When Age Of Empires first launched in 1997 it was a groundbreaking moment for the RTS genre. It was a release that was the first experience of a modern (at the time) real-time strategy game for many and it’s a series that has gone on to have an amazing amount of success.
It arguably redefined the genre as a whole as it showed that civilization management and combat didn’t have to be turn-based or use a 4x map and its roster was packed with historically accurate units, clothing, and buildings from the various eras and countries it drew inspiration from. Since then, a lot of games over the years have tried to recapture the same lightning in a bottle the original AOE had, some more successfully than others. So with that in mind, here are some of the best games to check out if you like Age of Empires.
Updated February 9th, 2023 by Matthew Mckeown: For Many Age of Empires 2 was their first step into medieval RTS games and it’s a classic franchise that’s aged well and is always worth going back to. There have been various contenders to the throne over the years and each has brought their own unique spin on running a township with light or heavy RTS elements on top.
There’s countless more waiting in the wings of Early Access or building their own fanbase just under the radar of the mainstream that are worth pointing out. To keep on top of what’s coming out or learn about a few great games you might have missed over the years that recapture some of that AoE nostalgia, here are some more games to play if you like Age of Empires.
15 Dawn Of Man
Pre-history is your playground in Dawn Of Man. Developed by Madruga Works this 3D city builder puts you in charge of guiding a settlement of ancient humans through their development. There are creatures to hunt, resources to gather, and a tech tree to burn through as your settlement develops from tiny huts to a well-defended township.
There’s numerous threats to deal with to keep you on your toes and there’s a seasonal weather system that will drop the temperature substantially and cover your town with snow. There’s plenty of room to expand and the maps are detailed enough that it can be quite satisfying to build up a big sprawling town. Positively received by fans and relatively cheap to pick up, Dawn Of Man is a fun time-sink and a good alternative to Age Of Empires.
14 Manor Lords
A game that’s bounced around a bit in development, Manor Lords by Slavic Magic is an Early Access gem that many are eagerly anticipating. A medieval strategy game on a massive scale, Manor Lords allows for detailed city building as well as large battles and a surprisingly in-depth economic system to manipulate.
Manor Lords comes with a caveat though. It’s still in Early Access, and previously there was a playable build, but at the time of writing it was taken down by the developer. Though there’s a bit of drama around it, they have said that it will be available again in the near future as the game gets closer to a full release in 2023.
13 Age Of Darkness: Final Stand
If you’re looking for a game that’s Age of Empires crossed with They Are Billions, then Age Of Darkness: Final Stand fits into that niche pretty well. Developed by Playside under the Team17 umbrella, your goal is to defend the last bastions of humanity against gigantic hordes of nightmare monsters.
There’s a lot of unique building chains to dig into and use to build up your defenses, plus the waves of ghouls thrown at your walls can get intimidatingly huge. It’s another Early Access gem that’s taken an interesting concept and fleshed it out further with a fun fantasy twist. With a difficulty range that covers all skill levels, there’s a lot to work with in Age Of Darkness: Final Stand.
12 Atomic Society
If you’ve ever wanted to create your own Fallout: New Vegas-style community then Atomic Society is worth checking out. Created by Far Road Games, it’s a post-apocalyptic city builder on a pretty impressive scale. Towns can reach a pretty large size and there are a lot of social simulation options to dig into including a belief system and work scheduler.
With a wealth of gameplay modifying options at your fingertips, no wasteland experience is going to be the same. To keep you focused there’s a task system to keep you working towards an end goal, plus there’s enough curve balls thrown at you through events to keep things fresh and challenging. Though it’s a little rough around the edges, it’s got a lot of charm and plenty of mechanics to keep you busy.
11 Knights And Merchants
A cult classic from 2013 and developed by Topware Interactive, Knights and Merchants is as close to Age Of Empires as you can get without just playing it instead. A pixelated playground of warring knights and stone-built bastions, it’s a rough time in 1200 A.D.
There are two campaigns to crawl through, the Shattered Kingdom and Peasants Rebellion, that encompass 32 missions. There are 25 different buildings and plenty of unique troops to throw into the meatgrinder in both solo skirmishes and online multiplayer. It’s a simple medieval RTS that’s aged well and is a nice time capsule of what classic strategy games used to be like.
Launched in 2001, Stronghold took the concept of running your own castle and expanded on it. You start completely from scratch, a Lord and just a few villagers but over time you need to increase your influence, build up your defenses, and also cater to the needs of your town.
One of the main features of Stronghold, aside from the absolutely massive siege battles you can have, was that your villagers could just leave if they were unhappy. It created this interesting mix of trying to build an impregnable fortress but also keeping your taxes low and food stores high enough that your people were happy with your stewardship.
9 Empire Earth
Although you will be lucky if you can find a copy of this game as getting an original disc in the box is tantamount to gold dust these days. Still, if you manage to get your hands on it Empire Earth is essentially Age Of Empires, but on steroids.
Instead of progressing from Stone Age to Iron and then stopping, your civilization keeps on evolving right up until the futuristic Cyber Age. This meant multiplayer matches could often devolve into weird showdowns between Medieval axemen, World War II soldiers, and giant mecha. With a huge in-depth story spanning literal millennia and with an absolutely heaving unit roster, Empire Earth is a Civ RTS that’s absolutely packed full of fun things to do and powerful armies to play with.
8 They Are Billions
If you’ve ever wanted to experience Age Of Empires but with a buttload of zombies then They Are Billions might be for you. This undead survival city-builder pits you and your fortress against an absolutely staggeringly large amount of walking corpses that regularly try to smash through your defenses to claw you apart.
Resources are gained through buildings placed next to resources and at times gameplay can take on a Tower Defense aspect as you build impregnable walls layered in intricate patterns that are watched at every angle by turrets, towers, and soldiers. With a rock-solid campaign and unique isometric hero missions all set within a fascinating Steampunk setting, They Are Billions will keep you coming back for more.
7 Rise Of Nations
Launching six years after the original Age Of Empires, Rise Of Nations didn’t have as big an impact as its rival, but it still managed to carve out quite the popular niche for itself within the wider RTS Community. Similar in scope to AOE, players were tasked with building and growing their empire, influence, and technology through a series of “Ages”.
Although they took on a more modern aspect with riflemen, planes, and even nuclear bombs appearing in your arsenal, it still provides a decent challenge. Plus its unique feature of organically moving borders around the game map and having enemy forces breaching your lands suffer attrition because of this is an interesting twist on the classic RTS territory capturing format.
6 Going Medieval
Don’t let its minimal aesthetics and early access badge fool you as Going Medieval is already becoming quite the Indie Darling within the RTS genre. Developed by Foxy Voxel, players are tasked with building their kingdom within hostile lands covered in a rugged wilderness and infested with bandits.
Buildings and walls can be custom-built pillar by pillar, including the interiors to your choosing, allowing for a city that could look like absolutely anything to be created. Walls crumble in real-time as they take damage and lightning strikes from storms can ignite buildings or worse, your crops. It’s a more realistic approach to Castle Building that lets you run your kingdom exactly how you want to.
Developed by Paranoid Interactive, Forzenheim is another Early Access gem that’s worth keeping an eye on, especially if you enjoyed Assassin's Creed: Valhalla.
This gorgeous Norse city builder tasks players with leading their Viking clan through the various trials and hardships of the frozen north. Featuring some gorgeously detailed models, elaborate and diverse management options, and some pretty visceral combat, Frozenheim is a refreshingly modern take on the classic historical RTS genre.
4 Kingdom Wars: The Plague
The map and number of Lords you can play around with in Total War: Warhammer II may be big, but it’s got nothing on Kingdom Wars: The Plague. Another Early Access diamond in the rough, the scale of the area you get to play around on is so mind-numbingly gigantic that it will take countless hours to conquer all of it, if at all.
Developed by Reverie World Studios and set in 1347, the grim era when the Black Death was sweeping throughout the world, this RTS hybrid lets you take control of one of 200 Lords across Europe, The Middle East, and Africa. Gameplay takes place on a grand scale, but for city battles, the sheer volume of units that can fit on the screen at once for massive battles is stunningly impressive. Although it has quite the learning curve, once you get into that rhythm it’s a great time sink.
Launched in 2018 by Shiro Games, Northgard is another Norse city builder, but aesthetically it has more in common with Age of Empires. The models for your towns, units, and villagers are through a cartoonish art style that brings up some strong AOE nostalgia and its soundtrack is pretty great to boot.
But don’t let its cutesy exterior fool you, underneath lurks the heart of a pretty challenging RTS. It’s not just hostile clans you’ll face out in the wilds, but also monsters from all over Norse mythology, so expect roaming bands of skeletons and giant Wyverns to be commonplace. It’s a fun fantasy-themed take on the genre that brings quite a lot to the table.
More akin to the likes of Rome or Civilisation, Hearthlands tasks players with building their kingdom in a procedurally-generated fantasy world. Although you can’t take direct control of your villagers, instead you need to focus on building up your city and providing defenses for its inhabitants.
Released back in 2017, Hearthlands is a simplified city builder that has a surprising amount of depth once you get into it. There’s enough of a challenge provided through its massive enemy armies that assault your base and the procedurally generated levels mean that each new kingdom looks different from the rest.
1 The Unexpected Quest
Developed by Rionix, this Warhammer III-inspired RTS city builder may wear that inspiration on its sleeves, but it has used that familiar setting to create its own unique cartoonish fantasy world that you can easily get lost in.
As you build up your city and create complex structures to house, feed, and defend its inhabitants the game will also give you quests for extra rewards or progression through the story. There’s also a number of interesting and unique puzzles dotted around the world that can be solved for extra treasure. In a game heaving with things to do, The Unexpected Quest is one that continually asks you “Ok, what’s next?”.
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