Age of Empires III already has smaller maps, fewer civilizations and less complicated gameplay than its predecessor in its Definitive Edition. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing – players have argued over the relative merits of each game for the past 15 years. But it does mean Age of Empires III could be a very good place to start if you’ve always wanted to play a historic RTS, either alone or against other players.The best way to learn how to play the game is to play through the tutorial which will walk you through the basic structure of the game, the challenges you will have to win a match against the AI itself. But when that’s over where are you going next? After all, the game has 14 different civilizations, and each one plays very differently. In contrast to the first two Age of Empires games in AOEIII, each civilization has completely different units at its disposal. How you train villagers, recruit soldiers, and build cities changes drastically depending on which civilization you choose.
To that end, after more than a dozen hours of playing Definitive Edition (and the original who-knows-how-much longer game), I’ve chosen five civilizations that are especially welcome to newbies. This is not to say that they are the “best” civilizations in the game, or that they are ultimately your favorite civilizations. But everyone streamlines at least one difficult aspect of the game and should help you get down to earth a bit faster. If you are comfortable with it, be sure to try the rest. Every civilization has unique strengths and weaknesses.
A note on campaigns
In AOEII, one of the best ways to get a feel for different civilizations was to play through the historical campaigns. Each series of campaign missions put a particular civilization in the spotlight, be it the Franks for Joan of Arc or the Mongols for Genghis Khan.
Unfortunately, AOEIII’s campaigns use bespoke civilizations that don’t exactly match the 14 common options. Playing through the campaigns can be fun and will teach you the basics of gathering resources, building a military, etc. However, it will not give you a good idea of how the game’s major civilizations work.
The three exceptions are the Japan, China and India scenarios in the campaigns of the Asian dynasties. These short campaigns use Japanese, Chinese, and Indian civilizations more or less the way you would play them in the main game. However, the scenarios themselves don’t include standard winning conditions or strategies, so playing skirmish games may still be a smarter option.
Assuming you start the tutorial, the British will be the first civilization you will play in Age of Empires III. That said, you will learn all of your basic commands as a British, the first city you build will be a British, and the first army you assemble will be a British. In other words, before you ever step into a skirmish or multiplayer game, you already have a good idea of what buildings you need, what units you can deploy, and what kind of strategy you should use.
The British can be a great choice for beginners as you can buy a new settler every time you build a mansion. (To do this, just make sure you have the correct card in your deck and select it when you get a shipment from your hometown.) This means your settler supply is growing fast early on and you’re in the Should be able to gather lots of resources to equip your army and improve your technology.
The French are a fantastic all-round civilization as they can focus on either economic or military power depending on how the game progresses. That said, if you play as a French player, sooner or later you will learn both ways to victory. Their simple villager, the Coureur des Bois, can take a lot of punishment and they are also very quick to collect resources. They also team up with native tribes easily and cheaply, which means that they are customizable for any map.
To be successful as a Frenchman, train many coureurs early on and later invest the resources in powerful cavalry units and in arming your halberd infantry. If you can ally yourself with native tribes, do so and consider making these units an important part of your army especially early on.
The Indians may be a controversial choice for new players as they are a fairly complex civilization. You can hunt wild animals but you cannot eat cattle. They train villagers with wood instead of food; Your discovery unit is also a healer. But Indians are also a fantastic choice for early economic growth, as they get an extra villager with every delivery from their hometown.
Another advantage of the Indians for new players is their ability to passively build an army. If you choose the Conscript Sepoys card, you will receive two sepoys instead of one villager with every shipment from Home City. Sepoys aren’t the strongest soldiers in small groups, but they are great for defending early in the game or protecting more valuable units later in the game. An army of sepoys can be a formidable asset.
Formerly known as the Sioux, the Lakota have one major advantage over other civilizations: they don’t have to build houses. Seasoned players argue that doing this could lead to bad habits in new players, as managing your population early is an important skill that you must master. On the other hand, there are many other skills to learn. Starting with a maximum population cap will allow you to build as many units as you want whenever you can afford them.
The Lakota can produce spectacular cavalry, so upgrading and deploying the right units isn’t too much of a challenge. The only real difficulty for the Lakota is that they cannot build walls or lay siege to weapons, which severely limits their late game options. While slower, more defensive civilizations are arguably better for new players, there is also something to be said for a fast, lean civilization with a very easy path to victory.
The Ottomans are an excellent choice for newcomers as they get settlers for free. You don’t have to train them manually. They just appear regularly in your city center. This may be disastrous for new players too, as settler spending is an important part of the early game. On the other hand, the Ottomans should be your first stop if you want to learn about military strategy first and then economic strategy later.
Janissaries make a fantastic backbone for an Ottoman army as they are both durable and easy to train in large groups. However, spend some time with your mosque as well, as this will allow you to improve both the number and training rate of your settlers. If you don’t, you could face a major shortage of resources in the middle or late in the game.
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