Unless you’re one of the few people who has been upgrading through the Stone Age since Age of Empires first launched in 1997, odds are your strategies will be a little ancient. So to help you sharpen the edge on that rusty bronze sword, here’s some tips for the remastered Age of Empires.
It’s worth noting that while Age of Empires Definitive Edition honours the experience of the original as much as possible – unit pathing can still be a nightmare, basically – there are a ton of changes the 1997 release never had.
Modern inclusions in the re-release include: an attack move button, an idle military hotkey, the ability to reseed farms with a single click, SHIFT clicking to train five units at once, gather points for buildings, and multi-building select (with TAB to toggle between buildings in a single hotkey).
Be smart with your buildings
Age of Empires doesn’t have fixed resource points. Knock down a forest full of trees, and your workers will have further to run. So with that in mind, make sure you place the resource gathering buildings – that’s your granaries and storage pits – as close to the resources as possible. Don’t forget that your town centre counts too: leave space around it so you can ring it with farms in the early game.
But it’s not just speeding up gathering. The unit pathing in Age of Empires is notoriously fiddly, making the original StarCraft look like a godsend. Units can and will frequently bump into each other if their route to the gathering point gets interrupted – this can happen with lumberjacks if you’re not paying attention.
You’ll need to eventually create extra lumber camps and split your villagers accordingly, otherwise you’ll be losing a chunk of time just waiting for your villagers to ferry resources back and forth.
With that in mind, don’t do build grids of houses in 4. Leave more than one-hex gaps between buildings, otherwise large units will have trouble moving around, and make sure to build your early houses in positions on the edge of your initial fog of war (extending your vision). Make sure you build your first and second house as close as possible to where your workers are too: the less time villagers spend running between tasks, the faster you can assign them to something else.
Hotkeys, hotkeys, hotkeys
Using hotkeys properly – as in, all the time – is one of the basics of any RTS. It’s especially important in Age of Empires though, as you’ll need to be moving around the map from the outset not only to find resources, but also what attack angles you’ll be most vulnerable from.
One change made in AOEDE is that you can hotkey multiple buildings to a single hotkey, using TAB to switch between them. You’ll also want to hotkey your buildings with upgrades as well.
In general, your hotkeys should be assigned to the following: your primary and/or secondary units, naval units (unless on Hill Country), a set of siege units if built, your town centre, military production, any buildings with upgrades, and then other units like priests or specialist cavalry if they need to be managed separately. Put simply: the more you can use your keyboard, the fewer clicks you need, which means less idle time and more razing your enemy to the ground.
You can rebind keys as well, which I’d highly recommend. Most gamers have a mouse with a couple of side buttons, and you can save yourself a lot of heartache by rebinding the idle villager/idle military unit button to one of your spare mouse buttons. It’ll let you react much faster than reaching for the comma or period key, especially if you move your cursor to the middle of the screen (as your view will immediately snap to the idle worker/unit the second you hit the button).
Not leaving your base any time soon? Then don’t leave a gap in your wall. You can simply hit delete to eliminate a portion of wall (or any building or unit) when you need to make room for your troops.
If you know you’re about to be under siege, however, you can be a little cheeky by leaving one-tile gaps in the wall. Make a wall as per normal and then leave about six spaces clear, placing a single wall tile every two spaces. You can then place another couple of single-tile walls just ahead of the main wall, repeating until you have a little box of walls that have gaps in between.
What this does is effectively create a nightmare for larger units. Smaller units will be able to pass through just fine, but the larger ones like chariots will get stuck unless the human player clicks constantly to force them through. It’s a neat, cheap way of reducing your enemy’s effectiveness in combat.
That said, all of this comes with a caveat: in 1v1 multiplayer games, you shouldn’t really need walls. In larger FFA battles, you’ll undoubtedly need a bit more protection, and nearby stone mines or small lakes can be good for barricading. The campaign often puts you in lots of weird situations, too.
Know what each civilisation does
Most multiplayer games won’t have the “All Techs” option enabled, so you’ll have to play to the strengths and weaknesses of your civilisation. It’s a lot easier to plan ahead if you know what each civilisation is capable of, so here’s the full list of bonuses courtesy of the official website:
Assyrian: Villagers move 10% faster, Archers fire 25% faster
Babylonians: Stone Miners work 20% faster, walls and towers have +75% HP, priests rejuvenate 30% faster
Carthaginians: Academy units and all elephant units +25% HP, camel riders +15% HP, fire galleys +25% attack, transport ships move 25% faster
Chosons: Short/Broad/Long Swordsman and Legion +15/+20/+60/+80 HP respectively, towers +2 range, priests cost -30%
Egyptians: Gold miners work 20% faster, chariots +33% HP, priests +3 range
Greeks: Academy units move 30% faster and cost -20%, ships move 20% faster
Hittites: All archers +1 attack, stone throwers, catapults and heavy catapults +50% HP, war ships (except Fire Galley) +3 range
Macedonians: All non-ranged units +2 LOS, academy units +2 pierce armour, Siege Workshop units cost -25%, all units 4 times more resistant to conversion
Minoans: Ships cost -30%, farms have +60 Food, composite bowmen +2 range
Palmryans: Villagers cost 75 Food, but have armour and work 25% faster, starts the game with +100 Food, camel riders move 25% faster, tributes are free, trade ships return 2x gold
Persians: Hunters work 30% faster, elephants move 20% faster, triremes fire 25% faster
Phoenicians: Woodcutters work 15% faster, all elephant units cost -25%, catapult triremes and juggernaughts fire 30% faster
Romans: Buildings cost -15%, except for towers, walls and Wonders, towers cost -50%, swordsmen attack 33% faster
Shang: Villagers cost 40 Food, walls have +75% HP
Sumerians: Villagers +15 HP, farms have +125 Food, stone throwers, catapults and heavy catapults fire 30% faster
Yamato: Villagers move 10% faster, all cavalry units and Horse Archers cost -25%, ships have +25% HP
Each civilisation will also have a different set of restrictions. It’s nice that the Shang pay less for their villagers, but they don’t get catapult triemes or the beastly juggernauts.
The Phoenicians have access to a great set of Iron Age units through the Phalanx, Centurion and Scythe Chariot; the Babylonians only get the latter, and they don’t have the benefit of armoured elephants in the stretch. They do have vastly better siege units, however. Romans, on the other hand, need to get out of Bronze Age ASAP: their ranged units are limited to the Improved Bowman and basic siege tech.
Put simply, it’s no good stalling in the mid-game if your opponent has access to a better army when the end game arrives. So save yourself the trouble and brush up on your advantages and disadvantages before the game starts. You can use the tech tree on the official site, or in-game, to see what each faction has access to.
Know how many workers you need
One of the biggest problems for anyone transitioning into Age of Empires is learning how large your economy actually needs to be. It’s especially hard if you came from other games with fewer resources, or games with factions that effectively just produced workers non-stop.
Age of Empires is a little more precise. To get a steady flow of workers in the early game, you’ll need to assign your first five workers to food gathering, usually from the nearby patch of berries. (Two of your starting workers should also, without fail, produce a house.)
If your closest berry patch is a considerable distance away, increase that number to six. You might also discover that a set of elephants and wood are closer to your town centre than the patch of berries: if that happens, build a storage pit near the wood and the elephants, and hunt the elephants instead. If the berries are closer, the granary should be the second building after your first house.
After that, you’ll want to assign your villagers to wood. Around five or six villagers will suffice. For more detail on that, you’ll want to know how to quickly rush to the bronze age, which brings me to my next point.
Learn how to rush to the bronze age, and practice it a lot
Bronze Age units are substantially better than their tool age equivalents, and as a result you’ll want to be in the Bronze Age as fast as humanly possible. As an example: one bronze age cavalry will kill four tool age archers, unless they’re Assyrian archers. (If your enemy micros those units, it could also be a tougher fight, but you get the idea.)
To upgrade to the Tool Age, you’ll need 500 food. Upgrading to the Bronze Age will cost an additional 800 food, and you’ll want to have that food stockpiled basically as soon as your Tool Age research finishes.
But how exactly do you get all that timing downpat? The general idea is that you’ll need around 22 villagers, and you’ll want to ignore gold and stone collection until you start researching Bronze Age. You won’t actually need gold and you don’t need stone unless you’re building a lot of walls and watch towers. Town centres don’t cost stone in AOE1 either, so once you advance to the Bronze Age you can rapidly grow your economy (called “booming”) with five or more centres.
To get to that point, however, you’ll need to get a good sense of how to effectively blast through the Bronze and Tool Ages. The below video is a good build to start with – although it doesn’t cover Hill Country (a map with no water) and you’ll still need to consider your army composition and strategy going forward.
Right click a lot
AOE pathing isn’t great. Units tend to run in one of the 8 cardinal directions, and often they’ll bump into each other or try to go around a tree and get stuck for one reason or another. So whenever you’re attacking, or trying to move units from one place to another, you’ll want to pay attention just to make sure they end up where you need to be.
Whenever a unit is struggling to get from point A to point B, you can often brute force it through just by repeatedly right clicking. It’s also a good habit to move your units around a lot anyway: plenty of projectile units can be dodged completely if you’re fast on the micro, such as catapults and catapult triemes.
Scout early, scout often
This seems like a “duh” kind of advice, but it’s critically important given how the maps in AOE are designed. While every player will always start with a patch of berries, two stone and two gold mines nearby, your access to everything else will vary wildly from game to game. Because of that, the optimal strategy for each game – should you prioritise fishing over berries, as a rudimentary example – changes markedly.
You won’t be able to make the right decision without scouting, and players don’t start games with a mounted scout like AOE2. So make sure you’re active on the map (usually with the villager that makes your second house) and don’t stop moving around.
Gold is precious
Play long enough and you can exhaust a map of everything. But out of the four resources, gold is the one that’s the least accessible and it’s the most strategically important for high end units and upgrades. In a game of attrition, whoever controls the last few gold mines will always have the advantage.
Beware of Tool Age rushes
I mentioned earlier that learning how to rush to Bronze Age is pretty critical, and that’s true. But while you’re doing that, you should also be wary of a Tool Age rush – because they’re bloody powerful, and can easily kill you off if you’re unprepared.
A big difference between AOE1 and AOE2 is that your defensive options are much more limited in the original. The Town Centre doesn’t function as a defensive building; you can’t hide villagers inside; you can’t build walls without stone, and they’re only accessible through an upgrade in the Tool Age anyway; and buildings have a lot less HP than they do in AOE2, making them vulnerable to mass axemen/slinger strategies.
The best strategy for any rush, like any RTS game, is prior knowledge. Good scouting will give you plenty of time to react: if your opponent plans on knocking heaps of axemen out, you’ll have the time you need to get a couple of stables and cavalry up to defend.
Keep an eye on your population count
Time spent idle because you couldn’t build workers or units is the bane of any good RTS player. Never get supply capped if you can help it.
Remember the basic counters
Sometimes your options will be limited based on what your civilisation has access to. But in general: archers beat basic swordsmen (although you’ll want to protect them with basic infantry or micro heavily), cavalry and siege weapons wipe the floor with archers, hoplites/phalanxes/centurions will hammer any unit if they can get close enough to it (making them good for guarding siege weapons), and chariot/cavalry archers … well, there’s a reason most games on YouTube end with hordes of cavalry archers against each other.