"They built hundreds of bridges for us, they helped to build and launch more ships for us than Helen ever did for Greece."
— William Slim, 20th century British General
The strongest melee unit in the game, the War Elephant is a thing of terror. Large, repugnant in scent and capable of tearing down primitive forts, this unit is a menace to everyone but the most powerful crossbows and guns. Not even War Wagons can stop an all-out "charge" by them. Sadly, War Elephants are trainable only from the Angkor Wat wonder, and consume a fair amount of resources, alongside having a huge pop cap cost (War Elephants and their more destructive gajnal-armed cousins are tied for highest pop count cost), and so despite this tremendous killing power, those who feel they can survive fielding these beasts alone are as scatterebrained as those who dare oppose these elephants using swords and shields. Melee cavalry are especially weak against these units because these animals have a scent that spooks horses, thus they enjoy a defensive bonus versus melee cavalry.
For those unfortunate to encounter these beasts, there is but one way around them, and that is to not come close to them at all. Although any bow-equipped unit can take potshots at these beasts with impunity, the best weapons to use against them are crossbows, composite bows and ballistae wherever you can find them. If you are in the Imperial Era and you are fighting against an Asian player, try obtaining ballistae or gunpowder weapons - these can cause even more damage. Equally, War Elephants are easily routed by warships — any Castle Age ship will work well in making mincemeat of them, although cheaper and sturdier Viking Longships do the job just as well.
If you are playing as China, War Elephants may not be created. Instead, these powerful pachyderms will be upgraded to the more powerful but costlier Gajnal Mahout, which gains a missile-based attack that can down melee units with ease once you have obtained the right prerequisite techs. War Elephants that are captured in one way or the other by Turkey will also see them being upgraded with gunpowder weapons as well.
Aside from horses, elephants are the only other animal in the world to have been used by humans for combat duty, but by the Mediaeval Era, the use of elephants was mostly confined to South Asia, where there was a near-perpetual supply of eligible recruits for battle — African elephants do not have the capacity to be domesticated. Although elephants were a vital component in the Indian, Siamese, Khmer, Bamar and Malay states, the best war elephants were said to come from Sri Lanka, whose elephants were said to be the most easily trained of them all — in Sri Lanka itself, archaeological evidence suggests that elephant handling took place as early as the 1st century BCE. So valuable were elephants to the local economy (they were exported to the Indian mainland), that the many kingdoms which flourished on the island made them a protected species.
- Very strong melee unit, trainable from the Angkor Wat wonder, immensely powerful in melee engagements but susceptible to missile attack.
- Livin' Large — These units consume a fair amount of resources and have a huge pop cap cost. Thus, only the most warlike and the richest cultures can afford to recruit War Elephants.
- Bigger Is Not Better — War Elephants are weak to ranged weapons and ships, so should not be fielded on their own.
War Elephants are not a common sight for most of Rise of Kings' 24 nations, with the exception of the Gajnal Mahout but encountering these beasts without firearms can be a nasty shock. Unhappily, you are bound to meet some of these animals if you are venturing into India and Southeast Asia. While the vast Deccan Plain allows for some manoeuvreability against these humongous monstrosities, the riparian nature of Southeast Asia means that you might be at a disadvantage. In which case, overrunning regions wholesale with armies might be a better choice as opposed to attacking them piecemeal.