Review by grasu
"The original Age game... but is it any good?"
Age of Empires was released in 1997, a year that saw Quake 2 and other future giants of gaming. It was not easy for an RTS in 1997 to distinguish itself, especially with such hard hitters as the previously mentioned Quake 2 and the RTS giants of such companies as Blizzard and Westwood. To top it all of, Blizzard's Starcraft, one of the most expected RTSes ever (and which later became the most successful RTS ever created) was coming out 4 months after AOE. However, with all these hardships AOE still managed the impossible... to be so distinct, so refreshing and well made that it spawned a genre by itself. This is the story of the first ''Age'' game ever created!
Rating the graphics of AOE is totally up to the player’s perception of good graphics. The game sports extremely fluid animations and superbly intricate building and unit models. The architecture of the 12 different nations is split into 4 distinct categories (Arabian, Chinese, Greek, African). All of these architectures sport different building models and different wonders (The Hanging Gardens, Colossus, etc.). The amount of detail that went into these buildings is still impressive to this day. As is the high resolution and amount of detail given to the menial tasks of the villagers (carrying gold, harvesting fruit, etc.). These graphics were quite a blessing in 1997.
However, the graphics engine is far from perfect. The terrain you get to fight on seems a bit bland. As do the building explosions and some (although very few) of the unit deaths.
Overall though, these graphics were amazing in 1997 and are still pretty good to this day.
Giving this category a 6 is being generous. The sound in Age of Empires is little more then specter of what it should be. There are hardly any spoken responses from units and the music ranges from OK at best to downright horrible at times. The sound effects, however, are well made and fit the mood pretty well.
This is the game that invented the genre, definitely not the one that perfected it (that honor is reserved to the excellent AOE2). As such don't expect this category to be perfect.
The gameplay in AOE is truly basic by today’s standards. You harvest a maximum of 4 types of resources, gold, food, wood, stone; with your harvested amount you build citizens, armies, buildings, wonders, etc. It's basic but at the same time it's hella' fun. The game has no barriers on how many people can harvest a resource, however, resources themselves are extremely limited. This means that you will have to fight often and as early on as possible to acquire more territory, thus more resources since with the initial gold patches you will be building 2 ''armies'' at most. This actually keeps the game moving at an unbelievably well crafted pace. You won't necessarily have 2 hour wait periods (yes EE, I'm looking at you) in which you get prepared to rush with clubmen.
Speaking about rushing this game's military aspect is great. There are a couple of dusin units for you to chose from through the ages giving you a pretty good choice of what to use. There won't be much of a problem choosing or deciding which forces to combine since the ''Paper-Rock-Scissors'' (PRS) style of play reaches it's peak at the fact that horses are faster then archers. This leads to some problems. Mostly the fact that extremely powerful (nation based) Cataprachs and War Elephants can raze an army off the face of the earth in a matter of minutes. Which in term leads to some pretty big unit imbalances. But this is 1997 people it's not like they knew how to perfect the genre back then. And even as problems like these arise this games military component plays great. There are a plethora of strategies to choose from, units have such stances as ''Stand Guard'' (which was amazing for 1997) and better yet, groups can be made out of an almost endless pool of units. And even without PRS style the game manages to balance itself out with the fact that advanced units take a ton of gold to build and getting armies of super enhanced Cataprachs killed by catapults and archers is never, ever a pleasurable sight. Now, mind you, a good tactician can obliterate such possibilities out of the water. But, I guess what I'm trying to say is that this isn't C&Cs 50-Tank-Rush. NO! It's far more temperate.
The tech tree in the game is pretty big. There are about 100 inventions (including military) to research. In most games you won't even get to reach ''the end'' of the Iron Age, so there certainly is no shortage of inventions to keep you busy through the game. But there is more then a reason why I gave gameplay a 7 and not a 10. The tech tree is a pretty big part of my decision. More importantly a little invention called ''Jihad''. See this little invention says that your citizens become faster, get more hp, and more attack, etc. You research it (as it would seem logical) and then come to the following conclusion: In exchange for lightning fast cities you sacrifice their carrying capacity form 13-15 to 2-5... Nowhere ever in any part of the manual is this even as much as implied. It's annoying as hell. And there are other small examples like this that you have to ''experiment'' with.
Civilizations themselves are balanced with the exception of a few thorns in ones back side. Mostly the Chosens, Egyptians and Greeks. See each of these guys have absurd bonuses. The Chosen have such powerful priest bonuses that by combining 12-20 Priests and 10-15 Cataprachs together you will be dominating the map with a 100/50 pop limit (since priests can convert enemy units to your ranks). Another problem with the civs is that, with the exception of their building styles, the only difference between them is the ability to purchase super upgrades such as War Elephants, or Chataprachs. This gives people like the Greeks a huge advantage since they can develop Centurions and Cataprachs while others can only develop, the relatively useless, Heleopolis (a huge super ballista that hits 1/10000000000000000000000000 times). Theses differences and unbalances do make the game feel... well... different, for better or worse.
Other general gameplay issues revolve around the boring as hell campaigns and the fact that wonders are just for prettying up your cities since they don't do a damn thing. There are plenty of maps to choose from, but the pop limit is way too small (50). This was fixed in a patch, so at some extent, that's not a problem anymore. A paper-thin diplomacy option also comes included in the overall package. However, it's just about useless in anything but some campaigns and LAN matches.
This game is a blast in multiplay. I have never experienced such superb gaming as the one found while playing this game with 8 other people in a LAN party on a small map. Everyone bumping into each other and forging alliances; switching tributes and fighting small skirmishes for 2 more food bushes. It's all superb. Even with the unbalances and problems that the engine may have.
This game started a genre. It was not perfect, and it still isn't. However, it was stable, fun and a blast in multiplayer. This game won't be regarded as the pinnacle of RTS gaming by many, but it sure as hell is at least a pillar.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 01/26/04
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