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"Age of" RTS Games List
Age of Empires was a game that introduced the brilliant idea of an "Age", a researchable tech that bumped a game through historical epochs. "Age of" RTS games usually cover long periods of time, passing through many periods of hitory using a streamlined version of the old Empire game.

Age of Empires series (1997-)

Produced by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Games, this was the first game to introduce the Age of Empires series. Set in Ancient Times, it was unusual for playing its game absolutely straight: buildings and units were realistic (within the context of a two dimensional RTS, that is) and based on historical fact. It introduced a number of innovations to RTS, the biggest being the idea of breaking the game up into researchable Ages to show a progression through history. It even came with its own historical encyclopedia. You also got to play with a dozen different civilisations, and with a random map generator that was, and still is, excellent.

Age of Empires: Rise of Rome (1998)
An expansion pack to the original game.

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings (1999)
Set in medieval times, this built on and further refined the game. See the RTSC Age Of Kings page.

Age of Empires II: The Conquerors (2000)
The expansion pack to Age of Empires II covered the Spanish colonisation of South America and added a number of South American civs, like the Aztecs and the Incas.

Age of Mythology (2003)
Stepped sideways into the realm Classical mythology with a strong fantasy flavour, using characters from the Ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek and Norse pantheons. More info.

The Titans (2004)
Age of Mythology's expansion allowed players to deploy towering Titans (such as Demi-Gods, Classical monsters, etc) to help their armies.

Age of Empires III

The extremely spiffy looking Age of Empires III (2005) marked a major departure from the regular Age of Empires style, even though it picked up from where AoE2 left off. It's set during the European conquest of the New World and you can only play one of several competing European powers. The local natives get a look in, but only as bit players that you annex and control like another resource and can extract some extra techs and units from. One of the things that did make the early AoE games distinctive was their no-nonsense, uncluttered historical styling. AoE3 has gone completely the other way, well on its way to becoming Yet Another WarCraft III Clone. Its packed to the gunnels with shader effects, beautifully modeled environments and almost claustrophobic detailing. Surprisingly, most of the sales pitch revolves around its good looks, sounds, and the Havok engine, a third party physics system for game developers. (Yep, games are getting so complex now that developers are simply buying a lot of their code off the shelf.) Age of Empires III feels more than just a bit ordinary under all that glister, and in grave danger of dating really fast.

It feels radically shrunk in scope, too: simpler, cuter and a lot less strategic. Maps are cramped, trigger driven affairs. Even more jarring, the viewing area is much smaller, using a 3D camera that you can truck in and out but remains clamped in place overhead. Heroes felt a little more like fantasy caricatures in historical dress. I doubt many American frontiers women looked and sounded like sassy supermodels, or that old generals were slim, clean cut, Anime wise men, yet that's the sort of impression you get when you run through this thing. Heroes come with rechargeable magic spells - I mean, "special abilities" - and you even get treasures guarded by wandering monsters!! (e.g. grizzly bears guarding an abandoned camp.)

There are some extra game features, like a home city back in Europe that periodically tops your supplies up, and Imperial experience points for exploring, building, killing enemies and keeping Trading Posts. The home city and XP thing feel like a poor man's substitute for an actual working campaign: the single player campaign is still a story driven trigger fest running on rails, with the persistent city funding you in the background.
All very sumptuous
It also offers "unlocks" like a console game, which presumably keep players interested. The other odd thing is that the home city, gloriously 3D that it is - is simply nothing more than extravagant wallpaper for the game GUI! The base building aspect has been simplified too. You get an animal pen building which can fatten up stray cattle found on the map and "train" sheep, but Farms and Mills have been merged together, and chopping wood or mining "coins" is now exactly like WarCraft with no intermediary buildings. The string of trading posts felt more like the carefully placed Strategic Points in Dawn of War that work on a gaming level, but don't have any relevance to the map or any sense of actually trading with anyone.

Game physics, despite the hoopla, seem to serve mainly as graphical embellishments, not an actual strategic element, unless you count artillery. Unit interaction doesn't seem any different from the primitive fights where units stand in front of each other and blast each other at point blank range - which seemed perfectly at home on older, simpler games, but start to look decidedly out of place in in games where "realistic graphics" and "physics" are hyped over actual gameplay. It jars. Gameplay in AoE3 still seems to boil down to massacring each player's villagers to get anywhere.

Its still an interesting play, mainly because the WarCraft formula is so robust, and there are still some of AoE's original game features shining through with a lot of good little updates. Plus, the graphics and in-game physics spice up the look of battles, making it all worthwhile for pretty much everyone except fussy neurotics like Yours Truly. But if I wanted a WarCraft game I'd just pop out and grab it or Armies of Exigo. And finally, despite all the various Ages you research, and the almost Half-Life quality to the graphics, your units and buildings barely change. Its an Age of Empires game... with hardly any Ages in it! This doesn't feel like the original Rick Goodman game at all. think I'll stick with Rise of Nations or Civilization 4...Back

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings (1999)

Formal abdication, September 2003.
Age of Empires II has its own RTSC section, now long since retired. I went through a brief period of intense interest when the game first appeared which tailed off quickly. Not sure why; nice outdoor graphics, reasonable features, fantastic use of random maps. Maybe it was the long lingering games that went nowhere, or maybe it just wasn't quite enough... Ah, but Rise of Nations turned out to be everything I ever wanted in an "Age of" game.Back

Age of Mythology (2003)

Produced by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Games, this installment in the Age of Empires series took the imaginative leap of including the creatures and gods of Classical mythology. Players can recruit fantastical creatures like Hydras, Minotaurs or the Cyclops to their forces, and by deifying the right Gods, you can encourage bonuses and perks for your buildings and armies. Like all Age of Empires games, there are nine civilizations to pick from, roughly grouped into Greek, Egyptian and Nordic cultures, each coming with their own Gods and monsters. Naturally, there's some Populous style Godly intervention on your side's behalf as well: magic mines, tornadoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, locust swarms, Ragnarok...that sort of thing. Titans cost as much as a Wonder in the game are a bit like the Krogoth mega-robot from Total Annihilation. Its a nice blend of everything: classic RTS with the fun and games of Populous, The Settlers and - of course! - Age of Empires all nicely blended together.

The Titans (2004)
This expansion pack adds the Atlanteans to the mix, some extra Titan units, a new single player campaign and the usual extra units, buildings and maps. There's a Gold Edition that bundles the original game and its expansion together.Back

Cossacks series (2001)

Simple skirmish
Cossacks: European Wars is developed by Ukrainian developer GSC (who are also working on the high end FPS called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. set in a near future Chernobyl) A historical title set between the 16th and 18th Centuries in Europe, pitting the European powers of the time against each other during a period when warfare between the rival powers was an almost continuous affair. Cossacks closely resembles Age of Empires, using a similar game model. However, it incorporates many good ideas from a whole swag of different games, and, being European, tends to assume a little more sophistication from its players.

It uses 3D terrain in an isometric perspective; mining is reminiscent of Total Annihilation's bottomless metal mines; the research tree is huge but straightforward; it crosses The Settlers' agricultural model with Age of Empires; and there's the usual formations, unit controls and authentic period detailing. Whereas Age of Empires might have hundreds of units onscreen, Cossacks can have thousands. There's a lot more managerial features, and six seperate resources: food, wood, stone, gold, coal and iron. All of them are infinite, so a frantic rush for expansions is pointless. There are some nice touches: instead of being used as an abstract indicator of how damaged a building is, fire actually burns it down! Cannons and muskets shoot cute little puffs of white smoke, just like all those old historical pictures from the period. You get musketeers, dragoons, knights, ships, officers, all kinds of weird historical ironmongery, and even drummer boys! This is a historical gaming outside the usual Anglo-centric circles and clichés, fleshing out cultures that often get glossed over. If you lost interest in Age of Empires, this is definitely a worthier successor. Cossacks makes for some serious strategy. My pissy screen shot hardly does it justice.

The Art of War (2001)
First expansion.

Back to War (2002)
Second expansion. These, along with the original game, have been bundled together into Cossacks: Anthology.

Cossacks 2 (2005)
Like many historical game series, Cossacks is working its way forward through history, and Cossacks 2: Napoleonic Wars is out, and is already working on its own expansion, Battle for Europe (2006). Again, it opts for vast numbers of units on screen (up to 64,000!) with a strong emphasis on simulating an authentic battlefield environment. Tactics is everything; timing and moving are vitally important - especially when some units, like musket men, can take up to a minute to reload their weapons.Back

Empire Earth series (2001)

Rick Goodman, the founder of Ensemble Studios (responsible for the Age of Empires series) went on to found Stainless Steel Studios, and created an RTS epic that took up where Age of Empires left off. Its certainly not short of ambition: instead of the usual four Ages to play in, it gives you thirteen! Empire Earth starts in Neolithic times, circa 500,000 BC, and then works all the way through human history to conclude in a nanotechnological future fantasy where players crash around with giant mechs and spaceships. In that regard its like Civilization in scope, but using a real time 3D game engine. This has a big fan base, and an epic quality to it that many RTS games tend to lack. It wasn't quite my cup of tea, but a lot of people I know thought it was bloody fantastic.

Graphics are a little crude and blocky, but in Empire Earth's case, that's really just a minor quibble. It does simply extrapolate the Age of Empires' game structure; you have suspiciously medieval looking economies even in the future ages, because basically its just the Middle Ages with different graphics. If you really want to see a Civilization style game expressed as real time strategy - and one with an evolving and more complex economic system and build tree - I'd recommend Rise of Nations.

Art of Conquest (2002)
The only expansion for the game felt disappointingly small after the original, which had everything bar the kitchen sink. The expansion felt like a rushed after thought and had very little room to expand on.

Empire Earth II (2004)
The sequel boasts over 500 units and buildings, an upgraded engine and some interesting new features such as the War and Citizen Planners.Back

Rise of Nations (2003)

Rise of Nations looks at first like any historical Age of Empires or Empire Earth styled game, but it crosses fast moving RTS action with the cerebral might of the epic turn based Civilization. In Rise of Nations its as important to build up your cities and advance your Nation's prosperity and technological prowess as it is to push those armies around. The multiplayer options are brilliant. Games can end in all kinds of ways. Its fantastic. It had a sequel - of sorts: Rise of Legends.Back

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Last modified Sat, Dec 6 2008 by Lindsay Fleay