RACE SPECIFIC ADVICE
This section gives advice on how to use the various races. Is there a best race in AoW2 multiplayer, or are they more or less balanced? There is not a simple answer to this question. The devs have said on the record that they did not intend for all the races to be balanced. Another problem is that the particular map is always the ultimate judge for how strong a race is. Each race has advantages in certain types of maps and disadvantages in other, particularly with mobility. Also, the races match-up differently with each other race. Yet another consideration is that in any game you will rarely just use one race, but will instead employ several different ones.
At the same time, some races are stronger than others on average. I don't think there is a one best race, but four races stand out as stronger than the others: the tigrans, elves, archons, and dracnonians. When you play opponents, keep this in mind. You may want to pick one of those four if you know they will, unless you want a challenge. I think you'll also find that the weaker races are more fun to use. And lastly, no race is unbeatable and the game is balanced enough where you almost always have a shot at winning no matter what your race.
There is not a single "best" way to play a particular race. You can succeed with a variety of different strategies. Below I offer some guidelines to use them. The most important part of each race is the units that each naturally produces. Not all units are created equal, even within the same level. Some units are worthless in most situations- do not waste time trying to build these. Other units are good, but you will rarely build them because there is much more superior unit of the same level that you can build. When you evaluate units, keep in mind their gold cost as well as their power- because that will influence how fast they can be built.
I discount the value of level 4 units because you normally will not use many of these in a game. I think beginners especially should not try to go for level 4s in a competitive multiplayer game. Just stick with level 3s and you’ll be fine, no matter what race you are. If you are an advanced player however, certain level 4s are worth making because they can change the course of a game. It’s tough to know when to build them. If there are a lot of production resources around, it becomes much easier because you can use them to build the required structures like the masters guild and champions guild. If you have a significant edge in turn advantage, then it can be worth taking the time to develop level 4s as a long-term investment which will give you an even further edge over your opponent. If the game is tight and even, however, you will probably want to stick to level 3s to keep pace with your opponent.
Very powerful race in the game, on average. Their units are fast and all have forestry.
Elves are blessed with a cheap, powerful level 3 unit that has a devastating ability- the druid. Produce these in great quantities. They move quick and are concealed. But their killer skill is entangle. With an attack of 15, their entangle will ensnare even level 4 units with good success (except the leprechaun). Druid hordes are probably the most hated tactic in multiplayer; in fact, so hated that they are considered very cheap. As long as you have as many or more druids than your opponent's units, you should win a battle in the open by entangling. Don't forget their concealment- you can sneak a sizeable army of druids in enemy territory.
The iron maiden is powerful, but over-priced. They lost a lot of their power when phase was nerfed in the beta, although their cost was never decreased for that. If you can afford them, however, they are still pretty good in an elven stack, especially against evil opponents. A group of druids accompanied by a couple of iron maidens is quite powerful.
If you can get them, fairy dragons are strong fliers with high resist and defense. Big fliers are very handy. They are also one of the few units with true sight, which is very useful in MP where concealed scouts are used a lot.
Nymphs can be deadly, especially when used in conjunction with druids. Think about what you would do if your group of 8 warlords was attacked by 6 druids and 2 nymphs...not a whole lot. Keep in mind that if a nymph seduces a unit the spell is broken if the nymph is killed in that same combat. That is true for any unit with seduce or dominate.
Because they start with marksmanship I, elven longbowmen are some of the best archers in the game. Be sure to build them in your garrisons.
The best elven unit may be its level 0 unit, the gladerunner. A cheap, fast concealed scout with forestry that can be produced by any elven outpost. This is a huge advantage for the elves. They simply have the best scouting capacity in the game. Use gladerunners to capture key mines and resources before your opponents. Put them in forests nearby enemy cities. Not only will give you reconnaissance on your opponents’ forces, they will also allow you to sneak in and take an enemy city if they leave it unguarded. Sneak in, cancel the current production or sell a key building, and go back into the forests before he comes back to take it. Do the same with power nodes and mines. You’ll make a lot of friends that way.
The mana bonus for elves is really nice. Unit enchantments are the most valuable type of spells, but they need a lot of mana for upkeep. With the elves, you have a significant edge in keeping your power stacks enchanted.
Elves are strong enough to work well with all the magic spheres, but life and earth magic may be the best for them. They do lack hit points, so ‘bless’ and ‘stone skin’ are very useful to beef up the defense of your key units. I like using them with air mostly; they already have fast units and haste makes that advantage even better. Hasted druids are also a nightmare in TC because they can reach opponents from far away to entangle them. Life magic helps their morale, which is handy if you think your alignment will drop to neutral.
PLAYING VS. ELVES: The elves have to be the most annoying race to play against. Don't be fooled by their low hit points. The elven army is fast and has several deadly special abilities that more than compensate. Be wary of throwing low resist units at them. For example, it may seem that warlords will pount the elves into the ground because no elven unit can match their brute power. But their low resist makes them very vulnerable to the druids' entangle and nymphs' seduce. Having spells which raise resist, like bless and fury (which also gives willpower) is very useful when fighting the elves. Having female units like bladedancers or monsters like dragons will also help since they cannot be seduced.
When fighting druid stacks, you have a chance as long as you outnumber them. Try to have a couple more units than there are druids. While the druids are busy entangling, try to pick them off as much as possible. They are frail for level 3s and will be easily killed by units like knights in a straight-up battle. Every now and then the entangle will fail, so try to hold out. Try to have units with resist of at least 10; warlords with bless will satisfy this requirement. Also, druids are not good city attackers, so stacks by themselves are not so dangerous if you have city walls and a strong range garrisons.
The leprechaun is probably the best druid killer around. You can't depend on getting them, of course, but it's worth remembering if you have the chance to build them. Spider queens, with their high resist, match-up well with druids. They have similar movement, can usually defeat druids in melee, and should be able to resist a good amount of entangles. Unfortunately, they are significantly more expensive than druids.
Gladerunners will prove annoying. No getting around that, but if you station even level one units at key mines and garrisons you don't have to worry about them stealing your resources. You will not often find a good map without forests because map-makers like to place a lot of them because they are aesthetically pleasing.
Strong races like archons, tigrans, and draconians have the best chances to beat the elves. The archons have several units with true sight that will make your life easier. If your opponent is being frustrating you by filling your forests with concealed units, here’s a trick/exploit you can use. Cast a unit enchantment spell, and target the forest hexes in your domain. If there are concealed units in the hex you are trying to enchant, they will show up and you can see what they are. (You can use this to determine the occupants of ruins, mercenary camps, etc. as well, but it only works in your domain.)
Archons are another strong race. Because they have a straightforward style of play, they are easy to use for beginners. All of their units have holy strike, which is nice because holy immunity is very rare.
The key unit for them is the charioteer. This underpriced unit is awesome because it can do pretty much everything. With fast movement, powerful melee and range attack it can attack fliers, defend cities well, and do well on the open ground. Because of its versatility, you can get away with just building stacks of charioteers. They are strong also; I find that groups of charioteers will consistently beat equal numbers of manticores and flyers. Its main weakness is its low resist, so watch out for that. The main thing to think about when using the charioteer is whether to engage in melee or use its great archery. You are usually better off sticking with archery unless you want to drain movement from the defender.
The pegasus unit is also useful, however, because of its flying. It is not as strong as the manticore or flyer, however. If you need some fliers use them, but I find that I stick mostly to charioteers because of their power and cheap cost.
The titan looks cool, and is a powerful unit, but I tend to stick to charioteers even if I can build titans. Titans simply aren’t that cost effective- 3 charioteers are better than 1 titan in most circumstances. With the charioteers you do not have to worry about fighting fliers so much. The exception is if you need the willpower.
The level 2 units are both pretty solid. Paladins are some of the best level 2 cavalry, and the avenger has a host of rare abilities for a level 2. Both of them also have true sight, which is very handy in MP.
The main problem you will have with the archons is their morale problems. They do not get along well with other races, and you will find yourself migrating a lot. Always keep a look out for your alignment because it is easy to become neutral and cause your archon troops to rebel. Because of this, you may want to take them with life magic or peacekeeper. Life magic gives their morale a +10 boost, which will keep their morale OK if your alignment drops to neutral.
The archons have a research bonus. The research bonus is nice, since you can use it to learn new skills as well as spells. If you are in a pinch for mana, then keep your spell researching slot to 'nothing selected' after you research your current spell. This will cause all your research points to convert to mana every turn, which is handy if you need them for the upkeep. I do this a lot once I research my key enchantments.
The archons have an advantage versus the undead because of their units which have the 'turn undead' ability. It's quite effective, and hard for the undead to resist. Even the reaper can be turned. To make the most of it, surround the victim with melee units and then turn so your units will get a free strike on the unit as it flees.
PLAYING VS. ARCHONS: Try not to play against the archons with the undead. It sounds cool ("Pure Good vs. Pure Evil"), but you will have a tough time with the archons' faster speed and turn undead abilities. Also, the undead have the same poor race relations as the archons, neutralizing that factor.
You can pretty much know what to expect when you play them. Most archon players will rely on stacks of charioteers, because they are so cheap and effective. The main weakness with charioteers is their low resist. Use races which have special abilities to combat them. Combat spells like cosmic spray are also very effective.
Since the archons have bad race relations, try to maximize that edge by picking a race which can befriend a lot of races and incorporate them in your army. If you are playing on a map with a lot of random cities, the archons will be at a disadvantage.
The tigrans are extremely well balanced, and powerful in all phases of the game. They are especially dominant in the early to midgame, so you need to take advantage of that. The level 0 unit (shredder) is fairly versatile with a melee and range attack, a good early attacker and city defender. Tigrans do not have a pure archer in the early levels, so you will have often have to make do with shredders as your city defenders. On the other hand, you do not need any structures to build them which is a nice advantage.
Firecats are not very useful, but hunters have great movement for level 1s. They are good scouts because of that. As the tigrans, you must take advantage of your early movement advantage by gathering resources quicker than your opponents.
Catmasters are my favorite level 2 unit in the entire game. They are like mini-charioteers. Although expensive for level 2s, they are still worth every penny. Crank out a lot of them. They can defend cities and attack in the open equally well. The prowler has concealment and wall-climbing, but you'll find yourself making catmasters most of the time because they're so useful. If you take the tigrans, consider a catmaster rush if you find yourself near an opponent. An early game catmaster rush is tough to stop, as they will pound most other level 2 armies. With a little luck, you will catch them under-defended as they try to crank out level 3s.
Don't bother with the mystic. The catmaster is a better and cheaper city defender, and the mystic is too weak to justify her use. If you need magic bolts on defense (for example, against chariots or warlords who have high defense but low resist), you're better off with priests. Manticores, on the other hand, are very nice. They are simply a well-balanced strong flier. Combining stacks of manticores with catmasters is a great mid-game army.
The sphinx is one of the level 4 units that is worth taking a hit in turn advantage to develop. Dominate is one of the most powerful special abilities, and sphinxes can change the course of game. Their ability is particularly effective because it takes a unit that your opponent and makes and converts it to your own cause. So not only did your opponent waste the time building the unit, but he actualy helped you by doing so. Consider building sphinxes if you know you will face powerful level threes with low resist, like the warlord and charioteer. But remember that they won't be able to dominate fliers.
The gold bonus for the tigrans is nice, but even better is their neutral alignment. It won't be too hard to keep your tigran units happy, nor will it be hard to assimilate other armies into your cause. This is a big advantage over the elves and especially archons.
PLAYING VS. TIGRANS: The tigrans are so well balanced that they don't have a real weakness. You’ll have to take another strong race to keep even with them. They do lack wall-crushers, but since they have a strong flier it is not much of a problem. You'll have to beat them by getting more resources and out-growing them. Picking a strong race yourself will help. The tigrans do not have the best resist, so they are vulnerable to units with special attacks.
Using units that have fast low level units, like the elves, will help counter the tigrans early game expansion.
The draconians are strong mostly due to their level 3 and 4 units. Appropriately, they are the only race in the game with both a level 3 and 4 flier. This is a nice advantage in the mid-to-late game. Their biggest problems are early on, because they don't really have quick units in the early game.
The hatchling is an OK level 0 unit. Like the tigrans, the draconians do not have a natural archer. So you'll find that hatchlings will be your early city defenders. The problem with them is that venemous spit is a one shot attack, and not quite as good as frost bolts.
The flamer, on the other hand, can be a nice city defender if properly used. Position them in front of city gates to blast away at enemy troops that funnelled through. The flamer's breath attack is strength 15 (and checks resist, not defense) so it is effective not only against low level units but even level 3 units like the warlord.
The crusher is also a solid unit, if a bit slow. It has a lot of hit points and the wall-crushing is nice, especially in autocombat. Late in the game, however, you will find that you don't really need wall crushing because you will use mostly flyers.
The elder is occasionally worth building but only because of its true sight. Otherwise, it is similar to the mystic. The level 3 flyer, on the other hand, is reasonably priced. They will comprise the core of your army once you can build them. Since they are fliers with poison strike, just build stacks of them and send them out against your foes. Remember to use their flying to your advantage by ganging up on ground units one at a time. They don't take much strategy to use, but are effective.
The red dragon is undoubtedly a powerful unit. But powerful enough to justify developing them? I think on most maps, the answer is no. You will be better off by building swarms of flyers. If you can find a lot of production resources, though, or start with a lot of structures in a city, then you should consider building red dragons. The combination of flying+a breath attack is great, although a bit cheap. Keep in mind that they will not use their breath in autocombat and will engage with ground units.
Like the archons, the draconians get a research bonus. But unlike the archons, the draconians are neutrally aligned.
PLAYING VS. DRACONIANS:
Take advantage of their relative slowness in the early game. If you have a fast race, you should be able to grab resources more quickly before level 3 units come out. You need to build as much turn advantage as you can while they are still slow.
Be prepared to face a lot of flying units by midgame. Pick a race that has its own flying abilities or anti-fliers.
At first glance, they seem kind of bland, but the humans actually have some of the most unique units in the game.
The core unit for the humans is the knight. It's a powerful, fast ground unit that is quite affordable. You should be able to crank them out from towns every two turns without hurrying if you pick the constructor ability, since the humans have an innate construction bonus. This is a very fast clip and will allow you to outproduce most other races' level threes. Knights have low resist, but they have willpower which makes them immune to a lot of the most dangerous special abilities. They are fast enough to crash enemy gates without taking too much punishment in sieges.
The swashbuckler is a very useful unit. With the appropriate use of taunt, you can really mess up the enemy's attacks in TC. Taunt is hard to resist and works at long range. When you successfully taunt a unit, that unit will be forced to attack the taunter any way it can. Usually it will try to rush to your opponent, but it will also use a range attack if it has one. The advantage of taunt is that you can separate your opponent's forces and cause them to waste time. The classic way to use taunt is to surround the enemy with 5 melee troops (be sure to leave an escape route) and have each one get a free strike on the victim as it rushes out. You'll find more creative uses for it, though, especially when you have multiple swashbucklers. Taunting key enemy units can break formations as well as render units useless for a turn or two. Experiment with it.
The air galley is another level 4 unit which is extremely handy if you have the time and edge to build them. They will greatly increase your mobility, but just as important is that they are a flying shooter. No other normal unit has this advantage. They can take out ground units, no matter how strong, with impunity if the ground unit has no way to attack fliers. Dragons with breath weapons can also do this, but air galleys have two advantages. The first is that it will work in autocombat- the air galley has no melee attack so it will not engage ground troops in autocombat like red dragons will. An air galley will take out runemasters every time in auto. The second advantage is that your human opponents will probably get upset if you try to use a red dragon to breathe fire from above without engaging your ground troops. They will run around, knowing your dragon breath won't reach them if you stay still. But against air galleys they will be more accepting since the galley has no choice but to shoot from up high. The javelin has a longer range attack than dragon breath also, and is harder to run from. Air galleys are especially nice to have in PBEM, when all your fights against opponents will be in autocombat. Air galleys are also one of the cheaper level 4 units.
Don't bother with the witch; you are better off with monks who have magic bolts and healing.
Crossbowmen are your main range unit. Unlike archers that fire three times with an 8/4 attack, crossbowmen fire one shot with a 17/7 attack. What's the practical difference? Archers tend to be better against units with low to medium defense, while crossbowmen are superior units against units with high defense. Keep this in mind as you'll find that masses of crossbowmen are quite good against powerful fliers late in the game.
The construction bonus for the humans, as mentioned earlier, will allow you to churn out knights rapidly. Try taking construction and expander skill picks with the humans; you should be able to make 2 knights every 3 turns in a size 3 town (hurry every other knight on the first turn) without significant population loss.
PLAYING VS. HUMANS: Although the knights have willpower, their resist is low enough so that they are easily webbed or entangled. Knights can't fight against flyers directly, so they are also vulnerable to gang tactics by flying stacks. Like the charioteers, they are also vulnerable to direct damage combat spells.
Air galleys can't stack with each other so any group of flying units should be able to take them out. The main danger is if you have no flying units. If you know they're coming, keep some range units with all your forces. A couple of archers protected by some tanks should be able to take out an air galley if properly used. Protect the archer by surrounding them with tanks. When it's your range unit's turn to move, move him out to the open, shoot the air galley, and then move the rest of your tanks around him again to protect it from the air galley.
Perhaps the most powerful of the evil races. Dark elf units have some nasty special abilities, and all of them have night vision. It takes some practice to get good with them, since they are not a straightforward race like the archons. But once you know how they work they are very fun and effective.
The key unit for the dark elves is the spider queen. Unfortunately, she's a bit pricey. But stacks of spider queens are very tough, probably tougher than stacks of druids (druids are better overall because they're so much cheaper). The spider queen has good movement, solid melee stats, and excellent resist. The poison strike is nice, but it is web that is her main ability. Using spider queens well depends on knowing when to web and when to attack. Web, although not as good as entangle, still has a solid chance of immobilizing most level 3s. The other key thing about spider queens is they can wall-climb. This makes them great city attackers (compare to the druids). People tend to forget about the wall-climbing when defending cities, so they will often position their troops on the walls. This makes them prime targets for your spider queens. Remember you can use wall-climbing defensively as well, to exit a city to web a separated unit and then come back into the city.
The other level 3 unit, the shade, is just so-so; you will probably be sticking to spider queens as your level 3 unit.
Dark elves also have one of the best level 2 units in the game with the bladedancer. With double strike and poison strike, these units are awesome fighters and can handle most level 3 units in melee combat. The bad thing about them is they are slow and will slow down the spider queens they are stacked with.
The incarnate is another special unit that can change the course of the game, and may be worth building in some games. I do not think they are as effective as sphinxes, but they are still deadly. They may be the funnest unit in the game to use. Once you build them, be sure to raid an independent village to possess a neutral unit so that your opponents don't see them coming. Be careful when sending them into magic ruins however, since they can be killed by the spells that are cast every turn. The key thing to remember about the incarnate is that its host dies if it tries to possess (successfully or unsuccessfully) another unit. So keep jumping from host to host unless you have a particularly choice host (like a strong hero). Use them with spider queens to possess immobilized fliers.
Constructor is a useful skill for the dark elves to get their expensive units out faster. Expander is nice also, for the same reason.
Like the elves, the dark elf archers are excellent. And like the elves, the dark elves have a nice inherent mana bonus that will fuel your unit enchantments.
PLAYING VS. THE DARK ELVES: The dark elves can come at you in a variety of ways, but in all of them having a high resist is very useful. With bless, even units like warlords and knights will have a resist of ten, so consider taking life magic. The holy champion of life magic will also be a big help if you have to face incarnates.
You do not have to worry about fliers when facing the dark elves, but remember that the spider queen, shade, and incarnate can ignore city walls.
Once you get to mid-game, carefully check enemy units to see if they are possessed (it will say 'possessed' in the unit description). If you are facing incarnates without units with willpower, do not panic. Position the defending units carefully. What you want to do is keep easy hosts spread out and out of reach of the incarnate. Remember that they cannot possess flying units, unless webbed. If you have mostly flying units, be sure to kill any spider queens before trying to kill the incarnates (I have seen the reverse happen many times in MP, with the resulting disaster.) Target the hosts heavily and wait for the incarnate to pop out. (It will always pop out with full health.) Once that happens, incarnates are fairly easy to take down. Having enchant weapon to bypass the physical protection, of course, will help.
Not too popular in MP, they are still a solid race. Like the orcs, they are slow but tough. They do have cave crawling and mountaineering, which gives them some nice mobility advantages despite their lack of speed.
The key unit for them is the runemaster. The runemaster is a true tank, with good hit points, solid attack, and excellent defense and resist. The resist is high enough to make most special strikes and seduce unlikely to succeed. It also helps against enemy spells. I actually think it makes runemasters a superior unit to the orc warlord. The fire strike and fire resist are nice additions to an already strong unit. Runemasters are slow however, and cannot attack flying units. It is worth making combined runemaster/crossbowmen stacks to protect against fliers.
Most people do not build the moles, but it is worth building a few to complement your runemaster stacks. The main reason to have moles is their wall-crushing abilities. Even though any melee unit can attack city gates, you will find that having multiple entry points to a besieged city help a lot. Use moles to assault the city walls in multiple positions. Without moles, runemasters have a hard time attacking well defended cities. They are slow and tend to take a long time to get to the gates, which makes them pincushions for enemy archers. With moles, the runemasters can spread out more and likewise scatter the defending archers more.
Don't bother with the steam tank. It is not a bad unit, but it is not powerful enough to justify its cost. You will be better off with a stack of crossbowmen and runemasters. It is also slow even for a dwarf unit.
The beserker is the best level 1 unit in the game. With fast movement and double strike, you can crank a lot of these out and dominate in the early game. However, they cannot beat power level 3 units on their own. You will need to transition to runemasters eventually.
I won't even talk about engineers. Just hope you don’t get them in your starting army.
The dwarven construction bonus will help you get runemasters out quickly. Take the constructor pick to get runemasters out every 2 turns with hurry production. Explorer is also quite useful for the dwarves, to help their movement.
I usually take air magic and explorer with the dwarves to speed them up. Hasted runemasters treat all underground at 2 mp/ hex. That means you can often travel faster underground than aboveground. But earth magic is nice also, and more appropriate for the dwarves thematically. Stone skinned runemasters have 17 defense. Another combo I like to experiment with is fire magic and dwarves. Fire magic is the weakest sphere, but it can still be fun. The key is that runemasters have intrinsic fire strike, and the spell 'skin of oil' cannot be resisted. So once you cast skin of oil on an enemy unit, runemasters will hit it for 150% damage. This is great when fighting powerful units. (Dark gift has a similar effect, but death strike can be resisted while skin of oil cannot.)
PLAYING VS. DWARVES
Runemasters are tough units, but they are slow and cannot attack fliers. They are also expensive. If you take a race with powerful fliers, like tigrans or draconians, you should be able to use mobbing tactics to beat the dwarves consistently, as well as outproduce them. Additionally, flying units negate the mountain advantages that dwarves possess.
The evil complementary race to the dwarves. Unlike the dwarves which stress defense and resist, orcs emphasize attack and damage. They have tough melee units with low resist.
The warlord is probably the most impressive unit, with melee stats that match level 4 units. They will crush most units in a straightforward battle. But they have some problems as well. They are slow and cannot attack fliers. But more importantly, their resist is weak. They will be hit hard by enemy spells, and will often fall victim to special abilities.
Do not build just stacks of warlords. Combine them with abominations to make them much more effective. Like the druid, abominations have entangle which gives them excellent anti-flying capacity. They are very frail and slow, however. Don't forget about their venemous spit, which is handy in a pinch if you need a range attacker.
The glutton, while cute, is not powerful enough to justify developing. Swallow whole looks cool, but its effect is actually not so great. It has the highest chance of swallowing units with low hit points (which are likely to die anyway), so forget about swallowing full strength runemasters. More importantly, its defense is way too low for a level 4 unit. They will get hit hard by enemy range units. Strangely, they are the fastest orc unit with swimming and high resist.
The shaman has some nice abilities, but it's probably worth sticking to warlords and abominations. You won't have the time in MP to waste on shamans.
Like the dwarves, take constructor to maximize the orcs' innate construction bonus. This will help you produce warlords quickly. Explorer is another good for the orcs. Consider building a shrine of war in your warlord producing cities. I usually do not build shrines in MP games, but with the orcs it can be worth it. Silver medalled warlords have leadership I, so they will get 18 attack and 14 defense. With enchant weapon, that's 20 attack- not too shabby!
PLAYING VS. ORCS
Warlords are fairly vulnerable if you take advantage of their lack of speed and low resist. Indeed, the low resist is a problem for all the orc troops with the exception of the glutton. Magic ranged attacks will hurt them much more than arrows, so consider using priests rather than archers as your city defense. In particular, using units like nymphs and vampires are awesome against the orcs because you can seduce powerful units fairly effectively.
Remember that abominations are often a greater threat than warlords, so if you see a combined stack of them you may want to target the abominations first.
(Other races coming soon)