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The first game of the Age of Empires series, simply called Age of Empires, was released in 1997. It offered 12 ancient civilizations (Assyria, Babylonia, Choson, Egypt, Greece, Hittites, Minoa, Persia, Phoenicia, Shang, Sumer and Yamato) and was set between the Stone and Iron Ages. The campaigns were set in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Babylon and Yamato.

An expansion pack, Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome, added the Roman Empire and 4 related civilizations (Rome, Carthage, Palmyra and Macedonia). The campaigns were set in Ancient Rome, where the player, depending on the campaign, will side with Rome itself or with their enemies.

At E3 2017, the Definitive Edition was announced, an Updated Re-release that was released on February 20, 2018. The game received a drastic art style change as well as a reworking of some of its campaigns.


Age of Empires I (and its expansion) features examples of:

  • An Axe to Grind: In the Tool Age, you can upgrade the lowly Clubmen to Axemen, considerably improving their effectiveness.
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: There's a 50-unit cap which isn't affected by converting enemy units. Having such a low unit count means the highest tier units (Legions, Cataphracts, Centurions) move out of Awesome, yet Impractical territory, meaning that such units need to be as good as possible in spite of their cost. On the other hand, the AI can and will fill the map with Catapults and Ballista Towers to compensate for the strict population limit by the time you have access to those high-tier units. If you didn't have anything that can outrange those towers (most civs in this game don't) you should rush early-game or might as well restart.
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  • Arrows on Fire: Alchemy, which gives a damage bonus to all ranged attacks (including the fire ships) except for the slingers and changes the relevant projectile sprites to burning equivalents.
  • Artificial Brilliance: AI ranged units will try to move away from melee enemies before resuming the attack. Not much use for a catapult trying to run from a horseman, but an archer can and will kite your infantry, and unless you have an opposing archer to Draw Aggro and make him stop, just one lowly bowman can get a whole squad of your axemen killed. It reinforces the Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors, making cavalry (even the lowly Scout) that much more important overall.
  • Artificial Stupidity:
    • One of the greatest threats your army will face is your own catapults; since they avert Friendly Fireproof, a badly-aimed rock will kill your men just as dead as the enemy, and the damn things will launch at anything hostile that they see. Some players even forgo them entirely in favor of ballistas, which lack the splash damage but still deal considerable damage and don't kill your own units.
    • The units' pathfinding AI has a lot of problems. They can even kill themselves because they chose to go through the worst path possible.
  • Artistic License – History: Zig-zagged. The civilizations are designed to fight the same way their historical counterparts did. The Egyptians, for example, are good at farming and have powerful chariots and elephants, but no access to decent siege weapons and infantry. The campaigns follow historical events closely, and there's a decent amount of history which can be learned from the games. Being an RTS game, it doesn't strive to emulate the actual scenarios perfectly, however.
  • Awesome, yet Impractical:
    • In Rise of Rome, sacrificing priests with Martyrdom, now called Sacrifice in the Definitive Edition to instantly convert enemy units. The strict population limit is what makes it very impractical. Add an expensive price tag of 600 gold to another already gold heavy priest. It's far more practical to use regular conversions then just to have them killed.
    • Zigzagged with Ballista Towers. No matter how cool they look, the upgrade costs a small fortune and the ballista bolts they fire move much slower than arrows; even with Ballistics, there's a good chance whatever they're firing at will move before the bolt hits. When they're massed however their bolts are enough to even slice Armored Elephants like butter, compounded by the fact that buildings are easily massed while units can't due to the 50 population limit.
    • Triremes suffer from the same issue, but their huge power spike compared to War Galleys outweigh the downsides.
    • Catapults. People just simply avoid them because they can do more harm to you rather than the enemy. Thanks to its dumbness, he will be happy to try to launch a boulder on a single villager and hit your entire army.
    • The high-tier upgrades for some units dive into this, as they require resources in the thousands range when the 50-population limit makes the resource gathering rate very low.
  • Badass Preacher: Priests. A good player can beat a match by just using an army of them. Egyptian Priests are even more dangerous, because they get a +3 range bonus that stacks with Afterlife, which also gives +3 range.
  • Bad with the Bone: The villagers attack enemy units with big bones until Iron Age where they use pitchforks instead. (the change is only aesthetic though)
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • Axemen are the backbone of most armies, since unlike their Clubmen predecessors, their attack is superior to that of mere villagers, and unlike Swordsmen, they don't cost any gold.
    • Bowmen don't get much in the way of upgrades, but unlike their Improved brethren, they don't cost gold to produce, making them a decent choice for spamming ranged attacks even at advanced ages.
  • Carry a Big Stick:
    • If you are desperate enough to send villagers out to fight from the Stone to the Bronze Age, you will find them wielding a giant bone.
    • The only military unit available in the Stone Age is the Clubman, a warrior armed with a spiked club. The only advantage he has over villagers is that he has twice their health points, but since he can't gather resources you have no incentive to train them until the Tool Age, when you will upgrade them to Axemen as soon as possible.
  • Cast from Lifespan/Cast From Hit Points: Priests in the expansion get the Martyrdom technology, which allows a conversion to be automatically successful provided you sacrifice the priest.
  • Classic Cheat Code: E=mc2 Trooper.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Your AI allies in the random map. The diplomacy mechanic is so flawed that they demand resources from you every few minutes. If you don't, they will declare a war against you and join the enemy's side. Sometimes they even do this out of nowhere if the game stretches on too long. And no, extorting resources from them is ignored at best. Later games fixed this with the "Lock Teams" function and making giving resources optional.
  • The Computer Is a Lying Bastard:
    • One of the game's pre-scenario hints for the first scenario in the Glory of Greece campaign, "Land Grab", says "Attack only when you are truly ready; the Dorians are well-prepared for an onslaught.", which could be easily interpreted as "take your time to build your economy before attacking". Maybe it's sufficient on lower difficulties, but on Hardest this is the worst thing you can do as the Dorians will very quickly upgrade their Clubmen into Axemen and send them your way before you can establish your position (and if you attempt to go after Tyrinia first, the Dorians will quickly join in the melee with the intent to melt you). What you should do instead is interpret "when you are truly ready" as "as soon as the scenario begins" and rush them on the spot without even making a Town Center first so that they don't get the chance to become a threat. Just make sure you don't lose all your Villagers, or else you'll have a different problem on your hands.
    • "The Battle of Tunes" in the First Punic War campaign suggested that Long Swordsmen are one of Carthage's best units, alongside Fire Galleys and War Elephants. Carthaginian Long Swordsmen don't have any civ-specific bonuses at all, and units such as Horse Archers and Phalanxes are more useful.
  • Crutch Character: Tool Age units (Axemen, Bowmen, Scouts, Slingers) are useful in said age, but lose power quickly when Bronze Age is reached and they cannot be upgradednote . Very useful for spamming and if you're low on gold, though.
  • Damage Is Fire: When buildings take enough damage, they are set aflame, even when they aren't being attacked by weapons that would allow that to happen. Being on fire doesn't cause additional damage, though, it is simply a visual indicator that significant damage has been dealt. Averted with the stone walls: early release pictures of the game showed them on fire, but this was changed in the final release to show gradual degradation instead.
  • Digitized Sprites: Every unit and building sprite was rendered from CGI models.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: It lacks many of the gameplay refinements of the sequels, though some things are fixed in Rise of Rome:
    • You cannot queue unit production prior to the expansion. You also cannot create units and research technology of different types at once; this was retained until the sequel.
    • Double clicking a unit will not select other nearby units of the same type. This is added in the expansion.
    • Town Centers don't have the ability to defend themselves. The concept of Garrisonable Structures also didn't exist for Town Centers and Towers.
    • Units cannot walk over farms. This consumes a lot of unnecessary space since players are expected to mass them for food production. This was fixed in the Definitive Edition. Also, a single farm can be used by multiple villagers, though only one will collect food from it.
    • All human soldiers and non-Temple technologies have a food cost. Later games have human soldiers that don't cost food, usually archers.
    • The lack of an in-game tech tree and civilization description. That information can only be found in the manual.
    • You don't start with a scout unit, so you are forced to rely on one of your villagers to explore the map. It takes an age upgrade and building a Stable to get the first good scout unit.
    • Buying resources is not available. Trade units gain gold in exchange for food, wood or stone.
    • Granaries are not only drop-off sites for non-animal food, but also used to research fortifications. Markets are used for researching economy bonuses instead of buying and selling resources. In the case of markets, both features were reused for Age of Empires III.
    • All units are male, all civilizations speak the same Simlish language, and all civilizations with the same building style have the same wonder, rather than each having an unique one.
    • All animals provide meat, not just prey but also predators, and predators attack all units on sight, even siege engines. It's not too rare to get the "unit attacked" chime and when you center on it, finding an almost undamaged hoplite beside a lion's or crocodile's rotting carcass.
    • Land-based mechanical units like siege engines can't be repaired by villagers, they have to be healed by priests just like flesh-and-bone soldiers. That doesn't extend to boats, which are repaired by villagers.
    • Started the game and skipped the intro expecting to hear the franchise's iconic theme at the main menu? Nope, in the original game it only played in the intro, a campaign FMV and the late-in-the-playlist music track Gray Sky.
    • A more minor example comes thanks to the Gold Edition, which packed the base game and the expansion onto a single disc. The original game's soundtrack was replaced entirely with new music for The Rise of Rome, while the Gold Edition features a selection of tracks from both with a completely new track order. This meant that there were four tracks each from the base game and the expansion that never play, so if a Gold Edition player gets their hands on the non-Gold Edition of the original game or Rise of Rome they'll have a completely different soundtrack. This also applies to the Definitive Edition as it plays remakes of all the base game and expansion tracks in their original order.
      • In tandem with the above, the original Loss and Win tracks were redone with The Rise of Rome and are the default in the Gold Edition even when selecting the original.
  • Easy Level Trick: In "Oppression", the sixth scenario of the Yamato campaign, the goal is to destroy an enemy Government Center guarded by a large number of siege engines while they ask you for a huge sum of gold every few minutes. The quickest way to do this is to send a few villagers to draw fire near the building in question. Thanks to the catapults' Artificial Stupidity and massive splash radius, they will fire shots that hit their own Government Center while being easy for your villagers to dodge, and will win the scenario for you.
  • Edutainment Game: The first purpose of the game is entertainment, but there's plenty of historical information available: the campaigns in the first game dealt with the history of four civilizations - Egypt (the tutorial), Greece, Babylon, and Yamato. While the missions themselves certainly sacrificed historical accuracy for gameplay, the mission intros gave decent background information. Rise of Rome's campaigns covered the history of Rome from both Rome itself and their enemies.
  • Enemy Exchange Program: The priests can convert your enemies' units. Their priests can convert yours too. And priests can convert other priests.
  • Firewood Resources: Wood and Stone, the eventual series' staples.
  • Foregone Conclusion: One mission in the expansion has you playing as Hannibal, bringing the elephants over the Alps. You know how it's going to end, even if you win, and the victory text basically says, "Well, you'll be remembered as a genius for this tactic, at least."
  • Friendly Fireproof: Catapults and Catapult Triremes avert this; they'll damage anything in the area of effect radius. Played straight with the Ballistas, Ballista Towers and bolt-firing Triremes, as their projectiles don't have any Splash Damage.
  • Gaia's Revenge: The "Gaia" cheat lets you play as the neutral animals and gives you vision around every tree. Very limited, however, since you're put in control of units designed to be killed by villagers.
  • Game Mod: An unofficial patch exists for Rise of Rome that fixes a lot of bugs and balancing issues in the game, as well as adding features like full widescreen support.
    • There are also mods for this mod, such as population increase to 100 or 250.
  • Gladiator Revolt: There's a mission where you have to defend an Italian region from Spartacus revolts. The Slave Army is on Post-Iron Age, while you're in Bronze Age.
  • Glass Cannon: Siege weapons, which can be devastating if used correctly, but require constant support from skirmishing units and priests to heal them.
  • Guilt-Based Gaming: If you quit in the middle of the game, your side loses and you get scolded. It doesn't help that there's creepy music and a creepy skeleton in the background.
  • Guide Dang It!: Want to know about the civilization tech tree and bonuses? Don't have an external guide or expect such information to be in the game? Good luck remembering them. The Definitive Edition included an in-game tech tree to fix this.
  • <Hero> Must Survive: Some unique units trigger your defeat when destroyed.
  • Historical In-Joke: One mission in the expansion involving Archimedes includes a one-time appearance from a unit called the "Mirror Tower," which fires lasers at enemy units. Archimedes supposedly found a way to harness the sun's energy in a similar manner. Sadly, the only way you can ever get a hold of a Mirror Tower is by using the Scenario Builder.
  • Horse Archer: Come in horse, elephant and chariot varieties. Horse Archers are fast and hit the hardest, but they could not take damage well. Elephant Archers are slow and bulky, allowing them to tank and shield fragile units. Chariot Archers are weaker than Horse Archers, but they could be accessed an age earlier for civilizations that have them, resist Priest conversion, and cost no gold.
  • Instant-Win Condition: Possessing all artifacts or ruins, or having a Wonder survive, for "2000 years", or about 20 minutes in Real Time.
  • Isometric Projection: The map is diamond-shaped, unlike many contemporary games. The practice was carried on in the sequels, though in them you can rotate the map.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure: If you lose or quit a campaign scenario in The Rise of Rome, a short description of the consequences of your failure will be displayed - including a Bond One-Liner ("report to Catapult Unit XIV where you'll get another chance to have an impact on the Carthaginians").
  • Lead the Target: The "Ballistics" upgrade.
  • Made of Explodium: Birds fly around randomly on the map, and if you ask a villager to attack one, it explodes harmlessly. It's... weird.
  • Marathon Level: A few, but The Great Hunt is probably the most notable.
  • Mighty Glacier: War elephants and the Hoplite line are durable and deal lots of damage but move very slowly. The Persian and Greek civilizations, respectively, get bonuses that makes those units Lightning Bruisers.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: This particular installment is really bad at this.
    • There are American bald eagles and alligators, despite being set entirely in the Old World (though a relative of the latter could have been seen by the Shang, and people frequently confuse crocodiles for alligators) and while lions, gazelles and elephants fit in the Ancient Middle East they are a very weird vision when you are playing a campaign set in Europe or Japan. They are a carryover from early game development, when the game was entirely set in the Middle East and Greece, before ES/Microsoft realized that they could make more money in East Asia if they also used local civilizations.
    • Crocodile or Alligator, neither reptile has any business being in the Alps.
    • The Egypt campaign features whales in the Nile.
    • All the elephants (wild and tame) are African, but Asian ones would be more familiar to most civilizations in the game.
  • No "Arc" in "Archery": Arrows and Ballista Bolts will fly perfectly straight through their entire flight.
  • Painfully Slow Projectile: Ballista Bolts fly so slowly that one unit under constant micromanagement can never get hit by them. The AI knows this, and will cheerfully dance its units around all projectiles including arrows.
  • Perspective Flip: An interesting case of this in Definitive Edition. In the sequel, there is one mission where you play as the Huns during the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields. Definitive Edition has reworked the last mission of the Imperium Romanum campaign so the map, positions, and teams are all the same, only this time you're playing as the Romans instead of the Huns.
  • Power Up Letdown: It's hard for some players to tell if the Ballista Tower is actually a good upgrade, since its projectiles are stronger but slower than the Guard Tower's arrows.
  • Retraux: Classic Mode in the Definitive Edition allows players to change the graphics to that of the original Age of Empires, though it is restricted to random map modes.
  • Savage Setpiece: Elephants can be safely ignored unless they've been attacked by your side. Averted with the stronger Elephant Kings, which will attack anything and everything even if not provoked.
  • Shoot the Medic First: Even if you can out-damage the healing, you don't want the enemy Priests alive long enough to convert your units.
  • Schizophrenic Difficulty: The Yamato campaign is probably the worst, but all four campaigns have issues with this, even the tutorial campaign.
  • Scratch Damage: Any damage is divided by 5 against buildings so most attacks that aren't from siege weapon will be this.
  • Shout-Out: "I'll be back" and "I shall return" are the names of some levels.
  • Siege Engines: Catapults and ballistae, as well as their fancier upgrades.
  • Speaking Simlish:
  • Spiked Wheels: Scythe Chariots in Rise of Rome. They cause splash damage around the Chariot when it attacks.
  • Splash Damage:
    • Catapult units have a huge and deadly area of effect radius that doesn't tell friend from foe. It's not advisable to send melee units to attack along with them unless you want to see many of your own soldiers killed. Averted with the Ballista, making it a better option for a joint assault.
    • The war Elephant do this thanks to their tusks.
    • The Scythe Chariots from Rise of Rome deal splash damage when attacking, thanks to their Spiked Wheels.
  • Suffer the Slings: In the expansion, Slingers are available from the Tool Age and onward. They receive bonuses against archers and base defences, with the latter making them mildly successful at raiding, but become obsolete almost immediately since they receive very little in the way of useful upgrades once the Bronze Age is reached.
  • Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors:
    • Infantry > Cavalry > Archers and Siege Engines > Infantry.
  • Technology Levels: Stone Age (Paleolithic/Mesolithic era), Tool Age (Neolithic era), Bronze Age and Iron Age, in that order.
  • Units Not to Scale:
    • When putting units inside Transport Ships.
    • Non-Wonder buildings are a lot shorter than units.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Villagers, clubmen, bowmen and war elephant riders are shirtless.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: Food, Wood, Stone and Gold. Food and Wood are required from the get-go, Stone is used for walls, watch towers and slingers starting in the Tool Age, and Gold starts becoming important in the Bronze Age.


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