Hey there fellow empire builder! Have you heard about the legendary Age of Empires real-time strategy games and wanted to try one, but were unsure where to start or which ones are actually free? Well, you‘ve come to the right place.
As a long-time fan who has put hundreds of hours into the series, I‘m going to walk you through all the free-to-play options so you can start expanding your civilization without spending a dime. There are some great free versions available that capture the addictive gameplay that has made Age of Empires an RTS classic for over two decades. Let‘s dive in!
Free-to-Play Age of Empires Titles
First, to directly answer the question – there are two Age of Empires games you can currently play completely free:
- Age of Empires Online – This unique 2011 spin-off with MMORPG elements is now free on Steam
- Age of Empires IV – Available on Game Pass, which has offers for as low as $1 for the first month
The rest of the core series does not have permanently free versions. However, Age of Empires III has a 60 turn free trial and Age of Empires II HD frequently has free weekends. Let‘s take a closer look at what each free option provides:
Reliving History in Age of Empires Online
If you want to immediately jump into battling other players and growing an empire without restrictions, Age of Empires Online is the way to go. With servers back online in 2018, this free-to-play MMORTS fusion gives you persistent progression and PVP competition coupled with classic base building and real-time battles.
I really enjoy the casual-friendly mechanics like automated resource collection and quest guidance for your capital city. But make no mistake, the heart of Age Online is still expertly-crafted RTS gameplay. Positioning archers to counter cavalry and pulling off tactics like luring boar remain critical skills.
With so many playable civilizations, a thriving community of veterans, and steady content updates, you could easily sink hundreds of hours into Online for free. The in-game store sticks to cosmetics and XP boosts, so you never feel forced to spend money to compete. If you want to relive history with buddies, this is the free title to play.
Diving into Dynasty Drama with Age of Empires IV
Thanks to Xbox Game Pass for PC, which offers $1 first month deals, you can essentially play Age of Empires IV free right now. This long-awaited sequel pushes the visuals and gameplay forward in exciting ways, like fully 3D environments and dynamic wildlife. Just watching a herd of sheep grazing as you scout for resources looks incredible.
The attention to detail with each civilization also shines. When I played as the Chinese, I loved researching fire lance technology to wield flamethrowing artillery units. The asymmetric civ design creates tons of strategic variety. The campaigns diving into historical figures like Genghis Khan are likewise beautifully crafted with 4K cutscenes and creative missions.
While the classic formula remains at its core, new ideas like Enclosures for boosting resources and the Age up Town Center mechanic keeps the economizing and empire growth addictive as ever. With ranked ladder seasons, leaderboards, and tournaments, IV will sink its hooks in for hundreds of matches. This is the RTS at its modern peak.
Trying Out the Action with Age III and II Free Trials
If you want a bite-sized introduction to the core Age of Empires gameplay spanning history, definitely check out the free trials for III and II. Age of Empires III‘s trial may only let you experience the first 60 turns, but it‘s enough to get a feel for the colonial era setting and new features like Home Cities that ship you resources or soldiers.
The graphics and physics hold up well too, with rolling hills and lush forests surrounding your fledgling settlement. Make sure to call in a Meteor power before your time expires! For Age of Empires II, keep an eye out on Steam for free weekends granting temporary full access. The HD remaster remains a nostalgic blast of tactics and micro. Just beware of sharply increasing difficulty in the legendary campaigns!
While brief, both free trials capture the scope, history and addictive real-time gameplay loop the series is known for. They offer just enough to get you hooked before tempting you to purchase the full games for countless hours more empire expansion. Give them a shot during a spare weekend.
Choosing the Right Free Version For You
With so many free-to-play options across the catalog, which Age of Empires should you start with? Here are the key strengths of each:
Age of Empires Online is the way to go if you want:
- Full free access without buying anything
- Multiplayer battles right from the start
- MMORPG progression and questing fun
- A gentle learning curve welcoming to newcomers
Age of Empires IV is best if you:
- Want to experience the latest evolution in graphics and mechanics
- Enjoy following a narrative with creative missions
- Plan to play many hours against AIs or ranked matches
- Have access to a strong modern gaming PC
The free trials appeal most if you:
- Want to sample the historical RTS gameplay before buying
- Are unsure if you‘ll enjoy the slower pace and micromanagement
- Have an older or low-end computer that can‘t run IV well
No matter your skill level or interests, there‘s a free version that will appeal. Keep reading for an even deeper look at what makes each Age of Empires unique.
The Epic Journey Through 25 Years of Empires
Growing from simple sprite-based beginnings all the way to 4K glory, the Age of Empires journey over 25 years has been remarkable. Each new entry evolved the RTS formula in meaningful ways while preserving the addictive core of gathering resources, building up your base, advancing through ages and waging war. Let‘s explore what makes each chapter so special:
Age of Empires (1997) – Starting the Phenomenon
The one that began the phenomenon in 1997 sticks closely to the historical roots with campaigns following Joan of Arc and other figures alongside great map and economic variability. Juggling fruit, wood, gold and stone gathering while fending off attackers with phalanx units and chariot archers formed the blueprint. With charming 2D visuals and varied civilizations, Age I remains accessible and fun.
Age of Empires II (1999) – Perfection Emerges
For many fans, Age of Empires II is peak AoE. The balance between economy, empire growth through ages, and micro-intensive combat crystallized here. With five new ages to progress through, random map generation, smarter AI, and regional unit variations, AoE2 added tremendous depth. Combined with beloved campaigns like Genghis Khan‘s conquests, this was the RTS perfected.
Age of Empires III (2005) – Boldly Moving to the Colonial Era
Making a radical departure to the gunpowder colonial era with stunning 3D graphics at the time, AoE3 took risks that paid off. Managing shipments from your persistent home city added strategic dynamism. The increase in naval combat, animal hunting, and mercenary hiring created new complexity beyond the classic formula. While divisive at launch, AoE3‘s innovations make it compelling in retrospect.
Age of Empires IV (2021) – The Glorious Return
After 16 long years, AoE IV delivered the true sequel fans deserved. Not reinventing the wheel, but modernizing and building on the strengths of the series with incredible care and budget. Visuals and sound fully immerse you in historical settings as rich as any triple-A game. New mechanics like encampments and winter seasons subtly enhance economic strategy and require you to constantly adapt while leading your civilization to greatness.
Spinoffs – Expanding Beyond History
Beyond the core series, AoE has spun off in creative directions like Mythology blending in mythic beings and powers. There is also the beautiful watercolor art style of Age of Empires: Castle Siege on mobile putting the tactical combat front and center. And who can forget the beloved Age of Mythology expanding the gameplay beyond history into the realms of Zeus and Ra? The franchise has never been afraid to innovate.
Helpful Tips to Start Your Empire Right
Now that I‘ve given you a deep dive into the epic 25 year journey of Age of Empires, let‘s wrap up with some hard-won tips I‘ve learned across many, many hours of playtime:
Play the Art of War challenges! These interactive tutorials teach you essential skills better than any guide. Everything from drafting villagers efficiently to formations and micro is covered.
Stop and scout often. Keep tabs on what your opponents are up to and look for prime spots to expand your base. Information is power in Age of Empires.
Prioritize food sources first. Growing your population capacity is critical early on, so berries, sheep, boars etc should be high priorities. Stockpile food to advance ages quicker.
Rally points win games. Always set rally points from production buildings to resources or defensive positions. Haphazard unit movement will destroy you against skilled opponents.
Never stop making villagers. Keep your Town Center producing villagers non-stop throughout the match. Idle builders are wasted potential. Reach 200-300 workers on huge maps.
Play unafraid to lose. Age of Empires has a steep learning curve. Even veterans lose often. Don‘t be afraid to lose maps or reload saves as you improve. Learn and have fun!
I hope these Age of Empires pro tips help you get off on the right foot as you build your skills and strategy. With the depth of these games, there are always new lessons to learn. That incredible strategic longevity is why I‘m still playing 20 years later!
Time to Start Your Quest for Glory
After reading this, you should have a great sense of the epic history of Age of Empires, the different free-to-play options, and where to get started in each game. These legendary RTS titles have withstood the test of time for good reason. The addictive empire building gameplay loop stays engaging eternally.
Don‘t be afraid to lose often and learn from mistakes at first. That‘s part of the journey! With the right mindset and focus, you‘ll be wiping enemies off the map and making history with your civilization in no time. Now get out there and start forging the next great Age of Empires!