Review by Gruel

"A good RTS game, but not the greatest one I've seen"

The Game

The sequel to the first Age of Empires, and just like that one, this is also a real time strategy game, where you collect and gather various resources, construct a base, and concentrate on making a successful defense, and a huge offense to dominate your opponents. This game introduces new races and game play elements, will it be just as good as it's predecessor? Let's get onto the review and find out.

Graphics

At first, these graphics will remind you of the original Age of Empires, by having a map in the 3/4, diagonal perspective, instead of the standard overhead seen in most RTS games like Warcraft, Starcraft, and Command & Conquer. But after a minute or two, you'll realize all the units got a boost in extra detail, and look slightly bigger than the original, combining these two graphical upgrades give you some of the most realistic units to grace the screen of a PC. Not only do the units look bigger and better, but so does the buildings and map. My main gripe with the original Age of Empires was that all the units and land were so small, but the size of the map was so big, and that ended up leading into hours of exploration to finding your opponents and tedious game play. Thankfully, the developers at Ensemble Studios fixed these many problems and gave us a game way more easy on the eyes.

There are so many different type of units and land terrain variation; that you'll be gazing at them for so long wondering how the developers came up with them all. There's over 10 different races in the game, each with their own unit. The graphics run at a smooth rate throughout most of the games, and you shouldn't have any problems with the camera either. After each round you get a nice chart showcasing the time lines, statistics, in an easy to read layout. An interesting new mode is the camera mode, where you can actually record single or multi player games and watch them later to look for weak links in your strategy and improve upon them later. My main gripe with the visuals, and the same goes with most other RTS games, is that things get so cluttered during game play, that it is easy to get lost in the middle of the game.

Sound

You got some pretty nice background music here, nice simple beats and rhythms, and it gets the job done and doesn't take away from game play. Nothing too spectacular for music though. The sound effects are all proper and pulled off effectively, with all the sword slashing, archer's shooting, and catapult's launching sounding like they should. My pet peeve with the sound is that whenever you click on a unit, you just get a simple mumble from the person you select, now I guess that is understandable with their being various different races from around the world, but it does get rather annoying quickly. But there is actual voice dialogue in the campaigns, and it sounds really dead-on with great accents for the voice actors.

Game play

Control's are simple and the same with all RTS games, left-click on units to pick them, click on a series of icons to have them move around, attack, construct buildings, and now by selecting multiple people, you can now have them align up in formations. This is one of the new features of Age of Empires 2, and comes in handy in attacks. You gather resources in the form of food, stone, wood, and gold, and use to make more buildings and units. During the game you can upgrade through 4 ''ages'' of time which gain you newer and improved units and buildings.

Other new features to this game is the feature of ''garrisoning'' units inside of certain building, like having soldiers garrison inside watch towers and castles to deal extra damage. And garrisoning peasants inside your town hall when under attack. Another new feature is the use of the new town markets, by constructing these you can trade resources with other opponents at a price, or for free by sending trade carts and trade ships. This is a great feature, and an easy way to form alliances. The only thing I hate about the main game is that you have to research shared vision for a price so you can see what your allies are doing.

The game has various modes of play. You can play one of several campaigns of actual history events. From leading Joan of Arc to conquering the British, to leading Napolean and France to victory. You also got the developers favorite, ''Random Map'' mode where you start off on a random map and customize the amount of resources, how to win, and other ways to play the game. Another mode was death match, where you started off loaded with resources, buildings, and units, and tried to conquer your opponents from the start. The last main mode was Regicide, where all kingdoms participating start off with a king, and whenever a king has fallen, so does the kingdom all together, even if you didn't kill off the rest of it's buildings. You can do these modes off random maps, or off ones you made in the map editor, you can also play this in single player, or various way in multi player.

Replay Value

The campaign editor is a nice touch where you can create your own maps, or series of mission maps to create a campaign, and then you can play them over the Internet and distribute them to other players. When you're bored in single player you can always try out the many campaigns for hours of action, or watch recorded games to improve your strategy. But of course, the ultimate replay feature here is Multi player, where you can play over a Modem, IPX Netword, Direct Cable Connection, or over the Internet via MSN's Gaming Zone, a convenient service used to play against other gamers online. Oh, and another neat touch is the game's history feature where you can read up history on all the races featured in the game, plus several other categories of medieval warfare.

In Brief

+: Graphics got a great overhaul, Fun Multi player action, Great new History and Record Game features

-: Those character's mumbling throughout the game get awfully annoying, game can get quite cluttered at time

The Final Ratings Rundown

Graphics: 8.8
Sound: 7.4
Game play: 8.7
Replay Value: 9.0

Overall: 8.4

Rounded to fit GameFAQs Score: 8

Comments

The game is much better that the original, and the crew at Ensemble did a bang up job at developing this game. It still has a couple of problems, like extremely complex game play, but you'll adapt. If you're a fan of the first one, or of RTS games in general, it's highly recommended you give this game a purchase.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/02/01, Updated 05/02/01


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