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Veteran Unit

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A variant of Character Levels for Real-Time Strategy games; after multiple kills a single unit "levels up" and becomes more powerful. It tends to be integrated into the backstory a little by suggesting they are more experienced (hence the "veteran" designation) or received a Field Promotion to a higher rank.

As RTS games tend to focus on larger scale tactics rather than individual units the effects can vary a lot; sometimes the difference is hardly noticeable and other times they become so much better they are practically a new unit. The amount of possible level ups also varies very heavily between games. Some games even have ranks for kills without it actually changing unit stats at all. When implemented this is done to promote keeping your units alive rather than taking a We Have Reserves approach, and tends to support Videogame Caring Potential as a result.

If a character/unit is persistent over multiple missions but loses the veteran rank between missions, it can be a form of Reinventing the Wheel. If taken far enough, units end up gaining a Character Level or transforming into a Prestige Class rather than a rank (for example, an infantryman might be upgradeable to a sniper).

Can easily become a source of Unstable Equilibrium.


Video Games

  • 0 A.D.: A unit's stats improve through combat experience, and they also gain graphical upgrades such as better armor, shield and weapons.
  • Afghanistan '11: As units participate in combat they gain experience, eventually allowing veteran infantry units to gain special abilities like calling in airstrikes (for American units) or being able to be upgraded to ANA special forces (for Afghan National Army units).
  • Age of Empires III: The promotion mechanic introduced in the Knights of the Mediterranean expansion for the Definitive Edition allows certain units to gain combat bonuses whenever they defeat units up to a limit of three.
  • Ancestors Legacy: Units become tougher and stronger as you level up. Even if a squad survived with just one soldier remaining, the replacements will keep the veterancy.
  • Armor Blitz: All units can be advanced to an elite version. The Player has to progress their relationship to a certain level, obtain a few duplicates and spend some ingame currency in order to elite a unit. These units gain a significant stat boost.
  • The Battle for Middle-earth: Both games have this mechanic. One of the possible purchased upgrades for a unit allows it to instantly jump to the second level (out of possible ten in the first game, five in the sequel).
  • Battlefleet Gothic: Armada: As the ships under your command survive battles, their skill levels increase and they can gain new abilities.
  • Battle for Wesnoth has this feature in the extreme; although it is not an RPG, every unit can gain one to three levels, each one entailing a transformation into a new unit class. The effects vary from a simple increase in power, to the addition of new abilities, to a complete transformation of the unit's role. Building up veteran armies is critical in campaigns, and even in multiplayer games (which are much shorter), managing your xp well to gain level-ups can significantly impact a game.
  • Battle Zone 1998: Units rank up after each kill, becoming more accurate and reacting faster. However, there is no indication of what the rank of a unit is without using the game's editor.
  • Black & White: Archer platoons, infantry platoons, and siege engines gain experience as they defeat the other side's units, and increase in damage and resilience as they do so. After a couple levels, archers and siege engines start to shoot flaming projectiles.
  • Civilization: Units that gain combat experience do not become more powerful, but their health bar becomes bigger, meaning they will last longer in battle. Within the game's dice roll combat system this means they get more chances to score a critical hit even against superior units.
    • In Civ IV and V they do advance in level, obtaining promotions that make them stronger units.
    • A curious example shows up in V's American Civil War scenario. Infantry units start out as "green" troops with a combat penalty, but after their first battle, their commanding officer comes into his own and acquires a unique bonus... or penalty. All of the possible commanders are real Civil War generals, and their effects are in reference to particular battles those generals took part in or facets of their command.
  • Command & Conquer varies this trope quite a lot. In some of the games it isn't there or makes barely any difference, while in other games keeping veterans alive can vastly increase the strength of an army. In general, units are promoted when the total cost of their kills exceeds three and six (and nine, if the game in question allows units to be promoted three times) times their own.
    • The first two games (Tiberian Dawn & Red Alert) did not feature any type of veterancy. Tiberian Sun was the first in the series to feature veterancy, but gaining veterancy took a lot of kills (10 times the unit's original cost per promotion) and the bonuses weren't noticeable.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 goes to the extreme. The requirement was lowered so that now a unit is promoted when it kills more than three times its value (for example, a Conscript costs $100 so it requires $301 for Veteran and $601 for Elite). Veterans (one chevron) gained stat boosts across the board, Elite (three chevrons) would gain Regenerating Health and a new weapon on top of their Veteran bonuses. Some Elite units became very near One-Man Army levels of power with things like Dreadnoughts firing mini-nukes capable of one-shotting Construction Yards (although there were also a few cases of oversights leading to units getting weakened in some respects at Elitenote ). It also allows you to skip a step in getting units to elite status by sending an Allied Spy into an opposing Barracks or War Factory, allowing you to train infantry or build vehicles already at Veteran, respectively. Crates can also contain promotions that will promote all eligible units around it (it acts as a cash crate if the unit picking it up is ineligible or already Elite). Finally, killing a Veteran or Elite unit will give three or six times the unit value respectively in regards to the attacking unit's promotion. While this isn't possible in the original game, the Ares DLL (used by mods like Mental Omega) allows mind-controlled and spawned units to transfer the experience they gain to the mind-controller or spawner. Here's a whole video about this.
    • Command & Conquer: Generals dials it down some, but veterancy could still handily make or break a battlefield clash. Most notably, US pilots gained the ability to use an Ejection Seat, allowing their veterancy to be transferred to whatever ground or air vehicle you assigned the downed pilot to (though getting them into helicopters was a little tricky). The second rank-up also added Regenerating Health, which was less useful than it sounds. Third (also last) rank-up gave units red effects for muzzle flashes and explosions and increased health and firepower to the maximum, in a few cases even giving the unit in question a new weapon (for example, Toxin Tractors got blue anthrax sprayers even without the proper global upgrade), and gave a noticable boost to the Regenerating Health, making some units very hard to kill.
    • Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars sees the veterancy system dialed down a bit more, but given that it has not fluctuated much in Red Alert 3 or Tiberium Twilight, it seems that the developers have found their desired balance. In the Global Conquest for the PC version of Kane's Wrath, units within a strike force will maintain their promotions which, in conjunction with the ability to upgrade them, can make even small regiments into an unstoppable assault force that last the entire game.
    • The OpenRA source ports of the earlier games before Tiberian Sun adds veterancy to units along with other modern mechanics, as do Dawn of the Tiberium Age, a Crossover of these games made on the Tiberian Sun engine.
    • The Renegade X mod uses the veteran system for each player, offering overall boosts to their stats as they rank up (health, armor, speed, firepower, magazine size and even repair speed with a Healing Factor once you reach Elite and Heroic) and it will apply to vehicles when you drive them. Destruction of enemy structures and harvesters will award veterancy points to the whole team and, much like in the RTS games, crates can also contain random promotions. Finally, players joining the game during the later stages can start as high as Elite depending on how the match is going.
  • Company of Heroes has a lot of variations on this: all four factions implement veterancy differently. Armored units visibly gain upgrades like sandbagged protection or extra armor plates welded on. The Americans have the usual combat experience scheme wherein killing enemy units gains them ranks. The Panzer Elite have something similar, only instead of gaining general stats they have the option to raise their offensive or defensive statistics. Most British units don't gain veterancy directly: instead, Officer units gain experience from units in their aura's kills, and the units in an aura around the Officers benefit (the Officer units themselves are very poor combatants). The Wehrmacht don't gain veterancy through the normal way at all; instead they purchase veterancy which is then applied to all new and existing units...basically it's more akin to universal unit upgrades than unit veterancy.
    • Within the American campaign, the player has the option of building units leveled up in previous missions through special tabs in each structure's production menu. This includes any special weapons they had picked up (light machine guns or rocket launchers).
    • The sequel much more standardized the system of acquiring experience. For all factions, it is gained from kills, 75% of the value of damaging enemies and 25% of the value of damage taken. A very small minority of units cannot gain experience at all.
      • A few of the Western Front Armies expansions' factions have a few twists for the veterancy system - United States Forces officer units also gain a percentage of the experience gained from units around them and their vehicles' have a crew mechanic, making experience gained from the vehicle to directly be given to the crew inside of it, the vehicle's experience being based off the crew inside of it, and the crew may be changed around between vehicles; while the Oberkommando West has two more levels of veterancy their units can get up to and benefit from, to a total of five levels.
      • A few commanders also have ways of getting experienced units faster - the Wehrmacht's Elite Troops commander can buy a large amount of experience (usually maxing out infantry units, while doing much less for the higher experience-required vehicles) for a manpower and fuel cost for a single unit with a cooldown and buy one Tiger Ace already at full veterancy (getting a Tiger tank to that veterancy is otherwise extremely difficult and unlikely) and an additional bonus to sight range and coaxial machine-gun effectiveness with the drawback of it greatly reducing your income while it is deployed, and the United States Forces' Rifle Company commander may buy Riflemen units with a higher manpower cost to come with a large amount of experience (First level at least attained, and possibly almost at the second) that has a particularly high cooldown.
  • Dawn of the Dragons: Most of the unique units found throughout the quest areas (including all of the named companions) can be upgraded with items obtained in boss fights and raids to increase their attack and damage, and give more backstory on their exploits.
  • Earth 2150 and Moon Project feature a veterancy system that slowly improves a unit's capabilities over time rather than having predefined veterancy levels. The bonus effects can be improved by adding a flag or banner to a nearby unit. This can make a substantial late game difference, especially since a meticulous player can carry the same units from mission to mission. It's also very clearly stated in every campaign's intro briefings that keeping ranked units alive is a worthwhile investment — though that doesn't work in the original game's campaign of the Eurasian Dynasty, mainly due to very bad balancing and the AI having far stronger weapons than the player for much of it. In Moon Project and Lost Souls, it works for everyone, however.
  • EndWar: Units that survive enough battles become better and can be upgraded.
  • Freeciv: Units become veterans via combat experience or Barracks in the city building them them. In the experimental ruleset since v2.4.0, even workers can become veterans from working experience.
  • GemCraft: Bloodbound and Poolbound gems are two variants that revolve around this trope.
    • Bloodbound increases the efficiency of the gem the longer it stays in the middle of the battle. Constantly killing (or, in Chasing Shadows, hitting) enemies will make the corresponding gem stronger.
    • Poolbound, in Chasing Shadows, increases its power (or the whole gem as a component) the longer you stay in battle, provided that you continuously build more powerful gems as a result of the constantly growing mana pool.
  • Godus: Units in Godus Wars that survive long enough gain levels, making them stronger and changing their appearance.
  • Hearts of Iron: Hearts of Iron IV has veterancy levels for both units and commanders.
    • Unit veterancy has 5 levelsnote  providing varying degrees of buffs to attack and defense, and can be increased through both combat and, if the unit is "Green" or "Trained", through field exercises. Notably, unit veterancy can also decrease due to casualties/replacement troops or changing the structure of the unit, and units at the "Green" veterancy level actually receive a debuff.note 
    • Commanders also gain skill levels when units in their armies engage in combat, with the addition that extended combat in certain conditions, such as using a specific unit type or fighting in certain kinds of terrain or weather, will grant the commander new condition-specific bonuses.
    • Unlike ground and naval units, air wings do not gain veterancy. However, extended operations may result in the generation of an Ace Pilot, which confers bonuses on the air wing to which they are assigned. Aces can be reassigned to other air units with similar aircraft and/or mission types.
  • Halo Wars values experience to Stars that pop above a unit's health bar. These stars give a small boost to a unit's fire rate and DPS. Most units get up to three stars except for certain situations. Fully upgraded Spartans in a super-unit (Grizzly or Hawk) with full experience gives a whopping 14 stars! On Covenant leaders, their number of stars also increases their special ability's damage. A DLC game mode called Reinforcements can show the effects of an army with a lot of stars very well.
  • KanColle: This mechanic is introduced in the Summer 2015 Event update. Your fighter squadron will gain ranks from repeated sorties which grants a significant amount of stat bonuses, although these rankings will reset if the whole squadron gets shot down. The presence of max-ranked planes changes the aircraft carrier loadout significantly by reducing the amount of fighters needed to secure air superiority so the larger slots can be allocated to bombers instead, granting the double benefit of increased airstrike power and greater buffer from enemy Anti-Air fire.
  • Krush Kill n' Destroy: Units gain XP by attacking units, which changes the border of their Life Meter from gray to blue to red. Veteran Units will shoot faster and with better accuracy, and an exclusive bonus for Veteran Infantry is Regenerating Health.
  • Master of Magic: Normal units can level up to Elite rank. If you have a Warlord trait or a Crusade spell, you can upgrade them to Ultra-Elite rank. If you have both, you get Champion-ranked death machines. Heroes have more levels, ending with Demi-God.
  • Myth: Every time a soldier makes a kill, it gets a little more deadly, and survivors carry over to the next level. It is critical on some levels to have veterans from the previous levels.
  • Nectaris: Units' stats improve as they acquire stars for battle experience, finally attaining their full potential when they have one large star.
  • Nintendo Wars: In Days of Ruin (PAL: Dark Conflict), each unit can level up three times; once for each unit it defeats. If a CO boards a unit then it will instantly reach Veteran status along with the CO zone bonus.
  • Pharaoh: Your military units start as "Green" and gain experience and levels the more they fight, becoming more deadly and resilient. In some scenarios it's vital that you level-up your units as you can only field six regiments since the enemy comes in overwhelming odds and some units such as war chariots literally stomp normal units. "Green" units can also become "Regular" if they go through your war academy.
  • Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War: The Greek, Roman, and Persian factions possess this trait. Greek soldiers can be leveled up via special trainer units, the Roman legions get stronger from killing enemies, and the Persians can permanently designate a formation of units to be an Elite Army.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri has morale ratings for units ranging from Very Green to Elite. Higher morale gives increased combat strength and Elite units get an extra point of movement. Base facilities and the faction-wide Morale stat can improve the starting rank of a unit to the point that brand-new units can be produced as Elites.
  • Soldiers of Anarchy: One of your starting soldiers in the campaign is a Second Lieutenant. If you take him on every mission and keep him in the thick of it, he can reach Brigadier General by the end of the campaign.
  • StarCraft: Each unit has a counter that keeps track of how many enemies it has killed, but this doesn't improve stats in any way. StarCraft II increases a unit's stated rank as it racks up kills, but again this does not improve stats and is just cosmetic. At one point in Starcraft II's development, a protoss unit (known variously as the Vindicator or Soul Hunter) was planned that would grow in power as it killed enemies. However, it had a lot of problems; it was difficult to communicate the mechanic to the unit's controller or other players, it was difficult to balance, and its slanted effectiveness (it was way more effective against swarms of enemies than single heavy ones, to a much greater degree than other units). This led it to be cut before the game entered open beta.
  • Steel Division: Normandy 44: Normandy 44 has four levels of veterancy (ranging from zero to three stars), and unit's veterancy can't permanently increase from combat experience. However, command units now increase the veterancy of nearby friendly units by one. Simply having a squad of command infantry jogging alongside your tanks can make them that much deadlier. There are also Aces, based on famous individuals such as Panzer Ace Kurt Knispel; unique units that have very high veterancy levels and gold-bordered icons. They're otherwise fairly unremarkable aside from their high veterancy though.
  • Steel Panthers: The incentive for not treating your troops as cannon fodder during campaigns is for them to achieve this status. Unit experience rankings are green, regular, experienced and elite. Also, higher experienced troops can be bought, such as airborne and special forces.
  • Supreme Commander: Veterancy ranges from one to five marks, which are gained when a certain number of kills are reached. The bonuses are increased HP and attack efficiency.
  • S.W.I.N.E.: Units gain experience from dealing damage to the enemies and can acquire "veteran", later "elite" status that improves their stats. It also changes their looks, adding more bling and kill markings while also making the unit look more used and worn-out.
  • They Are Billions: Units that manage to kill enough zombies get a veterancy upgrade, which results in a stat boost and a new skin so you can tell them apart from regular troops.
  • Total Annihilation uses this but tends to be quite subtle with it. Kingdoms is more extreme with it and some units become much more powerful after some kills. Supreme Commander also has them. The levels were tweaked to be faster in the Forged Alliance Expansion, and again under Forged Alliance Forever.
  • Total War: Units gain chevrons as they kill enemies in battle, to a maximum of nine. As a unit gains more chevrons, its stats — including its attack, defense, reloading speed for missile units, and morale — become higher and higher. This led to the infamous "Jedi generals" in the first Medieval, as their high stats, paired with the high valor typically gained by a unit getting whittled down in battle, effectively lead to one-man armies.
  • Ultimate General: Civil War: All units have an experience bar that increases as their skills improve. Gaining enough experience for each bracket can earn up to three stars for each unit and each star for a unit means they can choose a perk which can improve their skills further or provide other bonuses. However, this make replenishing a unit’s numbers with veteran troops progressively more expensive and refilling a unit’s numbers with green recruits dilutes their skills and can even cause the unit to lose stars and the benefits of perks.
  • Wargame series (European Escalation, AirLand Battle and Red Dragon): There are five levels of veterancy: Rookie, Trained, Hardened, Veteran, and Elite. Each level comes with some sizable but not game-breaking buffs to accuracy, rate of fire, and resistance to shock. Unlike in most games, however, you can often choose to buy higher-experienced units from the start: you'll just have less of them per card. (Would you prefer two rookie A-10s or one elite?)
  • Warhammer: Dark Omen: Regiments gain experience levels and become better warriors and wiser wizards by slaying foes.
  • Warlock: Master of the Arcane: Each unit gains experience and levels based on how much damage it does to its enemies.
  • Warlords Battlecry has every unit getting experience for defeating enemies. However, any levels beyond the first ones tend to need ridiculous amounts of exp (well in the thousands in the third game), but you can take some units with you into other maps during campaigns, to ameliorate that. Plus, it tends to pay off; a high level anything is ridiculously deadly.
  • Warzone 2100 is one of the most extreme examples. There are many ranks (although the differences are subtle). In the single-player campaign, veterans are persistent (along with everything else) and can be transferred to new vehicles if they stay alive. Keeping veterans alive throughout is almost essential to keep up with the technologically superior enemies later on in the game.
  • World in Conflict: Individual units that survive long enough while killing enemy units and capturing points gain up to four levels. Leveled-up units (particularly the fourth-level "general" ones) gain considerable boosts to movement speed, rate of fire and special ability recharge times. However since World in Conflict's multiplayer largely consists of Rocket-Tag Gameplay, most ground units usually don't live long enough to be promoted very far...and even if they do, veteran units don't have increased hitpoints and are therefore just as fragile as newly bought ones. The exception to this is usually helicopters, as their high speed and mobility allows them to initiate combat on their own terms and quickly retreat if things get nasty. They're also much more likely to be able to dodge enemy off-map support powers that often obliterate scores of ground units.
  • XCOM: Any troop that lives long enough to learn how to shoot straight becomes a veteran, and you do become attached to them. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, all soldiers start as rookies, then slowly rise through the ranks from a lowly squaddie to the deadly Colonel. Every rank unlocks a new skill.

Tabletop Games

  • Chess: A pawn can be promoted to become any other piece other than a king if it reaches the other end of the board.
  • The Republic of Rome: One of the regular legions that took part in a victorious or an inconclusive battle is upgraded into a Veteran Legion and henceforth counts as two regular legions for the purposes of combat resolution. More importantly to the political arena, a Veteran Legion remains personally loyal to the senator who commanded them in the battle where they got promoted, until either they get killed or disbanded, or the senator dies. A senator with loyal Veteran Legions does not have to pay for their upkeep if he marches on Rome, and any of his Veterans sent to fight him automatically defect to his side; on the other hand, if a rebel attacks Rome with Veterans loyal to another senator, the latter can freely decide whether they remain with the rebel or defect back to Rome.
  • Shōgi has a rule where a piece can be promoted by being moved to the farthest three rows on the board, upgrading it such that it almost becomes a new piece. As some variants of Shogi predate chess (which has a somewhat similar rule), it is likely the Trope Maker (with Command & Conquer as the Trope Codifier for games).
  • Star Fleet Battles: In the supplement J1 Fighters, pilots start out at Green quality and gain points for certain accomplishments, including destroying enemy ships. A pilot with ten points becomes Good, and one with fifty is an Ace. Each higher rank gives bonuses in combat.
  • Traveller: The Mercenary supplement for the original game has military personnel gain experience points for various events, such as passing basic training, number of terms served, being decorated and coming under fire during a mission. A character's morale rating is equal to his number of experience points.