Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

Age of Empires II is a classic strategy game, and Microsoft injected some life into it with the release of the Definitive Edition. This re-release, unlike the HD edition, features new graphics, animations, as well as plenty of features and quality of life improvements. There's also a Microsoft-powered server backend for multiplayer games, so now's a good a time as ever to get into AoE II.

What makes Age of Empires II so good is the amount of depth and strategy involved, which is why we have come up with a quick guide to get you started.

Getting started

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is an easy game to get into, but it's incredibly challenging to master. The difference between the AI on easy and experienced human opponents is startling to newer players. Luckily, this guide will teach you all you need to know to handle the basics and start focusing on honing your skills.

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In total, there are 35 civilizations in the game to choose from. Some are considered "meta," which essentially classifies them as the most popular and considered the best by the community. Depending on your playstyle (do you prefer to go with cavalry), your choice of civilization can have a substantial impact on how your games will play out, as well as what options will be available to you.

In most matches, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition puts you in control of a civilization, starts you off with a few villages, some resources, and you're tasked with taking all that and building the most powerful force on the map. Villagers handle all your resource gathering and building construction, while military units take care of any threats. These rules differ depending on the game type you're playing.

Our guide for the ages will focus on the standard game type.

Progressing through the ages

We'll go over exact build orders for you to follow to optimize your economy and military production in a separate guide, but following this rough, barebones resource for each age will help you keep up with rival civilizations.

Dark Age

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

The first and foremost age in most matches is the Dark Age. This is where you'll start with only a handful of villages, a scout unit, and a town center (TC). Upon entering the game, you'll want to create villagers and/or research Loom in your Town Center. This invaluable research provides your villages with some much-needed additional armor to prevent them from getting killed by wild animals and opponents.

Use your scout to explore unexplored areas around your base, locating valuable resources like berries, stone, wood, and gold. Make use of the way-point system, so your scout doesn't require babysitting. While it may be an attractive prospect to use the berry bushes, save these for later. Villagers can carry much more meat through hunting, so we'll want to prioritize sheep/turkey and wild animals like boars.

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

For boars and other wild animals that attack once provoked, you'll want to "kite" (shoot and run) the beast back to your town center with a single villager, using the rest of your villagers to finish the kill once it's near the TC. While doing all this, you'll want to be creating new villagers from the TC. Never have it sat idle. Either research tech like Loom or create new villagers to bolster your economy.

Continue creating villagers and gathering food and wood (for houses and a barracks) until you have enough resources to progress to the Feudal Age (you need 500 food). Build a Lumber Camp near a forest to gather wood efficiently with a small group of villagers (2-4).

Dark Age: Summary

  • Begin making villagers in the town center. Aim for between 15-22 before advancing.
  • Research Loom.
  • Use your scout to explore around your starting location.
  • Prioritize wild animals over farming and berry bushes.
  • "Kite" wild animals like boars back to your town center.
  • Never hit your population limit. Build houses.
  • Build a Lumber Camp near a forest to gather wood.
  • Advance to the next age (need 500 food and two Dark Age buildings).

Feudal Age

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

The Dark Age is getting your feet off the ground, and the Feudal Age is where you really begin to take flight. This period is invested in developing your economy (and military if rushing other civilizations) — the Feudal Age is where you'll usually have the enemy scouted and work out which strategy you aim to follow for the rest of the game. This guide will become a little vague from this point on as Age of Empires is all about reacting to your situation.

Primarily, you need to keep creating villagers. Never have your TC idling. With your natural food resources burning out, it's time to start farming. This requires some wood so you'll want to bolster your wood collection and make a start on gold and stone, if not already done so. Be sure to get familiar with your civilization bonuses and unique units. You'll want to use your civilizations strengths to overcome any weaknesses. Don't go focusing on cavalry as an infantry civ, unless you know what you're doing.

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

If you plan on challenging your opponent(s), focus on villagers and their military. Ignore any buildings that do not block your way. Taking down any villagers caught off guard will have a major impact on your opponent's economy. The same goes for your own villagers, so consider using buildings as a wall around your important resources. Be sure to queue up farms in your Mill, which will have the farmers auto-seed the exhausted plots.

Once you've gathered 800 food and 200 gold, it's time to advance to the Castle Age, which is where the fun really begins.

Feudal Age: Summary

  • Continue developing your economy.
  • Put together a light military force, taking advantage of your civ bonuses.
  • If attacking your opponent(s), focus on taking out villagers and picking off military.
  • Commence (or expand) the collection of stone and gold.
  • Fully scout out the enemy to see what units they'll produce.
  • Switch to farms for food generation.
  • Don't have your TC idle. More villagers needed.

Castle Age

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

Castle Age is arguably the most important step along your civilization journey. This is where the castle becomes available, which can not only produce some killer unique units and research, but also provide additional firepower with a barrage of arrows — castles can be used in both offense and defense, but they're incredibly expensive. You'll want to build one as soon as possible after advancing to the Castle Age.

You'll want to build new town centers to build villagers faster and provide additional means to store resources like food from farms and wood from nearby trees. Also, a monastery is required to earn gold from collected relics, which can be captured with monks. The siege workshop is an important building in your arsenal (aside from civilizations who suffer from lack of siege units). Rams are ideal for soaking up damage from ranged units and can bring down buildings.

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

You'll want to continue to poke at your enemy or build up defenses and anticipate an attack, focusing on upgrades across your military. If you're heading down the cavalry route, be sure to restrict your resource spending on upgrades for these units alone. Generally speaking, you'll want to use a mixture of expensive units like a knight alongside "trash" or cheap units like pikemen, the latter which you send in large numbers to overwhelm the enemy.

If you're being pushed back by a specific unit, consider counting that unit with more effective military. If they're swarming your cavalry with pikes, look to build archers and scorpions as a countermeasure. Never fixate on a single unit or type, Age of Empires II requires you to be proactive and reactive to what's being thrown at you.

Advancing to the Imperial Age costs a staggering 1,000 food and 800 gold, so it's considered "late game."

Castle Age: Summary

  • Build a castle as soon as possible.
  • Keep an eye out for relics, represented by a white icon on the minimap.
  • Consider building siege units.
  • Research upgrades for your units, following a build order.
  • Continue to build your economy (villagers!) and see what your foes are doing to consider counter units.
  • Build a market and trade with allies. (This also allows you to trade resources or buy/sell.)

Imperial Age

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central

Imperial Age isn't too different to Castle Age. All this advancement provides are additional researches and unit upgrades to provide you with an advantage. There's also one of the most important units in the game — trebuchets. These are like catapults, but have incredible ranges and are best suited for tackling buildings without taking damage. Just be sure to protect them as military units will easily take one out if it's unguarded.

Don't forget about your economy. Trees will be cut and ores collected. Be sure to revisit your economy and move villagers to new areas frequently. Always be mining stone, gold, and cutting wood to supply your army. If you haven't already built a market and begun trading with any allies, do so now.

Imperial Age: Summary

  • Research techs in your buildings and unlock elite unit upgrades.
  • Build valuable trebuchets to take down castles and other buildings.
  • Remember your economy!
  • Continue to mine stone, gold, and chop wood, moving villagers to new resources.

Some handy tips

Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionSource: Windows Central


Hotkeys save valuable seconds when moving across the map and selecting units/buildings. The time it takes for you to click somewhere on your minimap and select your TC to create a villager is wasted compared to using hotkeys to achieve the same result, but with seconds to spare.

Try not to waste units

Your military is valuable. Yes, even that single scout trash. Especially in the early game, do not waste your units. If you think you'd lose an engage, choose to approach it differently or not at all. Live to fight another day, as the saying goes. Never, ever send in a stream of single units.

Never have your town center idling

Honestly, I know I've banged on about this a few times in this guide, but it's not without good reason. Your TC should always be creating new villagers to bolster your economy or replace killed peasants. I cannot stress just how important this is. If you do not have enough food for new villagers, your economy has not been configured correctly.

Utilize trade carts

If you have allies on your team, be sure to build marketplaces and a whole bunch of trade carts to enjoy passive gold income.

Counter the counters

If you're struggling to take down counters to your prized unique units, utilize your other military buildings to create counters of your own to counter the counters. Some inception stuff right there.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition

Microsoft completely revamped and re-released Age of Empires II. Unlike the HD edition, this game comes rocking all-new graphics, sprites, animations, features, and other quality of life improvements.

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