Age of Empires

With the impending demise of Ensemble Studios, now seems like the right time to look back at the game that started it all. Before they got roped into doing a Halo RTS, Ensemble was best known for the venerable Age of Empires series. What set the franchise apart from the dozens of RTS clones at the time was borrowing some key concepts from the Civilization series and squeezing them into a sleeker form. Starting as a tribal leader with a house and a couple villagers; you would progress all the way up through the ages without any cumbersome resource management to really weigh you down. Rather than just throwing together a jumbled collection of houses, barracks and war factories, a "real" looking city could be developed with a few non-military style buildings to bump up your production. The end result was a feeling that two nations were clashing rather than a facsimile of war being enacted by grunts spit out of a futuristic sheds.

Perhaps most important to me at the time was that walls were actually useful. With the right positioning, you could turtle up and win by building a great wonder or waiting for your enemies to weaken each other and exhaust their own resources. Some civilizations were better than others for tactics like these, which added even more layers without over-burdening the player with too much to manage. This was the first multiplayer RTS I really got into playing online with other people and strategies varied wildly depending on the kind of player you were. There was no single path to victory, which gave it some serious legs.

Finally, it was just loaded with charm. Villagers hauling armfuls of gold, chopping down trees and chipping away at stone were a joy to behold. Deer roaming the landscape, begging the villagers to hunt them for the succulent meat, berry bushes to be picked, birds wheeling about. It was all so alive.

Here's to Ensemble Studios and their consistent efforts in bringing us some of the best RTS games out there. May they find success when they break away from Microsoft and reform their studio.


I remember playing the first one when it came out. We didn't have a LAN setup in the house I was living in yet, so two of my friends would head back to the Uni to get on the computers in their office there, I'd stay at home on my dialup connection, and we'd play to the weee hours of the morning. I loved those Egyptian priest for the bonus to conversion range.

Even the second game was a blast, I didn't end up even picking up the third installment more because of time issues than anything else.

I was pretty young when I got Age of Empires as part of my new screaming 333MHz Intel Celeron Gateway desktop, I just turned 13 at the time. I fondly remember AoE as both the first RTS game I had played at that point and actually a springboard for learning about ancient civilizations. Was the game very informative? Not really. But it really helped my interest in history.

Daddycar. 'nuff said.

I discovered this game a while after discovering Civ via Alpha Centauri, and while it didn't quite tip my brain on its side like Civ, it certainly did give city and civilization building a more visceral feel. I could almost say I learned more about ancient times through that game than in any class; the actual gameplay itself may not have been very informative, but the scenarios were described historically, and the in-game encyclopedia was fairly in depth as to the histories of the respective civilizations.

In high school I was privileged to be part of a 7 hour game of Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings.

It was a high water mark in gaming taking precedence over every thing else in my life, and, while I'll probably never do it again, I'm glad I got to do it at some point.

I can still hear the trumpets of war.


I've only played the third and I'm sad that I missed out on this when it originally came out. I didn't get into RTS except for Command and Conquer and Red Alert when I was younger. If only I could go back and play the classics before they were classics... then I too would have stories to tell.

Age of Empires is still what comes to mind first when someone uses the AOE acronym, not area of effect.

Great games (although I didn't really like 3) and good times. Jedi Knight and Age of Empires were my introductions to serious online multiplayer. Good ol' Microsoft Gaming Zone.

Loved the game. Always exceled at this sort of game, Rise of Nations, and Cossacks (Loved Cossacks! It was like Legos and an RTS all rolled into one) as well, though not to the extent where I had everything completely mapped out by timestamp and played like a hardcore Korean, but among my friends, this was so much fun. Had a game where it was 5vsMe and we played for 4-5 hours before calling it. I couldn't get out of my base, they couldn't really get in -- Janissaries! They were all eating Turkish hot lead. I also recall getting online and just getting stomped once when it was three vs. one. I think that was the last time I actually played this game, but it had a long install life on my computer and was well done and awfully fun since it did create so many stories amongst my friends.

Age of Empires and its sequal were great time sucks for me. I was young, but it was fun.

To my great shame (and my friends' amusement, they love to bring it up), I was participating in an 1v1 AoE2 tournament at a LAN party around the turn of the millennium. At the end of the match I was preparing a fighting force, only to discover he had built a huge 4-tile thick wall around his base and started constructing a wonder inside. I couldn't even get through his wall before it was finished and I lost in disgrace.

AoE 2 was and still is the only RTS I ever enjoyed. I'm not really a fan of the genre, but the depth of the warfare pulled me right in.

"Choppah? Builder. Food, please!"

Good times in AoE 2l; it opened up my eyes to the RTS genre, and from there it was a steady stream of Empire Earth, Rise of Nations, and on down the line of excellent games.

1). This is the first online game I played, typing in IP addresses to direct-connect with a buddy over my 56k modem using my Pentium 75 MHz. It didn't run terribly well, but was serviceable. This was my second experience with an RTS, as I'd played the original Command & Conquer, but this one was more fun because of all the races it employed (something I still like about the AoE series over the C&C series).

2). I still play AoE II to this day. The Byzantines rock my world, and the Cataphract are unbeatable (in large numbers, of course). Steam rolling through walls and buildings with those guys, using the trample damage upgrade, is a glorious thing to behold.

I had a similar experience as Chiggie did in college: four players vs four "hardest" computers. We started around 8:00 pm and ended the game around 2:00 am, as two of us had been steam rolled early on, having to retreat to the borders of the others...then after building up and pushing them back, we took them all out.

Again, a glorious experience!

My first RTS experience was Warcraft II, but AoE is my favorite. (AoK is also A-OK.)

I was taking a semester off from undergrad to do software work for a consulting company. Every Wednesday night, about 4 to 6 of us would stay after hours and use the company network to play a few hours of AoE. It then turned into Wednesdays and Thursdays, and then Tuesday through Thursday and a few Fridays. It was great. The company failed about two years later.

When things went wrong in a game, my friend would say "Crap-adacus" after the "habadacus" said by villagers when you gave them orders. I still find myself saying it today. I get funny looks.

On a slightly related note, this is a good time for the RTS genre. Red Alert 3 is coming out soon and Starcraft II is looking good. I might have to buy a gaming rig.

I'm still waiting for the MMORTS. Maybe somebody big could hire the old Ensemble guys to make it.

So--is this like Caesar?

For some reason these kinds of RTSs never grabbed me. I prefer something more focussed on combat, like Command and Conquer, Universe at War, Earth 21x0, Ground Control, or Universe at War. Games with strong Hammurabi elements just never interested me. Dunno why.


I played this baby a ton too. Even had it on my moblie device for a while a few years ago. I need to second the educational side of the game. I spent hours reading the in-game historical info on the units, races, buildings, etc.

As the son of a IT tech, I had a permanent 4 PC LAN party setup at my house. AoE did not get a lot of play time, but the battles we did have were epic indeed.

AoE is still my favorite RTS game series. That being said I'm not a huge RTS guy but when I here RTS those are the games I think of first.

I had awesome fun with this game at semi regular LAN events with my mates. All this was before kids and reliable and cheap broadband connections in Australian homes and AOE was a perfect level playing field. It was easy to learn and everyone's PC could run it. Every time we played a different RTS such as Starcraft, Age of Mythology, Rise of Nations we always seemed to come back to a game of AOE or AOE2. They were like fine, fine wine.

I loved the first one, but for some reason just could never get into the sequels.

I always thought of this as the more "accessible" version of Civ, although it's not necessarily any easier. A really beautiful, well designed game. Big time suck, but there are worst ways to lose time. My 15 year old nephew is playing this now and I just like to watch and back seat drive, look out for the Byzantines they're flanking you!

I was a big Age of Empires II fan. Nothing else really feels like it. The community was great, too. MS closing ES down is an insult.

An MMORTS has existed for some time now. It's called Shattered Galaxy. It can be pretty fun for a while. (personally not a big fan of RPG elements in MMOs) It's free to play, though a subscription removes some limits.

It still makes no sense to me that they shut down Ensemble. I can't think of one game they've made, definitely not recently, that was a failure. Would've made more sense to shut down rare if you ask me, but I guess they still want a return on that investment.