Strategy for harder AI opponents?

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Apr 24, 2013
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I am having difficulty jumping from normal AI difficulty to hard. On normal, the game is almost too easy, where my own combat strategies help me win high-risk battles, and the number of armies between me and the enemies are relatively similar. However, when trying to fight against hard AI opponents, the number of armies they possess is overwhelming. I literally cannot afford the level of upkeep that the AI seems to be paying for their armies, and eventually, I am ground down due to the “Zerg” effect. This wouldn’t be a huge deal if the AI had cheap units, but they appear to spam tier 3 units and send them toward my cities in never-ending waves.

I would like to play at greater difficulties because, as I said earlier, normal isn’t much of a challenge, but the buffs the AI receives from normal to hard seem to be a bit steep. Now, it is highly likely that I just don’t have a good enough strategy for army composition, world map movement, and city loadouts. If that is the case, what should I aim for regarding the previously mentioned game mechanics? Please help!
I had some trouble going from normal to hard. But mostly wiith the AI's first stacks of units. It seems the more you hit them, the more their power wanes.
I think it has to do with the player managing its empire better than AI can, the more empires grow, the weaker the AI becomes.

So my advice is: endure!
I strongly recommend you to play all battles manually until late game. Play safe until you can make your 1st 3 full stacks. Do as much battles with neutral as you can (experience of your heroes is very necessary, especially in the beginning). You don't need to win economically, you won't be able to make as many units as the AI has. You need to surpass him tactically. You cant allow yourself to lose units from this 3 1st stacks (core) or lose a smaller easily replaceable part. This is achieved through superior levels and the use of weakness in AI tactics. For example, get your troops closer wait and buff in the beginning till attacking troops run into your position by blink and other source they have, this separate them from supports buffing each other. Summoning temporary units that absorb some of the damage also perfectly saves the health of your troops, just send all these banshees, elementals, beasts or what you got.
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I agree that manual battles are key.
I generally play them defensively, letting the AI come to me (at which it does a bad job, usually splitting its troops so they can be defeated in detail). It is usually better to hang back, maybe reposition to one side of the battlefield (maybe leave one troop, preferably a cheap spider summon, at the other end to divert some troops if you are feeling mean), then manage distance so that a few enemies will close, get a minimum of attacks off, then get mauled by your combined forces. One exception is enemies with lots of Shock units, especially those with long move range, where it may be better to close and prevent strong charges, especially if you are using a shield frontline rather than polearms.

Other than that, it depends also on your faction, of course. so what do you like to play (Race, Cultures, Society Traits, Leader type, preferred tomes)? I tend to do well on Brutal with all of them, without min-maxing, but a lot of this is experience, and until you get that, it may be best to pick one of the currently more powerful setups to gain that experience.
Primal is really strong right now, for example, especially when you get Ancestral Wardens. With their AoE single-AP jump, they are like a Pole and Shock rolled into one, with great engagement range, very good damage (especially against cavalry and large targets, which the AI will often have quite a few of) and first strike ability, and fairly good durability as well.
Tome of Mists is great too, with Mistlings being extremely tanky for a Skirmisher due to their Clinging Mist evasion, and you can summon them to reinforce your troops in the field (a good, reliable summon is very useful for almost any build). And the rest of the tome is great too. Especially if you like hanging back in manual battles, you can use the first few turns to spread mist by moving your Mistlings around, then put various Race-Transformed other units in the mist spots to gather buffs.
Necromancy did great for me in a recent game as well. Basically allows you to replenish your army back to full (and often significantly expand it if upkeep allows) after battles easily. Just focus on the tome line and build a few soulwells, later desecrate structures etc. to keep your soul income up. I found Mighty Meek really useful for my skelly hordes, too, to devastate high-tier AI units with disposable Tier 1 armies I get and replenish almost for free.

Another thing that is important on higher difficulties is Diplomacy to avoid getting into too many wars early on - preferably only one at a time, and only once you are ready. Befriending or bribing AI faction leaders can be useful here, and, most importantly, buying off any Grievances they get towards you. Because the AI does not usually declare war unless it has at least Minor Justification, no matter how bad your relations are otherwise.
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If you are being overwhelmed then you are probably either developing too slowly or making suboptimal decision during combat.

As a general advice try to have 3 cities, 3 heroes (1 ruler + 2 regular heroes), 4 stacks of units and ideally no wars with AI players at around turn 30. This means leading up to turn 30 you are running around clearing infestations/wonders for items/xp, training your heroes (my advice would be make them in to hybrids - your combat choice / passives for units) and getting cities by any means be it establishing them or taking by force from free rulers. Afters turn 30 go in perpetual war vs AI players.

When it comes to combat, then laser focus on AI ruler and remove their heroes (most of the time they will bum rush you, so you just have to kill them on your turn). This will lead in to AI moral collapse or close to it, after that a few crits a few flanks and they will rout.

Ou and 4 stacks is 3 main armies for every hero plus 1 for reinforcements, this way you can switch badly wounded units out before important fights. And one more thing, use outposts for HP regen before big sieges/new wars and late game for TPs obviously.
- Generally, do all battle in auto, except if you have too much losses. Ratio of TIME VS LOSSES is complex, but generally, if you lose one or two units on 18, it is OK.
- Prepare yourself to an eventual war around turn 30. (for example, rush T3, prepare gold / mana income)
- Wash all the infestations as fast as possible, especially on brutal : it is your absolute priority, where they can be very annoying since turn 15+ (Variable)
- Never declare war before turn 40-50 (Excepted if you see a real opportunity = opponent with two or three wars, washed in front of your eyes = go !). But generally, let foes do this.
- Push the first ennemy that declare war. If there is no war, pick the nearest foe and destroy him Turn 30-40-50 (more time = each turn passed play in your favor).
- Be extremely careful if your starting point is at center of the map. Two wars in this condition could be extremely annoying. (Built as fast as possible teleporter).

When you have 2 areas (4+ bases and 2 vassals for example), there are a lot of scenarios. Sometimes a good guy lead a general war against all, one after one. Sometimes all opponents are shy etc. Adapt yourself. But atm, the game is done because you have developpement and more bases.

One last advice : you must be on the case. You must feel it (conqueror = a lot of chance that he attacks you) The worst scenario is a sudden war when your are not in your base, or after a heavy defeat (Infestation).
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- Generally, do all battle in auto, except if you have too much losses. Ratio of TIME VS LOSSES is complex, but generally, if you lose one or two units on 18, it is OK.
Great, OP talk about difficulty troubles and your advice to do auto battles... What kind of mastery he can learn from this? Ok, mb if he will be watching a replays, he can learn some AI tactics, but in general this is bad decision. OP talk about large losses due to quantitative superiority. The advantage of quality over quantity, that's what he needs to learn and understand. Only do job by yourself you can learn and grow.
I am clear in my first post : "if" you don't have too much losses. If it is not the case, do all in manual.

But normally, you cannot advice to do ALL battle in manual. It is not normal, time consuming is too much advanced. A lot of battle can be done in auto without problem, with one or two losses / 18, which is acceptable generally. The advantage of quality lead to my other point : rush to T3. Good T3, 6x3.