Learning the Ropes
You're going to want to start off by playing the William Wallace tutorial campaign. If you're an old hat, it'll mostly be stuff you already know, but if you're dipping your toes in to an RTS in general or AOE specifically, it's a pretty great way to introduce you to the basics. Beyond that, though, I have a few tips that will make going through this game a lot easier:
- Learn to micro your units. Getting a giant death ball of units to steamroll enemies is a legitimate strategy, but sometimes you just can't muster a death ball of units in the campaign, and it's often not the most effective strategy that will lead to a lot of wasted effort and extra casualties. Age of Empires II and the Definitive Edition give you great control over your units with stances and formations, so get familiar with them. Stances allow you to, for example, set your troops patrolling an area or stay in a defensive posture where they will not mindlessly chase down enemies they see. Likewise, setting your formation so weak troops are protected, or you're spaced out so siege units can't do as much damage, will help you to keep units alive. Micromanaging your units in the heat of combat will mean you take less damage and deal more damage, and will make every encounter easier. In general, you want to mass fire on the most dangerous enemy targets to quickly kill them. Don't just let your forces auto-attack. If you do just want to move your units in mass and aren't going to babysit them, I recommend attack-move (R) instead of moving, so your troops won't be defenceless while walking around if they run into an enemy.
- Use control groups. If you throw your cavalry, siege units, and infantry together in one mass, they'll move slowly and negate a lot of their effectiveness. Setting cavalry on one control group, for instance, siege units on another, and wings of your army allow you to quickly change targets as well as execute multi-pronged engagements.
- Speaking of siege units, understand friendly fire. Your siege units will often deal splash damage, which means they might kill your own melee units attacking the same building or deal damage in a line between you and the enemy mass it's firing at. Understand this principle and position effectively.
- Don't sleep on trading. Using merchant ships and trade carts with allies gets you passive gold income, and it quickly pays for the resources required to create them. Especially in scenarios where you are resource-starved, trading and using the market to sell surplus resources in exchange for gold will be a valuable lifeline.
- Protect unique units. This is super important in the campaign, as you'll often be given hero units that you sometimes (but not always) need to keep alive to succeed in the mission. As I'm going to note throughout this guide, even “regular” speciality units such as a bombardier or a priest can be vital to getting through some of these missions easily, so make sure to protect them.
- Watch the clock. There are a couple of missions that require you to complete objectives in a certain amount of time. Since game time doesn't necessarily equal real-time, get in the habit of turning on the game clock (F11). You can also slow down or speed up the game using the -/+ keys; there will be a few missions that require precise timing where slowing down the game to make microing or doing multiple tasks at the same time makes things much easier.
- Know your surroundings. This generally means scout out your enemies and scout ahead of your army. However, if you want things to be easier in the campaigns, you can also use the cheats "marco" and "polo" to remove the fog of war and reveal the entire map. Just make sure after you've gotten the lay of the land, that you restart the game, otherwise your progress won't be saved because of the cheats.
Remember that in a single-player game you can always pause in the menu, and clicking on the civilization banner will bring up tech trees to investigate, as well as objectives and hints to revisit. If you're regularly feeling overwhelmed, knock down the game speed.
For the campaigns, I will focus on offering players a way of completing the main objectives along with side objectives where I think they're relevant or useful for either an achievement, or finishing the scenario as a whole; you don't get style points achievement-wise for finishing every single side objective normally, so I'm not going to exhaustively cover a full mission completion. If there are ways to cheese the mission, I'll offer that as an alternative as well.
I've rated each mission's difficulty from 1-5 based on my personal experience with the mission; 1 being a walk in the park, while 5 is a tough challenge even on Standard difficulty and where I might have had to restart multiple times. The rankings will hopefully give you something of an idea of which missions might require more saving or a more careful approach. For the missions that are rated 3 and above, I've added an introductory map within the text walkthrough to help visualize how to work through each mission while also pointing out the locations of important items, locations, etc. While there are roughly 30 campaigns with five or more missions each, I'd rate the overall difficulty of the campaigns at a 2 or 3; on Standard difficulty, aside from a few missions and side objectives/achievements, you're really not going to face a significant opposition or fail the mission if you're a decent RTS player. Anyhow, let's get started!
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