Review by bulgarian_kid

"Best Turn Based Tactics Game For Any Handheld"

I haven't played the AoE PC games so this review is only of AoE: Age of Kings and doesn't discuss success or failure in transition from PC to DS or other related topics. I would consider my view less biased either way and you can take that as a good thing or a bad thing. With that in mind, let's continue.

I loved this game and if you are a fan of turn based tactics games this is a must buy for you. I've played a number of other handheld turn based tactics games and find this one to be the most fun and also challenging and has the most depth. For me, this is even a good deal better than Advance Wars for DS.

I was hooked from the start and played countless straight hours at every opportunity. To quote wolfmanphd (whose faq was invaluable for me for the Jerusalem mission on Saladin's campaign) "It was like crack cocaine for me after a while." Basically the game is set in the middle ages and follows five heroes (Joan of Arc, Minamoto Yoshitsune, Ghengis Khan, Saladin, an Richard the Lionhearted) and their respective kingdoms/empires (Franks, Japanese, Mongols, Saracens, and Britons) through 5 or 6 missions per conquest. But that's just the beginning...

Graphics: 7

I found the graphics to be decent, but nothing special. The terrain and buildings were fine and the sprites were fairly distinguishable (except for the occasional confusion between scout cavalry and knights). What was really cool was the battle animations, especially against buildings as you see the gradual crumbling of the stone and burning of wood/straw.

The only thing that was annoying was the health bars in large battles; it was often hard to tell which bar went to which unit. But that was fairly easy to overcome.

Music/Sound: 7

There was a lack of variety with the background theme (pretty much one theme per civilization) but they were still enjoyable and felt very appropriate. The other sound effects were pretty cool though; battle cries (in different languages), battle noise (swords clashing, arrows flying), movement of units (i.e. creaking wheels for battering rams), and even building specific sounds (selecting a building that has no unit production or other such function results in a useless but often amusing noise).

Story: 9

Historical accuracy provides a nice plus for the history buff. Sometimes the outcome was changed because your side has to win, naturally, but those digressions were fixed in the epilogue after each set of missions. The stories followed conquests led by each of the heroes. I liked them a lot. I really got into the mood of my hero and civilization and that added to the enjoyment of the missions.

Difficulty: varied

I can't really put a number on this one seeing as how ranged the difficulties of missions could be. Other than the Joan of Arc (tutorial) missions the difficulty assignments to the other conquests (easy - very hard) weren't always accurate. You can find hard/very hard missions in easy/medium conquests and vice versa. And of course, added difficulty is an option if you try to accomplish all the bonus objectives, but it does hone your skills.

The AI is very good, but you're better. Thing is it isn't so predictable so you can't manipulate it too easily (eventually, after many hours of gameplay, you will find a few, and only a few, patterns). Tread carefully.

Gameplay: 10+

Gameplay is simply awesome. There is a ton of strategy involved and you really do have to consider every move. There are maps where you start with next to nothing and on those your first couple of turns will always be the same (build town center, scramble for resources) but the large variety in mission objectives as well as maps guarantees that you will play each mission differently and forces you to develop your style and tactics rather than going in with the same game plan every time.

What really made this for me was the immense variety of possible actions that makes every mission unique. Each turn you can choose to build many different buildings that serve an equally different amount of functions. There are even more units you can train. There is a unit cap that was annoying at first, but now I appreciate it as it teaches you the value of resources (more mills and mines = higher unit cap) and can be used in your strategy.

Researching is the final thing you can choose to spend money on. Each turn you can research on thing (from your current age or past ages, more on ages later) that give you a variety of bonuses. Research enough and you are given the opportunity to age up, for a price of course! There are 4 ages (dark, feudal, castle, and imperial). With each one you have access to new buildings and units and your existing units morph to fit the age you are in.

There are many different individual units but they all fall under 4 main categories: infantry, cavalry, siege, and ranged. Infantry gets bonuses verses buildings and siege. Cavalry have more movement and get bonuses verses infantry and ranged, but is weak when attacking buildings and pikemen. Ranged are weaker than infantry and cavalry but can attack from afar, but no bonuses and are weak against buildings. Siege units are incredibly powerful and get bonus vs. buildings but they cannot counterattack or move and attack in the same turn. Some units have special abilities that you need to consider. Also, if a unit fights enough battles it gets a stat boost.

Then there are several different types of terrain all important to be aware of, especially for ranged units who can either gain or lose range, and for cavalry whose special ability triggers on certain terrains. Terrain can also limit movement and increase defense and affects sight.

Maps range from 2-4 players in free-for-all or team action. Choose what you want to do and then end your turn and hand it over to the next player. And that about does it for gameplay. It seems like a lot but it is easy to learn once you start playing.

Replayability: 9

Best if your friends have the game too but otherwise you can still pass around the DS, its just a little annoying. Also, other than playing with friends you can set up your own battles against computers with 3 different mentalities (battle oriented, neutral, or resource oriented) and 3 difficulties (easy, medium, hard). Or, for an extra challenge, you can go back through story missions and try to get all the bonus objectives to up your profile ranking. If only it had wifi this section would be a 10.

Glitches/Slowness/what's bad

This isn't a ranking, just thought I should mention it. I've read a lot about glitches in this game but it only froze on me once and I got it unstuck by just pressing buttons. It seems to avoid glitches just don't choose the "save and quit" option and simply save then quit.

One thing that can be annoying is things slow down (movement of units, battle animations) when there is a lot going on, but it's not really a problem as far as I can tell, just annoying. Also some battles can take a while, although never more than 2, maybe two and a half hours. Usually between 20 and 40 turns, as many as 60 to 70 on some missions. What really increases the time is how long the AI takes on turns with lots of units. But even so I still couldn't put it down.

Final thoughts:

As I said at the start of this review, I couldn't have enjoyed this game more. It's way more than worth the mere $20 (no not because $20 is a little, it is mere compared to other DS titles as high as $40). I played the story almost start to finish without losing interest and am constantly bugging my friends to buy it.

Graphics 7
Music/Sound 7
Story 9
Gameplay 10+
Replayability 9
Average 8.4, but with the + I give it a 9.4

Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/03/07

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