General Gampleay/Technical Improvement List
Preface: I’ve been looking for a long time for an MMO city-builder game that could live up to my expectations, and I must say that Dawn of Fantasy has proven to have the greatest potential to do this of any game I’ve so far encountered. The fact that I, a very frugal fellow, bought it the moment it came out on Steam should attest to my excitement over it. The novel approach of combining long-term city-building and real-time RTS has grand potential to become a highly engaging game indeed.
But as with any game, especially newly released games, there is a rich opportunity for improvement, refinement, and repair. So without further ado, in lieu of my own extensive and varied experiences playing other games in the genre, I would like to propose some mechanical and technical alterations to improve on the current Dawn of Fantasy.
Unit Upgrades: I haven’t seen individual unit upgrading like this in an RTS since Empire Earth, and definitely is a wonderful idea for this game. The mechanic allows for customized armies down to the single-units, giving a greater flexibility in play styles and strategies. However, the amounts of upgrade per unit are all the same and really detract from the uniqueness of the units and their supposed traits.
In example, the description for human Crossbowmen says they sacrifice some range and attack speed for increased damage, while the Archers are the counterparts. But upgrading the range on either Archer or Crossbowman increases it at the same increment of +40 per level, which automatically makes this description pointless. My Crossbowmen easily become long-ranged artillery just like my Archers, and so basically the same.
This is true across the board for basic units, as health increases for all human units by 15% regardless of being a foot-knight or an archer, attack 15%, and so on. Because these scales are the same for every unit, it doesn’t promote the feel or idea that every unit is really different, and so I could make a footman as beefy as a knight or as tanky as a battering ram without any effort or consideration as to what a footman’s strengths and weaknesses are.
Solution: Make the scaling values per unit different to reflect unit type. For example, the ranged upgrades for Crossbowmen unit designed for close-ranged damage should scale at a lower rate than those for an Archer designed for longer-ranged combat. This wouldn’t prevent the player from increasing the range for their Crossbowmen or make it worthless to try, but it would better reflect the short-ranged nature the Crossbowman is designed as a unit for. This solution will better prevent homogenization of all range/melee/hero unit classes into bland single-purpose roles across the board, and take better advantage of the whole idea of your unit upgrading system.
Armor Upgrades: This issue needed to be addressed separately from above, but is the same idea essentially. The armor system in Dawn of Fantasy as it currently stands is something that I like. Having only 3-4 types of damage allows a range of play to be considered without making it too complicated (I remember a game where there was a specific damage type for every unit basically, and it was too confusing to make any decisions about). Having Slash, Blunt, and Pierce as the main consideration helps a ton for simplicity and understanding.
However, the problem is that currently armor upgrades are simply too easy to get, too good to be balanced, and too mindless to strategize about at all. A prime example is the encouragement of heroes to immediately ‘Max’ their armor, and at 5% damage reduction per level this is not only easily done but really absurd. A common broken hero in the Elves can make this damage reduction 100% with an ability, and the fact that a unit in an RTS can even do that screams out the brokenness of the situation. If a player wants to make a tank, they just distribute points into those damage reductions without any thought to what should be first or last or more or least, because the current system doesn’t allow the player to consider it.
Solution: Create unit specific trade-offs for each resistance. An example of this would be a Horseman unit that will specialize in killing Archers. Have the upgrades for a Knight’s armor bonus scale up faster than a Cavalier’s (like 5% vs. 3%) given the unit’s nature of being heavily armored. Then give a trade-off for this specialized armor, as in every upgrade of Pierce armor reduces Slashing by 2% and Blunt by 1%. Do this for every one of the armor upgrades so that a player would have to really consider what to upgrade, and creates units that are specialized against particular damage sources. This would still allow for a Tank unit to be made, but it would take much longer and still have to be relatively specialized - is specialized against one damage source very well, two decently well, or all three least well?
Overall this would reinforce the idea of specializations, force the players to make decisions on what sort of unit they would make, preserve weaknesses in some aspect of any unit, and prevent armor abuses like in the Elf Hero case.
Ability Upgrades: Unit-specific abilities are pretty interesting in the game so far. I would be one to promote a choice of one or a few abilities at the start of the unit’s career, like a Foot-Knight getting Prayer to AOE heal or Shield Wall like Footmen to become tankier, or the like. But this is about the existing abilities for now, and that above idea can be looked at later.
The problem is right now none of them upgrade. Neither in cities or on the specific units do you find upgrades for the abilities themselves. The Knight’s Prayer will only every give +5 hp/s, from level 1 on. This makes a huge imbalance across the board, where most abilities are ridiculously helpful in the early game and next to worthless even into midgame. And it is strange to have unit upgrades with everything from armor to movement speed, and no choice at all for upgrading those abilities in any way.
Solution: Make certain abilities upgradable. This can be either as a unit-specific trait like any other, or it could be upgrades as part of a military-wide upgrade, or a combination of both. It would fit in perfectly with the upcoming magic-unit ideas, since upgrading spell effects would naturally make sense, and would allow for players to either focus on or ignore abilities that units might have – Like with the Knight, either make them like a section commander giving increased regeneration or being a good attacking/defending unit. Overall it would add just more to the unit upgrading system already in place.
Attack Move Toggle: Attack Move is extremely helpful in an RTS battle, and I rather like having some units ready to attack move and others to attack specific targets. Both are permissible in Dawn of Fantasy right now, but I’ve encountered two weird problems with it.
First, Attack Move toggles itself off constantly. If I don’t have a unit selected for awhile and had them rush forward, the next time I select them they no longer have Attack Move enabled – it switches back to default. That’s a minor irritation. The more important irritation is the very common event where a retreat must occur. Instead of being able to quickly select all my units, toggle once or twice to change all units to Attack Move or not and so allow an escape where they can all run, clicking this only switches the current assignments. The problem is that I only see the assignment for whatever unit is on top of the stack – and this results in my frontliners to run without stopping while my ranged stand their ground and get killed. What currently has to be done is going into each and every unit and finding those that are Attack Move and switching them, which during a hasty retreat is not only frustrating but very damaging.
Solution: Give an option in Gameplay that allows Mass Attack Move Switch. Whereas if the player selects his army with a mix of Attack Move or Default selected and sees the top unit as either one, selecting the Attack Move will assign that currently displayed option to the whole group selected. That means switching those that need switching, and keeping those already there right there. This would let a player quickly reassign orders and allow a charge for specific army parts or a retreat for sections or whole armies. It should be an option at least since I don’t know how many people like invisible switches, but it must be an option for people to choose! And since this shouldn’t be a giant programming change or load of work, it should be top priority in my opinion for the enjoyment of players.
UI Displays: This is a two pronged problem, the first part being minor and the second game-breaking. First, the UI for units is naturally confusing, but has no guides pointing out what all these numbers mean. Are Hit Points per guy or unit-wide? Does the green bar reflect how many guys are left or total hitpoints of everyone in the unit? What is that percent dealie near the hitpoints? I can’t find a guide on it that shows a picture and points out all the aspects despite looking for one, and perhaps that UI could be simplified or otherwise improved for clarity.
The second is far more important: In the middle of a battle, the overall health/stamina of any unit fails to update. This means that a battle will be happening, and for awhile it looks like the units are just fine, and then all of a sudden their total health shows they are nearly dead. It isn’t that they all suddenly took damage, but that the health bar was not updating for long chunks of time! This display problem has gotten units killed that shouldn’t have died, caused losses for players that could have been avoided, and no doubt plagues more than just myself. This is critical to fix since if people have units that permanently die that they pay for potentially, an error like that could make them stop playing entirely on the spot out of rage and cost your company untold amounts of profit in such promising game.
Solution: The first problem’s solution is to rethink that UI or at least put a help page for it in the tutorial itself and easily accessible for anyone to find (as in, a whole topic on it in the help pages). The second problem appears to be a programming challenge, but whether it is easy or not I cannot stress this enough: This Must Be Fixed Immediately!! No RTS player can properly play without consistently updating information, especially information on unit health. If it isn’t resolved for all players, it risks ruining by itself an otherwise fantastic game.
City Building Mechanics:
Upgrading In General: In most City-Building genres, upgrading is a core concept. Upgrades take time to research, lots of resources to acquire, and move along in gradual tiers up. Dawn of Fantasy’s City Building aspect is primed for just such a gradual upgrading system, except at the moment it isn’t anything like that.
Upgrades are single, instant purchases. For instance, many City Builders with military aspects have general Armor upgrades. Each upgrade is costly and increases a certain type of unit’s (like Footmen, Knight, Archer, etc.) specific armor by portions like 0.5% - 1.0% overall per upgrade, and with 20 or more upgrades possible. While unit upgrades in this game will far outpace these, because they are for ALL units they become even more valuable, and make higher-end armies more overall impressive naturally than early-game armies.
But instead of gradual, costly, time-consuming, and therefore rewarding upgrading like that, Dawn of Fantasy currently just has one “Increase all Pierce Armor by 10%” upgrade that is cheap and instant. I haven’t even really begun playing and I feel like I’ve upgraded nearly everything I can, and it really takes away from the gradual spiral upwards that makes City Building games so delightful to play day after day.
Solution: More upgrades, more gradual upgrades, and many more levels of upgrades for specific things. The Blacksmith should have upgrades for Ranged units in many aspects, like damage and range, as well as special upgrades (like the ability-enabling upgrades currently dotting the place), and the same applies to all other economic/military upgrades in the game. The tooltips would need to reflect this specifically, stating exactly what percents are being upgraded and how much they already are (So at 6th Ranged Damage upgrade would say in the upgrade button “Increase Ranged Unit Damage from 6% to 7%” or similar). And of course make these very costly for the player, so that even late-game players are still upgrading this or that for their armies when even a few percentage increases here or there really matters.
This will keep the upgrading aspect of the game interesting throughout, with real economic considerations as to what upgrades to invest in (Military, Defense, Economic…) and how far, as well as further giving each player a certain unique style (Defensive players will tend towards tanky infantry upgrades or defensive archers or straight City Defense upgrades or a powerful economy, and so on). The more expensive and gradual nature will reinforce this heavy decision-making aspect, and will really differentiate everyone’s town and armies (Very good for players who like customization). And of course those players who really like coming back day after day and feeling the accomplishment of a tough upgrade finally made will be delighted to have so many to entertain them for the whole game experience.
Building Types: I’ve only played humans so far, but so far as I have seen I haven’t had use for building more than one of any particular building. Like the Trade House, the Blacksmith or Storehouse (Especially since those are just for instant and single upgrades), the Barn, and even the military buildings seem just fine if I build only one, but I get all these plot options urging me to spam them across the city for no reason. There isn’t anything I build more than houses, and those are a totally different part of the building action. So what’s the point of having so many options for building special buildings when I’ve already built what I honestly need?
Solution: Obviously have more buildings to build that really matter. Combined with the above suggestion for upgrades, having multiple Blacksmiths for example could lower the overall cost/time it takes to upgrade this or that, which later on for big cities with all these plots would become a big deal since those upgrades would become so expensive and time-consuming. There could be new building types added too, like Training Grounds for training units slowly at the cost of resources and space or Trap Workshops for creating more city defense traps/engines and upgrades or the like. More buildings to make upgrades/units/stuff, plus that encouraged economically, militarily, or defensively the more of them you had.
With limited plots this would again force the player to strategize what buildings to build instead of having it all done the same. A defensive player would build more buildings to strengthen walls and traps, while a militaristic player would do for more military production/enhancement, and so on. Like the trade-off idea in upgrading armor, no player would be supreme in Economy, Military, and Defense if this and my other suggestions are followed, and that makes for a far more dynamic and creative experience for players both in building and contending with others.
More ‘Stuff’ In City To Do: This is obviously broad and others have talked about their ideas for it, but I agree – there should be more stuff to do in the city if you’re not on the world map. Early on you get those quests of troubles to take care of in the areas of your city, and later on there should be things like that to do.
Solution: Maybe Daily Quests of collecting something somewhere (non-military) in your little city where the player would have to look for it like an easter egg, or possibly some weakened/broken walls that need direct maintaining that will actually matter in a seige, or some bandit issues that wouldn’t annihilate your peasants but maybe harass them and lower production until taken care of, cave systems with elimination quests as someone else wisely suggested in a thread here, and so on. Give the player something to do in their pretty city they are building, and encourage them to explore it and interact with it more than they do now. Keeping these ‘Things to Do’ in town optional as opposed to absolutely demanding (like wolves outright killing peasants and ruining economies), and as Daily Quests for rewards it would make that Dailies idea way more interesting and fun to actually do.
City Building Technicalities:
I can’t think of any off the top of my head that are really pressing, but if I do I’ll add them later. This list is already decently long, so I’ll just go to conclusion for now.
There are many other things that can be tweaked and changed in order to improve Dawn of Fantasy, but for me this is a good place to start. Most of what I’ve suggested would be fairly simple to fix, and especially issues like the display bugs and the unit balancing need to be addressed as a priority in this game. Once these foundations are really set and perfected, so many wonderful additions can be made here that will certainly make this game the best City-Building RTS MMO I’ve had the privilege to play. Comments from fellow users would be welcome (if any of you actually read things like this), and definitely a response from the developers on what they think of these suggestions would be most appreciated.