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Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings

I remember back in the day when I used to have to save my money to get new issues of gaming magazines. Fortunately, these days I get any magazine I want for free from my store, but before I had jobs and the internet my parents would make me do chores for my gaming related entertainment. I remember fondly getting an issue of PC Gamer, and tucked inside was a demo for a game called Age of Empires 2. I had no idea what it was, but it looked fairly good, so I checked it out. I had played a couple of real-time strategy games, such as WarCraft and StarCraft, but nothing hit me as hard as AoE2 did. I fell in love instantly. I remember going to EB fondly and purchasing it with more money that I saved, and it helped out a lot, especially filling in an old addiction that was removed from me: EverQuest. When EQ was gone, AoE2 stepped in proudly. I was soon designing maps and scenarios of my own in class, playing online, and conquering all the scenarios I could find.

The main mode of AoE2 is to complete a series of scenarios for the game, but I never really got much from them. Sure, it was a lot of fun leading Joan of Arc and William Wallace on their journeys, but I was more of a fan of the free moving quick battle mode. However, I fully enjoyed these historically accurate campaigns, which were accompanied by full voice-over story telling that explained all of the tasks and the reasoning behind them very well. These campaigns usually have you controlling a much smaller and underpowered army and having to build up your territory so that you can take out the more powerful nation that’s oppressing you. The great thing about these is that they can take anywhere from one hour to ten hours, all dependent on how you choose to play.

There are lots of choices too. Will you focus on an army that’s well stocked of infantry, siege units, cavalry, and archers, or instead focus on just one group? Will you go for an all out attack, or use guerilla warfare to weaken your foe? Will you dominate the seas or conquer the land? Will you even fight at all or try to be peaceful and trade with everyone? Will you be peaceful and then stab your friends in the back for a quick victory? Will you focus on gathering resources for the long-term, or gather them quickly and only worry about the present?

These are all things that you need to worry about while playing AoE2. Sure, some of them are easy, like you will want a well rounded army. This is because of the play balancing in the game. Each unit has one that’s weak specifically to another, such as cavalry being weak to infantry. If your enemy sees you building just cavalry, all they have to do is pump out a small army of infantry units and they’ll easily take you over. However, other decisions aren’t so easy, like the guerilla warfare decision.

I find that many of the answers come from the map itself, and less from the player. The games Random Map Generator provides nearly unlimited maps to play, each with varying landmasses and resources. Landmasses are always changing, especially considering that you can have nearly any, from islands to archipelagos to continents. They’re fairly good sized, and you’ll never run out of room. I’ve talked to a few junkies of Civilization however and they find the maps to be a bit small though. Resources are very important, because without them, just like in the real world, you can’t build anything without them. There are four basic types in the game: food, stone, timber, and gold. All of these elements are used in varying fashion, with food and gold primarily used for unit creation and timber and stone primarily for building creations, with few exceptions. Managing these resources is a must, but fortunately it isn’t very challenging to do so. Resources however are depleted rather quickly, so you need to find alternative methods of gathering them, such as building farms after your hunters can no longer find meat, or trading with other nations when you can no longer mine gold.

Of course, you need man-power to get all these out of the ground, so you have to build civilians, which requires a lot of balancing. Large armies require lots of resources, so you need to have a lot of civilians to gather them. However, there’s a population limit of 200 to keep people from creating massive armies. So you need to find an appropriate number of civilians to feed your war machine but you can’t have too many or you’ll have war machine. This creates a lot of strategy in the creating of units and such things.

There’s just something about the game that gets me into it. One of my favorite things is playing the computer against each other, such as allying myself with one nation, having them go off and attack our enemy, wait until they’ve nearly destroyed that enemy and there army is in shambles, then double-cross them and destroy them and my original enemy while they’re weakened. It’s not the best strategy to use in multiplayer though, because people get really mad at you when you do it to them. I also love playing as all of the civilizations. When I play other RTS games now, I usually pick one nation (in Rise of Nations, I’m always Russian, in StarCraft I’m always Protoss) and stick with it, however I like to play as any of the civilizations in AoE2 for some reason, even the bad ones for a challenge. There are 13 overall, including the British, Byzantines, and Koreans.

I think though, that multiplayer was what originally addicted me to AoE2. Though I don’t play it nearly as much as I used to, I still like to get into a game occasionally and see what I can do against the new players. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but I’ve had a lot of fun in nearly every game I’ve ever played multiplayer. While you can have a really crappy time in other games, the players in AoE2 have a nicely set up community that allows new and old players alike to take part in games.

I wouldn’t say that the game is perfect, but I still give it a ten out of ten. The only notable flaw that I can think of is some of the building creation. You see, to increase your population you need to build castles or houses for your citizens to live in. Houses allow for 5 more units to be created, and castles offer a bit more. It’s not uncommon to end up having 2 dozen houses filling up the map, which is a bit cluttered. I like the approach of newer RTS games that make you build new cities to create more units, which makes it feel less like one central city and more like a nation.

Graphically, AoE2 is presented in 2D isometric view, looking down above your people. There’s no zooming in or rotating the camera, which can make placing buildings a bit tricky at times, but for what it’s doing it does it well. The units all have smooth animations as well, and the maps are fairly well detailed, with birds soaring high and other small additions that add to the realism. The music is phenomenal, all classically orchestrated pieces that never grow old even though you will notice the same ones playing only after playing a few maps. The sound effects are pretty good, and when you click on a unit a small voice-over matching the dialect of the unit says a little greeting to you.

Overall, AoE2 is one of the best RTS games I’ve ever played. I’ve only played one to date that was as good as it, and that one was also published by Microsoft (Rise of Nations). It’s a great starter RTS game for people new to the genre, and just because it’s good for them doesn’t mean that it isn’t good for veteran players, because it is. I’ve been playing it for well over a year and it’s still one of my favorites.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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