Let’s talk about games like Age of Empires. Ensemble’s classic set a gold standard in RTS game design with few competitors, most of which hail from contemporary challengers such as Command and Conquer or Starcraft. Since these halcyon days, no newcomer has managed to topple these titans from their gilded thrones.
Even the creators of Age of Empires were reluctant to challenge the series’ own legacy, with the fourth instalment arriving in 2021 (read our Age of Empires 4 review here), 16 years after the release of part three. If you are still looking for something similar, we’ve thrown together a quick guide on a few strategy games that we think are pretty neat and follow a similar formula.
We’ve not included titles such as Command and Conquer or Starcraft II, because while these games are RTS games, they are also very informed by their respective settings and differ in key ways. Age of Empires is, first and foremost, a historical strategy game, so with only a couple of exceptions, we’re looking at games that also use this as a starting point.
Best games like Age of Empires
Here are the best games like Age of Empires:
- Empire Earth
- Rise of Nations
- 0 A.D.
- Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
- Empires Apart
- Civilization 6
- Age of Mythology: Extended Edition
If you take the basic mechanical foundation of AoE and apply the long-term design goals of Civilization, you’d have created Empire Earth. An excellent counterpoint to Ensemble’s behemoth, you start a game in the prehistoric era and can take it all the way through to the near future.
While this may remove some of the depth and nuance Age of Empires had due to its more focused time periods, you’re still basically playing out a game of Civilization, but in real-time, which more than makes up for it. Empire Earth 2 innovated slightly by breaking up the landmass into chunks, which you had to control before you could fully build on them. This gave the map more strategic relevance, especially as valuable late-game resources started to appear. You can get the best version of Empire Earth on GOG at a decent price these days.
Rise of Nations
Designed by Brian Reynolds, notable designer of Civilization 2 and Alpha Centauri, Rise of Nations is more concerned about trying to translate the concepts of Civilization and turn-based strategy games in general into real-time than trying to take on Age of Empires directly.
Still, the place it landed is comparable to Empire Earth above and Age of Empires itself, as it also spanned the whole of human history. You can control any one of 18 civilisations, each with its own unique units and attributes. These civilisations are otherwise detached from reality, and you have a lot of freedom in developing them as you progress.
Originally a total conversion mod for Age of Empires 2, 0 A.D. has evolved into an open-source and free PC game. It has been worked on by over 100 people in its twenty-year history. 0 A.D. is still being worked on, and its RTS gameplay makes it an incredibly popular alternative to Age of Empires, given that the time frame it focuses on stops at 1CE. It also has a deeper economy system than in Age of Empires.
At the time of writing, there’s still no timetable for a finished release, but you can download the latest version from the official 0 A.D website.
There have been many modern RTS games that have tried to take on Age of Empires, and this Viking-themed offering is probably one of the better candidates. Where-as the rest of this list is essentially contenders from the strategy series’ prime, this is a modern interpretation well worth your time. Northgard puts you in charge of one of nearly a dozen fantasy Viking clans that land on the edge of new, unexplored territory.
You’ve got to build up your village and tame the land around you, dealing with mythical monsters and other aggressive clans. Its innovations come from its use of indirect control and a winter phase that you must plan for in advance, lest your village succumbs to starvation. Each clan plays very differently, and developer Shiro Games has given it a lot of love and support over the years with new content and game modes.
Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
An often overlooked footnote in the history of Star Wars games, Galactic Battlegrounds is notable because it was also made by Ensemble. Released in 2001, it dropped a couple of years after the studio released the incredibly popular Age of Empires II. The tl;dr is that this is Age of Empires with a Star Wars skin, although there is a bit more nuance to it than that.
It’s not the best Star Wars-themed game ever, even with the expansion focuses on the Clone Wars. The pair only came out around the time of Episode II’s theatrical release, so generally, it never benefited from much of the good work done with the setting in the post-prequel era. Still, it’s available on Steam for under $5, and it’s remembered very fondly – there are some great mods for it as well.
This is probably the best game like Age of Empires you’ve never heard of. Developed by a small indie team and published by Slitherine, it wears its AOE inspiration on its sleeve. It also comes with a pretty stylistic graphics design, a competent AI, and some well-designed factions.
You can play a basic version of the game for free, and then you unlock the other civilisations available as micro-expansions. There’s skirmish play against the AI, as well as online multiplayer, as well as a survival and challenge mode. Empires Apart struggled to get off the ground, even after its switch to a free-to-play model, but it’s a pretty decent and under-appreciated attempt to pay homage to Age of Empires legacy. As we contemplate the arrival of Age of Empires IV, projects like this are worth keeping in mind.
Okay, so it’s not an RTS game like the Age of Empires games are, but there’s so much about just about every Civilization game that you’ll recognise. Civ 6 is by far the most complete of the bunch. There are tech trees galore and many ways to achieve victory over your opponents. As this is a turn-based strategy game, you need to make more involved decisions, such as bolstering trade deals with other players and colonising new lands by sailing boats to expand your empire.
Aside from the base game, Civ 6 also has a few expansions that give you new ways to play. The Rise and Fall expansion expands on the diplomacy and government systems while adding Great Ages and Loyalty to the mix. Gathering Storm finally adds natural disasters and geological conditions to give the world more life than ever, forever changing how you set up your first cities.
Age of Mythology: Extended Edition
Is this cheating? Perhaps, but we’d argue that Age of Empire’s spinoff game – Age of Mythology – is its own beast. It takes everything that made AoE games such a joy to play and adds multiple pantheons to the mix, each with its own gods influencing your peoples’ win condition and the powers open to them. The single-player campaign follows the story of Arkantos, an Atlantean admiral sent on a quest to regain his god Poseidon’s favour. In multiplayer, players can currently choose between Greeks, Atlanteans, Egyptians, and Norse mythologies.
The Extended Edition has its own improvements on the original and even an expansion that introduces the Chinese pantheon. It’s already a pretty substantial update, and if it ever appears on sale for cheap, it’s a great pick for a strategy game like Age of Empires. That said, you may also wish to hold off on buying the Extended Edition, as next year, we expect to see more of Age of Mythology Retold. Much like the recent Age of Empires remakes, Retold gives the RTS classic a modern coat of paint, and if the previous revamped versions of Age of Empires indicate what’s to come, there may be more new pantheons added to the mix.
Those are the best games like Age of Empires that are available right now on PC. Of course, these are only suggestions if you want a game that’s not in the main series. If you haven’t played the newest game in the series yet, here’s everything about the Age of Empires 4 Civilisations you need to know.
Additional entries by Joe Robinson.