Age of Empires 2 Best Civilisation Tier List – Land, Water, Nomad and Overall Ratings

Last Updated on December 26, 2023 by Samuel Franklin

Conquer the battlefield with this Age of Empires 2 best civilisations tier list that provides recommendations to excel in different scenarios based on their unique bonuses and technology trees. This page will help players cut through the complexity and diverse roster of options that have their own strengths and weaknesses. This tier list helps you find the perfect civilization for your playstyle, whether you’re crushing the AI, dominating friends or climbing the ranked ladder while considering your choice of map (land, water or mixed), game mode (standard or nomad) and how many players (1v1 or team).

Like other popular real time strategy games Age of Empires 2 civilisations are constantly receiving adjustments to maintain strategy balance in the evolving game meta and as a result the best civilizations change with each patch, but some consistently stand out due to their design themes. This drives the civilisations ease of use, flexibility and ultimately how many favourable matchups they have which are the primary factors considered for this tier list based on my first hand experience across thousands of gameplay hours. While these best civilisations can provide you a slight advantage if played to their strengths an experienced player and superior strategy of a weaker civilisation can still win in a respective Age of Empires 2 game.

Table of Contents:
Tier List Factors
Tier List Definitions
Civilisation Tier List
Best Civilisations Detail (S Tier)

The Best Age of Empires 2 Civilisations – Tier List Factors

Best is always subjective in any strategy game like Age of Empires and this tier list does not mean that you can never lose a match when playing as one of these top tier civilisations. Instead this best Age of Empires 2 civilisation tier list is designed to give new and intermediate players a focused pool of options to find your initial favourite to play and gain experience with. Whether you want an economic power house, an option to try that new Age of Empires 2 strategy or the safety of a defensive civilisation each has their place on this AoE2 tier list.

The factors considered in creating this Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition civilisations tier list include:

  • Power: Power includes military and economic power and comes from either specific bonuses, unique units or general technology tree options that results in a powerful strategy foundation. While most Age of Empires 2 civilisations are comparable in raw power there are still a few that when you look across their numbers come out ahead or simply have lower requirements to unlock this maximum power potential.
  • Ease of use: Civilisations that are easy to use require less effort and perfect play to achieve victory in Age of Empires 2 multiplayer matches which makes them good options to select (particularly for newer players). This means a civilisation that has bonuses that help maintain your economy, a diverse range of technology tree options and doesn’t have a glaring weakness that a smart opponent can take advantage of. Put simply these civilisations can afford to make more mistakes than a comparable option without completely jeopardising their chance at victory. This includes considering civilisation bonuses that don’t require specific scenarios to be effective as this means you’ll maximise your potential regularly compared to a civilisation has has a bonus with highly specific use cases. The Persians for example always benefit from extra town centre speed as its a staple Age of Empires 2 mechanic across various build orders and strategies. On the other hand a civilisation that relies on a strong unique unit might not even be able to produce this unit if games end quickly or the opponent already has a counter as a core part of their army.
  • Cohesive design: Civilisations that have clear win conditions in their designs make them easier to play and secure a victory. This design comes through the overall technology tree and civilisation specific bonuses that helps guide players towards their ideal path to victory. The Aztecs for example have a wealth of infantry related bonuses and support them with gold and monk related technologies that all help you with the single purpose of building a viable infantry army supported with durable monks to heal your fighters. Civilisations that have several competing personalities are often left weaker if all of their bonuses do not work together although sometimes this does allow for the benefit of flexibility instead providing players have a high amount of game knowledge.
  • Flexibility: Civilisations with good flexibility across their technology tree allow players to counter enemies with ease which is fundamental to Age of Empires 2 multiplayer success. A civilisation that can produce a fully upgraded (or close to) archer counter, cavalry counter and infantry counter has a greater chance of being able to succeed in multiplayer as you can react to your enemy strategy again and again.

The Best Age of Empires 2 Civilisations – Tier List Definitions

Based on these factors this Age of Empires 2 best civilisation tier list has the following tier definitions:

  • S Tier: The best civilisation options due to their bonuses that are useful in the majority of game scenarios, clear intended paths to victory for you to utilise or a well rounded technology tree that gives you plenty of choice to counter your enemy.
  • A Tier: Civilisations that are still strong and hold their own in multiplayer regularly but fall short in one game area, be it a bonus that doesn’t quite fit their design or can’t quite make powerful enough counter units for all situations.
  • B Tier: Capable civilisations that in the right hands through practice can be just as deadly as a S or A tier option. These civilisations are let down by a glaring weakness across technology tree or unique bonus that results in them having difficult situations come their way more often than not.
  • C Tier: A weak civilisation in most situations, while they might be powerful if everything goes their way these choices simply lack the means to be effective on a consistent basis. This could be due to a lack of direction in their design that leaves them with many weak bonuses that don’t work together or some other core weakness that makes them painful to play as and even if mastered will impact your chances of victory.


Age of Empires 2 Civilisations Tier List – Summary

The table below provides an AoE2 civ tier list for a broad range of scenarios given this has a dramatic impact on civilisation effectiveness. Each civilisation is rated individually for these situations and listed alphabetically below.

  • Land: Focused on 1v1 land encounters this is the most common game situation in Age of Empires 2 and the core of ranked multiplayer play. These civilisations have the greatest strengths when the map is nearly all land as it allows them to effectively use their bonuses and units.
  • Water: Focused on 1v1 water encounters this is a niche area of Age of Empires 2 where water plays a key role in victory (such as islands). The best civilisation in Age of Empires 2 for water maps will be one that has a capable navy and wide technology tree to dominate the oceans.
  • Nomad: Nomad stands apart from the core Age of Empires 2 game modes as you’ll be starting with your villagers spread randomly across the map which adds an extra layer of randomisation and challenge to acquiring your key resources. As a result civilisations with great flexibility that don’t overly rely on specific build orders and can adjust to the situation thrive on these maps to become the best Nomad civs AoE2 has to offer.
  • Overall: This overall rating for a civilisation factors in all of the above to give an overall rating. If you’re going into a completely random situation or want to specialise in a small pool of civilisations this is where you should focus to find your personal best civilisation in Age of Empires 2. This rating also factors in non 1v1 situations where you might play in team sizes (2v2, 3v3 and 4v4), mixed maps or other game modes like death match. As no civilisation in Age of Empires can do it all there are no S tier ratings on an overall basis.
Civilisation Land Water Nomad Overall
Armenians C C C C
Aztecs S C B A
Bengalis B C A B
Berbers B A A A
Bohemians B C B B
Britons S C B A
Bulgarians B C B B
Burgundians A C C B
Burmese C C B C
Byzantines B S A B
Celts B C C C
Chinese S C A A
Cumans B C C C
Dravidians C C B C
Ethiopians A C B B
Franks S C B A
Georgians B C C C
Goths C C C C
Gurjaras B C B B
Hindustanis A C A A
Huns A B C A
Incas B C C B
Italians B A B B
Japanese B S B B
Khmer A C B B
Koreans B A A B
Lithuanians A C S A
Magyars B C C B
Malay B A B B
Malians A B A B
Mayans A C A A
Mongols A A A A
Persians B A S A
Poles A C A A
Portuguese B A A A
Romans A A B A
Saracens B A B B
Sicilians C C C C
Slavs B C C C
Spanish C A A A
Tatars A C C C
Teutons C C C C
Turks C A A B
Vietnamese A C B B
Vikings A S B A

Best Age of Empires 2 Civilisations – (S Tier Only)

Each of the S tier rated civilisations above are analysed in detail to explore how their strengths interact with different AoE situations and why their associated unique units, bonuses or overall strategy can be consistently effective.


Aztecs (S Tier Land)

An infantry powerhouse the Aztecs have a useful economic bonus with their villagers able to carry extra resources with each trip that helps them throughout the ages. They have a clear path to victory which involves using their infantry in aggressive early game pushes which is supported with their technology tree and civilisation bonuses makes them unmatched on the infantry battlefield. To help them counter archers that are a general weakness of infantry units they have the unique Ataltl technology that adds attack and range to the standard archer counter of skirmishers. The Aztec focus on monk related technologies is also useful to support their infantry units with durable healers but does require significant gold investment so might not always be part of your pathway to your victory.

Your power level as Aztecs does start to diminish over time so it can feel like a race against the clock at times but this isn’t enough to reduce the Aztecs down in effectiveness given you are well equipped to prevent the game going that long if used at their maximum potential.


Britons (S Tier Land)

One of the original Age of Empires 2 civilisations that focuses on foot archers with their specialty being long ranged arrow warfare through technologies, unique units and civilisation bonuses. For players that like to have a powerful archery option or are looking to play an archer focused civilisation the Britons should always be one of your first thoughts and have remained relevant despite a number of expansions given their strong fundamentals. This stems from the extra range and and faster working archery ranges with an early game bonus to shepherd work that helps your early game food economy.

While this food economy bonus becomes less impactful as the game progresses and players might feel like they are easily countered by a single unit the Britons can produce the necessary units to handle their main skirmisher counter with some effectiveness.


Byzantines (S Tier Water)

Ideal for the newer player given their durable buildings and the ability to produce core counter units for low cost the Byzantines reward players that diligently use appropriate counter options and slow down the pace of play. They are a reliable civilisation that is a consistent defensive power house across Age of Empires maps and game modes they have the best performance on water maps where their technologies combine together for an effective combination. With their buildings having more health and the benefits of town watch for free it’s also easy to see your opponent coming and survive any initial attack while you move your army and navy into position to counter.

This extra health is a great asset early to mid game where you can shrug off navy attacks which combines with fire ship bonuses to make you a deadly defensively minded opponent. In addition you’ve got some scope for cheap advancements to Imperial Age in long games and an effective array of units for landing on enemy islands or defending against landings. Byzantines are not without weaknesses though and are deceptive as they have quite large unit technology trees but often lack the upgrade technology to ensure they are as fully powered as other civilisations which does make it difficult to turn their fantastic defences into an offensive focused army.


Chinese (S Tier Land)

Starting from the unique position of extra villagers at the cost of initial resources the Chinese give you a fantastic foundation to build from that can propel you into whichever strategy you select. While an awkward start compared to the standard build order of other civilisations the extra starting villagers still provide a huge economic bonus. This bonus is also applicable to the nomad game mode and applies once your town centre is built which makes them a decent civilisation in this situation although some of their weaknesses do slow you down in this niche game mode.

Beyond the starting position the Chinese have cheaper technology options to ensure your units or economy are stronger than your opponents with less investment and a farming boost that provides a little extra bonus to help your team economy further. They have a powerful unique unit and associated technology for them but also the appropriate technology tree upgrades in the blacksmith to take other pathways to victory when required to do so.


Franks (S Tier Land)

A highly popular civilisation in the lower to moderate levels of play for their effective Knight rush capabilities and useful economic bonuses (free farm upgrades and faster foragers) that can be applied on nearly all maps. This is supported with a concentrated pool of bonuses and technologies to buff your cavalry creation, durability and utility that makes their cavalry something your opponent should fear.

The Franks are equally able to react to most situations with cheap castles that let them turtle up if necessary and most of the key technologies you’ll want although their Imperial Age outside of the cavalry lines has some gaps to contend with. As a result you’ll want to try avoid reaching this point in the game when possible as they also suffer from some poor matchups across popular civilisations that an advanced player will likely take advantage of.


Japanese (S Tier Water)

While not particularly excelling in a specific area that Japanese have great flexibility across their technology tree and bonuses to ensure you always have an option across land, hybrid or water maps although water is where they are most comfortable. Whether its your fishing bonus or the cheaper resource buildings you’ll find a consistent albeit small boost regardless of game factors that add up into large advantages when utilised correctly.

If you find yourself on the defensive instead you’ll be able to utilise both towers and trebuchets effectively with extra attacks to defend your base or line of sight benefits to avoid bad encounters. In time though you’ll want to field an army of infantry or archers which are both more than capable technology lines that the Japanese offer for offensive and defensive tactics.


Lithuanians (S Tier Nomad)

Offering players an opportunity to get a food boost with each town centre construction the Lithuanians have an always useful albeit small economy bonus in the mid game. This is also supported nicely with faster moving and improved armour of counter units in the spearman and skirmishers line that give them a small edge over the competition and is useful in basically every Age of Empires 2 match. It’s this flexibility that have positioned them in the top tier for nomad games where you simply don’t know what to expect from the map and your competition.

Players that can secure relics will also find themselves with a little more power to their cavalry unit although this is small in comparison to the wealth of technology tree options they have available to them to respond to how the match is going.

Persians (S Tier Nomad)

Persians are a solid choice in Nomad given their initial boost to food and wood although don’t quite reach the power level of other high tier civilisations in all situations. Primarily boosted by their easy early game through starting food and wood this is further buffed by town centre work rate that allows you to be able to boom the Persians and maintain any villager losses at a better rate.

With war elephants proving to be a durable unit even against counters Persians can also pair them with their gold free archers to counter any infantry that comes their way and respond to the resources you have available to build your army. Because of these two perfectly paired unique technologies the Persians are a reliable choice that can handle most situations which is vital for a top tier nomad civilisation.


Vikings (S Tier Water)

Effective on both land and water map combinations the Vikings are a good option for those that like to play blended or random maps. From an economic boost the free town centre upgrades of wheelbarrow and hand cart give you a boost to all resource gathering rates and prevents players having to stop villager creation to obtain them.

The main downside of the Vikings though is their focused technology tree that leaves them with a smaller pool of unit options compared to other civilisations. Players will need to go heavy on the infantry and their unique Berserk unit which can be countered although the bonus HP through their team bonus and unique technologies mitigate this somewhat once researched.

Written by
Samuel Franklin
Samuel Franklin is the founder and lead editor of the Games Finder team and enjoys video games across all genres and platforms.

Sam has played Age of Empires since the original with his favourite being AoE 2 where he has spent thousands of hours honing his battlefield strategy. From crushing campaigns to outsmarting online rivals and testing new strategies against the AI his expertise with different civilisations and situations runs deep. His favourite civilisation is the Franks though for their ability to rush enemies with Knights, construct cheap castles and the early economy boosts that allows him to play a fast thriving playstyle that is simple but effective.

1 Comment

  1. Great read, thanks!
    GT: M1GHTYM4C95

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