In a game series which mixes Edutainment Game with Real-Time Strategy, sometimes the gameplay balance take a seat behind historical accuracy. Naturally, this has its issues.
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Age of Empires
- The Horse Archers. They can move fast, do a ton of damage, don't clog lots of space or cause pathfinding issues like the Chariot Archers, and have a range longer than anything except upgraded Priests (which they can easily kill) and certain siege weapons (which fire sluggish, easily dodged projectiles). The only downside is that they're expensive to make and can't take much damage... at least, not until you upgrade them to Heavy Horse Archers.
- Priests if they at least convert in pairs, all thanks to the Good Bad Bugs. With multiple priests converting a single unit, this causes the unit to freeze in place, undecided on what direction to go or attack.
- On the naval side, Triremes dominate the sea, being far stronger and faster than other naval units. Not helping that Triremes are a huge improvement over the pathetic War Galley and not all civilizations get them. It is also nigh-uncounterable, because Catapult Triremes attack too slow while Fire Galleys are too frail. Unlike the Galleons of Age of Empires II, they can actually rip buildings to shreds when massed due to the lower hitpoints for buildings among other factors. Ballista Towers could actually put up a fight against them, but reaching that stage is costly and not everyone has access to full tower upgrades. Adding to their cheapness is that they only cost Wood, which you'll have more than enough of lategame.
- The Elephant Archer has as many hitpoints as buildingsnote .
Age of Empires II
- The Huns in The Conquerors don't require houses like everyone else. This means that in Deathmatch (when you start with a huge stockpile of resources), the tactic of "Build a few Barracks, spam-click build Militia button, and swarm everyone" ends up being this. Even in normal games this bonus ended up very powerful due to this game's wood-reliant economy. Unlike the Aztecs and Vikings, whose equally great bonuses are hindered by their infantry focus (yet they don't even get Halberdiers, a powerful Anti-Cavalry unit) the Huns have faster-producing Stables, fully-upgraded Paladins and the cheapest Cavalry Archers in the game to dispose most unit compositions. They are lacking in late-game sieging and their unique unit is a rather unimpressive cavalry unit but for the most of the game they are lethally viable.
- The Mayans enjoy being in the top tiers despite their limited options due to their broken economic bonus (resources last 20% longer) and the ability to swarm the enemy with their El Dorado-boosted Eagle Warriors as well as cheap and durable Plumed Archers with those resources. The latter even has similar stats to Cavalry Archers, making them perfect for raiding enemy villagers.
- The Vikings on water maps. Cheaper Docks and warships along with a strong economy makes them able to mass warships before everybody else can. Having free access to Wheelbarrow and Hand Cart means that their Villagers get a headstart in gathering resources before the other civs can, and they don't need to halt Villager production to research those techs on the Town Center. This has also the unintended effect of allowing them to rush the enemy base with units that they're not good at such as Knights.
- The Goths' ability to Zerg Rush. They get two unique techs, one that lets them build their unique unit, the Huskarl, at a Barracks note , and another that massively boosts the speed at which Barracks produce units. Combine those with the rather hefty Conscription boost (further reduction of build-time for units) and several Barracks, and you've got hordes of Huskarls, which are designed to tank arrows, and get an attack bonus vs. buildings. This results in an army that can shrug off towers, town centers, and even castles — and is replenished at lightning speed.
- This might have been the reason for the removal of Treadmill Crane (buildings are built faster) in The Forgotten and Arrowslits (Towers fire more arrows) in The African Kingdoms from their tech tree.
- The eventually patched-out Teuton Town Center range boost, which allowed the Teutons in the vanilla version to completely lock down an enemy civilization by deleting their own Town Center and rebuilding it just out of range of the opposition's Town Center.
- This potentially cheap strategy didn't have a name until the HD rerelease in which it is called "Persian Douche" (which should technically be called Teutonic Douche since the Teutons pioneered it). The reason for the name is because the Persian TC has higher HP which allows them to survive the exchange of arrows with the enemy's TC and any hastily made attempts at a counter-attack. The strategy also works with the Britons (British Douche) because the Britons can build their TCs at a cheaper cost. Even though the Teuton TCs no longer have the range boost bonus, it can still work since they have +2 Attack.
- The Persians' War Elephants; they're slow, but so powerful that outside of units they're specifically weak against (monks, pikemen and siege weapons, which the Persians are perfectly capable of countering with their great scout, knight and cavalry archer lines), they're virtually unstoppable. They are probably the strongest unique unit, which is good for the Persians, since they're otherwise kind of a limited civilization in-game.
- The various Korean onager bonuses allow them to outrange near enough anything and the onager's obscene firepower and area of effect damage means they will cause insane damage before anything can retaliate. This is the reason that the increased range bonus for onagers was changed to having no minimum range instead in The Forgotten expansion.
- The Korean war wagons also count, though seeming unlikely at first. Building one war wagon is a waste: expensive, slower and less range than a cavalry archer, doesn't make as clear damage as one or a scorpion and is easily overrun by a cavalry charge and destroyed. But mass enough war wagons, fully upgraded, when combined with onagers, means that no enemy units will be able to make a dent on them.
- One balance patch during HD turned Korean towers into this as well. Koreans received a bonus allowing them to build walls, castles and towers faster, as part of their identity as a defensive civilization. In practice, the bonus to build speed turned the Koreans into an early game offensive powerhouse, riddling the opponent's base with watch towers and ensuring the other player would never be able to collect key resources safely. This one bonus had a dangerous synergy with other Korean bonuses (villagers have increased LOS, stone is mined faster, and guard tower and keep are automatically researched upon aging up), turning a civilization designed to thrive on closed maps into the strongest faction in the game, with staggeringly high win rates even on Arabia. This led to the next balance patch keeping the wall and castle build bonus, but nerfing the bonus for towers into effective non-existence.
- British Longbowmen, once fully upgraded, can outrange any Castle except for a Teutonic Castle (a Castle's maximum range is 10-11 depending on the civilization, the fully upgraded British Longbowman has 12 range, Teuton castles have 13). They can outrange any siege unit except for Bombard Cannons and Trebuchets (Trebuchets are damn slow and can't hit moving targets very well, Bombard Cannons barely manage to outrange British Longbowmen, are slower and not everyone can make them); they can even match, if not outrange, the aforementioned Korean Siege Onager. Suppose they are near the sea, and the enemy decides to use their navy to destroy the Longbowmen? Well, the Longbowmen can outrange any ship (except for the Cannon Galleon, which is also pretty dang inaccurate unless you're Spanish). They don't even need to worry about cavalry, because large numbers of them can shoot down entire hordes before they can do any serious damage.
- They are still poor at grabbing land or buildings though, so the enemy can just riddle his or her base with a lot of Towers, in a criss-cross pattern to make for the lousy non-upgraded range of the buildings. In addition, Huskarls make a good counter due to being virtually immune to archer fire and having a fairly high movement speed.
- The Spanish in late game seem to excel at practically everything, with no flaws in infantry, ships, cavalry, monks and fortifications, and bonuses on gunpowder, trade, blacksmith technologies and villager attack. They even get two unique units: the only gunpowder cavalry unit and the only monk cavalry unit in the game. They have bad archers that make them weak in the early game, but if you let them get to the Castle Age and beyond, you'll get screwed. Guaranteed.
- Also, once they hit Imperial Age, you can kiss sending raiding parties at their villagers goodbye. With their unique tech Supremacy, ten villagers can kill a paladin and lose only one of their own. And they can rush a whole group of villagers at your front line and they can have a castle built long before you can kill them all.
- The Slavic unique unit, the Boyar, is basically a super-heavy cavalry unit, having the attack of a Paladin and humongous melee armor, along with respectable pierce armor. A swarm of maxed-out Elite Boyars is virtually unstoppable; they can even go toe-to-toe with explicitly anti-cavalry units and come out on top.
- The Portuguese Feitoria is their unique building that takes up 20 population space and grants a trickle of every resource for every second. The game-breaking part came in that it cost 250 wood and gold and it generated 0.45 stone every second, meaning that several Feitorias together could generate enough stone for many Bombard Towers faster than other civilizations could by mining it and/or exchanging other resources for stone at the Market, thus allowing the player to build enough Bombard Towers to make their base virtually impenetrable. This was changed in Patch 4.8, where Feitorias were changed to cost 250 stone instead of wood, and their stone generation rate was reduced to 0.25 per second.
- In Nomad maps note , the Chinese are considered to be one of the strongest civilizations because they start out with six villagers instead of three, meaning it's much easier to scout out the map to find resources and establish a base. They still start out without any food, but the extra villagers makes it significantly easier to find food sources. This is probably one of the main reasons why a January 2020 update in the Definitive Edition nerfed the extra three villagers bonus where it is tied to the initial Town Center built, meaning the Chinese will start with three villagers in Nomad and will only get the extra villagers after building a Town Center.
- Their unique unit, the Chu Ko Nu is arguably one of the strongest unique units in the game for various reasons. The Chu Ko Nu fires a volley of arrows that can shred some of the highest pierce armor units like skirmishers, Paladins (a Lightning Bruiser unit with very high pierce armor), and even siege ramsnote . Not only that, this is a unique unit that Chinese can easily mass up in their Castle, with a training time of a total of 13 seconds when its Elite upgrade is researched. What prevents the Chinese from being completely game-breaking with their unique unit is that their tech tree is reasonably balanced around their unit; which is why the Chinese do not get Hand Cannoneers or Bombard Cannons, allowing more cost efficient answers to the Chu Ko Nu such as Huskarls and Siege Onagers.
- Unsurprisingly, due to how versatile the civilization is in high level competitive play, they were given several nerfs in the Definitive Edition. For the aforementioned nerf in Nomad, the Chinese were given Block Printing as a compensation buff, which is meant to be small and mostly for historical accuracy, but allowed the Chinese to have a cost efficient counter to the Siege Onager (one of the more cost efficient counters to the Chu Ko Nu). This in turn led to another nerf in a later patch where the Redemption technology (a technology that allows monks to convert buildings and siege weapons) was removed from their tech tree. Finally, the Chinese ended up losing Supplies in their tech tree (a technology that makes the Militia line unit cheaper), which allows more counterplay to the Chu Ko Nu in the late game (i.e. Goths spamming Huskarls and their own Champions). The Chu Ko Nu is still powerful, but with counters.
- In team games, the strategy of "slinging," where one or more players produce minimal amounts of military themselves and tribute their resources to a teammate, to help them advance faster and unlock stronger military options before the other team can do the same. This is such a strong approach in high-level play that some tournaments take steps to nerf or even ban tributing in this way, and the Definitive Edition also nerfed slinging by moving the Coinage and Banking technologies, which reduce the cost of tributing resources from Feudal and Castle Age to Castle and Imperial Age, respectively.
- The Malay originally had the Champion unit. This, alongside their unique tech Forced Levy that removed the gold cost for their swordsman units, made the Malay trash war unbeatable in early betas. As a result the Malay only have access to two-handed swordsman.
- The Steppe Lancers unique to the Tatars and Cumans were a notorious example of this for the first month after the release of Definitive Edition. Not only was their attack as high as Knights (Elite Steppe Lancers had as many attack points as Cavaliers), but their low gold cost allowed them to be easily massed, when they became exponentially deadlier. Like the Incan Kamayuk, their attack has a small range, allowing them to strike other units from multiple rows, but they're both stronger and faster, making their hit-and-run potential much better. Because of this, they were even able to deal with the Spearman line without too much trouble if used in great enough numbers, as their ranged attack allowed them to strike the same enemy from multiple rows. ZeroEmpires went into full detail here on just how OP these beasts were.
Consequently, in Update 34055, their attack was nerfed to 8 (10 for Elites), their gold cost was increased from 30 to 45, their attack and movement speeds were slowed, and their collision box was enlarged to prevent large swarms of them from being unstoppably powerful (making it actually possible for anti-cavalry units such as Halberdiers and Camel Riders to land a hit before getting taken down). Ever since this nerf, they've ironically become one of the lesser used units in the game, being seen as an inefficient compromise between the Scout and Knight lines rather than a powerful unit in its own right.
- Cuman Kipchaks can be extremely deadly if micromanaged properly. Not only do they have no frame delay, but they benefit from the Cumans' cavalry speed bonus. Even though the Cumans lack Bracer, the fact that they fire multiple arrows means enemies with high pierce armor won't be able to counter them, so a decent sized army of Kipchaks can make mincemeat out of most enemies. On top of that, they cost only 30 gold (half the cost of regular Cavalry Archers), making them very easy to mass up.
- The Konnik, the Bulgarian unique unit, was highly controversial at release due to their very good hitpoints (110 hitpoints for standard and 130 hitpoints to the elite version, with bloodlines technology they reached 150 hitpoints) and, particularly, their Reload time, which was 1.9 being the same as the Paladin, and with the Stirrups upgrade, their Reload time was decreased by 33% (incorrectly stated as 25%) up to 1.42, making them one of the most powerful units in the game being able to defeat effectively most units and deal very high amount even against Teutonic Knights and Boyars (Both which have high amount of melee armor). this was even more extreme with the fact that they can be created at cheaper versions of the castles called "Kreposts", but also being considerably cheaper than knights, and even the dismounted Konnik had much better reload time of their attacks and the bonus damage of the Samurai against wasn't taken meaning that Japanese had a very hard time against them. however, in the update 34055 they were highly nerfed with tweaking their stats (Hitpoints and Reload time being reduced and increased respectively. However, the Konnik remain a unique unit hard to counter without a combination of units like Pikemen and archers.
- The Lithuanians were infamous in "Trash Wars" thanks mostly by their relic bonus which increased the attack of all cavalry units up to +5 attack, including the light cavalry, Furthermore their Hussars had a potential of get an extreme attack of 16, combined with their prominent spearmen and skirmishers (both have increased speed and pierce armor), made them extremely powerful when the gold is scarce. In addition their Paladins only were suprassed by the Elite War Elephant in terms of attack with all 5 relics collected, making the Lithuanians too powerful, specially in team games where collecting relics was easier thanks to the map size which has more relics and their teammates. Like other of the new civilizations introduced in the "Definitive Edition", they were nerfed in the update 34055, with the relic bonus reduced to +4 and no longer including light cavalry. The change intended to put more emphasis on their heavy cavaly units(knights and Leitis) and to prevent abuse of a unit which doesn't cost gold at the very late game, still their paladins and leitis can get 22 attack by relics, which could be very effective in team games.
Age of Mythology
- Unlocking the Titan gate in the expansion before everyone else turns the rest of the match into a Curb-Stomp Battle. The intention was to have the Titan be the backbone of an invasion force (and Titan-against-Titan battles can go either way), but in a game with only two or three players the first Titan unleashed usually wins. What's annoying is that you can't disable this feature in the options menu. An option to disable titans during game setup was added to the HD Re-release, and there was much rejoicing.
- Atlanteans on a whole. Let's count, shall we? First off, any one of their units can become a Hero (for a price, although there is a God Power to give you free Heroes that can be used three times). Secondly, their builder unit gathers and builds at three times the normal rate, without needing a drop-off point (allowing you to get more and more resources at a faster rate, and advance in tech quicker). Third, it's possible to get both regenerating heroes and regenerating Myth Units (follow the path of Oranus to do that). Fourth, because they gather and build at three times the normal rate, this ends up with them unleashing the Titan first (it is possible for this to not happen, but there's a very good chance they'll get it first) and thus getting a Curb-Stomp Battle as their regenerating Titan almost single-handedly stomps everybody (though it is possible to beat them, if only by throwing absolutely everything you have at it. Greeks get it the worst because they only get four Hero Units - although their Fortress units got the Beast Slayer upgrade to deal extra damages against Myth units) and breaks the other Titan Gates before anybody else gets their Titan. And they get Favor just from existing, where as the others need to do something else first (Worship for Greeks, statues for Egyptians, and smacking dudes for Norse). And many if not most of their god powers can be used multiple times, unlike any of the other god powers in the game, although they are generally weaker than normal god powers or are designed for multiple uses, and the most powerful ones can only be used once.
- Surprisingly, all these seemingly overpowered advantages even out at the highly competitive level, as Atlanteans are at a fairly even tier with the other civilizations in the meta-game and weak to certain strategies (particularly at dealing with early Loki Hersir aggression, as discussed below). Atlantean economy is easy enough to manage that they could be considered a Skill Gate Character, however.
- Hades worshipers will become beastly if not dealt with as early as possible. Put simply, Hades himself gives bonus damage to archer units. While that itself doesn't seem overpowered, now consider that Hades worshipers have access to Ares, Apollo, and Artemis: three minor gods which also give bonus damage to archers. Add to that the Gastraphetes, a Hades-unique crossbowman that's already a direct upgrade to the base archers Greeks have access to. By the mythic age, nothing can stop a Hades player from stomping around the map with massive armies of 2-pop units that deal 16 ranged damage plus bonus damage to buildings.
- Loki-worshiping Norse can become this if given enough time. First off, Loki's focus is on Myth Units, which are also the Norse specialty. Not only do their Myth Units cost less Favor, but Hersirs will actually summon random Myth Units while in combat. Plus, Loki has exclusive access to the Minor God Hel for Mythic Age, who not only has access to the Nidhogg super-unit, but she can also train all three types of Giants as well as 'Rampage' tech which lets all of your Myth units train in less than a second.
- Isis' God Power-blocking monuments can screw over any player that rely on combat-based God Powers targeted on a specific area (which are the majority). Not only they have many hitpoints but even the most basic monument has a relatively large invisible radius. They also have access to the Ancestors+Eclipse combo through Nepthys and Bast; the former summons mummy minions while the later strengthens Myth Units, which also encompasses said minions. Worshipping Bast in the Classical Age also nets them the Sphinx, a Myth Unit that can easily tear down through fortifications at that point in the game. If you do not wall your base before Isis players reach the Heroic Age, your town is pretty much screwed.
- Tale of the Dragon brings us the Vermilion Birds. Their fire tornado attack has a fast firing rate and deals heavy splash damage upon the target's death. The attack is so strong they can even level down cities in minutes, something other flying units dream to accomplish.
- Monks become extremely powerful if you're playing on Lightning mode, as they become able to convert enemies to their side in the span of less than two seconds.
Age of Empires III
- The Sioux Rifle Rider. They have the same bonuses as a ranged cavalry but also receive bonus damage against Heavy Infantries which is very useful given their focus on cavalry units.
- The Sioux Warchief is a cut above all other the other Explorers when it comes to viability in all phases of the game. At early stages, his fast speed means that he can scout much more quickly than other civilizations where he could potentially claim the treasures before other players even get their hands on it. Even later on in the game when you have already explored everything on the map, his aura of giving cavalry speed allow them to hit and run more effectively and when combined with his attack boosting aura from the home city, it makes them particularly excellent in dealing damage and destroying the opposing buildings.
- In the original game, it is the French Cuirassier. Boasting an insane 1000 HP at Imperial rank before any blacksmith and native upgrades, deals splash damage to all enemies around them that even many dedicated anti-cavalry units will still lose out to them, and like most cavalry they are fast. In large number they are almost unstoppable unless the opponent has been massing anti cavalry units.
- Also, grenadiers. They are effective against both infantry and buildings, and do splash damage. They're produced at the Siege Workshop, but they're infantry, which means they're cheaper, faster, and don't have to deploy in order to attack. They're vulnerable to cavalry, but Grenadiers can stand up to massed infantry, where an equivalent unit of artillery will not. This is particularly nasty when fighting the Aztecs, who have no cavalry aside from any native units they've acquired.
- Massing Factory unitsnote in the original civilizations. Depending on the player's deck, reaching the Industrial Age allows the player to play either the Factory, Industrial Revolution or Robber Barron cards, each of which sends a Factory Wagon to the city. The Factory wagon turns into a Factory, which can be configured to generate either food, wood, coin, or a cannon in assembly line at a fixed rate... which only requires population spacenote . Furthermore, their production time is reduced with the Factory's own "Mass Production" tech (and if the map features an Incan village, the creation time can be further reduced with the "Incan Chasquis Messengers" tech), they can be further upgraded into the Imperial Age, and unlike most artillery units, these units have no penalties against Cavalry. Granted, this makes Factories THE weakest point of that civ, especially since the card cannot be sent again upon entering the Imperial Age, and the long production timenote means that players must turtle until their artillery army is ready, but multiple, well-protected factories allowed to mass a lot of Factory units, and those units being protected by additional armies covering for their weaknesses, allow the player to burn entire cities and armies to the ground.
- If anything related to the Chinese invokes Confucius, you can bet it's one:
- The Confucian Academy wonder automatically trains Flying Crows, the civilization's equivalent to the Eurociv's Heavy Cannons, making it the Chinese's equivalent to their Factories. To make matters worse, it can be built at any age, unlike Factories which are only available at Industrial Age. And to make matters even worse, the Chinese have the Russians as a consulate option, and they can ship a Factory in Industrial Age, which can produce Heavy Cannons. Oh, and while European players must bring factories only from the Home City, Chinese players don't need a Home City to have a Factory and/or a Confucian Academy.
- The Confucius' Gift card, which can be sent from Fortress Age onwards, removes waiting time for technology research and dramatically shortens shipment arrival. With a proper economy allowed to sustain it, the effects of this card are devastating, especially when paired with techs and shipments that reduce or remove tech costs, or worse, outright grants researched tech upon arrival. It's available at level 40 for non-Campaign matches in the original game, but in the Chinese portion of the Campaign it's available as soon as the first mission is over, and it truly makes the campaign easier even in the hardest levels.