Have you ever seen any of those old (or new) Roman or medieval-ish movies where huge armies gather and the battleground is littered with hundreds or thousands of bodies? If you have, then you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, kill yourself immediately. Have you ever
said to yourself "Wouldn’t it be cool if they made a game that looked just like that and you could command huge armies that actually look huge and are huge? And wouldn’t it be cool if the game was historically accurate?" Well, that game has come and its name is Age of Empires II.
With so many RTS games out there its an ugly fight to be at the top of the food chain. Whoever takes the present "gather resources, build base, build armies, kill enemy" template and expands upon it the most wins. At its most basic elements AOE2 is just that; look closer, however, and you’ll see that AOE2 is a spider web of intricacy.
The graphics in the game are very nice. There are four architectural schemes in AOE2: Eastern,Middle Eastern, Western European, and Eastern European. Each scheme looks wonderfully authentic and it only gets better as the player advances through the ages (Dark Age, Feudal Age, Castle Age, Imperial Age). Unlike its predecessor, the buildings in AOE2 are more or less drawn to scale. Castles fill up a goodly portion of the screen and tower above your units and Wonders are mammoth edifices. As the player advances and expands, his cities will take on epic proportions. Unlike the buildings, however, the units in the game look the same with the exception of the player’s color. Fortunately, there are so many units to choose from variations and upgrades of the same unit that they can look completely different. Even so, some may think that with the same basic sets of units and four schemes of architecture, the 13 civilizations in AOE2 would seem identical. And while some are similar I give "mad ups" (is that how young people say it these days?) to the developers for making all the civs feel completely different. One example would be how each unit speaks its native tongue.
Each civilization also has its own unique unit (the Vikings have two) that emphasizes or enhances that civilization's strength and uniqueness compared to the rest. It also seems that the developers did their homework in
History class because each civilization also has unique advantages that are based on historical accounts of the same real-world civilization. For example, in the spirit of the vicious Mongol Horde that swept across Asia the Mongols in AOE2 have stronger and faster light cavalry and cavalry archers. The Turks have stronger gunpowder units and researching technologies cost less. The differences between cultures becomes more apparent later in the game and the player
who uses his civilization’s special strengths the most will come out on top.
There are five single player campaigns, each of them are fairly short but still enjoyable nonetheless (and also very challenging). The storylines are the epic tales of Blizzard’s Starcraft or Warcraft games but AOE2 is still very fun to play without a strong plot. The game also ships with a powerful editor, similar to that of Starcraft’s and players can do pretty much whatever they want with it. Oh yes, don’t forget to read the "mini-encyclopedia" that describes all aspects of the historical civilizations and lifestyles in the game. Multiplayer can be played over the Microsoft Gaming Zone, TCP/IP, or IPX.
The interface for AOE2 is easy to use, which is good because a bad interface in such a complex game would be rather frustrating and in the heat of a pitched battle knowing what you're doing is paramount. Players can tell their units to patrol or guard certain areas, what formation to use, and what combat stance to use, among many other things.
Of course, the greatest thing in AOE2 is, aside from the grand clashes of armies, is the vast amount of strategy options available to the player. What kind of units do you want to specialize in? Infantry, archers, cavalry, naval, or a balance between? How far up the tech tree do you want to go for each? What kind of siege engines will you need? Do you want to be primarily offensive or defensive? Should you instead build your economy first? Would you like fries with that? There are four resources in the game: Food, wood, stone, and gold, and the priority of each changes throughout the ages. The combat tactics in AOE2 are immense, ranging from the rock-scissors-paper (use knights or skirmishers to counter archers, pikemen to counter knights, swordsmen to counter pikemen, etc. etc.) to positioning and formations. However, there are so many different variations for these themes that it would take far too long to write them all out. There is also more than one path to victory rather than just slaughtering your opponents. Victory can be achieved by building a Wonder and holding it for 300 years or finding all the Artifacts on the map and keeping them safe in your monastery for the same number of years. In a Regicide game, the players must find and kill their rivals’ fat and weak king.
All in all, Age of Empires II: Age of Kings stands at the top of the RTS genre. Accurate historical context and massive battles make for fabulous entertainment and the huge amount of different strategy options available will keep your brain active.
· · · Mithril