If you‘re looking to play the acclaimed Age of Empires real-time strategy series for free in 2022, Age of Empires II HD is your best bet. While not permanently free, it frequently goes on sale for around $10 or can be accessed through Xbox Game Pass deals. And as the fan favorite title in the franchise, it provides an immense amount of content and gameplay for a small price.
Mainline Titles – Great Value When Discounted
The core historical Age of Empires games are not free-to-play, but great deals can be had on the Definitive Editions:
- Age of Empires II HD / Definitive Edition – Considered the best in the series, these remasters of the 1999 classic regularly go on sale for only $10. Seen by fans as having the perfect blend of accessibility and strategic depth.
- Age of Empires III Definitive Edition – Improved visuals and gameplay for the third entry. Usually discounted to around $15.
- Age of Empires IV – The latest title just came out last year but has already seen sales bringing it down to $40 from the full $60.
So while not permanently free, the mainline Age of Empires titles can be picked up for the price of a couple lattes if you catch them on sale.
Age of Empires II Continues to Thrive After 20+ Years
Out of all the games in the series, Age of Empires II has the most active community and competitive scene behind it in 2022. Originally released in 1999, the game has seen numerous expansions and visual upgrades over the years.
In a recent Steam survey, Age of Empires II Definitive Edition had over 40,000 concurrent players, dwarfing the other titles. And major tournaments like Red Bull Wololo draw tens of thousands of live viewers on Twitch and YouTube. Pro players can win thousands of dollars in prizes.
This ongoing popularity and competitive depth is why Age of Empires II remains many fans‘ entry point into the series even 20+ years later. And with the HD and Definitive Editions making vast improvements visually and mechanically, the game holds up wonderfully. For only ~$10 on sale, it‘s hard to find better value in gaming.
Try Before You Buy with Game Pass
As mentioned previously, all the modern Age of Empires titles are included with an Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription. This can be an extremely cost-effective way to access the games:
- Game Pass often has promotions for just $1 for the first month.
- Cancel anytime if you don‘t want to continue the subscription.
- Your progress carries over if you later buy the games.
So for the price of a candy bar, you can get a month of Game Pass and try out Age of Empires risk-free. Hard to beat value.
If you want to jump into Age of Empires gameplay without spending anything, there are some legitimate free alternatives:
Age of Empires Online
As mentioned in the introduction, Age of Empires Online has been revived as a free-to-play game. The online servers had previously been shut down in 2014, but fans brought the game back through unofficial means. And Microsoft granted its blessing, allowing updated versions to return through Steam and web browsers for free.
Gameplay broadly matches the style of the core series, with civilizations to choose from, base building, resource gathering, and army training. But as an online-only game, expect more emphasis on multiplayer and social features. Worth checking out for franchise fans.
Browser-Based: Forge of Empires
- Developed by InnoGames
- Launched in 2012
- City builder style strategy game
- Web browser-based
- Free-to-play with in-app purchases
Forge of Empires captures the epic, historical scope of Age of Empires in a free-to-play browser package. Starting from the Stone Age, you advance your civilization through the ages while building up a city. And you can join guilds to share resources and battle. With high quality production values and strategic depth, Forge of Empires is a great option if you want to scratch that Age of Empires itch for free in your web browser.
Mobile: Rise of Kingdoms
- Initially launched as Rise of Civilizations in 2018
- Strategy MMO for iOS and Android
- Build cities, train armies, and conquer enemies
- Free-to-play with in-app purchases
- Very positive app store ratings
Rise of Kingdoms, formerly Rise of Civilizations, brings the strategic empire building and real-time warfare of Age of Empires to mobile app stores. Playing as one of 11 historical civilizations, you construct unique architecture while gathering resources, training military units, and managing technology trees. With high quality production values and strategic depth, Rise of Kingdoms delivers a remarkable free-to-play mobile experience for Age of Empires fans.
Keep an Eye Out for Full Mobile Ports
Making the acclaimed strategy series more accessible than ever before, Microsoft recently announced Age of Empires II and IV will be coming to iOS and Android mobile devices soon. These full ports are expected to be free-to-download, monetized through in-app purchases.
Considering the pedigree of the franchse, and the success of free-to-play mobile games like Rise of Kingdoms, the upcoming official Age of Empires mobile ports have enormous potential to finally bring these RTS classics to the masses. Any fan of strategy games or history should keep their eyes peeled for these releases!
In summary, while the full historical Age of Empires games are not permanently free-to-play, there are plenty of ways to experience this seminal RTS franchise for little or no cost:
- Watch for frequent sales and Game Pass deals on the Definitive Editions
- Age of Empires Online has relaunched as F2P
- Forge of Empires and Rise of Kingdoms offer free browser and mobile alternatives
- Upcoming official mobile versions will open the series up to countless new fans
With the timeless strategic gameplay holding up better than ever before, and more ways to play than ever, the Age of Empires franchise remains a must-try for PC and mobile gamers in 2022.