Expansion is dead

This is going to be a long post and I may confuse my timelines a little. Apologies for the wall of text, but I want to ensure I’m clear in my reasoning and outlining the multiple changes that have led us to the meta we have today.

Introduction

Transport your mind back to March 2014. Matiz was king of the game, the meta favoured rushing T2 as quickly as possible and then rolling over your opponent. No one used T1 because it was worthless.

Cola_Colin came along and changed all that. He pioneered the expansion gameplay that became favoured during this T2 era. You expanded hard, you proxied, you hit people from every side. T1 saw a limited use in attempting to shut down an opponent’s expansion while you carried out your own. The opening was slow, but we saw a game of parry and thrust as you attempted to find a weakness in your opponent’s line. Vehicles acted as your sledgehammer, but their speed meant proxying was essential, meanwhile the speed of bots compared to vehicles meant they filled very different yet equally viable role.

King of the Planet 4 - Matiz proxies in the SW

King of the Planet 4 – Matiz proxies in the SW

The balance between T2 factories was excellent. Whether to go vehicles, bots or air as your first T2 was a choice that came down to a player’s style, and that choice had large ramifications for how the late game developed. Of course air had the same problem it has today, you had to have some or you lost.

Not everyone liked it, but I must admit I was a fan of the style and with just a few tweaks to things like turrets I saw it becoming an excellent balance. I think there was an assumption among the community at the time that this is what would happen.

A New Balance

As we know, that’s not what happened. There were a series of major overhauls to the balance completely changing how the game played (leading to yet another “toys out of the pram” community moment). The PA of today has little resemblance to that time. It could be argued that many of the changes made during that time have led to a lot of the performance issues we see today, favouring huge numbers of T1 units.

Expansion has died. Current builds favour almost constant production; you spam Dox and the first person to stop spamming Dox loses the game. Your Commander will do nothing but pump out factories, and you’ll open with one fabber, potentially growing to three later. Expansion is frowned upon because it demands energy, and that means building energy plants instead of more factories and thus you lose the Dox spam war. Elodea is now our king.

If you want to see the evolution of the meta I think King of the Planet is a great way to track it. Except for number 7 🙂

I want to examine the factors that have led us to this rather one-dimensional meta.

The Death of Expansion

T1 Tanks Get a Boost

One of the things to change during the balance overhaul was that T1 tanks got a speed boost. Previously they had been very slow, and this fit into the rough setup that existed of vehicles being the sledgehammer frontal assault mechanism. They also got a DPS and HP bump around the time turrets were being simultaneously nerfed.

Immediately every map in the game became smaller. Expansion was a lot riskier now because turrets were less viable to hold territory, but more importantly the unit your opponent would use to assault your base was now also the best unit to raid you. Shutting down your expansion not only limited your economy, it also grew the army that would win them the game. It became in effect what the Dox is now, though not quite as powerful as it still had its original LOS and no means to attack air fabbers.

King of the Planet 5 - expanding is hard but not impossible

King of the Planet 5 – expanding is hard but not impossible

King of the Planet 5 was fought about a week after these changes were made. Compare it to King of the Planet 4 which was fought under the T2 rush balance.

Dox Get A Boost

In what might be the most radical change to the balance ever, Dox recently received a huge series of buffs. better LOS, better range, ability to go underwater, and a cost decrease. This was all in addition to the speed increase they’d received not long before. It changed the meta overnight, we went from tank battles with inferno and air support with some limited expansion to all Dox all day with virtually no expansion. At the same time the bot factory was changed to become as energy efficient as its vehicle counterpart, using 11 less energy per metal which is an efficiency improvement of 20%.

It felt like a change made too quickly (the T2 rush meta was allowed to develop for almost two months), perhaps because release was quickly approaching, or perhaps due to the way balance was tested smashing units together. There was a feeling in the community that Dox were underpowered, but a lot of this seemed to be back of a napkin math. The streams were showing players starting to work Dox into their game as a means to shut down an opponent’s expansion (as you would back in the T2 rush days). They were proving to be more useful than people gave them credit for. I recall Elodea arguing that they were a viable unit. Had the balance been allowed to breathe for a bit longer I suspect Dox would have had a place.

Now they can do everything too well. Their LOS means they can avoid tanks when they need to, they can scout in place of Skitters and Fireflies, their speed means they pick the place of engagement, it also means expansion is virtually impossible because Dox are everywhere and it only takes one to kill a fabber.

King of the Planet 9 - the NW expansion hasn't even been contested

King of the Planet 9 – the NW expansion hasn’t even been contested

For a while it looked like a balance would be found between Dox and Tanks, with Bumblebee’s getting a change to the way they dropped bombs and being less vulnerable following a reduction in Dox weapon velocity. Unfortunately the meta has once more settled into all Dox, in what can be described as the most tedious meta since the T2 air rushes of January/February.

Expansion was already dying as a means of play, but the Dox boost killed it off. King of the Planet 9 will show you this meta in action, and it’s only gotten worse since then.

Commanders Get a Boost

Factory first was something I was big on. Virtually every game opened with either 2 MEX, 1 energy, 1 MEX, 1 factory or 1 MEX, 1 energy, 2 MEX, 1 factory. You could take a nap during the first minute of play, a minute where no decisions were made.

There was a lot of discussion about how to enable factory first and in the end Uber went with tripling the commander’s income. This led to not only factory first, but factory second too (maybe with a MEX in between).

A modern opening (with second fabber misclick)

A modern opening (with second fabber misclick)

The commander provides such an excellent opening income that play has become all about rushing, it is the only way to play. It is this change which has combined with the other T1 boosts to effectively remove expansion from the game. You can get so many fast units out so quickly that a fabber never has a chance, and your only response is to spam hard right back at your opponent. With the vision and speed of Dox right now there’s virtually no chance of sneaking out some MEX that won’t be discovered.

Fixing the Problem

I hope I’ve convinced you that this problem is real, that we’re stuck in a one-dimensional meta which it doesn’t seem like we’re going to break out of any time soon. I’ve focused on expansion as it seems like the first issue that needs solving. There are issues with the viability of T2 as well, but I don’t want to side-track this discussion into that.

All three changes listed above have led to an increase in rush play, your T1 units are faster, your Dox see further, your Commander can support your war machine. Meanwhile fabbers haven’t changed at all, they’re the same speed and efficiency as ever, which means they’ve been left behind in the arms race that has occurred over the past few months to make T1 increasingly effective.

I believe that the current state of the meta indicates that the balance by extremes approach failed, and I strongly believe that tweaks to the March/April meta would have led to a much stronger balance, therefore I’d like to see a more cautious and incremental approach taken to balance in the future.

My view is that the Commander’s income should be reduced to a third of what it is now (effectively restoring what it used to be), but the amount of storage it provides increased. This would allow for an early factory, but wouldn’t provide the economy necessary to power your entire war machine. It is my hope that this would lead to an increased importance of fabbers, then from there further adjustments could be made as we see whether this is the case.

I hope this will spark some debate.

This article is a repost of this forum post.

Published: 18th November, 2014

About the author

Quitch

Queller AI

Quitch is the creator of the Queller AI, a smarter and more humanlike AI for Planetary Annihilation. He's also very active in the community and likes to put together resources designed to help new players get more from the game. He can regularly be found on PA Chat.

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