Today, July 1, Age of Empires Online is no more. Few will mourn its passing, but many more will nevertheless look to its demise as a sad event, given the attachment people once had to the words "Age of Empires".
The first Age of Empires, released in 1999, was amazing. As was its medieval sequel. And their expansions. And their fantasy spin-off, Age of Mythology. And the Star Wars game that used the same engine.
For much of the late 90s and early 2000's, it was, along with StarCraft, a flagship series for not just PC strategy gaming, but PC gaming in general.
Things went off the rails a little with 2005's Age of Empires III, however, as despite being a solid title the world of strategy gaming had moved on, meaning it never hit the critical (or more importantly commercial) highs its predecessors had enjoyed. When the series' longtime development team was shifted over to a Halo game (before being shut down entirely), Age of Empires was presumed dead.
But then! Signs of life. In 2011, Microsoft and a bunch of Ensemble veterans opened Age of Empires Online, a cartoonish, online-multiplayer take on the franchise. It was...OK, but it was also not what AoE fans (or anyone else, really) wanted, and after a brief time in the spotlight around launch soon faded into obscurity.
You might have forgotten the game even existed until reading this, and that's totally understandable. I had too. I only circle back around to it because the game closed down today, its servers gone, its armies wiped from the earth as though they'd never existed.
Which for most of us isn't that big a deal, but then, some people actually played this game, and sunk a ton of money into its bonus armies, features and items. Money that is now completely down the drain, as they will never be able to play the game again.
Let their loss be a lesson to you all: if you're going to spend money on a video game that only exists in an online space at a company's pleasure, don't get too attached to it. It could be gone at any moment.
As for Age of Empires, well. It's tough seeing where Microsoft will find the will (or developers) to try making another game using the brand any time soon. So enjoy those HD re-releases that turn up periodically on Steam; they're likely to be the only Age of Empires we'll be getting for a while.