The 3.0 update for Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation started off as just some visual tweaks to the benchmark early in 2020 (in what would have been 2.96). Little would we realize that by the end of 2020 we would be well on the way to a more major update.
This revision of the game came with two stipulations:
- Units must feel more differentiated and have a defined purpose.
- Armor Piercing needs to be either 100% or 0%, no more in-between states.
That sounds pretty simple on the surface. In most games, it would be fairly straightforward but Ashes is a different critter. Why? Simply because the engine is non-deterministic: put two enemy units in the same spot a few times and you can get a different result every time. Moreover, changing one stat tends to cascade balance in ways you may not immediately recognize. I could expound on this for paragraphs, but I'm getting off track.
So where did we start on such a task? Symmetry.
Everything in Ashes has some low-level commonalities: faction, unit tier, shields (for Substrate), sight range, etc. The first step for 3.0 was to take these factors and standardize them across units within the same tier. You'll see these in the next section in detail; this allows players to know (and for us to balance) tiers are certain strength levels, etc. No more guesswork at why a Tier 1 frigate can wipe out Tier 2 cruisers!
The second step was to look hard at each unit in the game and focus it. Previously, many units were 'squishy' - you could use them for anything. This is what some players felt turned into the mass wall of death - just build whatever, it doesn't really matter! Well, now it very much does. Just about everything now has a hard counter to it, forcing players to adapt and not rely on masses of whatever.
The third step was to recognize that there are many things in the game that are simply non-symmetric. The PHC and the Substrate each have their unique strengths and weaknesses, but they most definitely have unique units and buildings too (especially with Hunter / Prey). You have to accept that some of this stuff just can't be handled the same way.