Waiting for Age of Empires 4? 0 A.D. is the next best thing

By Anna Blackwell 15 Jun 2018 1

If you’re reading this, it’s safe to say you’ve probably played at least one Age of Empires game in your life. It’s probably even safe to say that you’re excited for Age of Empires 4. But with the release date so far away there’s only so much you can do to pass the time. Empires Apart is fun, but limited, and there’s only so much Age of Empires II one can play. What else can you do?

Another thing you can do is check out our list of the best RTS games around.

Well you can play an Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings mod that has been in development for so long that it has surpassed the limitations of its original engine and become a standalone game. We’re talking 17 years in development by a team of volunteers working under the studio name Wildfire Games. That game is 0 A.D, an open-source historical RTS and here’s what you need to know about it.

In the Beginning

0 A.D started as a mod for Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings way back in the forgotten time of 2001 (someone may or may not have been 7 years old at this point). In 2003 the team decided to switch to their own engine, releasing the first public alpha in 2009. And while that might seem like some Duke Nukem Forever-level of development time, that’s actually not all that bad for a team comprised entirely of volunteers. Especially considering the quality of the current build (Alpha 23: Ken Wood) which features 13 factions, 40+ maps, and an already decent multiplayer community. More than what can be said for some fully released games.

On top of this, the open-source nature of 0 A.D has allowed mods to develop alongside the core game with two notable mods adding factions like Han China,the Anglo-Saxons, Byzantines, Carolingians and Norse, complete with their own custom buildings and units.

That’s right. A nearly fully fledged AoE style game has been hiding out on the internet and you’re only hearing about it now, life can be so unfair. So, here’s what you need to know before diving in.

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Age of APM

0 A.D plays much like AoE with each player choosing a faction and starting with a handful of villagers, a scout, a couple of soldiers, and a city centre. As is the staple of the genre you get scouting, get your villagers collecting the four resources: Food, Wood, Stone, and Iron; and get building. Fast.

Unlike other RTS games that drew their roots from AoE, 0 A.D restricts where you can build to areas within your own territory. As you build buildings, your border will expand and allow you to build further afield. This forces you to build strategically and to set up multiple city centres if you want to control key points of the map. All while making sure to grow your army as quickly and effectively as possible in an almost breakneck pace to those of us who have gotten soft from mollycoddling modern games. Most of my early games I was wiped out within 20 minutes!

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Like AoE you don’t have to stick to straight kill-em-all victory conditions. Wonder Victory, Regicide, or Capture the Relic all make an appearance and can be combined as you see fit. Or you could even jump into Nomad mode on the new random generation maps which is a very nice addition as it requires less memorisation of strategy and more adapting to and solving problems. And I usually last at least 40 minutes in Nomad so I assume I’m better at that and am sure it has nothing to do with the longer start up period...

Visually 0 A.D is standard fare for an AoE style game; that is, unless you have experience working in a team. Especially a team of volunteers. To have achieved such a consistently high level of graphical fidelity while working with strangers is nothing short of a miracle. Each unit, while not AAA level detail, has enough detail in their clothing to impart a strong sense of individuality and to really show off their culture. And it’s not just units that have a plethora of models, most buildings have a couple of variations in their model choices which makes each base look realistic as long as you ignore the slapdash placements.

Free For All

Most importantly though, 0 A.D is still in development and continues to grow under an open source licence which means that every line of code, every model, every sound bite and texture is in there because someone wanted it enough to do it for free. And they aren’t done yet. With the most recent update several important features were finally implemented, including;

  • Attack Range Visualisation
  • AI Behaviours
  • Lobby Authentication
  • Unit Information Dialog
  • Diplomacy Colours

But most importantly in the new update is the mod downloader which allows players to install mods just by opening them in 0 A.D which makes the aforementioned extra content much easier to access.

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Even though the developers claim 0 A.D isn’t complete yet and that there are still a number of things to add; the community is there, the game has enough polished content to rival commercially released titles, and matchmaking hasn’t dropped me out once. Whether you need something to tide you over till Age of Empires 4, you’re just looking for a fresh AoE style game or even just a good RTS, then you can’t go wrong with 0 A.D.

Also, just listen to that soundtrack.

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