Review by AlCurtis
"Stick to the sequals."
Sadly Age of Empires 1 is nowhere near as good as its sequels and is a very unbalanced and frustrating game.
AoE's graphics are fairly average. Some animations look stupid with weird shaky walking animations for swordsmen and ships fire missiles despite having no weapons. Environments look pretty average with the basic isometric view seen in many RTS games. Units and buildings do look semi cool.
Sound is great and very age like. Units have funny little gibberish for their speech and it sounds cool, particularly with priests that woololo sound effect is a classic that is also a taunt in aoe2. Fighting sounds are very odd with swordfighting making a loud clang sound like smashing rocks together, arrows make a weird loud whoosh sound. Dying units sound good with some suitably painful sounding screams.
AoE's gameplay pales compared to its sequels and to other RTS games. In AoE you start with a town center and a few villagers in the Stone Age with the only solders being weak clubmen. You advance through the Tool Age the Iron Age and then reach the Bronze Age that is set around roman times. There are a lot of unit types such as siege weapons, foot solders, cavalry, archers and war elephants. Each type can be upgraded, so clubmen can be upgraded to axemen then you discover shortswordsmen, longswords then the centurion the ultimate infantry. There are lots of tech upgrades too like leather armour inventing the wheel, better walls and many, many other things.
The main problems with this system is that siege is way, way too powerful. Siege does a huge amount of damage, able to single kill most units and fires very quickly. The projectiles seem to home in on units a bit instead of just missing a moving unit. This leads to too much boring siege and no infantry or cavalry since they will be crushed. Towers as well are hugely overpowered and once you get ballista towers they will crush anything besides catapults. When playing one player skirmish the computer always plays the same way and will just mass build towers and siege and effortlessly crush any and every attack you send their way unless you just siege them. This serves to make gameplay extremely boring and frustrating.
Other major problems with AoE is the stupid logic units use after killing their selected target. Instead of attacking other military units in their sight, they usually target villagers or buildings ignoring the military units killing them. Also annoyingly enemies in campaigns usually team up to kill you even though they also are enemies. I know this because a brown clubman and a yellow one were fighting and the brown one died then more brown ones arrived and they teamed up with yellow to kill all my clubmen. AoE also features the worst design decision I have seen in 16 years of gaming. The dev team of AoE 1 made it so units that see other units being attacked will not help them and engage the enemy meaning your forces will die since allegedly the creators wanted to make AoE a hands on RTS and not automate anything. This is either some of the most misguided reasoning ever or an excuse to cover up a design fault. Humans cannot be everywhere at once and its unrealistic that solders wouldn't help friendly units being attacked.
The game features online play on zone.com even though I haven't tried it and don't wish to since it will be just mass siegeing and tower whores.
As much as I love this series I really can't recommend AoE its poor balance, hopeless AI and cheap tactics ruin it. These problems were common sense, and I fail to see how playtesting didn't highlight them.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 09/15/08
Game Release: Age of Empires (US, 09/30/97)
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