Whether you are entering Age of Empires 2 as a new player, playing amongst your friend group or trying ranked games for the first time, one thing that will always be relevant in improving is to learn hotkeys.
While hotkeys can be set up, it seems that most players operate best by using the stock-standard hotkeys, learning these, and then creating amendments subtly, 2 hotkeys at a time. Whether it is the standard hotkeys you are learning or the hotkeys that you have just set up, it is easiest to try to focus on remembering and committing to muscle memory 2 hotkeys for a few games or so, until you are quite comfortable with them, and then learning the next 2 for different functions. If you find that a hotkey for something important is too awkward to reach for, then change it, but be aware of what else might be assigned to that hotkey – it may be the case that the original assigned hotkey was something fairly unimportant or situational, in which case having a hotkey you need to reach for may be okay.
Buildings are easy hotkeys to first learn as a starting point – your buildings which are in the villager build menu correlate with the letters from Q to T and down to V. As an example, if you are in the military building menu for a villager and you press R, you can drop a Siege Workshop. Another example is when building farms when in the villager building menu, you simply click A. If your hotkeys are initially set up to HD hotkeys, then you can get into the buildings menu or military buildings menu by clicking A or S, respectively. In our previous example, in building a farm, this would be as simple as double-clicking A with a villager selected. Committing these simple building commands to muscle-memory allow for your attention and focus to be directed at other things and slows down the game, as you have been more efficient at getting to where you are. When using Definitive Edition hotkeys to trigger buildings is Q and military buildings is W, whereas it is B and V for the original game hotkeys.
Setting up hotkeys
If you are used to playing on HD or Age of Conquerors and prefer those hotkeys as your basis, Definitive Edition makes it very easy to change these up. Simply go to your hotkey tab in options, click the drop-down underneath “Choose Default” and change it to whatever is preferable. The game also has an option for left-handed hotkeys.
Changing hotkeys is as simple as finding the function and double-clicking on it, and tapping the new key you would like to bind to the function. This will not amend other functions that use this key however, so be aware that you may need to determine where else it is used. You may also join a key with alt, shift or control. I personally use alt+Q/alt+W/alt+E for select all barracks/archery range’s/stable’s as I find this assists with production, and I also use control+shift+H for select all town centers, which I have established as a button on my mouse which is easily accessible, to assist in maintaining a healthy boom.
Do not underestimate the use of control groups either when setting up hotkeys. These can be used for units or buildings, and with Definitive Edition, 20 control groups can technically be set up, although I have never thought I would have needed extra. Control groups are generally useful for situational buildings which no hotkey has been assigned to and for controlling different groups of military. These are re-writeable hotkeys, the genius is that you are able to assign them in every game simply by holding control and giving them a number. If you then use that number you can control those units or buildings without having to have your screen move view what has been assigned, allowing for further production or direction of military to happen without even seeing where it is. If you wish to view the buildings or units in the control group, double-clicking the number for the control group will take you to it.
Hotkeys for researching technologies
Lastly, Definitive Edition also allows players to set up hotkeys for technologies that may be researched. This is helpful, but can become annoying when trying to quickly cycle through buildings which have the same key. For example, if you have Q set to loom as well as to your barracks, you may not be able to use hotkeys to snap to your barracks for a drush and instead start researching loom, requiring you to click the barracks with your mouse and defeating the purpose of hotkeys. A suggestion for technologies is to identify a key that is rarely used and can be the designated “important technology” key, and set every buildings most important research technology hotkey to this. After committing this to muscle memory, set a key next to it for a secondary important technology. Do not attempt to learn the hotkeys for researching technologies until you are fluent with your ordinary building and unit hotkeys. If you attempt this while learning other hotkeys, it can overwhelm you and render your education inneffective.