So I think many people have identified that the "spam" early-aggro meta is very dominant and not very fun to play against. In my expert opinion, this meta is tied to game design rather than balance. Instead of having an RTS with deep decision making, the games often devolve into a "who spams harder" style - where the player who presses an attack with as many forces as possible as soon as possible has a clear advantage. The choices to make in this game are too obvious and contribute to a dull and frustrating gameplay. Of course, DoW is a game about map control and not sitting in base, so there will always be a dominant strategy to build units over not. However; the game currently tilts too hard in that dominant strategy (i.e. Meta) direction. The traditional counters for a "rush" style would be to commit as little resources as possible to the defense while gaining a lead in tech or economy (building gens, harassing gens, "Stall" units like snipers, etc.) are much harder to execute current as opposed to the relatively easy Box Select>A-click giant spam army into the enemy. I will talk what factors contribute to this Meta, and what changes to make to tilt the game back towards a more stable/traditional RTS pacing. (Which is to say: to increase the viability of diverse builds such as "macro" builds or "tech" builds - builds that are actualized over time instead of the brutal first 10-min opener of "Tact marine Spam.")
Here are the design areas that should be changed:
1.) Map design
2.) Objectives' design
3/) Building design
4.) Elite Point design
Currently, most maps are wayyyyyyyyyyy (read: in excess) to small. I somehow doubt that Relic really thought about/relentlessly tested their map design philosophy and just sort of drew inspiration from previous Dawn of War maps and their own intuition. This formulation is why there are such big flaws in current map design. Some maps are good, like mortis vale, crucicble of vaul, and K'homet's Pass. These are on the upper end of map size in our current pool. These maps, I find, actually play a lot better than the others due to their increased size. For example: if you want to build a forward barracks in the middle of the map, you expose your natural points to harass (meaning you are trading off some map control in the form of static position). However, on maps like port saunderus, charon's rest, Mork's Mire, or that circle-3v3 it becomes too easy to attack and pressure your opponent. Your units literally take 10 steps outside their shield gen on they are on the front-lines. Due to the negligible travel-time, rush builds can very quickly start to apply pressure and make value.
Now imagine if the travel time was 30 seconds instead of ~5-10: that extra time can make all the difference in the world early-game. For example; let's say you wanted to get a fast-LP + barracks units and opt to have only 2-generalist units at the start of the game. Normally, these 2 squads have a very high chance of meeting a powerful force of 3+ squads pretty quickly, meaning you are gonna to be on the back-foot and fighting in this disadvantage state until your tech (lootas/devs/rangers) comes online. The extra 20-30 seconds of time it takes to start fighting would mean a great deal for these openings. Now imagine a game where you must constantly be managing units over a large area (which is harder than just moving the cursor on the screen which can easily cover a large % of the map), and sending your rush as a stream of reinforcements to attack - just like now. The travel time will stack-up, granting valuable time to get that LP up, or a webway, or get that 2nd Lootas squad where 1 just isn't enough. Essentially, the defender's advantage is more pronounced when the maps are bigger. As such, the games will tend to progress more towards mid/late game rather than culminate in the first 10 min.
Another example: think of Charon's Rest/Mork's mire - I'm sure we all played a game where an opponent just rushes everything mid (or "top" in Mork's mire) and just play the game from there. It's pretty clear why: these zones control over half the map in just one spot! Rather than having to choose where to send your army (and therefore rely on recon to identify where to go), you just walk down middle and fight. If you win, you basically start to win the entire game as you can either slowly develop the field or, as is more often the case, press the attack on the shield generator. Worse comes to worse, you just take 5 steps back in your back to safety at your base! The risk of attacking on the maps is very small as you can make it to safety much easier than on bigger maps, where getting caught out of position means no escape.
As such, all maps need to be BIG - and I mean really big. Like, K'homets pass/Mortis vale should be the standard size, but I would even like to see bigger maps introduced. I've already made posts about the awesome work of our Community Map Makers who tend to make the maps much bigger than Relic: a great example of how the game be played in this setting (I've played them). DoW3 functions much more similarly in gameplay style to Starcraft or other classic RTS (mostly because units cannot reinforce on the field nor fall-back. So an attack gets "spent" in this game); and since the function so similarly, it needs to copy their map design philosophy (nice and big basically that represents a balanced take on the amount of cover/shot-blockers/open area/stealth cover). I truly believe that this game flows so much better when the maps are bigger.
Small maps incentives and encourage rush and spammy style early aggro - big maps will reduce these incentives and therefore encourage more "stable" gameplay.
In theory, I like the idea of objectives - they direct the action as on overall objective as well as provide buffers for comebacks. However, they often have the reverse effect and end up allowing your opponent to snowball to victory due to their income reward - but that what player-testers are for! Obviously, the shield generator is an excellent defense point, so it's unlikely to die when the game is even. However, when you fall behind or lose a major fight, the shield generator can be killed somewhat easily, and at the worse time too: Not only did you lose the fight, but now your opponent has 550+ req, 50+ power, and 1+ Elite point. Most importantly, that +1 EP is what really snowballs your early game aggro to GG. Most players in 2v2/1v1 often take a 2-point and a 3-point (or 2 of any 2-4 point elites). It's no coincidence this has become the most popular meta strategy since day 1: having 2 elites come out in quick succession so early is a HUGE power spike. That 1 Elite point has just shaved 2 minutes from that Elite - meaning you are fighting DeathWatch + Dio at 8 min instead of 10. And since you really only lose shield gen if you are doing bad - this power spike is often enough to seal the game. The turrets act in a similar manner - they often die not during closely-fought fights, but when you have nothing to defend them - so the massive income boost just makes a bad situation worse. The only times when objectives don't really contribute to the snowball effect is when the battle to kill it was closely fought (i.e. you traded units for the turret) or when the game has gone or for a long time (so the income boost is a smaller % of your total eco, and therefore not a significant).
Relic has already stated they are looking into this issue but I would like to confirm their suspicions that some tweaks are needed:
Change Shield Generator Reward from 550/50/1 to 550/25/0.
- With this change, killing the shield generator will basically just help to replenish losses rather than give you a big advantage in tech or Elites (both options that can close-out games). If the opponent does decide to go super-hard into early-rush, you can trade and bleed the basic units as best you can while you concentrate on tech or something. It will then be feasible to even sacrifice the shield generator in order to stall for time. Due to the EP reward, making the willing decision to lose a shield generator is almost always bad (and therefore forces you to make a strategy centered on defending the shield generator from the rush - i.e. Meta).
Change Turret Reward from 1000/100/1 to 550/100/1
- Again, this will help prevent snowballing, but considering how strong a turret cant be to take down, it should have somewhat worthwhile reward. Plus, by the time a turret is down, 100 power and 1 EP mean a lost less than it does in the early game. As such, this reward also functions more as a replenishment rather than adding extra army.