Age of Empires (1997)


Age of Empires (AoE), released in 1997, is a historic-based real-time strategy video game developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft. It serves as the inaugural installment in the Age of Empires series and utilizes the Genie Engine, a 2D sprite-based game engine. In this game, players assume the role of a leader guiding an ancient civilization through four distinct ages, namely the Stone, Tool, Bronze, and Iron Ages. With each advancement, players gain access to new and improved units, expanding their strategic capabilities.

Initially touted as a fusion of Civilization and Warcraft, Age of Empires faced mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics feeling that it fell short of meeting those lofty expectations. However, it still garnered overall positive reception, leading to the release of an expansion pack titled The Rise of Rome in 1998. Over time, Age of Empires has earned a reputation as one of the finest video games ever created. The original game, along with its expansion pack, were later combined and re-released as “The Gold Edition.” A sequel, Age of Empires II, followed in 1999. On February 20, 2018, a remastered version of the original game, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, was launched.

Age of Empires Gameplay

Age of Empires takes players on a journey from humble hunter-gatherers to the heights of an expansive Iron Age Empire. The game revolves around resource management, requiring players to gather and wisely utilize resources to unlock new units, construct buildings, and advance their technological capabilities. It’s crucial to carefully manage resources since no additional resources become available as the game progresses; for instance, once trees are cut down, they do not regenerate.

The game offers a diverse selection of twelve civilizations, each with its own distinct attributes, including varying technologies and units available. No civilization possesses all the technologies within the game, ensuring each civilization has its unique strengths and weaknesses.

A central element of Age of Empires is the progression through four distinct ages: the Stone Age (Mesolithic/Nomad/Paleolithic), the Tool Age (Neolithic/Chalcolithic), the Bronze Age, and finally, the Iron Age. Advancing through these ages is accomplished by conducting research at the Town Center, with each age bringing forth new technologies, weapons, and units to further expand and strengthen the player’s civilization.

Game Modes

Age of Empires offers an array of gameplay modes and features that provide engaging experiences for players. The game includes four single-player campaigns, each with specific objectives that need to be completed. These campaigns are comprised of scenarios that progress in a linear fashion. Players can delve into the rich history of civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, Yamato, and even the Hittite Empire, which has a dedicated campaign designed specifically for the demo version.

In addition to the campaigns, Age of Empires introduces the “random map” game mode, generating a unique map for each new playthrough. Variations of the random map, such as the resource-intensive “death match,” offer additional gameplay options and challenges.

The game supports online and network play, enabling up to eight players to compete simultaneously. However, it’s important to note that the network play in Age of Empires is not as advanced as that of modern games, which may result in occasional lag and disconnections.

Initially, multiplayer gameplay was facilitated through Microsoft Gaming Zone, but support for most CD-ROM games, including Age of Empires, was discontinued by the Zone on June 19, 2006.

Age of Empires provides a Scenario Builder tool, allowing players to create their own custom scenarios or campaigns. While the Scenario Builder may be simpler and easier to learn compared to modern editors, it offers a range of possibilities for custom content creation. Ensemble Studios used the same tool to create the single-player campaigns shipped with the retail game. Various unofficial websites provide platforms for users to submit and download custom scenarios.

Over time, players have discovered fascinating aspects of the game through data editing. Some of these discoveries include accessing units from beta versions, introducing new terrain templates, modifying unit hitpoints, and editing map sizes. These explorations have opened up new avenues for creative design and expanded the gameplay possibilities within Age of Empires.


In Age of Empires, players have the option to select from a diverse range of 12 civilizations. These civilizations are categorized into four distinct architectural styles, representing East Asian, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Greek architecture. The architectural style chosen for a civilization determines its visual representation within the game, giving each civilization a unique and recognizable appearance. This adds to the immersive experience of the game, allowing players to witness the cultural and architectural diversity of civilizations from different parts of the world.


In Age of Empires, technology research plays a significant role in shaping the gameplay strategy. Different types of technologies can be researched at specific buildings that are typically associated with their respective categories. For example, religious research takes place in temples, while improved armor is researched in the storage pit.

Technological advancements encompass various categories, including military upgrades, economic improvements, religious enhancements, and infrastructure developments. Military upgrades focus on enhancing the arms and armor of units, economic upgrades aim to improve resource gathering efficiency, religious upgrades offer faster conversion rates and additional abilities for priests, and infrastructure upgrades strengthen fortifications and increase the resilience of buildings. As players complete basic technology research, they unlock access to more advanced technologies. However, it’s worth noting that certain technologies may not be available to specific civilizations, further diversifying their gameplay experience.

Technology progression is a crucial aspect of gameplay strategy. As civilizations advance through different ages, the cost of researching technologies increases, posing challenges in acquiring the necessary resources. Balancing the allocation of villagers across various resource gathering tasks becomes vital in ensuring success on the battlefield. Skillfully managing the workforce and effectively prioritizing technology research can be the deciding factor between victory and defeat in Age of Empires.


In Age of Empires, players have control over a diverse array of civilian and military units, each serving a specific purpose. Through research, players can upgrade their units, granting them various benefits such as increased gathering speed for villagers, stronger armor for military units, and extended range for archers.

Land-based units are predominant in gameplay, and villagers play a fundamental role. Villagers are essential for resource collection, performing tasks like gathering wood, mining stone and gold, and acquiring food through hunting, foraging, farming, or fishing. They can also construct buildings, repair structures and naval vessels, and engage in close combat if necessary. Priests, on the other hand, are non-combat units capable of healing allied units or converting enemy units to fight for their own side.

Infantry units, such as clubmen, swordsmen, and hoplites, excel in melee combat at close range. Mounted units, including chariots, cavalry, and war elephants, offer mobility and increased striking power. Archers, whether on foot or mounted, specialize in ranged attacks. Siege units come in two forms: catapults, which deal area damage and are effective against buildings and groups of units, and ballistae, which are faster and cheaper but less potent against structures and units.

While land units dominate, nautical units also play a significant role in achieving victory. Fishing boats are akin to villagers, gathering fish as a resource. Merchant ships facilitate resource trading between players’ stockpiles and docks, earning gold based on the distance between the docks. Transport ships allow for the transportation of land units across bodies of water. Warships are vital for naval combat and can also provide formidable support in attacking land-based units near shorelines. Galleys fire arrows, while triremes launch bolts or boulders, offering substantial damage against shoreline structures.

It’s important to note that unit types remain consistent across civilizations, though some civilizations may have improved versions of these units. However, historical accuracy may not always be preserved in terms of armor, clothing, or unit availability. For example, certain units may resemble Roman praetorians rather than accurately representing the intended civilization. Additionally, some units may be available to civilizations that historically did not have access to them, while others may have access to units that were not historically part of their military repertoire.


The Town Center holds immense significance within the game, serving as one of the most crucial buildings. It serves as the hub for creating villagers and researching age advancements. Typically, each player begins with a single Town Center in most scenarios. The ability to construct multiple Town Centers becomes available once the Government Center is built during the Bronze Age. The Town Center also provides population support for up to four units. To accommodate more units, players must construct houses, with each house supporting four units. While there is no limit to the number of houses that can be built, they can only sustain a maximum of fifty units.

Specific buildings cater to the production of military units within their respective areas. Docks are responsible for the creation of all sea units. Walls and towers serve as defensive fortifications, with Age of Empires being among the first real-time strategy games to incorporate walls as a viable means of defense. Farms play a vital role in food production, while Granaries, storage pits, and the Town Center act as repositories for resources gathered by villagers.

Wonders are colossal monuments that represent remarkable architectural achievements of the time, such as the Egyptian Pyramids. Constructing wonders demands substantial amounts of resources and progresses at a slow pace. Wonders themselves cannot produce units or conduct research. In scenarios with Standard Victory conditions, a player can secure victory by constructing a wonder and ensuring its preservation for 2,000 years (approximately 10 minutes in real-world time). Building a wonder significantly boosts a player’s score, which proves advantageous in “score” games. Players often prioritize the destruction of enemy wonders, particularly under Standard Victory conditions. Consequently, a wonder must be diligently guarded at all times, given its relative vulnerability and the strategic importance attached to its protection.

System Requirements

  • Operating System: Windows 95/98/NT 4.0
  • Processor: Intel Pentium 90 MHz or equivalent
  • Memory: 16 MB RAM
  • Graphics: SVGA graphics card capable of 1,024×768 resolution and 256 colors
  • DirectX: DirectX 2.0 or higher
  • Hard Drive: 50 MB of free space
  • Sound: Windows-compatible sound card