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
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