Legendary console milestones such as Final Fantasy 7, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and a unfortunately still indexed first-person shooter around a British secret agent – 1997 was clearly one of the strongest years in gaming history. However, my fascination for great PC titles peeled off a bit at that time, which was primarily due to the unfavorable genre weighting for me. Because apart from technical grenades like MDK or Jedi Knight or the point'n'click hit The Curse of Monkey Island, which I only made up for in 2019, were dominated by strategy games such as Dark Reign, Incubation and Age of Empires. At that time, however, I personally couldn't do much with games of this kind. Although I have at least looked at a large part of them, I never really dealt intensively with them due to a lack of time and leisure.

Now, especially in strategy games, it is extremely problematic to make a judgment after one to two hours of playing time. This is especially true for Age of Empires (buy now € 33.68 )that didn't just copy the genre competition at the time. The Texan developer Ensemble Studios rather mixed real-time elements from Warcraft with a kind of mini-civilization in which one saw his people rise from the Paleolithic to the Iron Age.

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/430x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_02-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Anyone who starts a campaign mission receives many useful tips thanks to the map and description text.
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If you start a campaign mission, you will receive many useful tips thanks to the map and description text.

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

In any case, my memories of the title are limited to two nodes: I immediately liked the great animations, and it was rated very highly in the German trade press in particular, whereas the Americans were much more critical. I don't associate much more with Age of Empires. But because such a superficial impression hardly does justice to the classic, after more than 23 years I would like to finally add something I missed. Off to the battle!

Insert CD, install … runs!
To be honest, I was a little afraid to face an oldie like Age of Empires after a long time – if only because of the technology. After all, the game was released only a few years after an operating system with a graphical user interface had established itself on the PC for the first time: Windows 95. The good old and, above all, extremely cumbersome DOS days were over, but from today's perspective this is sometimes a problem. Because while there is an excellent emulator called DOSBox for the old system, there is no suitable, all-encompassing counterpart to Windows 95.

That's why I'm at the mercy of modern technology – or more precisely Windows 10 – under which by no means all old games work right away (see e.g. No One Lives Forever 2 or the original version of Grim Fandango). In the worst case, I would have to drag an old PC from the basement to my office in the hope that it would still work.

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/960x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_06-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Simple, but effective: If a quarry is too far from the village, then it is enough to build an additional camp and the workers no longer have to march across the entire field to deliver the mined resources.
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Simple, but effective: If a quarry is too far from the village, it is enough to build an additional camp and the workers no longer have to march across the entire map to deliver the mined resources.

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

Fortunately, my worries are unfounded: My old CD version of Age of Empires, which I bought when I was collecting frenzy and which has slumbered unplayed in my archive since then, can be installed, started and played perfectly on Windows 10! Let me say again that drives are no longer worthwhile.

I also don't register any technical bumps and my 42-inch screen automatically displays the graphics in 4: 3 resolution and with a thick black border. That's good, because I don't feel like bloated pixels and don't want to set up any antiquated tube monitor.

Incidentally, I would of course have the Age of Empires: Definitive Edition on Steam but I ruled out this option from the start. On the one hand, the new edition is said to have its own problems and, on the other hand, this would completely falsify the meaning of the article series "My First Time". After all, if I want to watch Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, I don't resort to the ghastly remake of Gus Van Sant!

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/960x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_07-pc-games.jpg" alt = "This simple graphic shows at the end of a mission when which people dominated or on the contrary, it was exterminated.
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At the end of a mission, this simple graphic shows when which people dominated the most or, on the contrary, was exterminated.

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

Fabulous entry
Otherwise my first contact with Age of Empires is very positive. The start menu leaves no questions unanswered and gives me several game options, including a random map, a few campaigns and even an editor. I decide directly for the Egyptian campaign, hoping to be introduced slowly and carefully into the happenings of Age of Empires.

And what can I say: Old Swede, uh, Egyptian, what a successful control it is! After having slight problems with a few cryptic icons of the otherwise fantastic a few months ago UFO: Enemy Unknown the user guidance of Age of Empires is absolutely exemplary. The symbols are large, clearly designed and even offer a text description as soon as I move the cursor over them. The additional information is, however, sorely necessary because the printed instructions for a game from 1997 turn out to be astonishingly thin.

In any case, I have no problems in the first missions and quickly get used to important mechanisms such as hunting for animals to collect food, cutting trees to store wood and building buildings to recruit combat units or stash my resources.

The only thing that seems strange to me is the logic of the game world: while wood is appropriately needed to build buildings, food is the primary means of payment for new units of my relatively small people. For example, when 50 groceries are used, a full-grown man appears in front of my village center, who does all sorts of work with a click of the mouse. Okay …

Switching between the different ages costs me even more food, which in turn dramatically improves the technology and construction options of my people. As chic as it is unrealistic: With the ascent, all buildings I have already built are automatically updated. All of this actually feels like a "Civilization light" embedded in a real-time engine and with an amazing shot of The Settlers. It is just as satisfying here as with the Blue Byte colleague to watch my men relaxed while they go about their work.

Only when I meet another race does Age of Empires shift radically in the direction of Warcraft, because I am usually attacked at the first contact. The game also offers a diplomacy option, which I could use to put my enemy in peace by paying tribute in the form of wood, food, stone or gold. However, any attempt to sneak in fails. So I leave it and I prefer to build a small army.

The level of difficulty increases
If the first four missions of the Egyptian campaign are easy and fluffy, the fifth mission takes me to my limits for the first time. I'm supposed to be 800

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/430x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_09-pc-games.jpg" alt = "The priest is one of the coolest units in Age of Empires and can with some incantation chant recruit enemy units.
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The priest is one of the coolest units in Age of Empires, and with a little summoning chant, it can recruit enemy units.

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

Stash food that I need to advance to the Bronze Age and occupy some ruins. These are located on the other side of a narrow river, where, among other things, Ramses IV made himself comfortable with his people who are hostile to me.

It strikes me straight away that there is no animal in sight to be slaughtered, so that I cannot produce any food. I already have a granary and barracks at my disposal, but neither of them helps me much in the long run for recruiting further units.

Fortunately, the mission description tells me the trick that I use to get myself out of this misery: Farms! However, I can only build them after a market has been set up. And in this context I need a lot of wood, for which I literally send my few workers into the forest. During this time I feel helpless because I can only set up a couple of club bats due to a lack of food. Cynically, I could have them turned into ax fighters in the barracks – but that costs me twice as much food as recruiting a soldier!

When the first farm finally stands, it seems to be too late: Shortly afterwards my village is attacked by Ramses IV and I cannot defend myself due to a lack of units. How the hell am I supposed to do it? Was I just slow Or did I miss something …?

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/430x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_10-pc-games.jpg" alt = "A sea battle that is not funny: Fighting at sea turns out to be a tough affair because the computer keeps moving its ships back and out of its own attack range.
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A sea battle that is not funny: Fighting at sea turns out to be a tough affair because the computer keeps pushing its ships back and out of its own attack range.

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

To my shame, the latter is the case. Only on the second attempt do I realize the three berry bushes with their tiny, red fruits that are right next to my bed. I simply overlooked them beforehand; optically they are completely lost in the landscape. It's the first moment I want to blame the game.

I also feel slightly overwhelmed in other ways: My construction options have increased radically compared to the previous mission; on top of that, I get the feeling that I somehow need all the options. With the archery range I can recruit ranged fighters, I build exploration ships via a harbor and I could train a scout in the stable. Because Rames IV puts his henchmen on my neck at irregular intervals, I also have to diligently buy new workers and soldiers.

On the other hand, it is not exactly easy to penetrate into enemy territory. Even when crossing the river, enemy exploration ships keep mowing me down. Destroying them with my foot soldiers is almost impossible: As soon as I approach with one step, the enemy simply moves back a meter and continues to fire. My archers also always need a few seconds to position themselves intelligently – by the time that happens, some of my units will be gone. With a little luck, a ship will wedge itself in a corner. But I don't understand why this is happening or how I could deliberately provoke it.

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/430x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_12-pc-games.jpg" alt = "… you can see a city of the Persians on this screenshot.
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… you can see a city of the Persians on this screenshot.

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

While I've been grumbling, I would like to complain about the path-finding routine in general, which in my opinion is the biggest dump from Age of Empires. I can label the unpredictability of the adversary as a calculable chance risk. But that my own people sometimes have problems avoiding themselves is not really okay.

Really annoying: Quite a few workers who correctly walk back and forth between farm and warehouse for minutes suddenly get stuck in a corner for no apparent reason. This weakness alone compels me to regularly survey my lands and to correct such grievances by hand.

Well, whining doesn't get me any further. The fact is: my army can destroy a few buildings on the river's edge and most of the infantry units, but it cannot withstand the ships in question. So I have to start all over … But how do I do it differently this time?

Quite simply: with patience.

About clever tactics and undermining computer AI
First I concentrate on my own realm and make sure that I collect the 800 food units as quickly as possible. So I put everything on the farms and only create drop by drop of new soldiers who are enough to ward off Ramses IV's meager attacks.

After a while I notice how my opponent is poaching in my fields, setting up a camp and cutting trees. Of course I won't allow that and I fight back – this time with success because the river bank is far away. To be precise, I realize that the foot soldiers of Ramses IV have no chance against me. Then a daring idea comes to me: What if I march blindly across the river, ignoring the ships and taking care of the village center deep in the enemy country?

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/430x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_01-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Every beginning is difficult: In the Paleolithic the development possibilities are limited and food is consumed by hunting animals and picking berries.
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Every beginning is difficult: In the Paleolithic the development opportunities are limited and food intake takes place through hunting for animals and picking berries.

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

No, that sounds too easy! Before I take the risk, I'll save it to be on the safe side. But in fact, the clumsy tactic works: the enemy has significantly more buildings than me, but hardly any soldiers. The few who pounce on me are absolutely no problem for my army.

At the latest after all barracks and archery systems have been destroyed, with which I cut off Ramses IV's supply of new units, my victory is certain. In the end, my anger for destruction takes on unrestrained proportions, which is why I win the mission early – that is, without advancing into a new age.

The next mission focuses on an aspect that I wanted to deal with anyway: trading. Because so far the warlike way seemed to me much more attractive, and I definitely wonder how acting in Age of Empires should work at all.

Unfortunately, the mission doesn't really make me smarter: I have access to a port right from the start with which I can build the right ship. With it I drive along the shore and come across a strange port, through which I exchange my food or my wood for gold. However, it is a mystery to me how the system behind it works. In any case, it doesn't seem like I'm taking anything away from my direct opponent. Or does he seriously have an infinite amount of gold?

Quite apart from that, my pleasure in trading doesn't last long: an opposing tribe declares war on me and unceremoniously sinks my boat. Argh! Since I was otherwise hardly equipped, I can start all over again.

The next attempt also almost fails after a few minutes, because suddenly a ballista attacks my village and destroys my farms with a few shots. Fortunately, I have just built enough fighters and shooters and can fend off the attacker at the last moment.

Practical: There is a huge forest on the edge of the area, with the wood of which I can compensate for my losses. In addition, the ballista remains an exception, otherwise only a few opposing units bother me. So I can calmly rebuild everything and above all collect enough wood for a couple of ships to be able to defend myself successfully on the water. In the meantime, my port has been attacked, but I can compensate for this with a single construction worker. In fact, when it comes to repairs, it is faster than the firing power of two ships.

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/430x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_11-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Complex: Each playable realm has its own building graphics and varies slightly with the ones available standing construction and development options. While you can marvel at the architecture of the Minoans …
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Elaborate: Each playable realm has its own building graphics and varies slightly in the construction and development options available. While you can marvel at the architecture of the Minoans here …

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

After a while I should take care of my real goal of the game: collect 1000 gold and 1000 stones. Well, for the first I just get a new merchant ship and head back to the port I saw in the first attempt. The enemy boats from earlier are history, after all.

But where do I get the stones from? Apparently there is no way to trade them. So I would need access to rock that I can mine – and that I can only find far away from my village center. Fortunately, there are no other opponents on site, which is why my success is only a matter of time.

Conclusion: who turned the clock?
Children, how time flies: I thought I could just run the Age of Empires campaigns for this "My First Time" article on the side, because of time constraints I can't even manage the Egyptians' campaigns – which are also decried as a complex tutorial is!

Just for fun, I take a quick look at the other campaigns, and I particularly like the first mission of "Voices from Babylon": I don't own a single building there, so I am not allowed to generate any residents at the beginning. However, I have a priest in my ranks who can convince foreign units with his sermons.

<img src = "https://www.gamesaktuell.de/screenshots/430x/2021/03/Age_of_Empires_12-pc-games.jpg" alt = "… you can see a city of the Persians on this screenshot.
& nbsp; (1)”/>

… you can see a city of the Persians on this screenshot.

Source: Ensemble Studios / media agency plassma

I am not only impressed by the flow of the game and the many possibilities of the classic, but also by its presentation: Although everything looks small and distant due to the low resolution of 1024×768 pixels, the extremely lively and detailed animations make up for this shortcoming . I also like the music, even if it is not bursting with variety and the same ten melodies are repeated in all the missions I play.

In the end, I am really fascinated by this game – so much that I would now like to see Age of Empires 2 and Age of Mythology, which got even higher ratings back then and were also popular in the USA. Viewed purely on paper, the mechanisms of an Age of Empires may be very simple and only elicit a sympathetic smile from a Europa Universalis fetishist. In other words: Nothing at all is really realistic here, and even the first Civilization felt more logical and more complex in many aspects when it came to the structure of the game world.

On the other hand, Age of Empires works all the more on a purely playful level, comparable to an all-encompassing board game: It is amazingly well balanced, offers numerous game elements and yet all essential features fit on a clearly designed leaflet that was enclosed with the original from 1997.

Age of Empires is an impressive example of how a really good game from the 1990s works: In a way that is still fun today.


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