Play: Age of Empires: The Forgotten Empires

AoFERemember a couple of months back when I wrote my review on Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings? Well since then I haven’t gotten to playing it much, but I do remember back then there was a lot of hype surrounding a fan-made expansion. Less then a week ago, the expansion was finally released for free.
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Review: Age of Empires Online

Doing my last post got me interested in Age of Empires again, so I finally decided to give Age of Empires Online a try. The game was actually released more than a year ago, but I resisted trying it out because I don’t like games that try to lure you in for free then make you pay for more. This is still slightly true, but the system has been tweaked a little bit so you can now actually play completely for free. But I get ahead of myself; on to the review!

First of all, the game is available by direct download (a whopping 5GB), which seems simple, but there are some problems with the client in which you are sometimes asked for a product key (which it doesn’t give you). I don’t really know how I managed to fix the problem, but I’m sure Googling the problem would find you a solution.

When you finally get the game started, the first thing you notice is the new artwork. The austere emotionless sprites of yesteryear have been replaced with happy cartoonish characters. This has turned some veterans off the game, as it gives the game a rather cheap feel. This is a pity, as the deep strategic gameplay is still there. Although it looks a little dumbed-down for the new market, it actually has all of the features that made the Age of Empires franchise famous.

Pretty much everything else has gone though. The story-based campaign has been replaced with an RPG-like quest system in which you work on leveling up your Capital City. The game has taken (as you probably guessed by the name) a very social turn. You can finish quests in co-op mode, or play PvP with your friends. The only problem arises if you, like me, don’t have any friends who play Age of Empires, then you’ll probably never get to test your wits without some tribal leader telling to to find deer herds or kill some caravans.

I say probably never because there is a way to play random map games. Unfortunately, it costs 450 Empire Points to unlock, which is near impossible to earn without making purchases. Around where I’m at (Level 5) there is a quest where you can play a demo random map game every 12 hours, which is painful because you can see a whole bunch of settings and maps that you can’t use until you get your EP. This is obviously a serious drawback to the game, as Random Map games have been the bread and butter of all previous Age of Empires games.

So if you’re looking for a good strategy game to play, have lots of friends who do too, and have lots of time to build up your Capital Cities, then Age of Empires Online is perfect for you. But if you are looking to get straight into the action with a customisable match against a computer, or follow a deep story-based campaign, then stick to one of the older Age of Empires games. They are not free, and have less updated graphics, but they playable without feeling like part of a business idea.

What are your thoughts on this game? Would you like Microsoft to make more games like it, or go back to the old format? Tell us in the comments!

Review: Age of Empires II: Gold Edition

Developer: Ensemble Studios | Year: 1999 | List Price: $9.99 | Buy from Amazon

I just recently re-took interest in this game, as it was one of the games I enjoyed most not too long ago. I did a review on Age of Empires III a little while ago, and I actually got that game before Age of Empires II, so I’ll use that for an excuse for this long-overdue review.

I think I should say before I start that I own the Mac port for the game, but I don’t think there are any differences between versions. (As a side note, if you have Lion, you can’t actually play Age of Empires II on Mac anymore, at least not without some tinkering, as it is a PowerPC application which Apple no longer supports.) Regardless of the platform, Age of Empires II is a significant milestone of the real-time strategy genre. The Age of Empires franchise was actually the first historical RTS franchise and is probably the most well-known.

Age of Empires II continues where Age fo Empires left off, at the fall of the western Roman empire. You begin the game with a small settlement with a few villagers and almost no technology. As your town grows, you can research new technologies and develop your armies. The ultimate goal is to vanquish your enemies on the battlefield and be the only tribe left on the map.

There are many civilisations to lead to victory. The 13 Middle Age civilsations include the likes of the Britons, Goths, Saracens, and Mongols. Unfortunately, unlike later games, there isn’t really much difference between civilisations: They have only slightly different sets of units, and each has only one unique unit. There are also many campaigns to play. Not including the learning campaign, there are 5 different campaigns, all separate from each other and with different difficulty levels.

The game actually has an extremely deep strategy system, even when compared to more modern titles. There are formations for your troops to assume, four different resources to stockplile, even features which the newer Age of Empires III does not have, such as a primitive diplomacy system with trading ships and carts.

There is also an expansion pack called the Conquerors, which adds 5 new civilisations, 4  new campaigns, and a whole host of new units, technologies and maps. This in itself is not really so revolutionary, but there are also new features that make the gameplay smoother and easier, such as smarter villagers, buying replacement farms in advance, and some general UI improvements. The expansion pack really adds a lot to the game, and fortunately nowadays it is usually bundled in.

Obviously where this game loses out in our time is in graphics. At 13 years old, Age of Empires II is not exactly a new game, and this is rather apparent. On newer, larger screens, the game is extremely dotty and animations seem awkward and cheesy sometimes. Of course, this could be a good thing, too, as you no longer have to worry if you have adequate system requirements and the game never freezes or jumps. If you are younger, or just new to video games of this type, this may not be a good entry, as newer games are often simpler and more logical, and have more well-defined graphics.

Game length could also present an issue to some. When compared against other strategy games, games are actually rather short, but modern casual games have made the general population more impatient with their games, and while Age of Empires III has games lasting about half-an-hour to an hour, Age of Empires II easily doubles that.

So basically, if you are looking for a good RTS to just try out, this may not be the first choice, but if you are experienced in the genre and determined to suffer through out-dated graphics, then this game is an extremely nice piece of RTS history, at a price reasonably lower than you would get for a more modern game.

List Price: $9.99 | Buy from Amazon

What do you think? Do you play Age of Empires II? Tell us in the comments!

Also, be sure to check out the rest of our videogame-related reviews and articles!