The best civilization in Age of Empires 2 depends highly on which version of the game you’re playing, what map you’re playing on and what level you’re playing at. There is no categorically “best” civilization in the game but there are certainly civilizations that perform better or worse depending on these factors. This article will give you four civs in each category to help you to find which civilization might be best for you in your next match. Each list will contain civs from all of the AoEHD expansions, if you don’t own them then you can ignore them, or if you want to add the new civilizations to your game then you can purchase them on Steam. This guide is not an in-depth look at each of the civilizations in question, but a brief explanation about what makes them strong and why they are the best.
Base Game or Expansions?
You may have anywhere between 13 and 31 civilizations to choose from depending on which version of Age of Empires you have, but which is best? This guide will take that into consideration and provide multiple answers as a result. First you need to identify which version you’re playing.
AoK: Base game with 13 civs.
AoC: Conquerors expansion. Adds Aztecs, Huns, Koreans, Mayans and Spanish.
AoF: Forgotten Empires. Adds Italians, Magyars, Slavs, Incas and Indians.
AoAK: African Kingdoms. Adds Berbers, Ethiopians, Malians and Portuguese.
AoR: Rise of the Rajas. Adds Burmese, Khmer, Malay and Vietnamese.
The best civilizations for Arabia have a few things in common: economy bonus and ability to rush. Because of how open and fast paced this map is you need to be able to defend from rushes and be able to counter attack effectively.
Still the stand-out, dominant force on Arabia since the year 2000 and one of the best Age of Empires 2 civilizations all-round. The Aztec economy bonus of +5 carry capacity is solid, helping from the outset of the game to make villagers more efficient. Better than the eco bonus is the Aztec faster military production, this is so critical on Arabia where speed is so important. It especially helps with Eagle Warrior production in the Feudal Age since it’s such a slow training unit, with the Aztecs each Eagle Warrior will train 9 seconds faster!
The extra 50 gold/ free Loom gives you the ability to rush with 5 militia or 5 men at arms, an early game aggression that can not be matched by any other civ. With the expansions also buffing men at arms, a 5 men at arm play can be really difficult to deal with and puts the pressure on your opponent to deal with it while buying you plenty of time to wall and transition in the Feudal Age.
The Aztecs are extremely strong during the early stage of the game, and this is what counts the most on Arabia. With that said, the Aztecs awesome farms allow players to reach the Imperial Age in a great time and then take advantage of the power spike that comes from Elite Eagle warriors. So many Arabia games end once the Aztec Elite Eagles with 8 pierce armour break through and start raiding. It’s extremely difficult to deal with, especially due to the speed at which the Aztecs can do it.
Arguably the most famous Arabia civilization, the Huns are renowned for their dominance which predates any of the more recent expansions. For a long time the Huns were considered as one of the best civilizations in Age of Empires 2 and while they may not be “the best” with all of the expansion civs now in the game they are still extremely formidable. Fast and versatile, the Huns could decide to rush you with militia, scouts or even open with archers before making a smooth transition to the Castle Age and dominating the map with Cavalry Archers. Never getting housed is a neat bonus and saving 25 wood on each one keeps the Hun economy ticking over nicely. A lack of walls can be a problem, but an all-out offensive is often the best form of defence anyway. The Huns are loved for their aggression, speed and familiarity.
The Malian economy bonuses are finely tuned for a cataclysmic archer rush, a strategy which is a staple of most Arabia matches. Saving 15% on building wood costs and getting the free gold mining upgrade synergies extremely well for archer production. Expect to see a Malian player adding a blacksmith and researching fletching early on, giving you an opportunity to push their range and attack advantage. Your men at arms are also improved with +1 pierce armour, allowing you to play an aggressive opening and get extra value from your early units should your opponent open with archers themselves. Not only does this give the Malians great early game map control and presence, but with a clean transition into archers in the Feudal Age they can keep that dominance.
Another civ which benefits from an extremely strong economy bonus- 15% longer lasting resources. This has its biggest effect in the early game where you want to gather your sheep, boar and berries. Having longer lasting resources here makes your Dark Age much smoother but also delays your need to add farms, giving you a strong and versatile start to the game. The Mayans also have cheaper archers, making them one of the best civs to open with a fast feudal into archer play, though a more popular approach in the current meta -game would be men at arms into archers. Which is of course made easier thanks to their extra early-game food.
Following their powerful Dark Age and archer dominated Feudal Age the Mayans can continue into Castle and aim for Plumed Archers… one of the best units in the game. A fast, cheap and tanky archer which has no real drawback aside from the need to have a castle to produce them. Though being able to have the space and resources for a castle should be made much easier thanks to their powerful early game.
This map is so closed and has so few choke-points that the vast majority of games see mass walling. This leads to players being able to safely boom to the Imperial Age and then take advantage of their late game strength. Economy bonuses are less important here and having strong late game units, especially siege, can make all the difference.
Depending on whether you’re playing AoC or the other expansions this civilization might play a little differently. The Koreans have a different Team Bonus in the different versions of the game. In AoC their team bonus is: +1 range for all mangonels, onagers and siege onagers while in the expansions this bonus was changed to: Mangonel line minimum range reduced to 1. The bonus in AoC is far better than the expansions, but the nerf was added because the Koreans were just too good when it came to late game siege. It doesn’t matter if your siege fires faster or has more HP or has more move speed if you don’t even get to shoot because of how long ranged the Korean onagers are. When paired with civs such as Celts this bonus can get a little out of hand!
The Celts bring some of the best siege to the game, with all siege units available except the Bombard Cannon. They have 20% faster working Siege Workshops, 20% faster firing Siege Weapons (including trebuchets) and their unique tech “Furor Celtica” which gives their Siege units 40% extra HP. Siege engineers is also available, giving their siege an extra 1 range and 20% more damage against buildings. Stack all of these techs and bonuses together and you have an absolutely terrifying civilization on Black Forest. Age of Empires 2 can become a war of attrition on maps such as Black Forest, one of the best ways to win that war is to have great siege. 20 Celt Siege Onagers can lock down a choke-point extremely well, their rams can tear through your base like a hot knife through butter and their trebuchets can win most treb wars.
Pushing in to the Celts can be extremely hard and with a small number of siege units a Celt player can really hold tight onto a choke-point. This leaves population free for units such as Woad Raiders which can try to slip behind enemy lines and go for raids into the enemy trade. Celt infantry moves 15% faster so whether you’re adding mass halbs to meat-shield for your siege or if you’re adding Woad Raiders to get into enemy trade they are going to perform better than your average civilization. To top it all off, the Celts have 15% faster wood chopping. This is a lovely bonus for doing a big boom as wood is required for new Town Centers and lots of farms to keep your villager production going.
The biggest weakness of the Turks is their lack of trash units. With no Elite Skirmisher or Pikeman they really struggle if gold gets low and that’s a risk not worth taking on more open maps such as Arabia (especially in 1v1). However, with Black Forest, trade is much more reliable and a strong steady boom to the Imperial Age will set your economy on track for the late game. This is where the Turks can shine as a great asset to any team.
Using their extra range on Bombard Towers and Bombard Cannons from their unique tech “Artillery” they can support the push on both flanks with extremely strong and long ranged siege and towers. Their biggest weakness is not having any strong tanky units such as Paladins to engage on the front lines. The Turks are best when paired with a civ that can provide this while they bring a lot of ranged firepower to the battle.
This is also one of the few common maps where the Turks can pull off a Fast Imperial strategy. Once the map is walled the Turks can take advantage of their free chemistry to try and overwhelm their opponent extremely quickly. Using Bombard Cannons and Hand Cannoneers to make a fast and unpredictable push into their Castle Age economy.
Continuing the theme of strong siege the Ethiopians are a strong contender as one of the best. They are the only civilization that gets a completely full Siege Workshop and their unique technology “Torsion Engines” is absolutely crazy. Their Shotel Warriors are extremely good at raiding if you get the opportunity to get behind enemy lines. Not only are they fast but they kill villagers in 2 hits and Trade Carts in 4 hits. A fully upgraded Paladin takes 3 hits to kill a villager and 4 to kill a trade cart.
The Ethiopians also have a smooth boom thanks to their free 100 Food and 100 Gold when advancing to the next age. This makes Fast Castling super easy and gives you a little boost when reaching the Castle Age too. You can either decide to spend your extra gold on some more stone for a fourth town center or keep it to buy some extra wood or food if you don’t have enough for farms or villagers.
Video by ZeroEmpires showing the strength of Torsion Engines.
The best civilizations on water maps are clearly those which benefit from some dock or war-ship bonuses. However, with maps such as Baltic requiring players to be fast and aggressive it’s a huge benefit to also have a civilization that can advance quickly.
With the expansions came a new dominant force on water maps, especially those with shorter rush distances such as Baltic or Mediterranean. The Italians are one of the most picked water map civs in 1v1 competitive matches due to their fantastic bonuses. First, their cost to advance to the next age is 15% less. This means that they only need to gather 425 food to click up to the Feudal Age, resulting in faster age-up times and an early advantage on the water.
Video by ZeroEmpires showing the Condottiero.
In addition the Italians fishing ships cost 11 wood less and their dock techs are 50% cheaper. This is especially helpful when advancing to the Castle Age and upgrading War Galley. Not only do you save 120F on advancing to the Castle Age but your War Galley tech only costs 115F instead of 230F, effectively making the upgrade free. This allows you to focus much more heavily on gathering wood and gold in order to out produce war ships and win the water. This also happens with the Imperial Age upgrade and the Galleon tech, making the Italians extremely quick at dominating the water if used well.
Finally, the Italians have another ace up their sleeve: the Condottiero. This unit gives the Italians the ability to quickly flood strong infantry units on the land as soon as they reach the Imperial Age.
Advancing to the Feudal Age 80% faster is huge on aggressive water maps, the Malay are able to train and send their first Fire Galleys across the map and start killing your fishing ships before you even Age up. This gives them a big advantage on maps such as Baltic where the rush distance is very short. On maps such as Migration where rushing is a lower priority the Malay can trade their 80% faster upgrade time for free villagers, giving them a solid eco lead from very early on.
The Malay unique tech “Thalassocracy” is a massive upgrade for their docks, giving them the ability to fire a volley of arrows over long range. When fully upgraded a harbour can do 20 damage to a Galleon which is enough to deter any sane player from sitting underneath your docks and taking a beating. Harbours also have the same range as fully upgraded Galleons, giving you a save haven to retreat to should you need to regroup and build your navy before attacking again. To top it off, the harbour also has no stone cost, so you can save your precious stone for castles while fortifying the shorelines around the map with endless harbour spam.
The undisputed king of water… in The Conquerors. Sadly the Vikings lost their throne with the addition of Malay and Italians, which is no problem if you don’t own the expansions. However, the Vikings are still a top tier water civ and are especially strong in team games thanks to their team bonus of cheaper docks. The main limiting factor of the Vikings is their lack of fire galley, making it difficult to win early water control on maps such as Baltic where the rush distance is so short.
On less aggressive maps the Vikings can overpower other civs thanks to their cheaper boats which 15% less in Feudal and Castle and 20% less in Imperial. Given time to get to the Castle Age the Vikings can start to dominate any match-up thanks to their Longboats which no longer require a castle to unlock in the expansions. Longboats are very strong against all other ships, this helps to compensate for their lack of fire ships. Although they cost slightly more gold than galleys this is also offset by the strong Viking economy which benefits from free wheelbarrow and hand cart techs.
If you’re playing without expansions then the Vikings are still king of the water. There is no civ that comes close to the Vikings and their ability to create galleys in the base game. The Huns, Mongols and Japanese are strong contenders in AoC but none quite benefit from as many water bonuses as the Vikings.
Strong in the base game and the expansions, the Japanese are the masters of fishing. In the Imperial Age with “Gillnets” researched the Japanese fishing ships provide the fastest source of food in the game. Their extremely strong fishing is critical on water maps since your macro is heavily focused on gathering wood and gold for boat production. If your fishing ships work that bit harder then you’re able to build a surplus of food faster and age-up faster too. Their Dark Age is also made particularly smooth thanks to the wood savings from lumber camps, mills and mining camps; costing just 50 wood instead of 100. This helps to build an extra fishing ship for free and capitalise on your stronger fishing even further. Or use the saved wood for an earlier third dock and try to out-produce your opponent.
The Japanese team also benefit from +50% galley line of sight, allowing you to better judge when to engage or retreat, giving you more scouting information and generally making water control easier to keep once you win it.
Arena is a very different map with its own meta-game and opportunities to play some creative strategies. Due to the starting walls players have a virtually guaranteed Fast Castle, but with such an open center to the map and short rush distance, taking map control becomes very important. The home of castle drops, monk warfare and crazy all-in pushes, it takes a special type of civilization to dominate here. Check out DemEyesRed’s video with detailed tier information for Arena civs.
Monks, monks and more monks. Aztecs have the best monks in Age of Empires 2. Benefiting from +5 HP per monk tech researched and having a complete monastery leaves Aztec monks with 95 HP when fully upgraded. What an absolute unit. Fully upgraded Aztec monks can even survive a siege onager shot, and then convert the siege onager and turn it against you… scary.
However, there is a lot of nuance to playing the Aztecs on Arena. Relics are an important factor thanks to their +33% relic gold generation bonus. This bolsters their already strong economy, which benefits from super efficient villagers that carry +5 resources from the start of the game. This allows the Aztecs to take map control effectively through the use of monks and eagle warriors. Eagle warriors are of special importance thanks to their low food cost and reliance on gold (which should be no problem if you collected the relics!), this is a really good combination as the Aztec player can make a good number of eagles with a low number of farms. Eagles also benefit from conversion resistance and +8 bonus damage against monks, making them ideal for dominating the early Castle Age map control.
The 80% faster upgrade speed for the Malay is especially valuable on Arena since you’re almost always guaranteed a safe Fast Castle behind your starting walls. This essentially gives the Malay a 5 villager advantage over any other civ by the time they reach the Castle Age. Having the extra villagers can aid you in doing a quick boom or allow you to allocate more resources than your opponent into an early aggression. The Malay can also bring strong monks to the field, with a full monastary barring fervor and theocracy. Strong monks are extremely valuable, but what is perhaps more important is the heresy tech which can be used in combination with the Malay battle elephants to prevent conversion. Although the Malay have the worst battle elephants in the game thanks to no bloodlines or second armour upgrade, they do cost 30% less.
With strong monk civilizations dominating on Arena it’s no surprise that the Teutons make an appearance here with their conversion resistance bonus helping both their regular military and their own monks in wololo warfare. The Teuton monastery is also great, only missing herbal medicine which is the least valuable of the monastery technologies anyway. With atonement researched the Teutonic monks are very scary, being able to convert your monks while their own monks resist conversion. Other than their monks the Teutons have cheaper farms which help with the Castle Age boom as well as a very formidable late game tech tree.
If you read my Perfect Farms article you’d know that the Slavs have the best farmers in the game. This gives them a fantastic boost on Arena where you’ll either a) Fast Castle and boom or b) Fast Castle and go aggressive. Either way the Slavs decide to play they have the versatility and a strong eco bonus to back them up. If you decide to go aggressive with the Slavs then they recieve the most important monk techs, only missing heresy and faith. They also benefit from 15% cheaper siege workshop units, making a push backed by mangonels a lot cheaper. This farm bonus and cheaper siege synergies very well for the current Arena meta-game.
The faster farming bonus also helps the Slavs with a smooth transition to the Imperial Age where they can use their speed advantage to produce the first trebuchets and win the treb war.
When starting out it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to always make the most of the categorically “best” civilizations in Age of Empires 2, just because they are considered to be the best doesn’t mean that they are easy to play. This list of civs is designed with ease of play in mind, so if you’re a new player you can pick these civilizations safely and focus on improving at the game. Many civs have a lot of overlap, in fact there’s more in common between the 31 civilizations in Age of Empires 2 than there are differences. For newer players this means that spending time learning the nuance of a particular civilization is not the most effective way to improve.
Learning the difference between the Britons and the Mayans is not nearly as important as being able to properly manage your economy or any one of the other hundred things that can make a bigger difference in an average game.
As one of the best archer civilizations in the game the Britons also make for a good starter civilization. Their cheaper Town Centers allow you to protect your villagers easier and faster in the early Castle Age which is great if you’re struggling from being raided; it also allows you to build your economy faster. In the early game they have a sheep gathering rate boost which will help you to keep villager production going at the start of the game without running out of food.
The huge range of their foot archers makes the Britons incredibly strong on maps such as Black Forest, which is very popular with newer players. Longbowmen can destroy targets from huge distances and this makes for a very hard army to counter.
Strongest Units: Longbows, Arbalest, Trebuchets.
The Huns are one of the easiest civilizations to start with thanks to their lack of houses. So many newer players struggle to remember to build houses and spend far too long being unable to produce units each game as a result. The Huns are a bit of a crutch to this problem and can allow you to focus on other things instead of getting overwhelmed by everything at once. Later on you’ll definitely want to practise with other civs and not lean on the Huns too much.
On many popular maps (with the exception of Black Forest) the Huns are very versatile and their constant wood savings from not having to build houses gives you a solid economy to work with. If you’ve ever seen a high level Arabia Hunwar then you’ve probably seen every strategy in the book, every option is open to you, making the Huns a fantastic civilization to learn build orders with. As the game progresses the Huns do become more predictable thanks to their reliance on cavalry type units, but for the early to mid-game they really shine.
Strongest Units: Heavy Cavalry Archers, Cavalry (Hussar/Paladins/ Elite Tarkan).
Added with the African Kingdoms expansion, the Berbers are definitely a very new-player friendly civilization. Their economy bonus works beautifully in the background; giving Berber villagers +10% movement speed. The effect of this bonus is hard to measure, but faster moving villagers leads to a more efficient economy from the very start of the game as well as making boar luring easier, saving your villagers’ lives when being raided and numerous other benefits.
The Berbers are well rounded, they perform well on water maps thanks to having faster moving ships and a full dock (with the exception of shipwright). On land maps they are great for new players learning to Fast Castle as their cheaper stable units costing 15% less in the Castle Age make flooding knights or camels easier than ever. For team games they also allow allied players to train the Genitour, which is a mounted skirmisher available from the Archer Range. They also give their teammates 25% faster working castles after researching Kasbah from the Castle, this is really strong, especially when you have teammates that rely heavily on their Castle unit such as the Mayans or Mongols. Finally the Berber unique unit, the Camel Archer, it’s very strong when used for raiding or as a counter unit to other cavalry archers in the game.
Strongest Units: Camel Archer, Heavy Camel, Genitour.
The Age of Empires 2 Best Civilization Quiz
If your favourite civilization isn’t here then don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that they are bad, only that other civilizations may have a competitive edge on the specific maps listed. If you want to find the best Age of Empires 2 civilizations for you based on your play-style and less for a competitive perspective then you can try the AoE2 Best Civilization quiz.