Age of Empires 4 Strategy: How to Win More Often

Image credit: Relic Entertainment, World's Edge

Age of Empires 4 is a Strategy game that, just like others of its genre, has a lot going on at the same time. That’s one of the reasons this game and any other similar games are intimidating to new players.

There is a lot going on in a match of Age of Empires 4. Players must control units, manage resources, demand researches, organize their town’s defense and structure positioning, and much more.

Since all that happens simultaneously, it is easy to get overwhelmed and forget things you should be doing. This can cause you to fail the race to advance through the Ages and leave you in a disadvantageous situation. Good players will perceive those mistakes and take advantage of them.

Besides all that, there is a lot of match-up knowledge that is necessary for players to handle the enemy civilizations. Knowing how to deal with a rush and learning how to micro your units in Age of Empires 4 are all just tiny aspects amongst many things you must know to get better.

Although I am a long-time strategy player, all those mentioned issues are things I remember having to deal with when I first started getting into the genre. That being said, it is not impossible to navigate through the overwhelming seas of information that you need to get good at such games.

Back when I was playing my first RTS, I wanted to know what I needed to learn in order to start playing it, and it felt like a lot of information. Much like most new players who try out a new genre, I desperately wanted information on what to learn first.

Having some pointers can help interested players to improve tremendously since they’ll learn what they need to prioritize, which will cause them to figure out the rest of the game all by themselves.

This Age of Empires 4 strategy guide will go through every little aspect of the game, with tips and tricks recommended by experienced and professional players. After going through all this, you should be able to win more games more often.

Fundamentals

Fundamentals are so crucial in Age of Empires 4 that most players will be able to deduct by themselves what they need to do in a match if their fundamentals are strong. The rest is a matter of perfecting timing and technique.

The surprising thing about AoE4 is that you can win many more games and move up the global leaderboards by just getting a better understanding of fundamentals. Once you understand them, you need to practice them over and over again.

A player with a better understanding of fundamentals will often be able to defeat quicker players with much higher APMs (Actions-Per-Minute) simply through their game knowledge and consistent play alone.

Idle Time

As mentioned above, you should always be doing something, especially when it comes to your villagers and Town Centers.

Make sure to set your Villagers to go straight to Food, Wood, or something else straight from the Town Center by clicking on the Town Center and right-clicking on the resource they are meant to gather.

You also have to constantly check your Town Center to ensure its researching or producing new villagers. If it is still producing new villagers, double-check the path you set to the villagers cause you might need those workers elsewhere.

The community usually divides Idle Time into two categories: when the Villagers aren’t doing anything — known as Eco Idle time — and when that structure isn’t researching or producing anything — Town Center Idle Time.

It’s easy to forget about your Town Center after the first ten minutes since you will have a lot more on your plate than the initial 6 Villagers and 1 Scout.

That being said, Idle Time is one of the things that cause players to fall behind the opponent in Economy, which causes their army to be much weaker, especially during matches that last until late game.

Note that it is crucial to always have something going on because the more resources you have, the faster you can expand, replenish your army, and bully the enemy in order to disrupt their Economy.

It also helps you advance faster to the next Age and to immediately start producing more advanced technology when you do so.

Counter Units

Age of Empires 4 has some tropes that have been in the genre for a long time. One of them is that certain types of units have specific purposes.

The rock-paper-scissors dynamic is very prevalent in Age of Empires 4, with Spearmen being good against Horsemen, Horsemen being good against Archers, and Archers being good against Spearmen.

Since counters are an essential concept in the game, you should learn the counter units in Age of Empires 4 so you can make the correct decisions regarding what units to produce once you have information on the enemy’s army.

Quickly building a cavalry to deal with the enemy’s archers is not only a way to outplay them, but it is also a very solid choice to make in that sort of situation. Still, you have to take care and not throw your cavalry into a trap that can get them focus-targeted and quickly obliterated.

Use your macro and micro skills wisely, and you can fight against the worst scenarios, but make sure that you have the right structures and units to deal with your adversary when possible.

You must also be careful when it comes to hybrid units, such as the Horse Archers and the Mongols’ Mangudai. They are at the same time both Archers and Horsemen, combining the strengths and weaknesses of the two kinds of units.

Besides the superficial rock-paper-scissors concept, there is also the fact that some units have unique characteristics that can make them effective against units they wouldn’t usually be strong against.

For instance, the Landsknecht might be weak against Archers, but if they manage to flank ranged units, they can cause damage in an area of effect and turn it around in the blink of an eye.

Knights are armored units that have all Horsemen’s weaknesses but can withstand damage for longer, which allows them to trade surprisingly well against Spearmen.

The Grenadier is another excellent example of how context can change what it means to counter the enemy’s army. They have issues when dealing with Horsemen and Knights for being ranged units, but they can quickly end a group of units too close to one another since they cause damage in an area of effect.

Seeing that countering units can be pretty straightforward, this is an excellent time to highlight the importance of a good Army Composition.

It might not be the best idea to make only one kind of unit and march into the enemy’s Town Center. If all you have is Archers and the enemy sees it, he can stop everything he is doing to produce a cavalry and end your army even if he takes a while to see the attack coming.

However, things might be a bit trickier if your cavalry also has some Archers behind them. That means that even if your enemy manages to produce some Spearmen to counter your cavalry, your Archers will handle their Spearmen.

You should also notice that Gold is a very scarce resource in Age of Empires, so if you intend to produce units that cost Gold, make sure it’s only that one type of unit.

Other units should cost you only Food and Wood. That way, you can have some Gold for upgrades while at the same time you diversify your own army.

Being Housed

This is a simple concept in most Real-Time Strategy games that is also present in Age of Empires 4. People need places to live, so you can’t just produce units without housing.

The only exception to this rule is the Mongol Civilization. So if you’re learning how to play as the Mongols, you won’t worry about it as much. But all other civilizations do have to worry about population limits.

When you do not build enough houses, your structures will stop producing units. This is what Age of Empires players call “being housed.”

A player might think that the solution is to just build more houses, but things get tricky when trying to do things faster than your opponent.

Taking a villager from Gold or Wood might delay the construction of your next Landmark or Barracks, which might cause the adversary to gain an advantage over you.

On the other hand, not building enough houses might cause you to be housed, which can prevent your military units from being produced right when you need them.

One thing is for sure, though. Being Housed is terrible. You just have to try not to over-commit to building houses at the same time you pay attention to your population so you won’t make them too late.

Build Orders

Knowing your bread and butter build orders helps you consistently gather resources and produce units throughout all matches in the most efficient manner.

When you know exactly what to do, you can focus on other things without worrying as much about what you are gathering and building. Microing becomes significantly more manageable and more efficient when you have an exact goal in mind.

Besides, you can challenge yourself to do better and practice to make an even better build order. The better your build, the faster you gather needed resources, which gives you the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with your opponent or even leave them behind in the Economy race.

In Age of Empires, players are always in a race — or in multiple ones. Civilizations must try to outplay the other while trying to win the Economy game.

You must know how to collect resources and produce units as fast as you can while adapting to whatever the adversary is doing so you can counter them.

If your adversary reaches the next Age minutes earlier than you, chances are they are already producing an army that you might not have the means to deal with.

The logic behind build orders is figuring out the fastest way to achieve something. For instance, if you are playing as the English, there is a build order that allows you to expand and build a second Town Center surprisingly fast — the Fast English Town Center Boom — and in a reasonably safe way.

Still, doing it consistently might be complicated if you don’t know exactly what to do, hence the Build Orders that we use.

For instance, this is the build order for a fast English Boom.

  • Start Queuing Villagers
  • 5 Villagers to Sheep
  • 1 Villager to House, then Gold
  • 2 Villagers to Sheep, making 7 in total
  • 1 Villager to Gold
  • 3 Villagers to Wood
  • Research Forestry
  • 4 Villagers to Stone
  • Build a Council Hall
  • All new Villagers from the Town Center to Wood
  • Build a House with a villager that’s building something else
  • Build a House
  • New Villagers to Berries
  • At 300 Stone, take the Villagers from Stone and send them to Berry
  • At 400 Wood, make your second Town Center with 8 villagers

The way players explain their builds is based on the number of Villagers they have.

In Age of Empires 4, you start with 6 villagers. So the first five gather Food from the Sheep — Hence 5 villagers to Sheep — and the sixth one has to be set to build a house and collect Gold next.

Many build orders will not even say “5 villagers to sheep and 1 to gold.” Instead, they will have something like this:

  • 5 Sheep
  • 1 house then Gold
  • 2 Sheep

The number will always represent the villagers you are sending to do something. In other words, once you have 2 more villagers, they will be added to the 5 gathering food from the Sheep. If you have to send villagers from one place to another, build orders tend to say something like:

  • Remove 3 Villagers from Sheep and send them to Rock, or
  • 3 from Sheep to Rock

It is normal to use build orders that experienced players and professionals use in Age of Empires. With time, you will be comfortable with the idea of making your own builds or trying to improve someone else’s. It’s part of the fun in Real-Time Strategy games.

Until then, it will be good for you to learn basic builds — such as the Fast Feudal Age Build — so you can keep up with your adversaries while you are learning the fundamentals of the game.

It Always Depends

By now, you have probably started noticing a common theme in Age of Empires. Most decisions you make, if not all, depend on the context.

Should I build a house? It depends on what I need to gather and if I’m about to be housed. Should I produce Spearmen? It depends on what kind of units the enemy is producing.

Context matters a lot in Real-Time Strategy games. The first thing you do when the game starts already depends on the Civilization the adversary is playing, the one you chose, and the map.

From there, things can take a drastic turn if you find out, for instance, that your opponent is going for a rush build, such as the Royal Knights Rush. You might have to start quickly producing spearmen to deal with the enemy’s army.

Or maybe you saw that the enemy civilization went for an early expansion, and you failed to take advantage of it, forcing you to do your best to catch up.

In Age of Empires, everything you do has a counter and a condition that makes things better or worse. Knowing what to do next to mitigate the upcoming issues significantly alters the course of a match. This is why Everything Depends on the Context in Age of Empires 4.

Having said that, once you learn all the basics, you will be able to quickly figure out what depends on what and have a general idea of what needs to be done.

The enemy’s archers are too strong for your armored units? Maybe it’s time to research defensive improvements. The enemy has too many archers? Time to start producing a decent cavalry. Do you have too much Wood? Send some villagers from Wood to Rock or any other resource that you need.

Most of it follows a logical line of thinking as soon as you understand the fundamentals of the game.

There Is More to It Than Knowledge

Knowing how the game works is vital for your success in Age of Empires 4. Unfortunately, it isn’t all you need. Real-Time Strategy games demand skills on top of knowledge.

As mentioned before, knowing that your Horsemen are strong against archers doesn’t necessarily mean you will win against the enemy’s ranged units. There is a chance your enemy will use the terrain and their units’ special abilities to outplay you.

This is why it is important to improve your point and clicking skills. In this genre, the act of micromanaging and controlling units to do specific tasks is called Micro.

Sending all your army to attack is not microing. On the other hand, we can say that you were microing if you managed to command your archers to focus on the enemy’s infantry while your own infantry fought their cavalry.

It is also considered microing to take just the right amount of villagers out of a resource so you can build houses or walls in strategic places and send them back to where they were right after.

If the idea of controlling single units to make the most out of them seems alien to you, it means that you need to urgently learn how to Micro in Age of Empires 4.

There are many things that one must learn to micro in Age of Empires. For instance, players must learn how to target the most dangerous units during battles. Focus fire is an excellent way to take down the most troubling units of the adversary’s army.

It is also indispensable that players learn how to kite — also known as hit and run — the enemy units when using their archers. Doing so will make them live longer, and it can also grant enough time for your Spearmen to surround the enemy Horsemen who are coming for your ranged units.

Besides all that, there are advantageous ways to use formations, tactics to bait the enemy, ways to take advantage of choke points, and so much more that you can do when microing your armies. Just like everything else in this game, learning how to do all this takes time and practice, but it also sounds much more complicated than it is.

The biggest challenge is not controlling your units; it is to do that while doing everything else.

Early Game

Now you know that everything depends. You also learned that you have to make sure your Villagers and Town Center won’t go idle. You must also have checked some build orders at this point. What now?

When the game starts, you will have 6 Villagers, 1 Scout, and a single Sheep nearby.

Thankfully, in the beginning, the number of things that you can do is quite limited, and the chosen strategy is blindly picked.

This doesn’t mean that context doesn’t matter, though. It does matter, and we will talk more about it later on, but it also means that things are much simpler right when a match starts. After all, the longer the game, the more variables you will have to consider.

When the match starts

Although in the rest of the game, it is not a good idea to just choose what to do next without making an informed decision, you don’t have any information when you start a PvP game besides the Civilization you are playing against and the map you are in.

This is both a good and a bad thing. You can’t adapt to the adversary when the game starts, but you don’t have to worry about countering their build that early in the game either.

Once the game starts, you should have an idea of what you want to do next based on the map and the enemy civilization. For instance, if they are playing a civilization with a slow start, such as the Chinese, maybe you want to try a quick expansion or perhaps an early knights rush.

Whatever your decision is, go for it but remember that you might need to drop it and go for something else depending on what the adversary is doing. Commit to your strategy but always be ready to adapt.

Using Scouts

Once the game starts, your Scout will be of extreme importance. Not only is it the unit you will use to find Sheep throughout the map — which is a vital source of Food in the early game — but it will also be the unit that goes near the enemy’s Town Center.

You need to make your Scout find the enemy’s Town Center as soon as possible, so you will know what is going on.

If you don’t know what the enemy is doing and they manage to get a scout moving near your Town Center, chances are they are doing something to counter your current build and military units.

If they have information on you, but you don’t know what they’re up to, you can’t do anything to prevent what the adversary is planning. That’s a massive problem in Real-Time Strategy games.

Scouting will never stop being necessary in Age of Empires 4, but it will be increasingly difficult to gather information on the enemy as the match progresses. The more walls and armies your adversary has, the easier it is for them to prevent scouts from getting near their structures.

After a while, this might have to be done by sending multiple scouts so they can survive while trying to invade or by sending units that last a little longer, such as knights.

Rush Tactics

A Rush is basically a build that provides you with military units really early in the game. For instance, a French Knight Rush makes you have a small amount of French Knights within the first 6 minutes of a match.

The idea is to have specific military units so soon that the adversary will not be ready to deal with them. There are many different rush tactics, such as the Mongol’s Horseman Rush or the Roman’s Man-at-Arms rush build.

Although early aggressive builds can be really powerful and deal with, there’s a catch. As stated before, in Age of Empires, everything depends.

A rush can destroy the enemy’s Economy early in the game and even grant you a quick victory if it works, but it doesn’t always work.

If you get ready for an archers rush and the enemy sees you doing it with their Scout, they might have a few horsemen waiting for you.

They don’t have to clearly overcome your attacking troops to make you fail. Rush builds tend to hinder your Economy since their focus is to produce units as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, the adversary might have been investing in the future of their Civilization by gathering resources and going for a game-changing research.

It is also important to note that besides producing the military units quickly for a rush, those units will have to march through the map until the place where the enemy is located. If your army is spotted while traveling to where the adversary’s villagers are, it might already mean that your rush is going to fail.

Fast Castle

Going straight up to the Feudal Age is something commonly done by most players. Generally speaking, there are rare cases that might motivate you to delay advancing to the Feudal Age.

On the other hand, advancing as quickly as possible to the Castle Age is a strategy with its ups and downs, but it is a valid strategy, and it might make the enemy play catch up for the rest of the match.

In Age of Empires, the way you spend your resources is always a matter of risk and reward. You might be investing in better technology once you reach the next Age, but you will be somewhat vulnerable while building a Landmark.

Landmarks are not quickly built, and to mitigate that issue, you will need to send many Villagers to the construction site. Not only that but there’s also the issue of spending a lot of resources at once, making you less likely to suddenly produce a significant army if the enemy decides to attack.

Be that as it may, producing an army before advancing to the next Age might cause you to have a less relevant army. It will also delay the construction of your Landmark since you will be spending your resources on military units.

The Fast Castle strategy is powerful because it can lead to a Knights Rush, an impressive boost to your Economy, a strong Boom, and so many other things. If you manage to safely pull it out, there is no doubt that it will help you get closer to victory.

Yet, I’m sure you noticed that things always depend on the context in Age of Empires.

Maps & Map Control

Maps are not just decorative in most Real-Time Strategy games. In Age of Empires 4, they can heavily dictate the pacing of a match and the kind of units you will have to go for.

There are maps with vast bodies of water. Some have enormous lakes, others might not have water at all, but even maps with water might be pretty different from one another.

Even maps without any water can be quite different. Some might have a lot of trees that make it difficult for you to scout, while others might be more open and filled with mounts that can provide a tactical advantage to whoever uses the high ground.

You have to pay attention to the maps since they can completely ruin your strategies due to their shape. For instance, maps that don’t allow you to reach the enemy without a boat will make most rush builds useless.

There are also maps that do not have resources distributed so that a second Town Center won’t grant you the advantage that it would in most maps. You have to take all these things into consideration when the game starts.

That being said, you might want to have some build orders that work better in specific scenarios. You should not rely on a single opening. Have one for maps where you usually are too far from the opponent, other for maps that have too much water, other for maps that facilitate early aggression, and so on.

The more different opening builds you learn, the more versatile and prepared to fight others in this Age of Empires 4 you will be.

Research

Besides knowing the structures you must build, how many you need, and when to produce units, Age of Empires 4 players must also worry about Researches.

A Research in Age of Empires 4 is often found available when you click on a structure. Once you decide to do a Research, you will have to spend some resources and wait for the period needed for the Research to be completed.

This part is not that different from waiting for a unit to be produced. You just pay the cost and wait until it’s ready, but instead of gaining a new unit, players get a new technology or an upgrade to either your units or buildings.

Some technologies do the exact same thing as others, and their bonuses can stack up. However, a Research that grants the same bonus again is only unlocked once you advance to the next Age.

When it comes to military Research, things can change widely and vary depending on what Civilization you play. Still, there are things that all civilizations share.

For instance, they can all get technologies that improve their army’s armor, increase the speed of certain units, faster production rates, etc.

Researches do not grant you immediate advantages. In order to use a Research correctly, players must trade a little of their resources for stability and power that will help them until the end of the game.

Economic Technologies

There are several different technologies that can be researched in Age of Empires 4 that will improve your Economy.

For instance, Forestry is a technology that can be researched in a Lumber Camp or a Ger and costs you 25 Food and 50 Gold. After waiting the 45 seconds needed to finish the research, the Foresty technology will cause the Villagers to double the rate at which they chop down trees.

This technology alone can cause a massive boost in your Wood gathering. It does have a small cost that might set you back slightly, but it is worth it.

Other technologies related to Wood, such as Double Broadax and Lumber Preservation, increase Villagers’ gathering rate for Wood by 15%.

There are many different technologies that provide gathering speed bonuses, and they do stack up. However, note that there’s one available for each Age, and the cost goes up as you advance through the Ages.

As mentioned above, you can research technologies that provide bonuses that will help you gather other resources. Horticulture and Fertilization will increase your Villagers’ gathering rate for Food by 15%, while Specialized Pick and Acid Distillation will increase their Gold and Rock Mining rate by 15%.

On top of all that, there are technologies that do much more than provide a bonus. For instance, the Professional Scouts technology can be researched at a Mill, Ger, or a Hunting Cabin, and it grants Scouts the ability to carry animal carcasses. It also gives them 200% bonus damage against wild animals.

Please note that these are just Economic Technologies that all Civilizations have access to. Chances are, the Civilization you are playing might have an exclusive technology that grants you a unique advantage over the adversary.

Military Technologies

As mentioned above, all civilizations have technologies that improve their military units.

For instance, Bloomery increases the damage of all non-siege units by 1. It takes a minute for a civilization to research it, and it costs 40 food and 125 gold.

Players can research Bloomery when they reach the Feudal Age. Once they advance to the Castle Age, players can Research new technology for even more damage as long as they have unlocked Bloomery.

Decarbonization is available during the Castle Age also increases the melee damage of non-siege units by 1.

There is much more to Military Technologies than increasing your damage. Fitted Leatherwork increases your non-siege units’ armor rating, and Additional Sails increases the movement speed of all ships by 15%.

If you want more hit points to your cavalry units, research Biology. If you want your Town Center to have more hit points, research Fortify Outpost.

An upgrade can be used to counter an enemy strategy or to make your units less vulnerable to the counter units that the enemy produced against you. Research your upgrades wisely by choosing the technologies you need based on the context of each match.

Religious Technologies

There are only three Religious Technologies in the game. During the Castle Age, you can research Herbal Medicine. This will double the healing rate of your religious units.

Once you reach the Imperial Age, there are two other technologies that you can research. Titan Barns makes Relics generate 30 Food, 30 Wood, and 20 Stone per minute, while Piety increases the hit points of religious units by 40%.

Unit-Specific Technologies

These are technologies that, as the name suggests, will improve specific units. They probably affect a single unit type instead of a category, like the others, due to the significant impact that they can cause in a match.

For instance, Extra Ballista makes Swivel Ballistae fire in any direction and deal 15 damage. This makes your siege game much more potent since it turns Ballistas into a defensive unit that can catch enemy infantry coming from anywhere.

Due to their specificity, players must be wise when going for such technologies. It’s best to go for them only when it is vital to protect your structures or achieve your goal in a well-thought strategy.

Civilization-Unique technologies

Age of Empires 4 has eight different civilizations, and they have done a great job to make them feel distinct and unique.

One of the things that help players feel like their civilizations are different is their Unique Technologies. Not only do they give each faction a more noticeable identity, but they also play a significant part in a match.

For instance, the Network of Citadels technology available to the English is scary to any invaders once researched. The English archers have a 25% bonus near their buildings, but that bonus increases to 50% once they have this technology.

This is no small difference. The English Longbowmen have a scary range. They can also go for technology that increases it further, making them able to make rain arrows over the invading army at an overwhelming rate.

Taking advantage of the things that your Civilization is good at is one of the things that make a massive impact in a match. You have to use all that your chosen faction has to offer since it’s how it competes against the others. Remember, all Civilizations share some characteristics. However, it is in their uniqueness that you will find that edge that will help you win.

When to Research New Technology

Resources are not infinite in Age of Empires. There’s a limited amount of Wood, Gold, Rock, and Food on the map you’re playing.

Things get even more complicated because you will only be able to take advantage of a small portion of the map’s resources.

Although there are more than enough resources in a map to make matches last more than an hour, you will only have so many villagers and so much access to those resources at once.

Players are constantly spending their resources on new units, buildings, and researches, but they can’t have everything at once. Management is a big part of an Age of Empires match.

For that reason, you won’t be researching everything that is possible during a match. Those precious resources might be better spent elsewhere.

A single unit might decide who wins a battle, so being careful with how you use your resources is something you must get used to when playing this game.

Just like everything else in Age of Empires, you will be thinking of the consequences of going for one Research instead of doing something else.

Another thing that is important to notice is that many technologies are researched in the same structure, such as damage upgrades and armor upgrades. So you might not be able to Research both at the same time.

Time is also vital in Age of Empires, so you might constantly have to decide what you need first, depending on the context you’re in.

For instance, more armor might make your units much more durable against archers, while extra damage might turn your cavalry into your enemy’s worst nightmare.

Still, does it matter if your men-at-arms can take a lot of damage if your army can’t take down enemy units fast enough? What is the point of a powerful cavalry if they can’t even reach the archers before being eliminated?

There’s so much to consider that it might feel like it is too much, but you can feel what is your next correct move depending on how the game is evolving. And you can also learn from experiences and past mistakes.

Make sure to always scout your enemy as previously recommended. That way, you might counter theirs by using both the best possible Research for the matter as well as the Rock-Paper-Scissor system of Age of Empires 4.

Micro

The Rock-Paper-Scissors system in Age of Empires is consistent, and you need to learn it in order to win your battles in the game.

Nonetheless, there’s more to battles than just picking certain units to counter the enemy’s army. Although the counter units are essential, wars in Age of Empires 4 are just as much about positioning and micromanaging.

There are many ways to Micro your units in ways they can turn a situation around. Micro is short for micromanagement, and it is the act of controlling your units to do specific tasks. For instance, sending your cavalries to target enemy archers while making your archers target the enemy’s infantry.

Bad micro might cause your units not to focus on any target, spreading out the damage and making the enemy’s army last much longer in a battle. Micro is a skill that plays a huge part in defining the victorious faction in an Age of Empires 4 match.

Skilled players often know how to micro, and the better they can do it, the higher their chances of winning direct confrontations. It happens because, among many other things, they will often target the most troubling units of the enemy army and remove dying units from the frontline, making them last longer.

For instance, making your units all walk together when advancing to attack an enemy might make them highly vulnerable to damage that is dealt in an Area of Effect.

So if you are dealing with the enemy’s grenadiers — or any other unit that can cause damage to multiple units at once — it is wise to spread out your units and make them march slightly apart from one another.

Knowing how to micro in Age of Empires 4 also allows you to distract your opponent and open them up so you can attack more efficiently. For instance, you might mislead their military units to deal with your small cavalry while you sneak behind their workers with a group of archers.

Unit Control

This is the most common example of micro and likely the first one you will learn.

This is what happens when your whole army is surrounded by spearmen. You might want to just take your horsemen out of there while your archers deal with them. It’s also what you do when you send your horsemen to deal with the archers before sending your men-at-arms in.

Double-clicking on a unit will select all units of the same category, causing you to need nothing but a single click to move all your cavalry away from the enemy’s spearmen once they’re all selected. This makes micro sounds easier. To be fair, microing your units will often be easier than it seems, but it can get exponentially complicated.

Although most players don’t need to be Micro masters in order to enjoy the game, the outstanding Micro skills of a professional player are often one of the things that drive Age of Empires players to watch matches between high-skill players.

Some units have straightforward ways for players to take advantage of their function, and by learning those tricks, you will immediately see some results.

For instance, you will greatly benefit from microing your units if you learn to kite — also known as hit and run— with your ranged units. Kiting is basically the act of never stopping running from an approaching enemy but attacking them while doing so.

This is not hard to perform since you can just click away, then click on the creature you want to target. As soon as your archers’ arrows start flying, click on the map to make your archers run away again. That’s all it takes for you to optimize the use of your archers’ range.

There are many examples of uncomplicated actions that can be defined as micro. Dividing your army by two to cover more areas when being attacked, sending your Scout to stay between military units and your Villagers so they can run away, and even sending your Villagers from Wood to inside the Town Center to protect them.

The more you play the game, the easier those actions will become. Do not worry about being able to do overly complex plays when learning Age of Empires 4. The fundamentals of the game will construct a path for you to start winning as soon as you master the basics.

Formations

Formations are an easy way to micro your units. It takes some time to use them in creative, out-of-the-box tactics, but all you need is to know the basics when starting.

You can use lines to form a wall of man-at-arms to protect your archers. You can also use lines to make your archers have the same range when attacking the enemies instead of having them one behind the other.

There is also an option to spread out your units, which can prevent a small army from instantly dying after taking damage in an area of effect. This is most likely one of the best ways to deal with Grenadiers and Landsknechts.

You also have the triangle or pyramid formation. This one is quite handy to break the enemy lines and is especially effective when you send your cavalry to find a hole in the enemy’s infantry. Especially if you are learning how to play as the French and using their Knights charge ability.

Quickwalling

As the name suggests, this is the act of quickly building walls. Usually, the term is used to describe the building of walls of any kind for defensive purposes.

This is something players do when they desperately need to buy some time. For instance, if a player sees a cavalry coming but lacks the means to deal with it, that player might use walls to slow down the enemy riders in order to have enough spearmen once they arrive.

Quickwalling is also a valid way to deal with the Mongols’ Town Center Rush, preventing them from moving their Town Center around your own and effectively nullifying their strategy.

You can use Quickwalling as a trap, too, creating choke points where the enemies have to go through in order to be able to attack you, or areas where your archers can use to safely attack invading armies.

There are many interesting ways of trapping your opponent with this technique. For instance, you can get them stuck in their own spawning area by circling it with walls, which will prevent them from booming for a while. Another way of using quickwalling creatively is by having villagers build stone walls in the entrance and exit points of some regions of the map. There are many ways to trick your enemy and get them stuck. Although it might not be that easy to accomplish, it doesn’t mean it is not a valid strategy.

Although Quickwalling is not as effective in Age of Empires 4 as it is in older games of the franchise, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find unique and creative ways to do it in a way that you can take advantage of it.

Hotkeys

As we have discussed before, Age of Empires 4 is a constant race. Players will constantly compete to determine who can come up first with the best army, defense, and Economy. In the end, it is all to see who can overwhelm the adversary first.

When you think that way, time is just as important as any other resource, which is why Fast Feudal Builds and Rush Builds are very common right after games of the franchise are launched.

If you can get to the enemy’s villagers a few seconds before they finish producing the cavalry that would have stopped your archers, they will take a huge hit to their production.

By saving a few seconds here and a few more there, and you can end up having minutes of advantage over your adversary for being quicker in small things.

A very effective way to be quicker in Age of Empires is knowing your Hotkeys. They are shortcuts that make you instantly do what you want instead of depending on clicking here, then there to finally provide a command to your unit or building.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Hotkeys in Age of Empires, take a look at our list and see if you can imagine how just hitting your keyboard will make your life much easier than depending on your mouse for all these functions.

General Hotkeys

[All] Global chatShift + Enter
Access secondary UI panelY
Cycle through idle Military units,
Cycle Through Selected Unit TypesTab (Forward) or Ctrl+Tab (Reverse)
Cycle through Town CentersHome
Focus in capital Town CenterCtrl + H
Focus on Selected UnitF5
Follow Selected UnitHome
Game MenuF10
Quick LoadF9
Quick saveF8
Return all Villagers to workCtrl + Shift + R
Select all Economy BuildingsF2
Select all idle Military unitsCtrl + ,
Select all idle VillagersCtrl + .
Select all Landmarks, Wonders, and capital Town CentersF4
Select all Military Production BuildingsF1
Select all Military unitsCtrl + Shift + C
Select all Research BuildingsF3
Select all units on screenCtrl + A
Select all VillagersCtrl + Shift + V
Toggle Game Time DisplayF11
Toggle Players & Tribute PanelF6

Clearly, you won’t instantly memorize all the hotkeys. This is a long process, but so is to get good at Real-Time Strategy Games such as Age of Empires. You need to learn just a few of those at first, and then make sure to constantly use them on your next game.

After practicing a bit with a couple of hotkeys, start slowly using a few more hotkeys every other match. The difference these shortcuts make is quite significant since you can go from giving four of five in a minute to just a few seconds.

Note that besides the keys presented above, there are other shortcuts you will only be able to use when you click specific units or buildings. Each structure and unit has its own shortcuts for actions such as abilities, researches, trades, or producing a new unit.

Grid Keys

Grid Keys are hotkeys used in the Command Card area of the HUD. By default, the buttons’ hotkeys are mapped in a grid layout, corresponding to keys on your keyboard.

That means that you should be able to look at the position of the action that you want in a command grid and hit the key that corresponds to that action without much trouble.

For instance, the A key corresponds to Attack for most units, while the S key is meant to make units Stop. But things start being different depending on what you have selected.

Villagers will Seek Shelter if you hit the G key when you have them selected, but the G key sets Rally Points if you have the Town Center selected. The Grid Keys go from Q to T, A to G, and Z to V.

Once you get used to the keys in the Action Card — the menu with buttons that appear at the bottom of your screen once you have something selected — you can easily find out what key to press when you need a unit or building to do something.

Chances are, you will quickly learn how to do it by hitting Q a lot when selecting the Town Center since this is the key that starts producing Villagers, and you will be producing many, many of them.

Control Groups

You must understand how Control Groups in order to successfully micro your units and buildings in Age of Empires 4.

Control Groups are, basically, groups of units that you custom create and select by hitting a key that you choose. For instance, if you double click a Longbowmen, all units of that type that you can see on the screen will be selected.

If you hit Ctrl+1, those units will become group 1. Hitting 1 will always select those units, and double-tapping the key will instantly put them in the center of the screen.

You can mix and match these groups in any way you want. I often use Control Group 1 to quickly access my Town Center, and Control Group 2 is reserved for my Scout. From there, it depends on what I need.

You might reserve your number 3 to select the villagers that are chopping down trees so you can, from time to time, make them build a house, or you can use it to select your Spearmen, so you easily command them in case the enemy’s cavalry shows up.

There are many ways to use this in creative ways as well. For instance, maybe you have an army of Archers all in Control Group 5, but you separate them into small groups of three units and put each in a different number so you can have more precise control of their positions in case you need.

I also frequently use Control Groups to have a way to control the different types of units in a larger army. For instance, If I bind my whole army to the number 1, but 2 will select only my Archers, 3 will be just for riders, and 4 is reserved for men-at-arms.

The way you are going to use these hotkeys is up to you, but make sure you use them to make your life easier and your micros more effective.

Choosing Your Main Civilization

Age of Empires 4 has eight different factions known in the game as Civilization. All of them share similar characteristics, but each has its unique traits.

When you’re learning how to play the game, it’s often recommended that players choose one of the easier Civilizations, such as the French or the English.

Choosing an easy civilization offers a familiar Age of Empires gameplay that is much more similar to older versions of the game. Not only that, the game plan of those civilizations is pretty standard, lacking any complex and unique mechanics that can confuse those who are new to the genre.

However, you do not need to feel stuck to your first choice. In fact, you should, ideally, play at least once with each Civilization to understand what they do, their goals, and even to see if you feel more comfortable playing a different one.

So maybe you learned how to play as the English, but you saw some cool elephant units. If those units made you interested in the Delhi Sultanate, go for it and try them out. Take those elephants for a ride and see how it feels. Learn a bit about how to play as the Delhi Sultanate and see if their traits fit your playstyle. 

Learning the basics of each Civilization is not that complicated, but mastering them is a long time commitment.

To learn the basics of a faction demands a little more work and dedication than it may seem at first. You must be familiar with most of what it does, how to use its unique Technologies and Units, what makes it different from the others in the many different stages of a match, and so on.

For instance, the English can rely on their farms for Food more than others, and they can rush ranged units that outrange any Archer in the game. Those units are more dangerous when near their structures, making their defense outstanding, which helps the English go for turtling strategies.

Knowing all that, you can rely on certain units and buildings to make the most out of the English. At the very least, you will learn things that will make you better at playing against them. That works for all Civilizations, but you need to dedicate some time playing as each of them to understand it more deeply.

This is not a matter of choosing the best Civilization in Age of Empires 4; it’s a matter of choosing one that makes you play as well as you possibly can due to how comfortable you feel with a Civilization.

Know The Win Conditions

How do you win a game of Age of Empires 4? It’s a simple question. Yes, obliterating the other Civilization makes you win, but why? Do you know the win conditions of the game?

  • Destroy all enemy Landmarks
  • Defend a Wonder
  • Control all Sacred Sites

Knowing the Win Conditions of the game helps you not waste any time trying to win a war. You don’t need to destroy their houses and towers to win; you just have to find their Landmarks and burn them to the ground.

However, that’s only one of the many ways you can win a game, and, depending on the Civilization you are playing, you might not want to go for such an aggressive approach.

Since there are other ways to win the game, some might fit your playstyle or Civilization better. There’s even a chance that the reality of a specific match can cause you to give up on a win condition and pursue another.

For instance, defensive strategies might not work well with the idea of destroying Landmarks. Perhaps you would be better off by turtling a bit and gathering all the resources you can to invest in your defenses so you can build yourself a Wonder.

Once a Wonder is built, the adversary is notified that he has some time to destroy it. If he can’t do that, you are declared a winner.

Now, let’s say it is your adversary who is turtling. What should you do? Well, you might not need to go after his Wonder. Age of Empires 4 brings a new Win Condition to the game, Control all Sacred Sites.

This new win condition makes turtling much riskier. If you surround yourself with walls, you might be letting your adversary roam freely throughout the map, and they might use that freedom to control all Sacred Sites to be declared the winner.

Match Up Knowledge

So you have learned the basics. You chose a Civilization to main, you know your builds and counters, you practiced your micro and your hotkeys, now what?

Once you choose a Civilization and learn everything that it does, that’s when the most complicated part starts. You have to know what characteristics of your Main Civilization help you deal with the others.

For instance, if you play as the French, is there anything you can do to deal with the English? What if you chose the Rus? How can they handle the very aggressive Mongols?

Knowing what strategy to go for with each Civilization, depending on which Civilization you are fighting against, is what we call match-up knowledge.

This is where things get seriously deep due to the countless complex situations that a game such as Age of Empires 4 can create.

Not only do you have to think about the match-up in a general manner — such as, “what is good against that tactic they are going for?” — but you have to also consider all the elements and put them in context.

For instance, if you are fighting the Chinese, you know their late game will be quite powerful, but they might be a little vulnerable to early aggression. Does your chosen Civilization have early-game military units that can help you harass their workers and disrupt their Economy?

Did your match just start against the English? See if you have any early units that can help you handle their early archers.

Match-up knowledge is the most complex kind of information in Age of Empires. It is the culmination of everything that we’ve talked about in this guide.

You take everything you know about the game and try to use all that is in your power — including technologies, units, and buildings that are unique to your Civilization — to deal with strategies that your opponent can go for based on their faction of choice.

So it is more than just “he has horsemen, I should go for spearmen.” If you play as the Rus, it’d be more like, “He is playing as the French, so his knights might be a huge problem. What can Rus do to deal with their powerful cavalry? Perhaps I can take advantage of my Wooden Fortresses to protect my Villagers since they last much longer than normal Outposts.”

This includes very unique answers that might not be necessarily unique to what your Civilization can do, but for sure are about exclusive aspects of the adversary’s Civilization.

For instance, when fighting the Rus, it is a good idea to have your Scout looking for Deer on the map to kill them before the Rus player can do it. That will prevent them from gaining that extra Gold that gives them an edge.

Knowing that characteristic of the Rus and doing something about it is Match-Up Knowledge in Action. The same goes for having early siege units ready to tear down English buildings when you are invading. The English need their structures to buff their archers with the Network of Castles passive, and they are also very vulnerable to Siege.

Another excellent example of Match-Up Knowledge is taking advantage of the fact that Delhi’s structures must be very near to one another to wall them and get them stuck for a while while you boom and freely expand your Empire.

Match-up knowledge is something that is only gained over time, but you can learn about it much faster if you play as other civilizations for a while.

Take a day or two to play as the Civilizations that you consider to be the hardest to defeat, and I guarantee you will see things differently after a while.

Final Thoughts

It is a lot, isn’t it? That’s the nature of Real-Time Strategy games. However, don’t let all this information intimidate you.

Yes, it might be a lot of information, but most competitive games will have a similar amount of information if you completely break down the basics and add what new players need to learn.

So, knowing that it is a lot, take it step by step.

  1. Choose a Civilization and stick with it. Trust me, it will be much easier for you to switch Civilizations later if you are bored or found a faction that you find cool, but start playing the easiest ones so you can get the hang of it and a general feel of how Age of Empires 4 works.
  2. Learn a couple of builds and how to quickly advance to the Feudal Age. Don’t worry too much about the rest. Just get consistent with a couple of builds, and you can start using more builds once you feel comfortable with the first two.
  3. Learn a couple of Hotkeys and force yourself to use them from time to time. It won’t take long until you get used to it. Once you do, learn a couple more and so on.
  4. Practice your micro. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but make sure you use Control Groups and Hotkeys to better command your military units.

Doing that is more than enough to build the solid foundation you need to consistently win more games in Age of Empires 4.

Besides, once the basics are learned, all you have to do is to add more on top of it. A little more information, more micro techniques, match-up specific knowledge, and so on.

This is why it is crucial to understand the basics, how things can be wildly affected by the most minor decisions, and do your best to adapt.

On top of all that, note that Age of Empires 4 is in its infancy. Real-Time Strategy games take way too long to be completely figured out, and it is not unusual to see new tactics and builds completely changing how the game is played even when the game receives no update.

Constantly trying out new tactics and counters often reveals something nobody knew about the game, and that’s one of the most exciting things about the genre.

If you don’t really know where to learn more tactics, micro techniques, and counters, we recommend that you watch professionals and streamers playing the game.

There is always something to learn from players who constantly play the game and dedicate their lives to the genre. Those are the people who often find new builds and tactics that blow your mind.

For instance, the Mongol Town Center rush was something that many players were complaining about. Still, it didn’t take long before one of those dedicated players started countering it by leaving their Sheep spread out around their Town Center.

This was such a clever and simple counter to the build that one can only imagine how many other seemingly powerful strategies can be combated with a simple, elegant play such as this one.

If you like the idea of twisting and changing the way you play the game to find innovative strategies and counters, this is the genre for you. Hopefully, this guide will have everything you need to get started. I’m sure that you will win much more once you can apply all that we talked about.

Don’t worry too much about anything that seems too complex. You can always return to that later. Remember to start from the four things that we mentioned above. Once you’re okay with that, start adding layers to it.

Be patient and perseverant. Your Civilization will thrive.

4 comments

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  1. Really well explained, I was looking for a re-introduction guide into Age of Empires, and now I don’t need to look any further than this.

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  2. why do you always suggest research forestry? it is kinda useless upgrade in the 90% cases of the game. Chopping down trees quicker can help only if you do some sneaky rush and opponent walled himself.

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  3. While it’s true that all RTS games take time to master, this one seems to be in a league of its own. I’m a long-time Starcraft and Warcraft player and must say it’s difficult to enjoy this game without absorbing an encyclopedia worth of random tidbits.

    Also, why is there constant screaming and no apparent distinction between, say, a full on attack by an army on you main town center, and something a bit less important such as a single villager being harassed by a scout? If I’m supposed to be the commander-in-chief, I can tell you there’s a lot of noise being amplified that I would prefer to not hear at all, or at a lower volume.

    It seems they put a lot of effort into this game but I’m not sure it’s paying off if it’s not fun to play during the learning stage. In Starcraft you can win a game by just learning how to build zerglings. That doesn’t take a lot to get going. With AoE4 it seems the critical mass of knowledge and skills you need to enjoy a single skirmish is 1000x more.

    Very disappointing game.

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