Rebalance of power

Every so often, developers frustrated with making minor tweaks to unit speed, cost, and power throw up their hands and say, “Screw it! Let’s just patch the ever-living crap out of this mother!” Thus, an essentially whole new game is born. The graphics are the same, but everything else is up for grabs. This is the rebalance patch. In just the past couple of years, we’ve seen:

• Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars patch 1.05 radically changed the pace of the game by adjusting the speed and capacity of tiberium harvesters, weakening tanks, and strengthening infantry. It succeeded in turning the game away from the mad rush to the GDI Mammoth Tank, and the economic adjustments slowed things down ever so slightly.

• With the release of the Forged Alliance expansion, Supreme Commander’s economy was completely revamped to discourage tactics like mass fabricator farms and mass-producing sub-commanders as resource generators, and to encourage taking and holding of resource points on the map. It also greatly reduced the time and resources needed to build experimental units (they were also weakened, but remain a huge threat), making them more attainable in games that lasted less than two hours. The pace of SupCom remained roughly the same, but it played less like SimCity, and you got to play with more of the giant robotic toys.

Even toned down, SupCom's experimental units are deadly - and now there are more of them

• The 1.1 patch for Sins of a Solar Empire is still in beta as of this writing, but the changes are substantial: nearly doubling some weapon cool-down times while shortening others; altering special weapon energy costs; significant damage and hitpoint tweaking; modifying the research tree; increasing fighter squad capacities; and even altering the amount of damage that weapon types do against armor types, effectively wiping the slate clean in terms of which units are effective against which. It’s too early to tell if 1.1 will eliminate missile frigate/illuminator spamming, but more fighters in the air and a weakened Returning Armada will make things interesting, to be sure.

Newer isn’t always better, though; if you prefer the old-school versions, you can always go back if you do a fresh install and play single-player or multiplayer over LAN. Some online services even let you set up games with an old version if you can find another change-averse player to challenge.

September 5, 2008