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How to Play Age of Empires (AOE) for Free in 2023

Have you been craving some classic real-time strategy gaming lately? Want to relive those fond memories of commanding medieval armies and building mighty empires, but don‘t want to spend any money? I‘ve got great news for you – there are plenty of ways to play Age of Empires (AOE) completely free in 2023!

As a fellow AOE fan and bargain hunter, I‘ve discovered various methods to enjoy these iconic strategy games without paying a dime. Whether you‘re a nostalgic veteran or a curious newcomer, this guide will show you how to crush your enemies and raze their villages for zero dollars. Let‘s dive in!

Get Access to Age of Empires Online at No Cost

Back in 2011, Microsoft released a free-to-play online version of Age of Empires called Age of Empires Online. It remained in service for about 3 years before being shut down in 2014. But good news – in 2018 Age of Empires Online was revived and re-released on Steam as a completely free download!

I was super excited to jump back into this online AOE world. You can choose from various civilizations spanning Age of Empires I, II, and III. It‘s got that classic real-time strategy gameplay with some modern MMORPG elements mixed in. The in-game store is 100% optional too. You can play through the entire game solo or cooperatively with others for free. It‘s a great way to get an authentic AOE fix without opening your wallet.

Explore Fan-Made AOE Clones and Spin-Offs

The AOE franchise has inspired tons of fan projects over the years. If you dig around online, you can find open source clone games that closely mimic AOE‘s gameplay style with added creative twists.

For example, check out 0 A.D. – it‘s a fully playable, cross-platform RTS game built by the community as a tribute to AOE. It focuses on the ancient and classical era with civilizations like the Persians, Celts, and Romans battling it out for dominance. And it‘s completely libre and gratis!

Some other good open source options to look into include Freeciv, OpenRA, and Widelands. They may not have the official AOE name, but provide a similar gaming experience and fun challenges for strategy fans.

Snag Free AOE Game Giveaways and Discounts

Now and then, digital game stores like Steam, Epic Games Store, and Amazon offer promotions where you can grab paid AOE games for free for a limited time.

For example, I nabbed Age of Empires II HD Edition for free during a special Steam giveaway. They also often host free in-game item packs and free weekends for various AOE titles which lets you play temporarily at no cost.

Following r/GameDeals and turning on email alerts is a great way to catch these AOE freebies when they pop up! Even outside of special promotions, the AOE Definitive Editions frequently go on sale for up to 75% off.

Use Xbox Game Pass to Access Select AOE Games

If you have an active Xbox Game Pass membership, this unlocks another avenue to enjoy top AOE games for free. Age of Empires II Definitive Edition, Age of Empires III Definitive Edition, Age of Mythology Definitive Edition, and the brand new Age of Empires IV are all included in Game Pass for PC and cloud gaming.

This is an amazing value if you want to bounce between various AOE generations. And no need to worry about install sizes – Xbox cloud gaming lets you stream them directly without downloads. Game Pass codes can often be found at discounted rates too.

Replay the Classics with Emulators

Feeling nostalgic for those old school AOE days? Using video game emulators on your desktop or laptop allows you to play classic AOE titles from the 90s and early 2000s without buying them again.

Programs like VOOBLY give you access to beloved games like Age of Empires and Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings with multiplayer and other features emulated. There are also downloadable game ROMs and ISO files available online to use with emulators if you own the original game discs.

Of course, downloading those requires sailing the high digital seas, so I‘d advise reviewing the legal considerations first. But emulation offers a free path to revisit where the series began without the need to repurchase old games and systems.

Ask Friends or Family If They Have Spare Discs

This may be an obvious one, but it‘s worth asking around your real-life connections if they have any old AOE game discs or serial codes sitting around going unused.

For example, my uncle gifted me his original Age of Empires II discs that were just collecting dust in his closet from the early 2000s. Popping those babies into my modern gaming laptop let me install the classic version and conquer to my heart‘s content.

You‘d be surprised how many people have old disk copies of Age of Empires, Mythology, or other titles that they no longer touch. Ask nicely if they‘d be willing to let you take those nostalgic disks off their hands for free. Just be sure to treat their borrowed games with care!

Once you‘ve secured access to an AOE game for zero bucks, it‘s time to begin forging your empire! Here are some helpful starter tips I wish I knew when first starting out:

Do the Art of War Challenges

The Art of War tutorials (available in games like AOE II: Definitive Edition and AOE IV) offer interactive lessons that teach you important real-time strategy fundamentals like building orders, micro-managing units, and executing rushes. Walk before you run by mastering these essential skills.

Play Against AI Before Jumping into PVP

Before testing your mettle against unpredictable humans, grind your skills against predictable AI opponents. Getting crushed by advanced AI teaches you valuable lessons. Slowly ramp up the AI difficulty as you improve.

Watch Streams and Videos from AOE Experts

There is so much great content out there created by experienced AOE strategists sharing tips, build orders, and more. Check out channels like Aussie Drongo, Hera, Spirit of the Law, ZeroEmpires, T90Official, and others to absorb expert knowledge. The Age of Empires subreddit also has helpful community guides.

Start with Economic Basics

New players often focus too much on big armies too soon. Build a strong economy first by efficiently gathering food, wood, gold and maximizing villager production. Figure out ideal build orders for your civilization and maintain constant villager production. Economy wins games!

Analyze Your Replays

Review recordings of your matches to learn from your mistakes. Look for holes in your build order, late ages/upgrades, unspent resources, and other inefficiencies. Becoming a top player requires honest self-assessment and continuous improvement.

Age of Empires is an incredibly rewarding franchise to master, even without spending money. I hope these tips help you start your free AOE journey off right. And remember, don‘t get discouraged if you struggle at first – the only way to get better is to learn from defeats and keep playing! Just have fun and the skills will come in time. Now excuse me while I go work on my Dark Age rush build…



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.