My first experience with Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings went like this. I left work and went home and installed the game then I went to Greg Crowe’s (GiN Features Editor) house warming party. I got home about 10 or so and sat down to play. There I was playing away and really having a great time, next thing I know my alarm is going off. I would have sworn it was at the latest 2 in the morning and it’s 7:30. I admit I did not stop playing at that point, I continued playing until about 9 or so when I finished the game I was playing. Then I called in to GiN and told John and Nate what I had done. This is were working for a gaming company comes in handy. They both laughed and John took pity on me and told me to get some sleep.
Age of Kings is a real time strategy game set in the middle ages. To put it simply, you, as the leader of one of 13 unique civilizations, have the 1000 years between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance to establish an empire. Talk about pressure! You start in the Dark Ages and as you complete necessary goals you can chose to advance up through the Feudal and Castle Ages until you reach the Imperial Age. There are several ways to do this. You can chose from a military victory, a diplomatic and economic victory (based on your score) or seize power through intrigue and regicide.
Age of Empires II keeps most of the same great features as the original and adds a bunch of new features including my favorite, a button to find "idle villagers." Some of the new features include new buildings, new unites and new technologies, as well as new combat features and the addition of a regicide game. There are also campaigns including a learning campaign with William Wallace and other campaigns with Joan of Arc, Saladin, Genghis Khan, and Frederick Barbarossa.
The interface is the same point and click system at the original. You click on your villager, which by the way can now be male or female, and then click on the place you want them to go to, the resource you want them to gather or select a structure from the building menu that you want them to construct. As before you need houses for your villagers to live in and barracks of some type to build troops. I do recommend that you don’t use your villagers to explore because, just like in the original Age of Empires there are nasty creatures out there that will attack them. But in this case it’s not lions and crocodiles that attack. it’s wolves. There are also boar that will attack if attacked.
In the non-violent animal category we find deer and wild sheep. If one of your villagers or soldiers sees any sheep, they come under your control and can then be moved to your village where a shepherd can harvest them for food. Sheep not being particularly loyal, you can also lose them to enemy soldiers by the same process.
As much as I like the new animal features, one feature that I really hope to see in Age of Empires III is the ability to reproduce animals like sheep that have been domesticated. Then you could set up a breeding area and manage the animals within your preserve, eating only when there is an excess.
Also new to AOE2 are a variety of terrains including Arabia, Baltic, Black Forest and Highland to name a few, as well as some multiplayer only maps including Migration and Crater Lake. In all these terrains, it is very helpful that you now have the ability to see your villagers and troops behind buildings and trees.
Combat is a very simple "select your unit and then click the unit or building you would like the selected unit or unites to attack" interface. That said, there are a few new features to make attacking easier. The first of the new combat features is the ability to put your armies into formations. The default is a line, where your unites form a tight shoulder to shoulder line. The other formations are a box, where your units form a box with weak units (like the monk) in the center for protection. Then there is the staggered line, a more spread out version of the original. There is also a flanking formation where your units divide into two groups and attempt to surround the enemy. And don’t forget the good old horde, which is just what it sounds like.
Another new feature is the ability to set the stance of your units. You can set them to act aggressively or defensively, and you can also have them stand ground or you can turn stance off. A few other new features are the ability to garrison your units inside buildings, which is very helpful for healing and my favorite tactic: the surprise attack. They have also added the option to set your units to patrol or guard an area. Also new is a follow command which I found to be most useful in single player games. When you spot an ally or an enemy out exploring you can have your scout simply follow him. On several occasions when I looked back later half the map had been explored and I did not have to sit there and try to control my scout.
Of all the new combat features, I found formations to be the most useful to me. I really like the ability to flank smaller units and in general I found that I had far greater tactical control than I have ever found before in a game of this nature. There are also some new units including heros, cannon and exploding demolition ships. In addition to that, each civilization gets one special unit, and in regicide games you get a king which you must protect.
There are two major types of games in AOE2. The first is the single player game where just like in multiplayer games you can chose between a random map, a death match and regicide game where you must protect your kin. But unique to the single player game is the campaign option. As I mentioned earlier there are five campaigns, and each one is basically a series of missions. As an example, in the Joan of Arc campaign your first mission is to escort a weak Joan of Arc to the king while defending her from the British. A relatively easy first mission is followed by harder ones as you move along in your military career. The campaigns reminded me a lot of the missions in WarCraft 2, but I liked these better.
There are several ways to win the different games and they include the obvious combat victory where you kill everything. There is also a relic victory where you and your allies capture all the relics in the world and hold them for a certain amount of time or the wonder victory where you build a wonder, which takes forever, and you guard it for a certain amount of time. This is very much like the first game. There are also two optional victory conditions where you can win via a score or a timed victory. Either one requires you to build up your score, which is based on exploring the world, how may buildings you have, the size of your populations and the number of resources that you have collected.
The most enjoyable aspect of Age of Empires II is the multiplayer game. After a few games you can pretty much predict what the computer is going to do, but when you are playing with other people over the Internet, you just never know what they are going to do. The one thing that they will most certainly do is kill your scout if you try to use my trick with the follow command. I did not have any problems playing with my 56k modem. The game preformed just as it did in single player mode and the best thing is that you can now save your multi-player games.
There is also a diplomatic and economic aspect to the game. You can chose your diplomatic stance either before the game begins or during game play. The choices are ally, neutral or enemy. This also allows for team games when you are playing in multiplayer mode. Allies can trade resources, garrison forces in allies building and if an ally wins then all allies are victorious. Neutral forces ignore all units unless attacked, while enemy units attack on sight. As I said there is also an economic aspect to the game. You can trade your surplus of wood for gold and then buy stone which you might lack. You can also send tributes to other players, for example if your ally needs more stone to complete his or her wonder then you can send it, but it costs you 130 percent unless you have done research to reduce the cost. You can also set up trade routes using trading cogs and trading carts, but this only allows you to trade your goods for gold.
I will admit that Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is a lot like the original best selling game, but I think they have made enough enhancements and improvements to say that AOE2 is a great game by itself. I did not find anything seriously wrong with the game. It ran perfectly and I was able to hop right into it without any kind of learning curve. Solely based on my first nights experience, this game would score really well, but the more I continue to get into the game the more I enjoy it. Thus I am extremely happy to give Age of Empires II: The Age of King GiN’s highest rating of 5 GiN Gems.
You can get a demo of the game and try it out for yourself at http://www.microsoft.com/games/age2/.