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

Age of Empires

  • "The Great Hunt" in Voices of Babylon. An infuriatingly long level, where you have no base and have to 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.
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  • "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.
  • Many scenarios in Yamato - Empire of the Rising Sun such as:
    • "The Assassins", the first mission. You get five units (a Cavalry, an archer Hero, and three Broad Swordsmen) 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.
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    • "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 2 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 amount of units and towers protecting it. Oh, there are priests in the temple so watch that out. 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.
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  • "Trading", the Egyptian 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. Did it say Minoan? They're 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 from 1000 to 500.

Age of Empires II

  • "The Siege of Paris", the fifth scenario in the Joan of Arc campaign on any difficulty level other than "Standard": the English now have fully developed and highly aggressive Longbowmen that can snipe you dead from far away or lead you to their towers and castle's range. Once inside the city the simplest mistake will have you swarmed with all the possible enemy troops in the city, including the above mentioned Longbowmen, Champions, Halberdiers and Siege Onagers. Even if you manage to evade all these foes, there's still the matter of leading Joan and at least 6 out of 10 villagers through a huge Burgundy attack safe and sound. The most difficult part of this escort mission is there are NO HEALERS to support your forces.
  • The Saladin campaign is by far the most difficult despite being numerically ordered as the third campaign in the Age Of Kings; made worse that you are restricted in the worst way possible almost every single scenario.
    • "Lord of Arabia", the second scenario. The level seems designed to screw you over in every way possible. You can't advance to the Imperial Age, start out with next to no resources and almost no units, and your opponents (especially Reynald's Pirates) can do everything you can't. It doesn't help that the Saracens have a lackluster early game, which you are stuck in for the majority of the scenario. Also, you get the privilege of defending two towns, Medina and Aqaba, who do virtually nothing for you (save for occasionally tributing you resources) and constantly nag you about crusaders attacking their caravans.
    • "The Horns of Hattin", the third scenario. The objective is to capture a Relic from an enemy faction. Like the previous scenario you start in the middle of the map while trying to defend against multiple enemies from all sides. Except that you cannot build any stone fortifications whatsoever. This also means no creating Mamelukes from the Castle. If you are playing the HD version, you won't have access to the post-Conquerors expansion stuff, so you're out of luck with building Palisade Gates. Even worse, you start in the Feudal Age with mostly unpromoted units and low resources while your enemies are already in the middle of the Castle Age, making defending or even advancing to the next age near impossible.
    • "Jihad!", the fifth scenario, has you up against Tiberias, Tyre, and Ascalon. You start out with very few resources, stuck in the center of the map, with Tiberias to your east, Tyre to the northwest across the ocean, and Ascalon to the south. Tyre and Tiberias will waste no time in hammering at your little fort, while Ascalon goes for a Wonder victory. Thankfully, the AI for Ascalon occasionally glitches and doesn't take any action, but it's still tough holding off two powerful opponents on both sides.
    • "The Lion and the Demon", the last mission (again) in the Saladin campaign. Feeling good at building a huge wonder in Acre while repelling the continous assaults of Genoese (warships), Templars (rams and teutonic Knights), French (bombard cannons and hand cannoneers), Jerusalem (champions, camels and trebuchets) and Richard the Lionhearted, who can spam you with longbowmen and trebuchets AND has two unique trebuchets with crazily boosted range. Oh, and you'll have to defend the city from both north and west. Have fun. On occasion, the AI might bug out after the initial assault and you'll get attacked by just Genoa with the other sides just hanging back and letting you win. However, that's the only way the mission becomes easy. With the exception of building the Wonder on an island in the west of the map, where again, only the Genoese will attack you.
  • "Into China", the third scenario from the Genghis Khan campaign. It pits you up against four Chinese factions: Tanguts, Hsi Hsia, Jin, and Sung. It would be a fairly standard scenario, if it wasn't for the fact that Jin starts building a wonder after not too long, located within its Imperial Age-level stronghold across the sea, forcing you to rush to the Imperial Age, while trying to scrounge enough resources to raise a force strong enough to punch through Jin's stronghold and destroy the wonder. Playing this scenario on the expansions made this slightly easier as you can train Petards in the Castle Age to rush through Jin's base, which are not as fortified as the other factions.
  • The first Barbarossa mission is between this and a Wakeup Call Boss, because unlike the other first missions in the other campaigns, which are often the easiest levels. "Holy Roman Emperor" begins with you being surrounded by six enemies while collecting four of their relics. Better put the Teutons' defensive bonuses to use.
    • Barbarossa's third mission, "Pope and Antipope", is like hell after the first two warm-up missions. The player must convert the Cathedral at Milan. While getting started isn't that hard, accomplishing the actual objective is. The player will be the target of frequent naval invasions, and even if one's defences are sufficient to ward them off, one still has to cross that river and fight Milan... and Milan not only has the resources to spam out troops at a horrendous rate, they also seem to have a fairly strong AI that makes them quite efficient at keeping their side of the river clean. Just for that extra little irritation, the level starts you off with no villagers and a handful of monks, forcing you off to try to steal a villager from one of the opposing factions.
    • Barbarossa 4, "The Lombard League", can be quite the nightmare as well, what with getting chased out of your base right off the bat and having to relocate to one of two places, neither of which has enough resources for you to beat all of your four enemies who attack you from both land and sea. Oh, and there's also the mission objective, which stipulates that you must build an obscenely expensive Wonder inside an enemy base. You know, those bases that are busy turning out soldiers faster than you can kill them and all that. Those bases. And there's one more detail that makes things more complicated than they really need to be: Henry the Lion betrays you again, though only if you build a castle. No surprise there as if you needed another reason to hate him already.
  • Attila the Hun 4, "A Barbarian Betrothal". You have three enemies: Burgundy, who is weakly defended and can be persuaded to join your side; Metz, a fairly well-defended town; Orleans, a massive stronghold that will frequently launch powerful attacks at your position. Even worse, once you finally destroy the center of Orleans, the Roman Army spawns, a massive force of top-tier units that can completely turn the tide of battle if you aren't prepared. Unless you can find the placeholder unit and break the script.
    • Attila the Hun 5, "Catalaunian Fields" isn't any better, you are told in the briefing that the scenario will play out similarly to a multiplayer death match. God help you if you're not good at rushing. You will be attacked frequently and mercilessly by hordes of unit spamming.
    • Attila the Hun 6, "Fall of Rome". You have four enemies, all of whom try to defeat you with a Wonder victory, all of whom attack you with forces that are difficult to fend off, and all of whom are in fortified cities.
  • Genghis Khan 4, "The Horde Rides West", and Barbarossa 6, "The Emperor Sleeping", are also quite hard if played with the expansion due to not being rebalanced to account for the Persian unique technology, which makes their elephants faster. Let's hope you can micromanage your monks. The latter somehow subverts this since the Teutons get to upgrade their Pikemen into Halberdiers, which are absent in the original Age of Kings.
  • El Cid 4, "Black Guards" can be quite an annoying level, especially if you have it on a high difficulty. The goal: Keep El Cid and King Alfonso alive while you take out all six docks from the Black Guards to win. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, no. Your enemies will constantly send armies to attack your small base. The game tells you that if you can make a dock to do fishing you will have more of an advantage, but there's one small problem: Even after you've likely taken out one of your enemies to get space to create a dock, it more than likely won't be there very long. Remember that you have to destroy six docks to win and your enemy will have plenty of galleons ready to destroy your dock shortly after it's been made. The only chance you'll have of keeping it up is if you have a castle built right next to it so it can sink all ships that try to attack your dock. Other small problems are cases of Schmuck Bait. For one example, there is a gold pile in the corner of the map which looks fine to mine up, except after a while, the Black Guard Navy will notice and they will send their galleons to kill any villagers that try to mine the gold as it's right next to the sea. There are some small tricks to make this slightly easier, such as bringing a monk to a mosque where you can learn all of the monastery techs. But the problem with that is the same as the gold pile; the enemies will eventually notice and they'll kill any monks you bring there. Heck, they'll even destroy the mosque if you aren't careful. If you're willing to take the risk early on, there are gold and stone piles that are close to the enemies and the enemy plans on mining them up, as some of them have a guard tower and a mining camp right next to them. If you destroy them, the enemy won't rebuild either and they won't mine from them, making them yours. If you pay attention to their attack patterns, you'll notice that Yusuf almost always attack with horseback enemies. Horseback enemies are weak against pike men so one can create a good number of them to stop the attacks and since they don't cost any gold, they will save you a lot on resources for stronger units like Mamelukes and siege weapons. This definitely isn't the hardest level in the game, it's just that it can be a very annoying level.
  • Sforza 1, "An End and a Beginning". The enemy have a castle and two guard towers. You have two scorpions, which can't get out of the buildings' range while attacking them, no other siege weapons, and no base. The rest of your army is mainly condottieri, who are infantry units and have to get even closer to those buildings. The worst part is that your allies have things like a Siege Tower and a Trebuchet, but will neither give them to you nor make any attack on the enemy themselves.
  • "Langshan Jiang", included in Battles of The Forgotten, requires that you protect five transports and build a monument in your town. Easy? Not when you have endless waves of enemies, east and west, army and navy, including Siege Weapons, and having only 25 minutes to clear enemy ships and towers for the transport ship. It can be alleviated slightly if you pay 2,000 gold to the green player to ally with them, but you'll really need the gold for just about everything else.
    • "Bapheus", also in the Battles of the Forgotten, is notoriously known to be incredibly difficult. Mainly because the town you are given to build is located at an open area of the map where it is difficult to defend and build your economy effectively, and you start off at the Feudal Age while your enemies are at Castle Age. Not only that, you have to deal with four different enemy factions that constantly attack you. Considering how the Turks are infamously known for their weak early game, this can catch newer players off-guard.
  • In the African Kingdoms, the last Malian scenario, "The Lion's Den", is infamous for this. You start off at the eastern corner of the map with a few units and some reasonable amount of resources. Easy right? Your enemy starts off at the Imperial Age while you start at the Castle Age. The enemy will not only attack you constantly, but at some point during the game, they'll start building a wonder. The enemy is Malian, and makes full advantage of this by sending beefed-up Cavaliers and surprisingly tanky infantry thanks to the pierce armor bonus. To make matter worse, gold is incredibly scarce in this scenario and you'll need to secure some gold mines in the islands that are heavily guarded and you do not have an ally to trade with, and there are no relics in the map. And on top of that, the map is modelled after the Pyrrhus of Epirus map from the Age of Empires game, which was also infamous for being incredibly difficult, thus giving the players an impression on how difficult the first Age of Empires game was.
    • The third scenario of the Yodit campaign, "A Fallen Crown", requires you build up an army in just under an hour and fight a boss with over 900HP, alongside his huge army of archers, elephants and monks. While there are ways to make things a bit easier, another enemy will constantly attack your villagers, making it harder to build an economy in time for the boss battle.
  • The entirety of the Burmese campaign in Rise of the Rajas, Bayinnaung, is infamously known to be ridiculously hard. As each scenario either tries to handicap you one way or another.
    • The first scenario, "The Burmese Tigers", would be a bit straightforward scenario where you need to take control of the Monument in the center. However, the city where the Monument is located in the center of the map. This is your typical destroy and conquer map. Except you have to worry about a secondary objective of killing a particular king unit that would flee to the city. If he manages to succeed, the city will send armies to defeat you. And do we mention that you start in the Feudal Age while most of your enemies start at Castle Age and the city starts off at Imperial Age?
    • The second scenario, "The Mandalay Cobra", also is a pain in the ass. You start out with six Monasteries with a Relic in them. Normally, a smartass player would try to take all of the relics out and put them all in a single Monastery. But here's the catch, if you try to ungarrison the relic, the relic will be gone...forever. To make this scenario a more pain in the ass, you cannot build any walls, towers, or even additional castles, meaning you'll need to rely on makeshift buildings and your army to defend the monasteries while building up an army to attack your opponents. And do we need to mention that the relics are your ONLY source of getting gold and you also cannot build a market? This scenario is very reminiscent of the third Saladin scenario "The Horns of Hattin" due to the "no fortifications" rule and enemies attacking you from all sides, except that you start in the Castle Age instead of Feudal and you already have a Castle to create Castle units from.
    • The third scenario, "The Royal Peacock", isn't that straightforward. But the first part of the scenario involves a few game mechanic abuse involve with the Monk unit. There are different ways to get to the waypoint at the south where you need to build up a base. Now, you have two objectives, either kill everyone or build a Wonder. The catch? The area you need to work with is in a very open area where you are attacked by enemies in all sides and have to work with limited resources. You can ally with one of the factions to make things easier, but here's another catch. If you try to defeat one of the factions or build a Wonder, the would be ally will be given massive amounts or resources, advance to Imperial Age and backstab you.
    • The fourth mission, "The White Elephant" is also known to be a pain the ass as well. You'll need to put a relic in each of the four cities. Sounds easy right? Not when you have to deal a 700 year time limit (which is an hour game time), and you'll have to face a shitton of enemies through the maze-like path. Not only that, you're limited to a 40 population limit with limited resources, meaning you'll need to have incredibly good micro AND race against the clock at the same time to complete the objective. With an army of mostly elephants and monks. Good luck.
    • The fifth mission, "The Old Tiger", is a nightmare. This part of the mission involves a fixed force micromanagement mission where you need to send the Monk hero to four different Buddhist temples. The first part of the scenario would have been easier if it isn't for your enemies that constantly send troops to make your life hell and have unlimited resources to do that to you. Luckily, the second part of the mission gives you a lot of resources and is a straightforward destroy everyone in the map, but even so, the resources you are given is limited.
  • The first two Vietnamese missions are also relatively difficult, but for different reasons (the rest of the campaign is easy and more straightforward):
    • The first scenario, "The Dai Viet Uprising", has an objective where you need to free 5 villages, and you have two allies that are able to hold from any Ming attacks. Sound easy right. Well, the problem is that one of the players (orange) has massive Artificial Stupidity that would cause them to fall quickly to the Ming forces and both players have no way to rebuild their own defenses (red is able to hold off longer than orange). To make things worse, the Ming bases are heavily fortified and one of them is incredibly close to orange's base. Oh, do we mention that you are restricted in the Castle Age and you lose if one of your allies are destroyed?
    • The second scenario, "The Mountain Siege", is a straightforward defend your base while you build up a path for your soldiers to escape. The problem? The Ming forces will play unfair to you by sending a slew of Siege weapons to screw you over while you aren't allowed to build any siege weapons. Meaning you must rely on your cavalry to dispose of any Trebuchets being thrown to you (which will be difficult since the Vietnamese don't have Husbandry). Also, you aren't allowed to build gates and walls, meaning once one of the gates fall, expect a swarm of Ming forces entering the city and lead to your defeat.

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 wall of 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 first 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 build-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 has the mission "Turning Point"; 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.

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