It’s been my experience as well that having armor upwards of mail shirts is a winning proposition in the Line Battle scenario of the combat demo. Armor definately is very important for prolonged melee engagements as characters can die from as much as a single good hit otherwise. In principle, this is working as designed. However, as I see it, four things should make just piling on heavy armor not be the straight forward winning formula for every battle in the full game;
1) Heavy armor decreases maximum fatigue and thereby how often special skills can be employed in battle (like Spearwall and Split Shield); engagements can be won without these, but they provide a lot of tactical flexibility. Ideally, their use should be more valuable in many situations than just duking it out with a lot of armor on. If that isn’t the case, it’s something we should do more balancing work on (like increasing fatigue penalties further).
2) Heavy armor won’t be as readily available in the full game as it is in the demo; it will be expensive to buy and somewhat rare to get your hands on the heaviest of armors. Heaving a full team of heavily armored Battle Brothers is more of a late game option.
3) We did a rework of how weapons work against armor (described in an earlier blogpost here) since the demo. While some weapons are even less effective against heavy armor now (e.g. wooden clubs), two-handed weapons and maces do extra damage to armor, and the warhammer is a weapon specifically designed to counter armor. With the “Crush Armor” skill it inflicts up to 400% damage to armor (though the base damage is lower than that of a sword, making it less suited against lightly armored opponents), making short work of it. This gives both the player and the AI some tools to counter heavy-armor opposition; Skeletons already make use of warhammers and try to target heavily armored Battle Brothers, and other opponents able to wield weapons will do so as well.
4) We’ll have a few opponents against which armor is entirely useless. For example, the recently introduced Lost Soul (described in a blogpost here) using its “Ghastly Touch” attack completely ignores armor and attacks hitpoints directly.
As for lightly armored combatants engaging in melee, making good use of Shieldwall is vital. As will be increasing the melee defense stat on levelup and choosing some defensive perks, such as Shield Expert, which increases the effectiveness of shields and Shieldwall further.
If you have any more thoughts on this or other balancing issues, we’d love to hear them!