Review by JChamberlin

"Long live the king!"

With the original Age of Empires selling over two million copies, there is no telling what the sequel will sell. Age of Kings comes almost three years after the first game, and a year after its originally scheduled release. Ensemble Studios, developers of the Age of Empires series, decided to delay the release of Age of Kings. This delay prompted the release of the Rise of Rome expansion pack. They figured if they delayed the release of Age of Kings, they would sufficient time to get the game right.

Ensemble Studios did, indeed get the game right. Age of Kings is still the same game, fundamentally. We get 13 new civilizations with the changing of time periods, and a few new units. Artifacts are now called relics. Back to civilizations now. Since we changed time periods, the Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Yamato have evolved into the Persians, Byzantines, and Japanese. The main difference in the game is the degree of detail. Don't get me wrong, but the original Age of Empires had great graphics, but these are remarkable.

Ensemble Studios proves that games don't necessarily have to be in 3D. Age of Kings is awesome with 2D graphics. Every civilization in Age of Kings has a distinctive visual and audio style, and the level of detail is astonishing. There are some things that I still discover that make me pause and admire: the animation of a dying war elephant crashing majestically to the ground; the way water dances around the hooves of horses as they ford a river; and the trebuchet. The trebuchet is a beautiful piece of work!

The improvements in the interface have changed quite a bit as well. My favorite of the changes is the command that will identify idle peasants. This is one of my biggest peeves with the original Age of Empires. They didn't totally fix this problem. Go off on a raid, only to return to find all of your farms lying fallow, with your peasants whistling Dixie.

The original Age of Empires emphasized multiplayer games and random single- player scenarios over elaborate campaigns. Age of Kings retains this emphasis, but the developers have put such a great deal more effort into five campaigns, each of which follows the career of a medieval military legend. The stories of William Wallace, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, Frederick Barbossa, and Saladin are told with simple but beautiful pencil and charcoal sketches and quality voice- overs. Initially underwhelmed by the subdued production values and a few early scenarios involving ''foozle'' hunts, I was eventually charmed. The designers use the game engine to re- create ancient geography and form mini, quasi-historical pageants. Units will march up to your little Joan of Arc character and swear their allegiance. Saladin's troops will pass pyramids on the road to Cairo. You'll wander through the streets of a recreated Jerusalem in order to destroy a battlement next to the Dome of the Rock. The Mongols will capture Chinese siege engines to actually take on the Great Wall. As a whole, the campaigns are varied and cleverly designed, drawing on the entire range of strategic possibilities: land and sea battles, multi- front wars, siege warfare, religious warfare, economic challenges...

Although I haven't tried it, I have been told the Multiplayer feature with the entire Age of Empires series is remarkable. I need a new computer before I go online and try the multiplayer games.

Before I forget, I should mention the unique units. Each civilization has its own unique unit. There isn't any one unit that is my favorite. The English Longbowmen have incredible range and power in large numbers. The Mongol Mongudai, a fast and fierce horse archer, are a devastating hit- and- run force.

Age of Kings will certainly be played for quite some time. It was proved with the original Age of Empires that that same game can be played with for nearly three years, and it is still a good one. Only time will tell if Age of Kings is the same - I think it will be played even longer. What will the next version of the game be? Well, I doubt it will be out any time soon. I figure it will be about two years before the next one is on its way to the shelves. In my opinion, Age of Empires II: Age of Kings reigns as the ''King'' in RTS games. Long live the King...


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/15/00, Updated 08/14/01


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