Review by TKDBoy1889

"The age of greatness."

Computer games are more likely to age than console games, mainly because computers are constantly improving all the time where consoles make sudden leap in hardware but only every once in a while. And computer games are all lumped into one general system. They have to be really good to age well. Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, is one that has aged well. The few gripes I have with the game are gripes I had back when it was first released. But all the things I loved about it still hold up to this day, and solidify it a great RTS game, better than it's original.

Graphically, Age of Kings was and is a mixed a bag for me. I always found that the terrain and map visuals were not not as good as the first game. The land just doesn't seem as detailed and feels more primitive and bland in design. The water in particular looks very mediocre and it looks frozen and static. Even the fist game had some minor animation in the water, and made it feel more colorful. On the other hand, the visual designs for the units and buildings is very good. Unit designs are good and they fit the time period of the game well. The animation for the sprites is also well done and gives a nice sense of life to the units in the game, whether attacking or moving or even just standing still. They look fairly authentic.

Also, Age of Kings did something that not many RTS games I have played have done. That is they made the buildings look fairly massive in comparison to the units in the game. Not exact proportions, but, but cavalry units and now longer twice as tall as houses or town centers. I like the ratio and proportion of sizes that they went with.

Age of Empires 2 took the gameplay of it's older brother and, rather than reinvent it or revamp it. Kept it the same at the core but added more to it while changing the details. At the core a lot is the same. You control a civilization and guide them through four different ages of technological and military advancement. The goal is to establish a strong economy by gathering the resources of food, wood, gold, and stone and use them to build defenses and armies to defend your lands while attacking and defeating your enemies. Every civilization has it's own strengths and weakness derived from a universal technology tree and has a few innate bonuses that benefit it's greater strengths. Quite a few of the the units you can make are redesigned and renamed from the original game, but there is a lot of content added, as well as many options. There are many units that can be made, and they are overall better balanced out that before with many having inherent strengths against certain enemies. In the first Age of enemies, who would win a battle was a case of raw statistics, but now even the mightiest of units are likely weak to something. Units in general may not seem strong at all but they are designed to counter another unit. For example, pikemen are a fairly weak infantry unit in general but have a big attack bonus against knights that can do a lot of damage against them. It's not quite a rock/paper/scissors design, it's more it's a bit more eclectic. It works, however, as there really is no universally strong unit, most things have weakness against something. In Age of Kings, less enemies become obsolete than in the AoE. Even units that are made available in the first one or two ages are pretty upgrade-able and can do well on their own if maxed out. Even scouts can be upgraded this time around to give them a bit more pep in the case that they must must fight. Speaking of units, civilizations are made more even unique than before with the addition of civ units, where there is a unit specific to civilizations that are created at castles. This give each of the thirteen civilizations more of their own flavor.

There are more interface options and features too, which enhance the gameplay and give more control. In Age of Kings, you can queue up a single unit to be produced multiple times if you have the resources on hand. This was featured in the expansion of the first game but not the vanilla game itself. Certain buildings can also garrison units. Towers and town centers can hold foot units, and archers that go within them can even fire arrows upon enemies! Speaking of defensive capabilities, in the old game you could build walls to protect your city. Problem was you always had to leave a clear opening. Well now, you can build gates. Gates are built right on top of walls and seamlessly sell them off from enemies while leaving an opening that opens for friendly units only. During battles, gates can also lock to prevent anyone from going through so as to prevent enemies from following allies through the gate when opened, which is possible. This completes the feature of walls to defend your city, as now it can be completely sealed off if needed.

Units also have more commands that can be given. Not only can they be made to stand their ground, but they can be designed to defensive stance where they only pursue enemies a little bit before returning to their post, or even be given a no attack stance so they never attack without direct orders. Very handy when your siege weapons constantly hit your own units. They can also be made to patrol between points, or to follow other units from a distance (Spies, anyone?). There are also formations that units follow now. They can line up in columns with stronger melee units in front to protect the ranged archers and weaker units, a box formation, or even a scattered formation to avoid too much splash damage from enemy catapults. So many advanced features, and they are amazing. Age of Kings even fixed the population limit from the first game. Campaign maps have a limit of 75, up 25 from the previous limit of 50. That's a 50% increase, and really makes a difference. Random maps can have a custom limit, going as high as 200. More units is always fun. It makes for more possibilities.

There are other small new things added that don't seem like much but are nice little touches, such as the ability to trade on land as well as sea. Previously, you could trade between docks. Now, you can trade between docks but also trade between markets on land, with trade caravans. The only downside to the trading is that it's free now. Before it was true trade, give something for gold. Now you get gold for free. But it's hardly overpowered since it takes a while to get a large amount through trade. Speaking of old, there are relics spread about many maps that can be carried by monks (This game's version of priests, which convert enemies) and deposited at monasteries to slowly generate gold. One relic doesn't do too much, but 3 or 4 can make gold pretty decently if you find them.

New types of random maps have been added, with different starting conditions such as the fortress style with starts off all players with a walled in territory and a barracks. In addition to starting conditions, there are also new victory methods. One of the most notable is regicide, where all players have a king and the goal is to keep your king alive until all other kings are killed. The last player with a king wins the game. On the whole, the whole game just adds so many features and options and a whole lot of good content. It truly expanded upon the first game and improved it.

I should also mention the historical campaigns. There are a total of four, five if you include the tutorial campaign. I love the campaigns. Each documents a certain leader and time in history through a series of scenarios that tell a story. Every scenario starts off with a cutscene narrative of sorts to tell the story which can really engross you. And the scenarios for the most part are very well designed. The scenarios cover the progress of Joan of Arc in France fighting the British, Frederick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire building his kingdom, Saladin of the Saracens fighting the crusaders, and Genghis Khan leading the Mongols to conquer all in their paths. The campaigns are fun to play and many times based on or influenced real battles that work. The experience is improved even more by triggers that cause certain events to happen when conditions are met, like gathering enough resources or destroying a certain building or letting a certain time limit pass. Meeting conditions causes events to happen like an army attacking or new units appearing and more objectives to to be completed. And Age of Kings also has voice capabilities as in the campaign scenarios, triggers can caused voiced texts to explain goals or tell more of the story.

The downsides of Age of Kings? Well for one, the AI is still not the best. Honestly, it doesn't feel much better at all compared to the first game. Given that this game was more advanced some sort of improvement should have been expected. The enemies won't blatantly leave themselves in primitive ages when they have enough resources anymore, and they are aggressive, but overall there's not much added to the computer AI. In the campaigns sometimes enemies seem smart in their moves, but these often feel like moves predetermined by programmer scripting for a challenge. Good for the historical campaigns, but it lacks in a randomly generated game or player-made scenarios.

Speaking of player-made maps. Age of Kings features a scenario builder just like it's predecessor. Just like the AI, it doesn't feel that great, Mainly, it feels very primitive at first and has a long learning curve to become advanced. Some people have made very complex scenarios, complete with preset triggers of causes and results. However, it feels way to tricky to use properly.

On the whole, Age of Kings took what made the original Age of Empires game so good and improved upon it, making for an overall amazing RTS game, and a more than worthy sequel to the original classic. It does trip at certain points with the AI that has not seen much improvement, lower points in graphics, and a hard to figure out map editor. However, it is still a really great game that any RTS fan needs to try out at some point or another.

Pros:

-Well done Campaigns that have good design and tell a story.
-Several new helpful interface features to control and order units.
-Good music.
-Units are pretty balanced.

Cons:

-AI could have been better improved.
-Scenario editor is not very handy to use.

Final score: 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/27/12

Game Release: Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (US, 09/30/99)


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