the opponent AND ridiculous impunity for their land force for a while.
Now you can try for using the terrain, as even the mighty Battlestation can't hit stuff that's well covered, let alone destroy it. But the process isn't even fast either, especially with the lack of a Move command like there is in Battalion Wars 1. If it were, center control would be MUCH more useful, if for mere positional advantages.
Simple version: shooting minigame in early game, camping, sluggish pace
Causes: overpowered Gunship, no decent speed units besides Gunship, excessive camping for Battlestation and AI units needed
Trapping level: too low
Let's see what can be done to fix most of these problems:
- Manual unit boosts - REMOVE FROM MULTIPLAYER
- Destruction objectives - balance them better with AA missile fire in mind
- Capture points - more effort to capture, ESPECIALLY for neutral capture points
- Emplacements in general - durability buff
- MG Towers - higher range
- Infantry in general - movement buff, especially for Grunts
- Grunt - actually have their range exist
- Bazooka - distance penalty
- Flame - attack power buff
- Missile - slightly faster chargeup, minor DPS to vehicles
- Assault - no change (environment-induced nerf)
- Mortar - better chargeup power
- Light Tank - movement buff
- Heavy Tank - resistance buff (effectively more HP except they will also benefit more from Jerry Can pickups), maybe minor movement buff
- Battlestation - HP buff, resistance nerf except Air Impact resistance (buff that if anything)
- Recon - bullet resistance nerf
- Artillery - no change (environment-induced nerf)
- AA Vehicle - minor DPS to vehicles, otherwise no change (environment-induced nerf)
- Fighter - resistance nerf
- Bomber - attack power nerf, considerable HP buff but considerable resistance nerf
- Gunship - resistance nerf, maybe attack power nerf
- Naval units - fix up
And I have an idea for multiplayer in the next game.