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Dual Mode Unit

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A Real-Time Strategy unit type. It has two different weapons, functions, or abilities that can be switched between manually, or chosen automatically depending on the target. Sometimes you may have to research the secondary form before the unit can access it.

There's always some kind of trade-off in these cases. Often, a unit must park itself to use its secondary mode, but gains extended range and attack power as a result, or it loses the ability to target ground units for the power to hit air. Sometimes, a unit can even switch from a land form into an air or sea form. Other times, the secondary mode might just be an outright Super Mode, with the catch being some new contrived weakness, a time limit, or even a high resource or XP cost to obtain it.

It's a step up from Crippling Overspecialization, but beware. It may just end up with two different crippling overspecializations. This type of unit might be a Military Mashup Machine, but it doesn't have to be. See also Stance System and Anchored Attack Stance.


  • StarCraft really got the ball rolling. Nearly every Terran unit has some kind of special ability, but the one that fits the pattern best is the Siege Tank. It goes from a mobile tank with a decent cannon and no minimum range (a bit lacking in the ability to, well, tank) to a fixed artillery gun with a powerful, long-range attack with Splash Damage. Other units have different attack modes for air or ground targets, but that mode switch is automatic.
    • StarCraft II features the Viking, a Transforming Mecha that can switch between a ground-based and aerial unit. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm introduced a "walker" mode for the Hellion jeep that makes it slower moving but more durable. StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void adds Liberators, which acts as the aerial counterpart to Siege Tanks, switching between Fighter mode that's mobile and fires anti-air missiles, and a stationary Defender mode that fires powerful shots at ground units within its area.
    • Traditionally the Zerg burrow units to hide them from the enemy, but the Lurker — which is completely unarmed in its standard walking mode — turns into a horrible slice-and-mince troop blender when burrowed.
  • The Command & Conquer originally used this sparingly:
    • The first example came in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, where Nod's Tick tanks could deploy into a stationary turret (and undeploy into a tank again, if necessary). Nod's Artillery, and in the expansion, GDI's Juggernaut were technically this, though in their case they needed to deploy into stationary mode to attack at all.
    • This was expanded upon in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, where Allied GI units (their basic infantry) could deploy behind sandbags to increase their range, power, and defense at the cost of movement, and the IFV, which could carry a single infantryman, and swapped out its missiles for a different weapon depending on which trooper was in it. The Expansion Pack added Guardian GIs, whose deployment allowed them to attack armor and Anti-Air.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 specifically designed every unit to have a special ability, which often meant an alternate mode. The special abilities range from weapon switches like Conscripts that can switch from assault rifles to molotov cocktails; to units that deploy into expansion structures such as Sputniks and Prospectors. The Empire of the Rising Sun is the real standout, as they are the only faction that does not have an airbase structure because all of their air units are transformed from ground or sea units (Mecha Tengu > Jet Tengu, Striker VX > Chopper VX, Sea Wing > Sky Wing), or infantry with jetpacks such as Rocket Angels (who either shoot photon rockets or unit-disabling beams).
      • The Soviet Hammer tank can use its regular gun or the Leech Beam, a life-draining attack with longer range and also lets it steal weapons from its victims. Its main gun and alternate weapon can then be used (but it can't change the new weapon again). The Apocalypse tank can disable its main guns in exchange for a magnetic that drags vehicles into industrial grinders (or vessels ashore).
    • Red Alert 3's expansion, Uprising, gave everyone another Dual Mode Unit: The Pacifier FAV (a Siege Tank in all but name, but its mobile form is amphibious) for the Allies, the Giga Fortress (anti-everything floating fortress that turns into a flying siege weapon) for the Empire, and the Reaper (a Stone Wall Spider Tank dedicated to More Dakka, that can jump on enemies to crush them, permanently becoming an immobile turret in the process) for the Soviets.
      The Harbinger gunship either flies in a circle around its target shooting what are essentially mini-nukes, or fires a 25mm chaingun. The futuretank was possibly intended to be a Dual Mode Unit based on absent quotes (it fires expanding spheres of energy but can also fire criss-crossing beams), but this alternate mode is instead a cooldown-based ability.
  • Spin-off studio Petroglyph's game Universe at War had the Masari, whose entire military doctrine relies upon this trope. All units and buildings could switch between Light and Dark Mode. Light Mode increased the damage and sight range of units, while Dark Mode strengthened their armor instead (air units would also be grounded by switching). Even the superweapon of the Masari behaved differently depending on its mode.
    • The catch is that the change is global - all of your units have to be in the same mode.
  • Star Control had two: First, the Mmrnmhrm X-Form, a swing-wing ship with two modes, one was slow but nimble and armed with short range lasers while the other was fast, armed with (very) long range slightly guided rockets and all the nimble turning speed of a anvil. Second, the Androsynth Guardian which could turn from a slow ship into a destructive comet, trading maneuverability and weapons for speed and the ability to ram.
  • All units from Ground Control 2 have two functions. The basic infantry freeze in place, but switch from their rifles to a more powerful rocket launcher. The APC switches from an anti-infantry machine gun to a concealment-granting smoke grenade, etc. The Virons are able to Fusion Dance two units into a different one and vice versa. This only applies to playable factions, though. None of the units of the unplayable Terran Empire have a secondary mode, even if the faction is enabled via a mod.
  • Most Transforming Mecha in the Super Robot Wars series are given dual modes when playable. For example, the Valkryies of Macross, or the Original Generation mecha Cybuster, Real Personal Trooper Type-1 (R-1), and Valhawk, which are often faster in their flying modes, but usually have more attack options as mecha. The Grungust has this, as well as another alt-mode (Gust Lander) that transforms it into a tank.
    • Mecha like Getter Robo, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, or Aquarion are also multi-formed. Most of these will sacrifce power and defence for speed. Usually one form will be MUCH more helpful than the others, but some games will make the differant forms more balanced.
  • Almost all units in Star Wars: Empire at War and its expansion, including heroes. Most of the time, this helps to offset Crippling Overspecialization. Artillery units have to deploy to fire their main weapons, AT-AT's can deploy stormtroopers, Airspeeders can use their harpoons and tow cables to trip up AT-AT's (except Blizzard 1, and sometimes the move doesn't work), Immobilizer 418 cruisers (aka Interdictor Star Destroyer's or Interdictor Cruisers) must manually activate their Gravity Well Generators, and also have a missile/torpedo-jamming ability, Crusader-class corvettes can shoot down incoming missiles/torpedoes, etc. etc.
  • Quite a few in the Nintendo Wars series. For example, Tanks and Mechanized Infantry units usually carry an anti-vehicle weapon (Cannons for the Tanks, Bazookas for the Mechs) and an anti-infantry weapon (Machine guns and rifles.) The anti-infantry weapons can be used on vehicles if the anti-vehicle weapon is out of ammo, but it does considerably less damage, and in earlier games in the series, it also has limited ammo.
  • Unreal Tournament 2004 brings us the Leviathan, a land-based gunship with a rapid-fire homing missile launcher you really don't need to aim and four individually-controlled turrets. Then it unfolds, revealing a mantis-head turret that fires a beam, producing an explosion larger than even the infamous Redeemer missile. With infinite ammo, no less. The catch is, of course, when unfolded, you're EXTREMELY vulnerable to aerial vehicles like the Raptor and Cicada.
  • The Cybran Nation in Supreme Commander has a T2 naval unit that can sprout legs and walk on land. This transition takes a significant amount of time.
    • The Cybran T1 anti-air unit the Sky Slammer, and it's other T2 naval unit have light surface to air homing missiles. They can be switched to rapid fire, non-homing rockets which attack ground instead.
  • Warcraft III has several examples:
    • Human:
      • The Human Footman unit can go into Defend mode, which basically makes it much tougher against Piercing damage (most ranged attacks), but makes it move much more slowly. The Footman remains the same basic light melee unit in both modes, so it's not a very drastic mode change. The ability can also reflect Piercing attacks, which actually makes it possible for the Footman to kill some air units.
      • Whenever the Call To Arms ability is used at the Human Town Hall, nearby Peasants will temporarily turn into Militia, a weak melee unit that loses its ability to harvest resources and build structures. This is primarily used to defend Human bases, by pitting attacking armies against a numerical superiority.
      • The Phoenix summon from the Blood Mage is a strange case. It does have two modes, but its second mode is actually its weakness. Whenever the Phoenix dies, it will turn into an egg. It stays this way for ten seconds, after which it will turn into a phoenix again. If it is defeated as an egg, the unit is destroyed.
    • Orc:
      • The Tauren Spirit Walker can switch between Ethereal and Corporeal Forms. Although it remains essentially the same unit(a support caster) in both forms, it cannot attack and becomes immune to physical damage in Ethereal Form, although it becomes more vulnerable to magic.
    • Undead:
      • The Undead Gargoyle is a light flying unit regularly, but can be upgraded with Stone Form. In Stone Form, it cannot move or attack and becomes a ground unit, but becomes extremely tough and regenerates quickly. The Undead Crypt Fiends and Carrion Beetles have a similar ability, Burrow, which makes them incapable of moving or attacking, but makes them invisible and allows them to regenerate quickly.
      • The Sacrificial Pit building can turn Acolytes, one of the undead worker units, into Shades, which are invisible scout units. This process is irreversible.
      • The Undead faction's Obsidian Statues in normal form act as mobile healers and mana restorers, but can later be switched into Destroyer Form, turning them into powerful flying anti-caster units. Unlike all the other dual-mode units in the game, however, Destroyer Form is a permanent change and a Destroyer cannot be turned back into an Obsidian Statue.
    • Night Elf
      • The Night Elf Druids can, after you have researched the proper upgrades, transform into animal forms that function as very different units. The Druid of the Claw is a healer and support caster in default Night Elf form, but becomes a powerful heavy melee unit in Bear Form. The Druid of the Talon is a disruptive caster in Night Elf form, but becomes a flying scout and anti-air unit in Crow Form. In the expansion, they can be upgraded to be able to cast their allied-damage-enhancing / autocast-enemy-armor-removing basic spell while transformed.
      • Night Elf Archers are basic ranged units that need to be produced en masse to be useful, Hippogryphs are flying creatures that can only attack other air units. There's an upgrade that allows an Archer to ride a Hippogryph, losing the stronger anti-air attack in favor of attacking both ground and air, not to mention having higher health. In the expansion, it can also be reversed after a cooldown, in case a large force of air units is encountered.
      • Some of the Night Elves' buildings are actually sentient trees called Ancients, which can be 'Uprooted', transforming them from buildings into slow-moving melee units. While Uprooted, the Ancients lose their regular building functions(training or upgrading units, harvesting gold, etc.) and lose their Fortified armor type, but gain the ability to move around(very slowly), and eat trees to regenerate their HP. Usually it is used for repairing the Ancients via the Eat Tree function or moving them to a new location, as they are too slow and too valuable to be used as combat units on a regular basis.
      • The Ultimate ability from the Night Elf Demon Hunter allows him to temporarily turn into a demon himself, giving him 500 bonus health and a ranged attack dealing Chaos damage.
    • Neutral
      • The Goblin Tinker, a neutral Hero unit, can gain the ability to enter Robo Goblin mode upon reaching Level 6. Robo Goblin mode is tougher, stronger, gets devastating bonus damage against buildings, and becomes immune to most offensive spells, but it doesn't regenerate like a normal Hero would and cannot be healed by conventional methods, but instead needs to be repaired like a building.
      • The neutral Pandaren Brewmaster hero's ultimate ability allows it to temporarily split into three different units with distinct abilities and spells and reform as long as at least one of these is still alive (and one of them can turn invisible).
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War: Most units have both melee and ranged attacks, and switch between both when ordered. However, they go into melee if attacked by a melee unit, leading to problems with Crippling Overspecialization ranged units.
  • Trebuchets in Age of Empires II need to be manually packed to move and unpacked to fire, and take several seconds to do so. Thankfully, they'll do the latter automatically when they move into range of the target.
  • Artillery units in Age of Empires III are capable of moving while in their firing mode, but do so at about a third normal speed. With the exception of the Iroquois Light Cannon, anyway.
  • Artillery units in Rise of Nations switch modes more and more quickly as you move forward through the Tech Tree — initially it takes quite a few seconds with the catapult, which must be assembled and armed, whereas it takes only a split second with the rocket artillery while the missile launcher is tilted upwards.
  • Nod Artillery and the GDI Juggernaut in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun also follow this model.
  • This even shows up in the distinctly 4X Civilization V, where Siege unitsnote  must "set up" to fire, expending a movement point. After setting up, they may either fire or move, but not both (since moving "repacks" them).
  • The Long Tom Artillery Tank in MechWarrior Living Legends must be deployed in order to fire its 30 ton high explosive cannon, which can smite an enemy BattleMech (and instagib light mechs) from almost two kilometers away if the pilot has a Target Spotter aiding them.
  • Cannons in Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds are helpless unless deployed. When they are, though, they're one of the longest-ranged units in the game, capable of raining incredible destruction on enemy fortresses and turrets.
  • The Civil War Generals games had most units with two formations, typically one for movement and one for combat. Some units (the HQ and artillery units) were immobile in their non-movement formation.
  • World in Conflict: All units have 2 different secondary abilities, and/or types of ammo. Jeeps can repair other vehicles and change to heavier ammo, infantry can speed up, APC can fire anti-tank rocket etc.
  • Emperor: Battle for Dune: House Ordos' heaviest tank the Kobra has two modes one mobile and one stationary.
  • In Stronghold 2, knights and lords can be mounted on horses, turning them from the slowest to the fastest regular units in the game.
  • League of Legends has several examples:
    • Nidalee, who either serves as an assassin either at-range or close up, shifting between human and cougar form.
    • Udyr, whose uses four stances to modify his basic attacks with other effects for rapid single target damage, area-of-effect, tankiness or crowd control.
    • Jayce, whose weapon serves as either a cannon or a hammer, each of which carrying wildly different abilities.
    • Gnar, who has both a frail and nimble ranged form (Mini Gnar) and a tankier melee form with lots of crowd control (Mega Gnar). Each form has a different set of skills, but the catch is that you have almost no control over his transformations thanks to his rage mechanic.
    • Kled, who rides a lizard, called Skaarl, that will flee after recieving enough damage, leaving Kled on foot (who is slow, but moves faster when chasing toward enemy champions) and with only two of his abilities (Pocket Pistol, unique to his unmounted state, and Violent Tendencies). He can mount back on Skaarl after dealing
  • Several vehicles and armor types in both PlanetSide games have multiple modes:
    • The Terran Republic's Prowler main battle tank in Planetside 2 is moderately armored, fast, and kitted out with a pair of 120mm cannons. Its primarily "Utility" ability is Anchored Mode, which causes its wheels to deploy pitons into the ground, locking it in place, and ramping up its dakka potential to a whole new level - when maxed out, Anchored Mode increase the rate of fire by 48% projectile speed by 30%, allowing it to blast vehicles from a kilometer out with its rapid fire Armor-Piercing cannon or swat aircraft out of the sky when parked on a hill, or murder all infantry within half a mile when kitted out with the High Explosive cannons.
    • The TR's MAX armor in both games has Lockdown, which like the tank, anchors the MAX into the ground with thigh-mounted pitons, while increasing its rate of fire and reload speed. Lockdown in the original game was significantly more powerful than in the sequel, at the cost of the MAX being the weakest when not locked down.
    • The Ancient Tech Flail and Switchblade in the original game could all deploy for alternate abilities. The Switchblade functioned like a weak Hover Tank normally but could deploy into a turret, whereas the Flail was unarmed while mobile but could deploy into an artillery vehicle and fire a shell that would travel for kilometers.
  • The raft and air balloon units in Genjuu Ryodan can switch from on foot to in transport and vice versa, which consumes one turn.
  • In the original SNES version of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, mounted Cavaliers/Social Knights are horse mounted units with Lances that can dismount to travel on difficult terrains or indoors, as well as to switch their weapon type from lance to sword. While it also existed in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War and was refined in Fire Emblem: Thracia 776, only Seliph can dismount in the former (and it's merely cosmetic to boot) and in the latter forced units to wield swords when dismounted, which happened to be bad news if they didn't possess a high rank in swords. This mechanic wouldn't return until Fire Emblem: Three Houses, where it was further refined due to allowing mounted units to not only wield the same weapons they had while mounted, but also offered some benefits for it; Cavaliers gain a small increase to their speed stat, while airborne units lose their Anti-Air weakness at the cost of a small decrease to speed, and both unmounted Cavaliers and airborne units gain access to Gauntlets.
  • In Might & Magic: Heroes VI, the Necropolis' Fate Spinner unit can choose to take the form of either a Spider Person with a ranged attack, or a woman with multiple arms, losing the ranged attack in favor of stronger melee attacks and counter-attacks.
  • Battle Zone 1998 and its sequel possess many:
    • Turrets in both games are completely harmless when mobile, but when anchored down they can fire an incredibly accurate machine gun with a massive pool of ammo and become immune to sniper fire.
    • The signature Base on Wheels, the Recycler, and its specialized Factory and Armory support units of the first game are fairly quick, well armored and posses Regenerating Health, but must deploy on top of a geyser to power its vehicle construction mechanism.
    • The Howitzers of the first game and the Scion Archer of the second are long-ranged fire support weapons that must anchor down to fire. The Howitzers have very impressive range but are slow and can only hover, whereas the Archer is shorter ranged but can fly.
    • Scion Hover Tanks in the sequel possess a Combat and an Assault mode which they can freely morph between. Combat is more agile, has weapons more suited to fighting other tanks and has slight ammo regeneration, while Assault is slightly more durable, minor Regenerating Health and has weapons suited to attacking buildings and assault units either from very long range or point-blank.
  • Bastion of Overwatch can shift at-will between Recon form, his fairly standard mobile form armed with a rifle, or Turret form, which trades his ability to move for an extremely high-damage, rapid-firing gun.
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time has a few Plants that have different modes depending on circumstances:
    • The Red Stinger serves as a strong attacking plant when placed near the lawn, a hybrid offense/defense plant when placed in the middle, and a defensive plant when placed at the far end of the lawn.
    • Cactus acts as both as a Spike Shooter (when the zombies are far away) or Spikes of Doom (when they come close).
    • Night Shade is a powerful Close-Range Combatant when near, but can fire its petals but for less damage when powered by a Moonflower.
  • Atlas Reactor has several:
    • Aurora's gimmick is that most of her moves affect both friends and foes but in opposite ways, healing allies and harming foes with the same move, or shielding allies while weakening foes. This effect is automatic and you can hit both ally and enemy with the same attack, inflicting the opposite effect on both.
    • Juno's ultimate is manually activated and removes her ability to move, but grants her a powerful area-of-effect laser instead.
    • Isadora's gimmick is based around a personal shield that provides the lion's share (or squirrel's share, to be precise) of her HP pool. When the shield is depleted, Isadora's moves change effect and turn her from a Mighty Glacier to a Glass Cannon until she uses her ultimate to re-activate her shield.
  • Raiden from The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors is a Beat 'em Up example. As a Transforming Mecha, it has a melee- and grapple-based humanoid form, and a Chicken Walker form. The second form has ranged One-Hit Polykill attacks, but all its attacks drain energy that can only be replenished over time in humanoid form.
  • Darkest Dungeon has the Abomination hero, a cursed man who can transform into a beast. In human form he serves as a mid-range debuffer with little direct damage, stunning enemies and stacking blight damage-over-time effects. In beast mode he is a raging brute with powerful close-range attacks. Unlike most examples he can only switch modes back and forth once per battle and transforming takes a toll on the Sanity Meter of both himself and his companions.
  • Dota 2 has a handful of heroes who can swap between separate forms, usually as their ultimate ability and for a limited time.
    • Dragon Knight, who can transform from his base form into his Elder Dragon form, gaining a ranged breath weapon, additional movement speed, and an increased range on his stun.
    • Lone Druid, who has his True Form. It changes him from a ranged hero to a melee one, while giving him increased health, armor, and the abilities of his Spirit Bear.
    • Morphling, who can Morph into enemy (and with Aghanim's Scepter, allied) hereos, gaining their abilities and attributes for a limited time, while letting him swap to and from his regular form.
    • Terrorblade, who can use Metamorphosis to gain a ranged attack, increasing his damage while lowering his movement speed. Any of his illusions that are close enough are also affected by Metamorphosis.
    • Troll Warlord, who can swap between melee and ranged at will using Berserker's Rage. Melee mode gives him additional movement speed, armor, and attack speed, while also giving his attacks a chance to root enemies in place.
  • For a rare non-videogame example, Land-Air Mechs from Battletech. Not seen much in more recent sourcebooks, as in-universe they became Lost Technology (and were always considered Cool, but Inefficient even before that) and out-of-universe the franchise moved away from being a Spiritual Licensee of various Super Robot Genre works.
  • Age of Wonders: Planetfall: The Reaver is the Assembly race's Tier IV unit and is capable of shifting between a large humanoid shape and a swarm of small robots. In its default form it can call down blasts of lightning and has a support ability to purge debuffs and restore action points for friendly units. In swarm form it gains fast movement, evasion, and life-draining melee attacks.


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Mecha Tengu

Fast-moving, pilot-assisted robots that can assault by land or sea, or turboboost to the skies.

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