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Proving Grounds feedback with Morathi and some thoughts in general on the AI

snnnffrknlinsnnnffrknlin Registered Users Posts: 74
I know I am late to the party, but hope I the feedback is still being read.

So I played about 180-200? turns on legendary with Morathi in the testing grounds with Mortal Empires and I'll go through some of my thoughts. First I will just list some of the changes numericly and what I think about them. After that I'll discuss more on AI, pacing of the campaign in general and suggestions for future Proving Grounds. I also provided a table of contents since this thing turned out to be a bit long.

Table of Content

1. No Supplylines

2. Building Conversion removal and cost adjustments

3. Growth re-balance

4. Public Order Changes

5. Unit recruitment doubled

6. Slave economy

7. Auto-resolver

8. Upkeep and Black Arks

9. Mortal Empires Campaign and AI performance

10. Suggestions for future Proving Grounds

1. No supply lines
This was by far the best change in the Proving Grounds since it did one very important thing. It gave me more strategic options. Morathi has a chance to increase loyalty for Lords every turn within the same region, but it was always useless on legendary since the upkeep was not worth it. This was not the case in the Proving Grounds and I had 4 Lords(including Morathi) running around from the start. It was glorius.

It also made it easier to defend city walls since I can send one of said Lords with a smaller army to help said city. From here on out it just became better and better. Since you can have small armies in the city to help defend you can also use the said army to raid and plunder the AI. If they don't attack you, you attack them. You can also use them as raiding parties in general as long as you scout with a hero and send em off into the world of piracy. Suddenly you start to think about just how many units you really need for each Lord. Do it correctly and you can make money off of your armies.

You also opened the door for low tier units to become relevant in the late game. Want to make some extra cash? Let this Lord rip into their territory and avoid the larger armies. Not only that, but buildings that reduce upkeep are VALUBLE now. They REALLY matter. That helps you plan different strategies or routes as dark elves. Want to use hydras? Better march a bit north from Morathi's starting location and get 25% reduced upkeep for them.

I cannot overstate how wonderful this change was and could list examples for days how it made the game better. It felt like you put the strategy back into RTS on legendary and it is a must keep. Do not let this one go.

2. Building Conversion removal and cost adjustments
I must admit I never really noticed the removal of building conversion on occupation. I don't know if it was bugged or I just simply did not notice it. The cost increase on buildings however, is a different story. Personally I think it worked great. It gave me pause since the buildings were so darn expensive, especially tier 5, and it did slow my exspanionist urges. There simply wasn't much point to taking more territory when I could not financially support it.

There was issues with this though due to other changes that were made. I did not really have to support them financially, but I will get into that later on.

The settlement buildings were not aligned on cost. At tier 5 most of them cost 20k gold to build, others had 10k I belive. This was not due to construction cost reduction they were simply cheaper for some reason. I assume this was an oversight, but if it was intended I would want that change reverted so they all had the same price. 20k makes the settlement more valuble and you dread the thought of losing it.

All in all I think it was a nice change since it pumped the breaks somewhat on the campaign and upgrading the settlement actually became a real choice since everything was so darn costly. Also has the effect of keeping low tier units an attractive option for longer. Since the higher tier stuff costs so much just to gain access to. I would keep this change.

3. Growth re-balance
I loved this change aswell. The vanilla campaign was always too fast for my liking and everybody got high tier units too quickly. I am actually wondering if you didn't go far enough with this change and growth is still too high. I am also unsure how to feel about the AI having faster growth rate than the player since it gives them access to tech faster.

But in short: You should keep this change and maybe try to reduce growth further to see what happens. The campaign should feel slower on Mortal Empires at least.

4. Public Order Changes
I liked the feel of it now. No more chain rebellions that you have to put down and have no chance of getting under controll until you have a main settlement with tier 3. Rebels were too frequent in vanilla and this was a nice change. I actually started rebellions in the AI provinces though I can't remember if that is mostly due to the removal of happiness bonuses for the AI in the vanilla version or the changes in Proving Grounds.

My opinion on public order is that you should make sure that raiding hurts and don't let rebels be common stance unless there is raiding happening, and the Proving Grounds seem to stick to this nicely. Good change.

5. Unit recruitment doubled
Again, I love this change. You will really struggle with recruitment now because it eats into your bank. Do you build buildings or do you recruit? Do you really want to disband this unit because it is a 1000 gold down the drain. In vanilla you do not give a s"#t. Disband and recruit willy nilly. Now I have to put thought into my choices and nothing is worse than attacking the AI just to see you needed just half of your army. Losing units also hurts, especially in the early game.

The blue recruitment skill also becomes more relevant since 15% reduction suddenly became more gold. It is still way too low to justify it's existance in my opinion, but it's on the right track. Maybe make it 45% reduction or something and it could be brilliant.

Overall I think it is a nice change.

6. Slave economy
Dark Elves slaves always needed a nerf, but I think you took it a bit too far. Early on I was always choosing to sell captives rather than taking slaves because they were simply not worth it. I like that the slave reduction rate is higher since it gives you a carrot to get out there in the world and plunder.

The slave markets need a little higher value per 100 slaves(not much) but something higher. The next thing that needs to change is the ammount of slaves you get from raiding, and I would go on a little bit on about raiding.

Raiding has always been, well kinda bad. You do not get enough slaves nor money to justify the existance of your army due to upkeep. Now, I did not get to test raiding with a 20/20 low tier army to see if that made the affair more worthwhile. Quite frankly I have not tested the mechanics of raiding. I don't know if 20 dragons raid more than 20 Dreadspears. What I do know is that raiding right now is not worth it.

I had put points in improved raiding and none of my armies managed to get close to their own upkeep and would at most only get 200 slaves per turn. At that time I had 20k slaves and were probably losing something like 500 per turn, if not more. I apologise for the lack of precise numbers, but the Proving Grounds ended. My point however is that raiding needs to justify your army's upkeep. Be that increasing slaves per turn or money per turn.

Perhaps giving the norscan treatment to all factions would be the best option. Reduced upkeep while in raiding stance if you are in enemy territory.

So in short: Increase slave markets per 100 slaves income a little bit and try to make raiding a more attractive option. Slaves being a risky option due to fast reduction feels fine to me. Just as long as the slaves are worth it.

7. Auto-resolver
It was better. One thing it did not fix though was harpies. I kept losing at least one group in battles were I lost nothing else. This is really annoying because harpies is a unit that stays relevant throughout the game. So yeah, I think the auto-resolver is better, but still not good enough since I am losing units that do not need to die. Also some units just seem to take more damage than others for reasons I do not understand. Witch Elves comes to mind. I cannot say anything about artillery since I do not use it while playing as Morathi.

8. Upkeep and Black Arks
It's broken. No two ways about it. I could outfit Black Dragons on my Black Arks that had 0 upkeep. Yup, zero. I completly understand that this is just an experiment and you probably saw this coming, but I absolutely have to point it out. Black Arks have recieved a lot of needed changes, but the upkeep reduction cannot stay the way it is. The Black Arks are way too easy to spawn, too cheap to spawn and too darn effective compared to other Lords.

I would reccomend increasing the ammount of slaves needed for the Rite and probably increase the ammount subsequently for each Black Ark created. Massing these things(Even with the 20 turns cooldown) simply puts a time table on the campaign. When do I win? The AI can't possibly compete with these power houses since the potential for doom stacking is... well... free Black Dragons.

Also Black Arks still cannot replenish their own forces while in hostile waters where as you could replenish within the Black Ark circle with another Lord.

9. Mortal Empires Campaign and AI performance
First off the AI is incapable, it seems, to handle it's own economy(I'm speculating, I don't know it for a fact). It would hire 20 stacks armies and attack, but struggles to get them up again after being defeated. I cannot remember that the AI was this slow to recover in the vanilla nor have this low ammount of armies either. I was actually faster to replenish my own armies when I lost them.

My experience with Tyrion's faction is that they had around 4 armies. 3 of them were mostly filled with Silver Helms, Spearmen, Archers and Lothern Sea Guard. It was Tyrion's army that caused a ruckus you could say. He had 7 or something High Elven Swordmasters while I was still stuck on tier 3. This was a bad experience since I had no way of preparing against this since the AI has larger growth. I still won, but this felt bad strategically because there is no real answer. The AI simply has bonuses you don't. It was after I defeated this army that I noticed the shortcomings of the AI.

It couldn't recover their elite armies again. Once I took their main cities, all they could throw at me was low tier units and I was slowly reaching tier 4 and 5. It just turned into an auto-resolve party. The second part that felt odd is that none of the other factions didn't have any threat to offer either. The only reason I didn't mass expand my empire was because of the Chaos invasion, which was also an auto-resolve party. I don't know why, but there was no late-game threat from anyone. The armies that they could send against me were few and did not really have that many elite units.

I read from the blog post that one of the goals was to keep campaign AI competitive. I think I reached strength rank number 1 on turn 80 and pretty much stayed there throughout the campaign. None of the factions could even push my relative strength to the middle and even though I did not finish per say, there was nothing that could challenge me. The campaign is slower in terms of buildings and unit tiers. My expansion is accelerated though as the AI cannot keep me at bay and rebellions are less frequent.

The AI did not feel more competitive, rather the opposite. It felt weaker. It was not all bad though. I liked scouting after the 2 or 3 armies that I could expect and answer with my own 2 or 3 armies. In vanilla you pretty much play wack-a-mole and just keep hammering the AI. Which leads me to an important point.

If I am to be honest I think what holds back this game the most is the AI in battles. I don't think it is possible to achieve the goal of "keeping the campaign AI competitive" because it was never competitive to begin with it's current battle AI. I don't mean to rag on the efforts being made to improve the campaign AI, but I don't see the same effect that the removal of supply lines did. I am not becoming more strategical against the AI. I do not harass it economicly to harm it, but rather to harvest from it. I still don't know if the agent action "assault building" has any effect on the AI. Nor do I care if it does. Because even if it gains an army that has units in a tier I haven't even reached, it's armies are not frightning. It can rarely beat me in a 1v1 scenario.

There is a phrase I like to use to describe legendary difficulty in Total war: You don't beat the AI, you cheese the AI
As long as that sentence holds true I don't think there is ever going to be meaningful improvement to the campaign AI. Why do you need and army when you can just blob the AI into a ball and set it on fire? In my opinion the battle AI needs to be better in order for there to be any meaningful change to the campaign AI. Or it's just back to wack-a-mole.

Perhaps I am stepping on grounds I have no business stepping on, but maybe the way to go forward would be new technology? I have no expertise on this subject, but OPEN AI has beat top teams in DOTA 2 and Alphastar has beaten pros in Starcraft 2. The technology definitly exists, but I have no idea whether or not this feasible money-wise(or if you can build it in-house at all, I am not a software engineer and have no idea what it takes). If it is possible however, a better battle AI would benefit the game immensly and changes to the campaign AI would be much more meaningful. Once you actually fear going into battle you start trying to find other solutions and new ways to prepare for the enemy army.

I understand that utilizing self-learning AI might be a far-off goal, but I would like to start talking about it so that CA knows it is desired. Maybe not for Total War Warhammer, but future titles could get it. I hate to think that self-learning AI could become another GGPO situation for video games where the technology is available for 8 years and the majority of AAA-titles refuse to implement it(GGPO is a better netcode than delay-based for fighting games. It's mainly japanese studios that hasn't used it. Indie-developers has implemented it in their fighting games so you paradoxicly get better netcode from a bunch of students than a AAA-company. It's bizarre).

10. Suggestions for future Proving Grounds
- Get rid of the province system and turn every city into a major settlement
- Some form of unit cap system maybe baced on upkeep. Single entity armies are not fun to play against and hopefully bring more usefullness to low tier units
- New campaign goals for Mortal Empires: Prepare for the great invasion! You get a random event that says you have "bla bla bla" turns to prepare for a great WAAAGH, beast herd, Settra's expanionists or whatever. Defeating it should count as a short campaign victory
- A realm divide. I didn't like it very much in Shogun 2, but it would be fun to see what happens in Mortal Empires. Everyone gets **** at you and declares war.
- Great unification. At turn so and so all Dark Elves confederate with Malekith. Empire bows to Karl Franz and Brettonia is one again. Keep it random so you are either blessed or screwed.
- Trade spots just like Shogun 2. Just add some spots where you can place your Lords to trade with Ind or something.
- More frequent Chaos invasions with warning and only one wave. Random locations
- Hero taverns where you can hire different heroes. I liked the Markus Wulfhart heroes and would love to see more custom variants.
- Relics for settlements. Just like Heroes of Might & Magic, place a relic in your settlement for bonuses. Have to defend it though.
- Mercenaries from every faction. Hire Greenskins as Empire or High Elves as Vampire Counts.
- Slave ships for Dark Elves. Just remove the ability to instantly teleport slaves into your economy and you now have to use Lords to transport slaves back to where you want them. Hopefully it would give juicy targets for others to attack and maybe plunder your slaves. Or take other Dark Elves' slaves.
- Buildable Forts. As a stance or actual building on the campaign map. It increases reinforcement radius so it's harder to pass making it very good for holding rivers etc.
- Remove underway stance for everyone. Add underground trains for dwarfs so they can fast travel in the mountain.

Thanks for reading.

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