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That One Level / Age of Empires

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Most Age of Empires levels are difficult since the opponents are usually an age or two above you. But here are the ones that take the cake:

Examples for Age of Empires II can be found here.


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    Age of Empires 
  • "Trading," an Egyptian training campaign level, puts you in a scenario where you must collect 1000 gold and 1000 stone. The stone can simply be collected at a mine at the east of your base. The gold? You must use trading boats to trade resources for gold to the AI's docks. Which would be simple, if the game didn't swarm you with Minoan Scout Ships, which are actually Hittite Scout Ships, with a +4 range bonus, outranging your own ships. They're everywhere and it doesn't help that the AI is actually good at kiting. Trading is nearly impossible for a long while until you find a way to deal with these ships. The worst part about all of this? This is in the tutorial campaign. There's a reason why the Definitive Edition reduced the amount of required gold from 1000 to 500.
  • Voices of Babylon:
    • "Holy Man", the first mission, can be enraging to finish, especially with the improved AI in Definitive Edition. You start out with only a priest and must convert villagers, the problem is if there's a group nearby they aggro the priest and can easily cause a restart if they kill your only means of getting villagers. If that wasn't frustrating enough, you then have to rush to take down the other faction across the river (who will get to the Tool Age in 15 minutes), otherwise they will spam chariots and priests before you can even create a decent military and become too entrenched to defeat. The game is trying to teach you to rush, but it's so unforgiving it's more frustrating than helpful.
    • "The Great Hunt," an infuriatingly long level where you have no base and wander back and forth across a huge map to recover an artifact at the very far north. You start out with just a few Axemen and have to dash madly past enemies you can't hope to defeat. Then you find some Priests and have to convert practically every enemy you come to, just to build up some semblance of an offensive force. If you lose your Priests, you're screwed (and converting Catapults and Elephant Archers never gets any easier). Then you get an annoyingly long water segment, loaded with Ballistas and Catapults shooting at your transports. If you lose your transports, guess what? Time to load a save. After you struggle through that nightmare, you have to ascend the final peak, with a timer, with hordes of Catapults and other late-game units trying to kill you. Only after you reach the top and find the artifact are you done with this horrible, horrible level. This level was so bad that Definitive Edition toned the difficulty down so it's now much more manageable (for example, you now start with Composite Bowman instead of Axeman). When an entire level gets reworked, you know something's gone wrong.
    • "Nineveh." Your mission is to destroy the enemy's Wonder, which means there's a time limit. Nineveh has a ridiculously huge defense, while you're just on Bronze Age and without any villagers. You have to convert some to create an army, but good luck trying to do it while there are Triremes attacking your base. Getting the units into Nineveh is another challenge, since while you're breaching the walls you have dozens of fully upgraded units attacking your army. If you run out of resources and still don't have any converted villagers, you might as well restart the level. The one bit of mercy is that the wonder is only just starting to be built a few seconds after the campaign begins and they only have a single villager working on it.
      • This is yet another level that got its difficulty toned down in Definitive Edition; you now start in the Iron Age and have villagers. While the scenario is still particularly difficult, it's amazing how such a little change suddenly makes the level go from "punishing" to "hard but doable".
  • Yamato - Empire of the Rising Sun:
    • "The Assassins," the first mission. You get five units (a Cavalry, an archer Hero, and three Broadswordsmen) and you have to trek across a map filled with wild lions, elephants, towers scattered within the enemy's bases and tough enemy soldiers to kill the leader of the enemy tribe, who can easily wipe your little band of assassins out without breaking a sweat. And if you can't find the hidden Blind Lame Priests before lions or enemy soldiers do, then you're done for. In the Definitive Edition, the archer Hero is your only starting unit, while there are enemy Slingers added to the section filled with hostile animals ready to counter your archer Hero. Not helping is that they are dressed in yellow, making them blend well in the environment.
    • "Island Hopping," the second level, is a long slog to gather six artifacts. Among other things, not going after a certain artifact immediately will put a timer on the mission. Also, if you don't go to the opposite side of the map and destroy the dock you find there, you'll be swarmed with enemy War Galleys before you get halfway through.
    • "Mountain Temple" is another Yamato level that's annoyingly difficult. You start on Stone Age with a pitiful land, while your enemies have a better land and the brown-colored enemy is on Bronze Age. Getting out of your territory is a pain, cause your boats will be leveled instantly by Brown War Galleys and there are two Brown Axemen in the middle of the path to the Yellow Enemy (who is on Stone Age). After painfully claiming land you then have to invade the Izumo territory (red) and destroy their Temple, but it's easier said than done since there are numerous units and towers protecting it. Oh, there are Priests in the Temple so watch out for that. After all of that frustration you can finally destroy the Temple, but you can still fail the mission if you happen to not have enough wood to build your own Temple on the location of the previous one. Definitive Edition toned down the difficulty by having you start in the Bronze Age and with military units, as well as having ample wood, though it can still be frustrating as you get raided within minutes, if not seconds, of starting the scenario.
  • "Pyrrhus of Epirus," the second scenario in the Rise of Rome campaign, is infamously hard, especially considering how early it is. Even though you only have to face one opponent, you're at a significant disadvantage because they start in the Iron Age, while you're still only in the Tool Age. If even a single Transport Ship makes it across the sea to your camp, consider yourself toast. To make matters worse, since the opponent is Macedonian, their units resist conversions four times as much as usual, so if you thought you could just easily convert their Armored Elephants to even the fight, think again. The only way to stand a chance is to very quickly build up your navy to prevent Transports from unloading on your shore while you quickly catch up to your opponent's level of technology, securing the exposed resources at the top of the map along the way. Even after you're fully upgraded though, the Roman infantry doesn't counter the Macedonians' trampling Armored Elephants or hit-and-running Heavy Horse Archers, so you'll need a lot of luck and a lot of micromanagement to take them down in their thickly fortified base.
  • Reign of the Hittites:
    • "Opening Moves," the first scenario, starts you off with two priests only and you have to convert villagers to proceed (sensing a pattern here?). Definitive Edition makes this scenario much more difficult, as a certain spot where villagers are clearly supposed to appear won't have them, meaning you have to venture into the enemy base to convert. Frustratingly, this aggros the few troops your opponent will have at the time, and if they kill your priests and follow your villagers all the way across the map (which they will do), a restart will be in order.
    • "Raid on Babylon" in Definitive Edition is downright enraging. The scenario pits you against four opponents (though one only attacks in self-defense and doesn't build up), and sounds like a simple build and destroy scenario. The problem is that the AI is extremely aggressive and will carry out raids on you quite frequently, making what should be a challenging but doable mission into a nightmare. The only way to mitigate this is to play even more aggressive and knock out at least one opponent early on while walling off your base.
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    Age of Mythology 
  • Only one example, but from the Egyptian portion of the main campaign, you must escort a caravan containing one of the pieces of Osiris through a twisting desert trail while fighting off soldiers sent by people who want that piece for themselves. It's an Escort Mission, so it's already frustrating, but the caravan you're escorting moves extremely slowly, and the enemy sends a seemingly infinite number of soldiers and monsters to stop you. You, on the other hand, don't have the luxury of an infinite number of soldiers, and you have to stick close to the caravan at all times, because if more of their units are near it than yours, it's considered "captured," and will start to (just as slowly, thankfully) move back toward their base. You can't build in this mission, either so no walls for the trivial easy way out. Oh, and the first time you manage to get the caravan almost to your base, the enemy summons a bunch of Anubites to ambush you from the nearby cliffs and take it right back for that extra bit of frustration. And on Hard, there's even a big drop of army units from air-transport Rocs if you get it past that.

    Age of Empires III 
  • "Strange Alliances," the second mission of "Ice," in the base game's campaign. You start out with a small force and go out to destroy a few minor enemy settlements, only to find a massive British force has come in and taken over your original base while you were away. You're forced to establish a new one from scratch and defeat an enemy who's already well built-up and sending constant raids. They advance in age quickly and will build a fort right near you if you let them, as well as spamming huge amounts of Longbowmen.
  • The WarChiefs expansion has two examples:
    • The mission "Yorktown", from Fire. Even with a french ally, you're fighting against a pair of post-imperial British/German enemies which make use of other civilization units such as a pair of big bombards from the Ottomans, as well as monitors and howitzers at water-level preventing you from building a navy.
    • The mission "Turning Point", from Shadows. It is incredibly hard because of only one reason; Sheriff Holme attacking you with a real army, a lot of army that you could hardly recover from. Even if you repel an attack, he just brings in another even bigger army until your base gets wiped by his forces unless you prepare in advance.
  • The Asian Dynasties expansion has the brutal mission "A Rescue in the Wilderness," which starts you with a very small force trying to stop an enemy convoy from transporting some of your villagers to the main enemy base and rescue captured Chinese units. For most of the mission, you're on a timer before the convoy moves again and you start with no base. You have to slowly build up your forces while simultaneously moving fast enough that you can stop the convoy from reaching the main enemy base in time as your initial force is not strong enough to breach either of the two enemy checkpoints that the convoy stops at before it moves again. And to rescue all of the prisoners from the stockades that they're locked in, you will have to build up your forces again and destroy the main enemy base.

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