Age of Empires II is perhaps the most beloved game in the franchise, rich with content, stories, and hundreds of hours of playtime.
It also features the largest collections of story-based campaigns in the entire franchise, with each one being packed with content and replayability.
Let us look at our favorites or simply best campaigns AoE II offers:
The game’s first campaign is called Tamerlane and restages the many conquests of a man named Timur, living from 1336 to 1405.
Timur was a Tuco-Mongol general who made the history books for founding the Timurid empire as a way to restore Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire.
He did so through many war campaigns throughout Central, South, and West Asia. These conquests also took place throughout the south of Russia and the Caucasus. Timur even locked horns with the mighty Ottoman Empire.
As a patron of architecture and the arts and a pious Muslim, Timur is widely believed to be one of history’s greatest tacticians and military leaders.
However, this certainly overshadows the fact that Timur’s skirmishes killed approximately 5% of the world’s population in his time – roughly 17 million humans.
The Tamerlane Campaign
The Tamerlane campaign consists of 6 scenarios, and in each, the player plays the Tartars. The story is told by a second-hand narrator and not a witness of events, similar to the Attila the Hun campaign.
This narrator reminds us of Vytautas of Lithuania. He relays the story as told by Tokhtamysh, one of Genghis Khan’s descendants and a former Khan of the Golden Horde.
The Tamerlane campaign is the longest in The Lost Khans series and one of only five campaigns with 6 scenarios since The Conquerors.
Tamerlane as a Unit
Tamerlane was a cavalry archer hero and is represented in-game by a Mangudai. As with other units in this class, he benefits from all upgrades that affect cavalry archers and any additional bonuses that influence this unit.
Additionally, he regenerates health quickly and cannot be converted because of his Hero status, making him a formidable foe.
The next campaign is the Ivaylo campaign, one of the game’s most popular campaigns, inspired by the incredible story of Ivaylo of Bulgaria, who died in 1281.
Also referred to as Lakhanas or Bardokva, Ivaylo was a Bulgarian peasant who would become the initiator of a peasant revolt in 1277, ultimately ascending him to the throne of the Second Bulgarian Empire as Tsar.
Throughout his peasant-king’s short-lived rule from 1278 until 1279, he defended his home country of Bulgaria from Mongol and Byzantine attacks.
Finally, however, betrayed by a Bulgarian noble, he was forced to exile – and live with the Mongols. Nobles will be nobles, after all.
Ivaylo would later be tragically assassinated by the Mongols by order of Nogai Khan. The reason? The Emperor of Byzantine, Micheal VIII Palaiologos, considered him an enemy of his empire.
However, that would not be the last the world would hear from Ivaylo.
His legacy would continue when Bulgaria was under the Ottoman Empire’s control, and the hajduks are said to be uplifted by the legends and folk songs about him.
Today, Marxist historians even use Ivaylo as an example of an early anti-bourgeois revolutionary.
The Ivaylo campaign comprises 5 scenarios during which the player plays the Bulgarians.
The campaign is narrated from the perspective of Maria Palaiologina, the exiled wife of Konstantin Tikh, the same Tsar killed by Ivaylo during the uprising.
Ivaylo would later marry Maria, who tells her husband’s story to her unnamed daughter. It must have been love.
Ivaylo as a Unit
You play Ivaylo as a hero unit of the melee cavalry class in-game, with his own icon and a totally unique sprite. He does not wear any armor, only wields a small square shield and a sword – an accurate display of his prowess as a warrior and a hint to his origins as a peasant.
When the Ivaylo unit is killed, he returns again as an infantry hero that is just as unique as his cavalry unit.
This transformation occurs in much the same way as the unique Bulgarian unit, the Konnik, which becomes a Dismounted Konnik after being slain in battle.
Next, we’re taking a look at the Kotyan Khan campaign, which is based on the life of Koten Khan, who reigned from 1223 to 1241. Kotyan was a Cuman-Kipchack military commander and chieftain who is most known for forming an alliance between the Cuman-Kipchaks and the Kievan Rus, fighting against the Mongols.
Joined by his 40,000 ‘huts,’ Kotyan migrated to Hungary after suffering a decisive defeat at the Battle of the Kalka River.
Kotyan would convert to Christianity, becoming a supporter of the Hungarian king, Bela IV.
But, thanks to nobles doing what they do often and best, he was assassinated by order of the distrustful Hungarian nobility before the Battle of Mohi.
That was a wrong move: The historical figure’s death resulted in the pillaging of Hungary by the Cumans on their move to Bulgaria.
The Kotyan Khan Campaign
The Kotyan Khan campaign comprises 5 scenarios with the player controlling the Cumans.
You’ll play through Blood for Blood, Saving the Huts, The Battle at the Kalka River, and Raising the Banners before finally ending on the solemn note that is A New Home.
Rather than being narrated by a relatively-important historical figure, the Kotyan Khan campaign receives narration from an unnamed Cuman chieftain.
This chieftain is the successor of Kotyan as the khan of the Cumans following Kotyan’s assassination. It’s some of our favorite narration in the game.
Kotyan Khan as a Unit
Kotyan himself is a cavalry archer hero that is, sadly, only available in the Scenario Editor in Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition.
Nevertheless, he has a remarkably high damage output in the game and is exceptionally robust, possessing bonus protection against siege weapons similar to the Mangudai unit.
While he is a unique unit, his mechanics are identical to the cavalry archers, albeit with more attack power, health, and armor. Like all of the game’s Hero units, he cannot be converted and regenerates health after being wounded.
The Pachacuti campaign is up next and focuses on Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, who lived from 1418 to 1472.
He was the ninth Sapa Inca of the Cusco Kingdom. During his reign, he transformed Cusco from a small, unassuming hamlet to a formidable kingdom that had them around the same level as the rivaling Chimu.
The Inca would later bring on an era of conquest that expanded the domain of the Cusco to nearly the entire length of western South America within just three generations.
This conquest would lead to the Cusco overtaking the Chimu, leaving the Cusco as the only great power in the region aka. the Inca Empire.
The Pachacuti Campaign
The Pachacuti campaign is one of our favorites from Age of Empires II and consists of five scenarios.
Like all AI players in the campaign, the player is in control of the Incas, with their color being a rich cyan.
During this campaign, you’ll play through the scenarios A New Power Arises, The Field of Blood, War of Brothers, The Falcon’s Tent, and finally, Like Father, Like Son, which ends on quite a haunting note.
The campaign is narrated by the aged Apo Mayta, one of the generals who served Pachacuti alongside military leader Vicaquirao. At the time of this narration, he has retired and is living deep in the Andes mountains, regaling the story of Pachacuti’s conquests to a passing trader.
Interestingly, Pachacuti is the only campaign where all of the adversaries are represented by the same civilization.
Pachacuti as a Unit
Before Definitive Edition, Pachacuti was an infantry hero with the same appearance as a Kamayuk (lower echelon officer).
Since DE, though, he is represented wearing a helmet of pure gold, wielding the royal topayauri scepter and a Hualcana.
Like many other of the game’s infantry units, Pachacuti is affected by any upgrade concerning the infantry.
Also, any other bonuses that concern the infantry affect him.
Since he is a Hero unit, he can’t be converted, and he regenerates health when injured.
The Art of War
And finally, we come to The Art of War campaign, which, unlike the other campaigns on this list, is a collection of brief scenarios designed to test your skills using some of the game’s more nuanced strategies.
The Art of War will probably be a fantastic choice to hone your abilities if you know what rushing, booming, and turtling are.
The great thing about this campaign is that it also extends to some of Age of Empires II’s more fundamental mechanics, like battle formations and unit counters.
The campaign is christened after an ancient 5th century BC Chinese war classic of the same name, authored by Sun Tzu.
This treatise elaborates on the various aspects of warfare and its application in military strategies and tactics. The Art of War – the actual book – is a highly influential work and is still read and taught today – 1,500 years after it was written.
Hundreds of military strategists and leaders were inspired by the text, and parts of the book are even referenced in non-military fields, like lifestyle, business, and more. How influential is that?
Each Art of War campaign scenario challenges you to win the gold medal. Depending on the time you need to complete each scenario, you are awarded either a bronze, silver, or gold medal.
The medal you receive is related to the number of units you lose when it comes to Battle Formations, Land battles, and Naval Battle scenarios.
This campaign is unique because you play a different civilization in each scenario. However, your color will always be blue. Let’s do a quick breakdown of each scenario in this campaign:
- Early Economy – Play as the Byzantines and master managing your economy effectively. An excellent scenario for beginners!
- Booming – Take on the mantle of the Goths and learn precisely what this popular mechanic entails.
- Rushing the Enemy – You’ll play as the Teutons and learn effective strategies for getting the jump on your opponent and leaving them with no room to react.
- Fast Castle Age – Play as the Celts and understand exactly what you’d expect to learn: the quickest way to get to the Castle Age.
- Defending Against A Rush – Exactly what it says on the box, though you’re leading the Koreans to battle this time.
- Land Battle – The Bulgarians will teach you some of the most effective strategies for engaging in combat on land.
- Destroying a Castle – As the Berbers, you’ll learn how to take down an enemy castle as efficiently as possible.
- Naval Battle – Love seafaring combat? Well, so does the Malay civilization, and they’re going to teach you how to sink your opponent’s ships the fastest.
- Battle Formations – Known for their highly organized military, the Italian civilization of this scenario will be a good teacher about battle formations in Age of Empires II.
And there you have it, folks – all of the campaigns available in AoE II. If you have a few hours (or a few hundred hours) of your life to complete these scenarios, we guarantee that it’ll be time well spent. Happy gaming!