The best Age of Empires games, ranked

Age of Empires is a series beloved by many long-time fans of the real-time strategy genre. The series pioneered RTS games and while there were several other candidates for best RTS games of all time, none come close to the Age of Empires series in terms of replayability and popularity.

While there may not be as many Age of Empires games when compared to longer series such as the Call of Duty or FIFA series, each game has stood the test of time in its own era and is still being played to this day. This has been made possible through several Definitive Edition updates and live servers with updates that keep these games fresh and ready to go.

We will be ranking each of these games based on overall popularity with our own general opinion regarding every game in the franchise. While there is no bad game in the series, some do tend to stand out more than the rest.

5) Age of Empires

Image via Microsoft Studios

Age of Empires is the progenitor of the entire series and the game that brought the spotlight to the RTS genre in the late ‘90s. Released in 1997 by Ensemble Studios and Microsoft, Age of Empires was groundbreaking for its era, introducing a lot of new features, such as unit grouping, with updated graphics compared to other games of its time.

While it takes the lowest spot on this list, it is by no means a bad game. The fact that it was ahead of its time by innovating the concept of ages and tech trees in conjunction with controlling huge armies in combat, firmly cements its spot as one of the best games of all time.

It was so popular that Age of Empires and its subsequent expansion, The Rise of Rome, got a Definitive Edition update in 2017. This remastered version upgraded its graphics engine to match modern capabilities while adding a lot of quality-of-life changes that players expect with modern games.

4) Age of Empires III

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Age of Empires III was the highly anticipated sequel to the massively popular Age of Empires II and its subsequent expansion. Releasing in 2007, many fans praised the direction that Ensemble Studios took the game through, with a next-gen graphics update and new ages to play around with. Hardcore AoE fans were less than pleased with the changes, however.

While Age of Empires II focused on the medieval period, Age of Empires III shone the spotlight on the age of discovery during the colonial period. A lot of the gameplay and campaigns are focused around colonial-era America and how the European nations fought one another and the locals for control of the region and its riches.

With five ages instead of four and a new home base system to get emergency supplies from, Age of Empires III and its future expansions cemented itself as a unique game that plays very differently from the rest of the series.

3) Age of Empires IV

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Age of Empires IV is the latest installment in the Age of Empires franchise, launched 14 years after Age of Empires III. By the time October 2021 came around, long-time players of the AoE franchise were excited about the prospect of playing a new Age of Empires game with modern graphical and gameplay capabilities.

And it certainly delivered. Developed and published by Relic Entertainment, the company responsible for several amazing RTS games such as the Company of Heroes and the Dawn of War series, Age of Empires IV stayed faithful to the original two games. This game acted more like a direct sequel to Age of Empires II, sharing a lot of the same features while adding some new and exciting ones.

The concept of branching paths to age up your civilization with different monuments is something new in the AoE series and stands out from the rest of the games in the franchise. Each path offers a different style of play and provides a lot of outplay potential in multiplayer games if you seem outmatched by a different civilization.

Of all the games that came before it, Age of Empires IV is also the most competitively viable and is currently seeing a lot of online play as well.

2) Age of Mythology

Image via Microsoft Studios

Taking a break from the real and into the mythical, we have Age of Mythology. This game takes a different path away from the core concepts of the franchise and into the fantastical by introducing gods, divine powers, and mythological creatures from up to four different civilizations. This number was increased with a couple of subsequent expansions that ventured into Eastern civilizations.

The four-ages system makes its return in this game where you have to choose one of three major gods to begin with. From this point, each age progresses further after you choose a subsequent minor god to worship. Each god you choose gives you a god power unique to that civilization and that path, with some focusing on peace and prosperity while others give you access to devastating weapons of war.

The biggest game-changer in the series apart from god powers was the addition of mythical creatures. Each creature has its own abilities and they are also unique to the civilization that they are based on. Using them in conjunction with human soldiers and heroes makes for an interesting mix in battle and an experience unlike any other in the Age of Empires franchise.

1) Age of Empires II

Image via Microsoft Studios

Age of Empires II is undeniably the most popular game in the franchise. So popular in fact, that it spawned three different iterations of the game at various points in time. The original version called Age of Kings released in 1999, with its expansion The Conquerors releasing in 2000.

Following this, several expansion packs were released to the game such as The Forgotten, The African Kingdoms, and Rise of the Rajas among others, further expanding the number of playable civilizations and adding more campaigns to the main game. All of these expansions were then compiled in a re-release called Age of Empires II: HD Edition in 2013, with improved graphical resolution and achievements added to the base game.

Six years after the release of the HD Edition, Microsoft Studios created Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition with improved textures, voice acting for all campaigns, renewed online multiplayer support, and regular events. More expansions were later added to the Definitive Edition such as Lords of the West, Dawn of the Dukes, and Dynasties of India, bringing the available playable civilizations to a whopping 42.

With so many ways to play the game, Age of Empires II still remains the standout game of the series and the most popular one to date.

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