With our list of the greatest games like Age of Empires, you’ll be busy building, battling and conquering before Age of Empires IV releases this October. Revered as the real-time strategy series is, it has always had challengers that mimic or iterate upon its base-building and rock-paper-scissors strategy.
From the systems management of Northgard to the skirmishes of Cossacks, these games similar to Age of Empires are brilliant for playing in 2021. Here is our list of the greatest games like Age of Empires.
1. Age of Mythology: Extended Edition
By combining Greek, Egyptian and Norse myths and legends, Age of Mythology synthesised a novel and fondly remembered real-time strategy experience. When Ensemble Studios finished work on Age of Empires II, they took the opportunity to inject their next project with valkyries, minotaurs and giant scarabs.
It plays to the Age of Empires framework. It’s based on gathering resources, expanding towns with unit-producing buildings, and wielding a growing army to defeat opponents. The mythology in the game is reducible to three “cultures”: Greek, Norse and Egyptian. Games involve the player invoking the favour of gods, from Bast to Loki, to harness their spectacular god powers.
The Viking-themed RTS released in 2018 by French studio Shiro Games may recall Age of Mythology for some players, but its nuanced approach to economy management makes it stand out. A competent single player campaign sees a clan of Vikings land in the mysterious continent of Northgard. Over 11 chapters, the player navigates procedurally generated maps filled with resources to exploit, creatures to defeat, and competing clans to conquer.
Designers Sebastien Vidal and Philippe Renouil identified a sweet spot between various management systems without making them ever feel too complex. Players must prepare a surplus of wood and food ahead of freezing winter conditions, which also regulate the best times to attack enemy territory.
While combat plays a role in Northgard, the decisions its other systems encourage are the source of some of its most thrilling tensions. Free major updates have brought more clans with unique bonuses to Northgard. It’s available for PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Switch.
3. Rise of Nations: Extended Edition
While Rise of Nations was published by Microsoft, it was developed not by Ensemble Studios but Big Huge Games. Formerly a collaborator of Sid Meier on the Civilization games, lead designer Brian Reynolds brought turn-based ideas such as “territories” to the RTS.
While a very similar game to Age of Empires, Rise of Nations limits players so they can only construct buildings within their territory. This can be expanded with the building of forts or the development, or capture, of cities. Meanwhile, enemies suffer attrition while within another nation’s borders.
Dramatic confrontations are inevitable. The game’s vast timeline means the dynamic of attacking and defence rapidly shifts, with units ranging from bowmen to biplanes. It may have lacked the cohesiveness of an Age of Empires title, but Rise of Nations has accrued a reputation as an underrated classic.
4. Iron Harvest
Iron Harvest fuses the real-time strategy fundamentals of Age of Empires with the combined-arms tactics of Company of Heroes and an intriguing “1920+” aesthetic. This alternate timeline steps out of history, adding fantasy mech matériel to post-World War One engagements.
Iron Harvest plays slower than Age of Empires II and has a comparatively limited roster of units. The tactical experience also has less fidelity than Company of Heroes. However, its art and commitment to its world concept strikes a chord with many players.
5. Cossacks 3
Cossacks 3 is a throwback to the golden age of real-time strategy that gave rise to Age of Empires. Set in early modern Europe, it’s a simple iteration of the same compelling formula of base-building and base-besieging, executed neatly, prettily and at large scale.
Sometimes, it resembles the conflagrations of Total War. There’s little of that series’ tactical movement and positioning here, though. Cossacks 3 is a solid game that may well charm Age of Empires players, albeit one that does not take the genre anywhere new.
6. Stronghold HD
Stronghold is a series of castle builders with a deeper economy than Age of Empires. Units and buildings here have more realistic proportions, and the gameplay is more oriented around defending and attacking castles. It certainly ticks some of the same boxes as Age of Empires, however.
So: Stronghold vs Age of Empires. While a game of Age of Empires gradually snowballs into total offensive warfare, Stronghold has a larger concentration on city-building and economy management. Stronghold HD looks dated, but its battlement-based warfare is reliable.
7. Stronghold: Warlords
2021’s Warlords is a sim-focused entry into the Stronghold series and embraces a new system of warlords. These recruitable, computer-controlled lords offer perks when defeated and absorbed into the player’s command. For example, they’ll help to forge weapons, or team up for joint attacks.
The change of setting to East Asia introduces Firefly Studios’ version of Mongol armies, Japanese castles and Chinese cities to Stronghold. The accompanying visual renovation brings spark to the game, while 31 campaign missions pose a set of designed challenges to players.
8. Halo Wars: Definitive Edition
Halo Wars was the final game Age of Empires developers Ensemble Studios developed before they were closed by Microsoft. Despite its departure from history-inspired settings into the science fiction of another franchise, it’s a straightforward real-time strategy that delivers dependable fun.
It lacks the depth of Age of Empires, sticking much more closely to the narrative structure and technology of the Halo games. This makes its real-time strategy accessible and more suitable for newcomers. Originally released on Xbox 360, Halo Wars was repackaged for PC in 2017.
Is there a game like Age of Empires for iOS?
Before it was closed down in 2019, Age of Empires: Castle Siege had been a mobile game based on tower defence games. Players developed and fortified a medieval fortress against waves of attackers, then organised attacking forces of their own.
You can still get a game like Age of Empires on your phone, however. Among the games trying their best to avoid copyright infringement is Forge of Empires. Meanwhile, the developer responsible for Rise of Nations went on to make freemium strategy game DomiNations.