The history of the world is full of civilisations competing for resources, wealth and glory. Age of Empires offered the chance to relive those struggles, and immerse ourselves in a world that we are so far removed from.
Age of Empires was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Games. It was released in 1997 for the PC, spawned a number of sequels and spin-offs, and has gained a loyal following. It was the original PC version I chose to review.
AOE is a real-time strategy game which sees you lead the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece, Babylonia and the Yamato, through the Stone Age, Tool Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, in order to rise up and become dominant empires. In order to progress through the ages, you need to build your base and grow your army. To do this you send villagers to gather resources of wood, food, gold and stone. Upon reaching a new age, better soldiers, weapons and technologies become available to you.
You have the option of playing single player campaigns, as well as a Random Map mode in which different maps are generated for each match. Other adjustments can be made to make the matches harder such as adding a Death Match mode. You can even create your own scenarios in the Scenario Builder and set your own match parameters. Multiplayer is also available to play online. These features give this game tons of replay value.
Each campaign contains a number of missions. Before each mission, you are given a timeline and briefing with mission objectives and hints to draw you into the game.
How Does It Handle?
The controls are simple. You use your mouse to hover over a unit (villager, priest, military personnel etc.) and click on them to gain control. You can then either move them or call them to action. For example, if you highlight a villager, and then click on a tree, the villager will begin to gather wood and carry it to the nearest storage pit or town centre. A menu also appears in at the bottom of the screen with options to build and repair buildings.
For military personnel, once they have been highlighted, you can direct them to attack enemy units or buildings. Default stances can also be set which will instruct them to attack enemies on sight, attack enemies within a certain range of your settlement before returning to their original position, or simply ordering them to stand their ground. ‘Standing Your Ground’ is useful for archers and artillery (for these units, there is also a ‘ceasefire’ option). With artillery such as catapults, you can damage your own troops so be aware when deploying troops.
When clicking a building, options will appear at the bottom of the screen where you can choose to research technologies or create new troops (obviously depending on the type of building). Each civilisation has a slightly different technology tree and so certain technologies will need to have been researched before progressing to the next age, or before certain troops and other technologies become available. For example, you can only build a market once you have reached the Tool Age. Building a market will allow you to build farms which in turn is a vital food source. However, you need wood to build farms. It all weaves together beautifully like an intricate web. Markets also allow you to offer tribute in the form of resources to other players.
Visually, the game has an isometric view and I think it looks beautiful. The attention to detail of the landscapes, buildings and units make the game look awesome and really gives you the feeling you are watching these ancient civilisations grow.
I adore the music too. The creators tried to ensure that the music was authentic to the time periods and cultures by performing with instruments that would have been used by musicians of the time. This attention to detail really adds to the atmosphere of the game.
Just hearing the music again takes me back to when I was 16, playing this game for hours on end when I should have been studying for my G.C.S.E’s. I ended up with poor grades so let that be a lesson to you not to neglect your studies! I love the music so much that I often listen to the AOE soundtrack.
The Rise of Rome extension was released in 1998 and contained four extra campaigns based on the Roman Empire. These campaigns included the Rise of Rome, Ave Caesar, Pax Romana, and Enemies of Rome. The expansion pack added some extra features such as being able to queue the production of units, allowing you to continue with other objectives whilst your army is being created. It also allows the player to double-click a single unit to highlight all similar units on the screen, handy for when in the height of battle.
Any Negative Points?
A few negative points include the lack of diversity in the units amongst the different civilisations. If you didn’t know from the campaign menu or didn’t select a civilisation when beginning a Random Map game, you could be forgiven for not knowing which civilisation you were. Regardless of what colour your army is, an indication to which civilsation you are can only be found by looking at the style of the border at the bottom of the screen.
The hoplite armies are also very overpowered. If you have a squad of about 10, you can pretty much decimate any confrontation with ease. Your only hope to defend against such an army is to either have an equal army of hoplites or get a few lucky strikes with a catapult. Having a large contingent of Heavy Horse Archers also helps as they can easily keep their distance. Lastly, some of the missions can become monotonous. Most missions are simply building an army and destorying the enemy base. There are a few more interesting missions such as finding and marking ancient horse symbols, but these are few and far between.
My Final Word
That being said, this game is utterly brilliant. What’s not to like? The game is easy to learn and highly addictive. There are plenty of different units with which to build your mighty army. The missions increase in difficulty, challenging your strategy to the end, and the replay value will have you coming back year after year.
If you would like to learn more about the origins of Age of Empires, I would recommend you listen to Season 3 Episode 22 of The Life and Times of Video Games podcast.
Did I Complete The Games?
I have successfully completed all campaigns without the use of cheats and loved every second of it. I will no doubt unsheath my sword again in the future, just to ensure I can still cut the mustard.
What The critics Said Of Age of Empires:
Allgame.com: “Although the building at the beginning of a mission is slightly repetitive at times, the game is still extremely enjoyable. Overall 4.5/5”
Gamespot.com: “Age of Empires looked, and pretends, to be so very much more. It still has tons of potential and a fundamental gameplay that remains entertaining enough to overcome the flaws and merit a fair rating. The system can go very far with some fine-tuning, but as it stands it seems downright schizo. Is it a simplified Civilization or a modestly beefed up Warcraft? It’s almost as if the designers started out to create one game and ended up with another. Overall 6.8/10”
PC Zone Magazine: “You’ll have to spend a few hours getting to know it before you’ll be able to find the fastest routes to each main advance and what you should be researching first to get to the weapons and buildings that suit your style of play best. But then this is the sort of thing that gets people hooked in the first place. And hooked you will be. Overall 9.4/10”
What The Critics Said Of Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome:
Computer Games Strategy Plus: “If you enjoyed Age of Empires, Rise of Rome will put fresh blood on your sword. Overall 4/5”
Finalist – 1997 Computer Gaming World ‘Strategy Game of the Year’
Outstanding Multiplay – CGW 1998 Premier Awards: Special Award
My Verdict: “A classic real-time strategy game, and you even learn a little about classical history too. It has tons of replay value, and although it’s not perfect, I find myself drawn back to this game year after year.”
What are your memories of Age of Empires? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
 Couper, C., (14th Novermber 2014). ‘Age of Empires – Review’. Allgame.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20141114122303/http://www.allgame.com/game.php?id=714&tab=review Accessed 10th December 2019).
 McDonald, L.T., (October 27th 1997). Age of Empires. Gamespot.com. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080726183453/http://www.gamespot.com/pc/strategy/ageofempires/review.html Accessed 10th December 2019).
 Anderson, C., (May 19th 2008). ‘Review – Age of Empires’, PC Zone Magazine. (https://web.archive.org/web/20080518133649/http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=2701 Accessed on 10th December 2019).
 Finn, D., ‘Strategy Review – Rise of Rome’. Computer Games Strategy Plus. (January 1999). Issue 98:106.
 ‘Best and Worst of 1998: Strategy Game of the Year’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:84.
 ‘CGW 1998 Premier Awards: Special Award – Outstanding Multiplay’. Computer Gaming World. (March 1998). Issue 164:89.