Age of Empires is a series of historical real-time strategy video games, originally developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios. The first game was Age of Empires, released in 1997. Eight total games within the series have been released.
Age of Empires focused on events in Europe, Africa and Asia, spanning from the Stone Age to the Iron Age; the expansion game explored the formation and expansion of the Roman Empire. The sequel, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, was set in the Middle Ages, while its expansion focused partially on the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The subsequent three games of Age of Empires III explored the early modern period, when Europe was colonizing the Americas and several Asian nations were on the decline. The newest installment, Age of Empires Online, takes a different approach as a free-to-play online game utilizing Games for Windows Live. A spin-off game, Age of Mythology, was set in the same period as the original Age of Empires, but focused on mythological elements of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology. A fourth main installment in the series, Age of Empires IV, is under development.
The Age of Empires series has been a commercial success, selling over 25 million copies. Critics have credited part of the success of the series to its historical theme and fair play; the artificial intelligence (AI) players have fewer advantages than in many of the series' competitors.
The games in the series focus on historical events throughout time. Age of Empires covers the events between the Stone Age and the Classical period, in Europe and Asia. Its expansion, The Rise of Rome, follows the formation and rise of the Roman Empire. The Age of Kings and its Nintendo DS spin-off follow Europe and Asia through the Middle Ages. The Age of Kings' expansion pack, The Conquerors, is set during the same period, but also includes scenarios about the Spanish conquest of Mexico, El Cid, and Attila the Hun. Age of Empires III and its first expansion, The WarChiefs, take place during the European colonization of the Americas. Its second expansion, The Asian Dynasties, follows the rise of Asia in the same period. Age of Empires Online focuses on the Greek and Egyptian civilizations. The series' spin-off, Age of Mythology, and its expansion pack, The Titans, are set during the Bronze Age, but focus on mythology as their themes, rather than history.
Age of Empires
Age of Empires, released on October 26, 1997, was the first game in the series, as well as the first major release from Ensemble Studios. It was one of the first history-based real-time strategy games made, utilizing the Genie game engine. GameSpot described it as a mix of Civilization and Warcraft. The game gives players a choice of 12 civilizations to develop from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. The expansion pack, The Rise of Rome, published by Microsoft on October 31, 1998, introduced new features and four new civilizations, including the Romans. Although the two games had contained many software bugs, patches resolved many of the problems.
Age of Empires was generally well received, despite some highly negative reviews. GameSpot criticized a confused design, while Computer and Video Games praised the game as strong in single and multiplayer. The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences named Age of Empires the 1998 "Computer Strategy Game of the Year." For several years, the game remained high on the sales charts, with over three million units sold by 2000. The Rise of Rome sold one million units in 2000 and attained 80% as an aggregate score from GameRankings.
In June 2017, Adam Isgreen, creative director of Xbox Game Studios announced Age of Empires: Definitive Edition at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2017. It will feature overhauled graphics with support for 4K resolution, a remastered soundtrack, and other gameplay improvements, and was planned to be released on October 19, 2017, but was delayed until February 20, 2018, when it was released on the Microsoft Store. On May 30, 2019, Microsoft announced that the Definitive Edition would be coming to Steam in the future, along with the Definitive Editions of both Age of Empires II and Age of Empires III.
Age of Empires II
Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, released on September 30, 1999, used the Genie game engine, and had gameplay similar to its predecessor. Age of Kings is set in the Middle Ages, from the Dark Ages to the Imperial Age. It allows players to choose one of 13 civilizations, from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
On August 24, 2000, Microsoft published the expansion, The Conquerors. It added new units and five new civilizations, including two Mesoamerican civilizations: the Maya and the Aztec. The Age of Kings was a bigger critical success than the first two games, with Game Rankings and Metacritic scores of 92%. Microsoft shipped out more than two million copies to retailers, and the game received numerous awards and accolades. Critics agreed that The Conquerors expanded well on The Age of Kings, though issues of unbalanced gameplay were raised. The Age of Kings and The Conquerors won the 2000 and 2001 "Computer Strategy Game of the Year" awards from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, respectively.
In April 2013, Age of Empires II: HD Edition was released on the Steam digital distribution platform for Windows operating systems. The HD Edition includes both the original game and the expansion The Conquerors, as well as updated graphics for high-resolution displays. Originally a fan-made modpack made for The Conquerors, Age of Empires II: The Forgotten was an unofficial expansion that added a new campaign, playable civilizations, maps, and quality of service updates. The Forgotten was later developed into an official expansion with SkyBox Labs and Forgotten Studios, and in November 2013 The Forgotten HD was released by Microsoft exclusively for the HD Edition on Steam. A third expansion named The African Kingdoms was released by Microsoft in November 2015, also exclusively for the HD Edition. A fourth expansion entitled Rise of the Rajas was released on 19 December 2016. On August 21, 2017, Microsoft announced Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition.
In June 2019, Adam Isgreen, now the Franchise Creative Director for Age of Empires, shared more information regarding the Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2019. He confirmed that the Definitive Edition was being developed by Forgotten Empires, Tantalus Media, and Wicked Witch Software. He announced that the game would feature new 4K graphics, Xbox Live support for multiplayer, exclusive achievements, four new civilizations (Bulgarians, Cumans, Lithuanians, Tatars), three new campaigns, a new spectator mode and tournament features, and additional quality of life improvements. It was released on November 14, 2019. Bert Beeckman, co-founder of Forgotten Empires, confirmed on June 12 that Age of Empires II: HD Edition would not be removed from sale after the release of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition.
Age of Empires III
Main articles: Age of Empires III, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs, and Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties
Age of Empires III, released on October 18, 2005, was built on an improved version of the Age of Mythology game engine with the most significant changes being the updated graphics engine and the inclusion of the Havok physics middleware engine. The game is set in the period between 1421 and 1850, and players can choose one of eight European nations. The game introduced a large number of features, such as home cities. Described by Ensemble Studios as "an important support system to your efforts in the New World," home cities help provide the player with resources, equipment, troops, and upgrades. They can be used across multiple games, and upgraded after each battle; the feature was compared to a role-playing game character by Ensemble Studios. The first expansion to Age of Empires III, The WarChiefs, was released October 17, 2006. Most gameplay changes in the expansion pack were small, but it introduced three new civilizations, with a focus on Native Americans. Most notable was the introduction of the WarChief unit. The second expansion, The Asian Dynasties, went on sale October 23, 2007. It was a jointly developed product; Big Huge Games helped Ensemble Studios develop the game, with Brian Reynolds joining Bruce Shelley as lead designer. The game expanded the Age of Empires III universe into Asia, and introduced three new civilizations. Reception towards Age of Empires III was mixed; Game Revolution described it as "about as much fun" as a history textbook, while GameZone argued it was "one of the best looking games, much less an RTS game, that is out on the market currently". It sold more than two million copies, and won the GameSpy "real-time strategy game of the year" award. The WarChiefs failed to equal the success of its predecessor, with a lower score on both Game Rankings and Metacritic, and The Asian Dynasties' score was lower still with 80%.
Several collectors' editions of Age of Empires III included a hardcover artbook. The last page of the artbook has a pictorial depiction of the series; the Roman numerals below each panel range from I to V, indicating the series would include an Age of Empires IV and Age of Empires V. Ensemble Studios employee Sandy Petersen said that the image "was total speculation on [their] part."
In 2008, Microsoft announced they were closing down Ensemble Studios following the completion of Halo Wars. Some of its employees would form a new team as part of Microsoft Studios. Kevin Unangst, director of Games for Windows, denied it was the end of the Age of Empires series, telling The San Francisco Chronicle "we're very excited about the future potential for Age of Empires". Edge confirmed, in an interview with Microsoft's corporate vice president of interactive entertainment, Shane Kim, that Microsoft continued to own Age of Empires and that they had plans to continue the series. However, Bruce Shelley wrote in his blog that he would not be part of any new studios formed.
Following the announcement of remastered editions of previous games, Microsoft announced Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition on August 21, 2017. On May 30, 2019, the company revealed that the Definitive Edition would come to Steam in the future, along with the Definitive Editions of both Age of Empires and Age of Empires II. On August 28, 2020 Microsoft announced at Gamescom 2020 that Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition would release officially on October 15, 2020.
On January 23, 2020, Microsoft announced a closed beta for early February of that year. Betas ran on Steam and the Microsoft Store, with each beta session including a small piece of the game. The first closed beta session began on February 11, 2020 and ended on February 19, 2020. The second closed multiplayer session began on March 31 and ran until April 7.
Age of Empires IV
On August 21, 2017, Microsoft announced Age of Empires IV, developed by Relic Entertainment. Microsoft's Executive Vice-President of Gaming, Phil Spencer, confirmed on June 11, 2019, that Age of Empires IV is still in development, with more information coming later in 2019. On November 14, 2019, gameplay footage of Age of Empires IV was shown at the X019 event. It showed medieval warfare between English and Mongol forces. The release of Age of Empires IV is rumored to be in 2021.
Age of Mythology shared many elements of gameplay with the main series, and was considered a part of the series, despite its different focus. The campaign in Age of Mythology tells the story of an Atlantean, Arkantos, and his quest to find why his people are out of favor with Poseidon. Microsoft published the game on October 30, 2002, and its expansion, The Titans, on October 21, 2003. The Titans featured the Atlanteans as a new civilization. Its campaign is shorter than previous expansions, and centers on Kastor, son of Arkantos, who falls for the lies of the titans and frees them from Tartarus. Age of Mythology sold more than one million units in four months. It scored 89% on Game Rankings and Metacritic. The Titans failed to equal the sales success of Age of Mythology, although critics rated it highly.
Backbone Entertainment developed Age of Empires: The Age of Kings as a turn-based game for the Nintendo DS. Majesco Entertainment published the game on February 14, 2006. It is similar to other turn-based games, such as Advance Wars, but with a gameplay based on its PC counterpart. Age of Empires: The Age of Kings scored 80% on Game Rankings and Metacritic. Konami brought a game of the same title to the PlayStation 2 around five years earlier than the DS version, but the game had little promotion, and sold poorly.
On August 16, 2010, Microsoft announced Age of Empires Online, which was a free-to-play Games for Windows Live online game, it developed in collaboration with Robot Entertainment. It featured Free-to-play experiences via Games for Windows LIVE as well as: A persistent online capital city that lives and grows even when you're offline, Cooperative multiplayer quests, trading and a level-based system that lets you progress at your own pace. Premium content could be earned or purchased, such as access to blueprints and special items, as well as more quests and features. In September 2013, it was announced that the game would remain functional until July 1, 2014, after which it would be shut down due to the content being too expensive to maintain.
On April 13, 2014, Age of Empires: World Domination was announced. It was developed by KLab Games for the iOS, Android and Windows Phone. It was released on December 7, 2015, with the service terminated on 30 November 2016.
On August 25, 2014, Age of Empires: Castle Siege was announced. It is a touch-based game developed by Smoking Gun Interactive. It was released on September 17, 2014 for the Windows PC and Windows Phone 8.