You’ve surely seen it in one of the many top-games lists or collections of best freeware games for Windows but as it’s free you probably didn’t give it a shot, thinking it would be second-rate. So naive! 0 A.D. is, by all accounts, exactly everything you could ever ask for from a new installment of the Age of Empires saga: a real-time strategy game with a historical setting and a deep development system for your cities that’s constantly being expanded and is now available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Once upon a time, the game was going to be a mod to Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, but the project was gradually expanded and since the year 2001 has been undergoing transformation – to the point that, eight years later, it was officially announced that it would be developed as a completely freestanding and open-source game. Wildfire Games is made up today of nearly 50 fans who donate their time to develop the game. In 2013 they tried to finance the project with a crowdfunding campaign, but didn’t have much success. Nevertheless, they forged ahead with development of an alpha version. That said, the advanced state of this game doesn’t make it look too much like an alpha.

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Don’t be fooled by the fact that the game isn’t finished. 0 A.D. contains an enormous amount of content. It includes 12 different factions in the form of iconic historical civilizations, including Celts, Spartans, Persians, Romans, and Athenians, each with its own aesthetic for units and buildings as well as strengths and weaknesses. It’s precisely in the buildings that you can see the might of the progress system. Each civilization has 20 different constructions, each with its own function in powering the collection of primary materials, population growth, or military development.

With nearly 15 years of development, the game’s level of detail verges on sickening. To give an example, if you decide to hide a unit within a building, it won’t disappear as if it were inside, but rather you’ll see soldiers hanging out on the roof or walls. The fauna that populate the game will change in accordance with your geography and flourish depending on the resources available, meaning it’ll be normal to see a pair of elephants playing along a riverbank or a herd of antelope wandering on an empty steppe.

The expansion of your cities is totally customizable. There are no geographical or structural limits, so you can place any building or wall anywhere that it’s physically possible to set it. The enormous number of collection systems will make it so your city residents can hunt wild animals, cultivate plots of land, care for farm animals, cut wood, or extract minerals from quarries.

Although it doesn’t have an official campaign, you can set up a match with battles between up to eight civilizations in more than 20 settings, where you’ll have the option to play against either the computer or other users via LAN, or online through game rooms that you can either join or create yourself. You can also customize the battle by selecting a condition of victory, which could be simple and straightforward domination on the battlefield to a race to see which civilization can technologically develop first.

But the battle mode is not the only game mode, as you can also participate in preset scenes to take part in famous battles between certain civilizations and with predetermined objectives. As if that weren’t enough, the game also includes a complete scene editor to create your own campaigns, and in fact, a bit of browsing online will reveal many mods created by the community.

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