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A variety of RTS games uses a squad mechanic for their infantry units. Whether it’d be squads with reinforcements in Company of Heroes or more disposable squads in Command and Conquer 3, squads add some interesting mechanics to game play. Today we will take a look at squads in Command and Conquer Rivals to get a better idea of how they work and how to use them better.

Pros and Cons

Squads have a downside that is immediately apparent even to new players. As more members of a squad is lost, the dps of the whole squad decreases. Overall dps loss is the percentage of squad members lost. For example, a riflemen squad (5 members) with 1 members left will only have 20% of its dps left. This is all good in theory, but squad mechanics will be a little more complicated on the battlefield. We will look at that in the next section.

The downside to squads is pretty severe. Are there any benefits? Squads have an advantage at being sticky and holding pads well. This stickiness comes from the fact that many attacks in the game only target a single member of the squad. This means that the towering titan with a huge particle beam cannon can only kill one rifleman at a time*. With a relatively long time between attacks, titans will struggle to clear a riflemen squad in a timely manner.

*Further investigation reveals that each Titan shot actually kills two riflemen. This may be a special case to prevent riflemen from delaying a Titan by too long. Will update again once devs give an answer. Edit: Although the devs did not give a response, it would seem that Titan can kill 2 squad members if they are physically lined up. Rockworm would’ve been a more appropriate example here.

This stickiness was best demonstrated and utilised by drone swarms (4 members) before they were nerfed. With fastest (which is now nerfed to fast) speed and flying movement type, they could easily access all missile pads and hold or contest them to get a launch. Drone swarm’s flying trait ensured that only some of your opponent’s units could attack it. Those that could attack the drone swarm will be slowed down by the drones’ squad trait. For example, pitbulls have enough damage to kill a drone swarm in about 5 shots. However, because each individual drone will take two shots to destroy, the actual engagement will require the pitbull to fire 8 shots. That’s a pretty long time for a 40 cost unit with a favourable match up to destroy a 10 cost unit.

A Detailed Look

Before we get further into the consequences of being a squad, let’s first try to understand how squads work exactly. Here is a gif of a laser squad fighting a buggy. For each point about squads below, we can use this gif to confirm our observations. Thanks to Silvercruise for the creating the gif and allowing me to use it.

From observing squads, we can see some patterns in all squad based units.

  1. Squads have a squad “leader”, this is the unit on the right hand side of the squad at about the 3 o’clock position. This member will attack first in an engagement with the enemy.
  2. After the squad leader attacks, remaining members will attack in a clockwise order.
  3. There is a delay between each member firing*, probably hard coded as a part of a squad’s statistics.
  4. Each individual member has a reload timer. This combined with point 3 allows the unique attack style of attack bikes, which have almost no delay between squad members attacking but each individual member has a long reload.
  5. When receiving damage, the last squad member to attack will receive damage first, going in a counterclockwise order with the squad leader being the last to die. Of course, when receiving AOE style damage like inferno bombs and Tiberium, all members will take equal damage.

*Confessors, with a very high attack speed (very short reload for each member), seem to be able to defy this point and have the squad leader attack again before the last member finishes attacking. One possible explanation for this is that the delay between each member firing only applies in the first cycle through the squad. Feel free to let me know if you have an idea on or know how this is implemented.

Consequences

In the gif, we see that the fourth member never got to attack. The squad leader and the second member was able to get in 2 attacks, and the third member attacked once. Towards the end, it looked like the squad leader was very close to reloading and attacking again, meaning that this engagement was very close. Had the laser squad done a bit more damage, perhaps with a few bars of training advantage, the squad would actually survive with 2 members.

This leads into the next point. Squads exacerbate level advantages. For example, banshees take two attacks to destroy an attack bike. With two levels of advantage, banshees can one-shot individual bikes. This actually reduces the time to kill by 60%. Originally, the banshee would have to reload 5 times, but now it only needs 2 reloads. Two squads of bikes are much less effective counters to banshees in this situation.

Similarly, squads with level advantages change match ups by quite a bit. Normally, riflemen squad members are one-shot by shockwaves and flamers, but take two hits to kill when having a two-level advantage. This increase the 4 reloads required for heavy infantry to kill the riflemen to 9 reloads, which is worsened by the fact that the riflemen will kill one of the heavy infantry squad members during the engagement.

Other Uses

When not complaining about level advantages, we can have other practical uses out of this knowledge of squad mechanics as well. For example, if the same buggy were to fight two laser squads, one with full strength and the other at half strength (2 members), it would actually be more beneficial for the buggy to target the full strength squad to stop the last member from attacking. Although it’ll still lose the engagement, it will survive a bit longer to deal more damage overall. This might be counter-intuitive to the idea of focusing low health units to eliminate their dps.

Additionally, we can see how vulnerable squads really are, especially when attacking into enemies. Squads may lose members before even having a chance to attack when fighting defender’s advantage. This means that it might be beneficial to sacrifice squads even above half health, depending on the situation, to free up population. Simply march them to your opponent’s base and stand beside your opponent’s unit spawn point if you see your opponent avoiding killing your low health squads. When their next unit spawns, your squad will immediately be attacked. Alternatively, sending a near death squad onto a tiberium field will also do the job, albeit a bit more slowly.

Final Thoughts

Although this is a post in the Fundamentals series, some of the information in this article is more advanced. After all, squad mechanics are simple if we ignore the details and just say squads lose dps after suffering losses.

There are likely more tactics that will make better use of squads (perhaps pulling the laser squad back a hex after the third member fires in an engagement against a buggy) for us to discover and better our game play. The amount of depth that Rivals holds is surprising and welcome.

Feel free to tell me other insights you have about squads that I have missed, or leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts.

Good luck on the battlefield.