In a gaming world dominated by increasingly complex, immersive and fast-paced shoot-em-ups and RPGs, there is something undeniably enjoyable about taking a step back every once in a while, & instead experiencing the relative simplicity of games like Age of Empires, the undisputed king of old-school real time strategy!
It was Age of Empires II that captured our imaginations back in 1999, and has continued to do ever since, and the release of the 20th Anniversary Definitive Edition last year allowed us to roll back the years with a bit of good-ol’ nostalgia. With Age of Empires 4 on the horizon, there has never been a better time to get involved, and here at HQ Gamer, we have compiled a list of the best games like Age of Empires to keep you entertained through the dark winter months as we eagerly await AoE 4!
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Games Like Age of Empires
Age of Mythology
If you’re like us and have ploughed through countless hours of Age of Empires, then you’ll undoubtedly love the comforting familiarity of Age of Mythology which, since its release, has been a hit with experts and casual gamers alike. Originally released in 2002 by Ensemble Studios, the same developers that brought us AoE, Age of Mythology was given a new lease on life with the 2014 remaster of the old game, and Ensemble followed this up with a further expansion pack in 2016, providing hours of new content.
The game mechanics are largely reflective of those found in AoE, featuring similar resource management and collection systems, similar combat mechanics, map exploration, large-scale micromanagement, technological advancement, and diplomatic relations. Rather than the middle-ages, the game is set in ancient times, allowing players to control ancient civilisations, incorporating many significant aspects of Greek, Norse and Egyptian Mythology. It doesn’t have quite as sizeable and active an online player base as Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, but then again, neither does any other old-school real-time strategy game!
If this sounds like your kind of game, why not check out the extended edition on Green Man Gaming?
Departing somewhat from the tried-and-tested Age of Empires formula, the next game on our list is the castle sim Stronghold 2. Combining two of the key aspects of RTS games in castle-building and siegecraft, Stronghold 2 offers a far more immersive experience than many others as micromanagement is the key to success! Players must not only gather resources, but create workshops in which they build weapons and armour for troops, keep on top of farming and food production to keep the peasants fed, crack-down on criminals and maintain morale amongst the citizens through entertainment (anyone for the pub?).
The combat and siege warfare are somewhat more slow-paced and realistic than that of AoE, and are ultimately more rewarding as it is harder to endlessly churn out army after army to crush opponents, forcing players to think more strategically. Stronghold 2 also boasts an interesting and highly enjoyable story-based campaign, as well as single matches, although the voice acting leaves a tad to be desired! (P.S. if you’re a fan of Star Wars, name your character Lord Vader for a nice surprise at the main menu!)
The Settlers Series
Continuing the theme of immersive micromanagement, the Settlers Series combines real-time strategy with city building. Since the first Settlers was released in 1993, there have been six further iterations of the main series and several spinoffs, meaning that there is an unbelievable amount of content to get stuck into!
The Settlers games revolve around the standard experience of establishing a settlement, building it into a functioning town and economic base, and creating military units in order to take over the map. The focus of the early games was predominantly upon the city-building aspects, but after the Settlers 2, developers Blue Byte decided to incorporate more of the classic RTS experience into the game through an increased emphasis on conquering and combat. It should be noted, however, that the combat is more of a round-based system, and not in true real-time, so if you are not a fan of turn-based combat, you might want to steer clear of this one.
Sid Meier’s Civilization
Undoubtedly the newest game on this list, the popularity and longevity of Sid Meier’s Civilization series compared to most other strategy games tells its own story. The release of the fifth iteration back in 2010 effectively kickstarted the newest generation of Civilization games, and Civilization VI saw the game come to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for the first time.
As is the custom for RTS games, players begin the game thousands of years ago, and advance through different ages and time periods, unlocking new technologies, units, buildings and characters as they progress. The collection of resources is, once again, central to the game, as is the management and development of the economy where players must ensure that they have enough wealth to recruit units to expand their empire. Exploration of the map is also key to success, as being the first to discover wonders, ruins, neutral city-states and other such points of interest can yield great rewards for those that find them.
However, what set Civilization apart from almost every other real time strategy game out there is the different routes to victory that are available. Rather than relying exclusively upon combat and winning a war by crushing opponents by force, Civilization provides the opportunity to take different paths, such as diplomacy, scientific innovation, and cultural advancement. Additionally, due to being one of the few highly popular strategy games released this recently, there is a vast swathe of DLC available for those seeking to expand their playtime even further.
The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth II
Here at HQ Gamer, we are absolutely avid fans of both Lord of the Rings and Age of Empires, and no game brings these two together quite like the absolute classic real-time strategy game, Battle for Middle-Earth II. The 2006 offering from Electronic Arts has been described by some as AoE with Lord of the Rings characters and troops (and if you need any more proof of how closely linked Age of Empires II and The Lord of the Rings are, someone has since created a mod that brings battles from The Lord of the Rings into the world of Age of Empires II).
The game features two immersive single-player campaigns: Good and Evil. Whilst the Good campaign, unsurprisingly, revolves around mustering troops in order to defeat Sauron, the Evil campaign allows you to take control of the forces of Mordor, including Nazguls and the Mouth of Sauron, destroying all the good forces left in Middle-Earth. We love the Evil campaign.
As we’ve come to expect from the standard formula of RTS games, players must use non-combatant units in order to gather resources, build various structures and buildings to recruit military troops, explore the map, and of course achieve technological advancements to unlock better buildings and troops, although there is no ‘Age’ system such as in AoE. Growing and managing an economy is not quite as crucial for success in Battle for Middle-Earth II as in many other RTS games, with the game instead focusing more upon conquering through combat.
Battle for Middle-Earth II also boasts a multiplayer mode, so get some pals together and jump right in!
Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
In a similar vein to Battle for Middle-Earth II, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds is largely just Age of Empires but in the Star Wars universe. Developed by LucasArts in conjunction with Ensemble Studios, Galactic Battlegrounds runs on Ensembles’ Genie Engine, the same game engine used in AoE. It is essentially just a reskin of Age of Empires, but incorporating Star Wars characters, aesthetics, and lore, perfect for fans of both!
There is a choice of two campaigns in Galactic Battlegrounds: the Confederacy campaign and the Republic campaign, and in each one, the aim is to capture energy-mining platforms in order to take control of a secret weapon developed by the other side. The standard RTS experience of gathering resources, building structures, recruiting different units, exploring the map, and conquering enemy territory forms the core aspects of the game.
The tech advancement routes are slightly different in Galactic Battlegrounds in that players don’t advance through ‘ages’ as they would in AoE, but aside from this, the gameplay experience is eerily similar to Age of Empires. If you enjoy Age of Empires and you’re a fan of Star Wars, this is undoubtedly the game for you!
Cossacks: European Wars
Moving away from the fantasy worlds of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, Cossacks: European Wars thrusts players into the world of 17th and 18th Century Europe, taking inspiration from famous historical events and battles throughout European history. The basic gameplay experience is largely what we’ve come to expect from real-time strategy games, with resource gathering, building construction and unit recruitment, although economic development and management plays a smaller role than is usually found in RTS games.
What sets Cossacks apart, however, is the omission of any kind of limit on the number of military units that can be recruited, bringing a different dimension to combat as clashes with troops sometimes become incredibly, impressively large. It is also deeply grounded in rich historical background, and therefore is perfect for any gamers who love to delve into the past and bring it to life!
Empire Earth Series
Originally released back in 2001 by Stainless Steel Studios, the Empire Earth series was designed by Rick Goodman, the same man who brought the world Age of Empires, so what better game like AoE could there be! As in most of the best strategy games, the game revolves around the collection of resources in order to construct buildings, set citizens to work, recruit troops to build an army, and conquer the map.
In a similar vein to AoE’s ‘Age’ system, players will progress from the prehistoric era through different times, or ‘epochs’, with each epoch unlocking access to better buildings, troops and technologies. In Empire Earth, however, the available timespan is not years or decades, but millennia, with the final age being the ‘nano’ age featuring futuristic warriors and machinery.
Aside from the possibility of journeying through the future and eventually reaching the innovative and hi-tech ‘nano’ epoch, the gameplay in Empire Earth is remarkably similar to the gameplay in Age of Empires, so get conquering!
So there we have it! Our selection of the best real-time strategy games like Age of Empires to keep you occupied throughout the winter. We still don’t have a definitive release date of Age of Empires 4, but it should be sometime next year, so keep your eyes peeled! If you would like to be updated when more news regarding its release is published, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter to be kept in the loop.
If you enjoyed this post but are after a more fantasy-heavy gaming experience, be sure to check out the list of our favourite games like Skyrim.