Just about two years ago, Microsoft made its first foray
into the world of real time strategy games with Age of Empires.
Received with open arms by the masses, AOE quickly became a
best seller and, in addition to a decent single player game, a huge
multiplayer following arose to become the Zone’s (Microsoft’s
online gaming network) biggest game. With the huge success of
AOE, Microsoft sent Ensemble back into development to work on a
sequel. The sequel would propel Age of Empires out of the Stone
Age and into the medieval times. The Age of Kings is finally here
and war will be waged once again across the boundaries of the
Yes Age of Kings follows the ideas of the original. Gather
your resources, build up a city, build an army, and make
technology advancements, all in an effort to destroy your enemy.
While AOE wasn’t a particularly original real-time strategy, it was
well designed and the general layout made it succeed. AOE2
follows an identical layout which is integrated smoothly into the game.
AOE2 uses campaign style play, which allows you to
become one of the more famous commanders of the medieval
time period. The five campaigns consist of William Wallace, Joan
of Arc, Saladin, Genghis Kahn, and Barbarossa. AOE2 has a little
more attention paid to the detail of the campaign backgrounds.
There are pre-planned events that happen within the game world
that help spice up the feeling of involvement in the game. There
are also a handful of special characters that like to add comments
about your progress as the game goes along.
In addition to the campaign, there are quite a few other
gameplay options. The standard Deathmatch is available, along
with a game called Regicide, where you must kill your opponent’s
king while keeping your own alive. In addition, you can setup
games with your own rules to play against the computer.
AOE2 also adds a scenario and campaign designer, so if
the regular missions aren’t enough, you have ample resources to
make your own. Whatever you create can also be used for
multiplayer missions as well, giving AOE2 a lot of room for
expansion. A solid following will help to keep AOE2 fresh even as
the average player beats what maps come with game because
they can always go out and download more from the Internet.
AOE was a well-created world with artistic details taken
with most of the aspects of the game. Graphically AOE2 improves
on what AOE1 had. Terrain detail has been greatly improved. It’s
actually true 3D, so you’re treated to nice rolling hills and what
not. The actual unit graphics and buildings are along the same
quality as AOE1, but the animation is better and the units
themselves are a little better. Some of the graphics do seem to be
leftovers from AOE1 like the burning animation. I’d prefer to see
actual damage to the buildings instead of just the growing flames.
It also goes for the construction of the building phase. A little more
gradual transition would be nicer; three frames of graphics seem a
little bland. It supports high resolutions, but these make the screen
size bigger, not making the detail better. All in all, the graphics
are better, I was expecting a little more but nonetheless, the
quality is up to par.
The audio score isn’t that much of an improvement from
AOE1 either, but that’s hardly a bad thing. The sound effects do
have locational positioning, so depending on where on the map
something is, you’ll hear what’s going on where. Music is also
relatively decent; Microsoft moved away from the MIDI soundtrack
and replaced it with some higher quality CD audio.
Multiplayer was an excellent feature in AOE1 and made
it one of the most popular games on the Internet and by far the
most popular on Microsoft’s own online service, The Zone. All of
the game options, aside from the campaign, are available in
multiplayer. Features like teamplay, capture the artifact, and
standard deathmatch, as well as the ability to use user-designed
maps, are all included in the multiplayer.
Ensemble has followed up an impressive original with a
strong sequel. While Age of Kings is not an overwhelming
improvement over its predecessor, it does live up to most of the
expectations I had for it. The campaigns are much more fulfilling
and there’s a greater sense of accomplishment upon completion of
missions in AOE2. I’m sure we’ll see some quality addons put out
for AOE2 down the road to even more so enhance the game.
Summary: It’s not a significant improvement as far as gameplay
and graphics, but it does help further the claim of AOE as a solid
gaming title and a quality multiplayer game. The originality may
be gone, but the idea lives on.