Age of Empires is a "must have" for any real-time strategy fan.
Age of Empires takes place in the time before rifles, tanks, and grenades. It even precedes the Crusades and knights in shining armor. Humans have evolved beyond their Neanderthal ancestors and are ready to begin their journey into Civilization. It is the dawn of man�the Age of Empires.
Age of Empires is a real-time strategy game. There are 12 different cultures from which to choose. Some are better known than others, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Hittites, Babylonians, and Persians.
Each civilization has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. The Greeks for example suffer from a lack of archery units and inexpensive infantry. Their advantage, however, is that the higher level Greek infantry are faster than those of other cultures -- its give and take in Age of Empires. You�ll have to choose your civilization wisely, and exploit their advantages to the fullest to stand a chance of winning.
Age of Empires features some welcome changes of pace in the real-time strategy arena. The first is the way in which a culture evolves. A system of Ages is used. The game usually starts in the Stone Age, which allows the player to build only a limited number of structures and military units.
To advance to the next era, a certain number of structures must be built, and a specific amount of resources collected. The ages are Stone, Tool, Bronze, and finally, Iron. With every advancement comes the ability to build more powerful structures and military units.
Age of Empires also features a series of unit, building and civilization advancements, similar to those of WarCraft2. These are called technology trees and are different for each civilization. Some cultures, no matter how advanced, simply cannot build certain types of units. One note: this is a configurable option. The player can play with or without the full technology tree option.
As an example, infantry units are initially limited to clubmen. To advance to Axemen, simply click on the barracks and select the upgrade. Of course, these advancements are not free. Each upgrade will cost the player some resources.
The resources used in Age of Empires are wood, food, gold, and stone. Villagers, very similar to Peons in WarCraft2, are used to gather these precious resources. Food can be gathered in a few different ways, such as hunting, farming, and fishing. Wood, stone, and gold must all be mined. The player will spend a great deal of time, in the early stages of the game, just building villagers and setting them to their resource gathering tasks.
Age of Empires provides several different ways in which a game can be won. I�m from the Non-Tactical school and prefer the old "build em up and knock em down" style of play. Brute force, that�s my motto. I also rarely win, so with that in mind, I�ll explain some of the options.
The player can of course win by eliminating all of his opponents. This may sound easy, but there is a great deal of unit options in Age of Empires, and he who builds smart will stand the better chance of victory. The famed "Tank Rush" tactic from Command and Conquer can be repelled easily with the right mix of defensive units.
There are three other ways to achieve victory in Age of Empires � ruins, wonders, and artifacts. The player can simply obtain all the ruins or artifacts on the map, and hold them for a set amount of time. The game can also be won by being the first to build and hold a wonder for 2000 years. This may sound like a long time, but in the game, it only equates to around 20 minutes. These victory conditions are fully configurable and can be set before the start of any game. Simply put; if you just want a slugfest, ruins, artifacts, and wonders can all be turned off.
The battles in Age of Empires are fun and engaging. Defensive towers and walls can be built to protect villages and resources. With one exception, there really isn�t much new here. Position your troops and attack. Battles will most likely turn into melees, but, nonetheless, are still a blast. The exception I spoke of is the inclusion of the priest. This unit can convert enemies into friendlies. Although he has few hit points and is easily killed, the priest cannot be dismissed. In groups, he can be absolutely devastating to attacking forces. There is nothing more disheartening than to see expensive units converted to the other side and used against you.
The interface provided in Age of Empires is simple and easy to understand. The graphics are extremely detailed and have a hand-painted feel to them. It's rare to see a game this beautiful with such detailed unit movements. The musical score is also very well done, setting the perfect mood. The options are plentiful and varied, providing great replay value.
Age of Empires supports single player scenarios, random maps, or deathmatches. Multi-player deathmatch and coop play is also available, as well as a good map editor. For those wondering, Age of Empires plays very well over the Internet.
In spite of all that this game has going for it, there were a few problems. In the initial release, unit path finding was a big problem. There were a few other minor complaints as well, such as unit building limits. With the release of the 1.0A patch, most of these issues have been dealt with nicely, and are no longer problems.
My only real complaint is that upon completion of a task, villagers will just stand around doing nothing. This can lead to some annoying micro-management tactics.
Problems aside, Age of Empires is one of the most enjoyable and addictive real-time strategy games I�ve ever played. The only problem with games set in this time period is that there aren�t enough of them. Age of Empires is a "must have" for any real-time strategy fan.
If you�re still not sure, download the demo and see for yourself how addicting this game can be.
Reviewed by James Holland.
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