Review by AlCurtis

"The best kind of expansion. It adds so much to AoK"

The Conquerors is a very worthy expansion pack for Age of Kings, it adds five new civilizations, new unique techs for each civilization, a stack of new campaigns, and loads of enhancements and balancing changes.

Age of Empires his been generally regarded as one of the best Real Time Strategy series of all time. The original was ground breaking in its own right. Set in roman times it portrayed the battles between the emerging Roman Empire and the various barbarian tribes. It featured many real units, believable battles, actual historically accurate civilizations and decent graphics. Balance problems however made it a pain to play.

The meat of age games and what sets them apart from many RTS games of its time was the “age system” and the more advanced resources management. There were four resources instead of the usual one such as command and conquers tiberium. They were wood, food, gold and stone.

The other major difference was the age system. This was meant to represent an era of history and was dived into the Dark Age, Feudal Age, Castle Age and Imperial Age. It cost a lot of resources to age up and you had to balance the option of aging up and accessing newer units and building (at more cost) against having enough solders to stay alive in the short term.

Age of Kings improved massively in every aspect of the original AOE with far improved graphics, more civilizations, more balanced game play, far more tactics and varied cripplingly addictive gameplay.

Now with The Conquerors AoE is set to live on with new possibilities, new tactics and new gameplay to be discovered.

The new civilizations are the biggest change. They are the Aztecs, Spanish, Mayans, Huns and Koreans. Each is based on their real history; for example the Aztecs and Mayans have no cavalry at all, since in their lands there were no horses. Instead of the normal Scout Calvary, they have a very fast infantry unit called the Eagle Warrior for scouting that is resistant to arrows. The Huns do not need to build houses since they were a nomadic people, but are rather weak technology wise. All have unique units like the original Age of Kings civs such as the Aztec Jaguar warrior: a very powerful melee infantry unit and the Hunic Tarkan, a cavalry unit that is effective against buildings and so on.

These new civilization change the face of AoE with so many new tactics. Huns are a rusher's dream since without having to stop to build houses they can rush incredibly quickly and cut the enemy to ribbons. This is balanced with the fact that they are an overall weaker civilization with fewer weapon and amour upgrades and terrible siege weapons. The Aztecs, lacking cavalry of any kind require learning an entirety different style of play with a slower more deliberate style and carefully picked battles to utilize their slower, but extremely powerful infantry.

There are a lot of new units, such as Eagle Warriors, fast scouting units resistant to arrows, Halberdiers: upgraded pikemen who destroy cavalry, Jaguar Warriors: devastating heavy infantry Tarkans: cavalry with bonus damage to buildings and Turtle ships: truly deadly ironclad warships. These units change the game allot. For example halberdiers are pikemen who can for once hold their own against infantry instead of being completely crushed by them, while Turtle ships can instantly dominate the waters with their huge hit points and amour. Eagle warriors make raiding an economy easier since with their resistance to arrows they can breeze by defending towers to attack villagers and trade carts.

There are a lot of new technologies to research which improve your civilization. All are based on actual medieval practice such as Bloodlines which simulates selective horse breeding by increasing cavalry hit points by 10% heresy which shows the penalty of following another religion by having any units converted by rival monks die instead of the enemy getting them, and the Bracer an important development to protect the archers arm from fletching which in AoE improves their rate of fire.

There are new campaigns, too including Attila the Hun, El Cid and Montezuma as well as set piece famous battles such as Hastings in 1066 and Argincourt in 1415. The campaigns are extremely varied with the very different cultures making for different gaming experiences and the missions are nice are varied with everything from pitched battles to sieges against lots of different and usually competent enemies.

That said the AI isn't always that good. They will often blindly send units of infantry over to hack uselessly at walls designed to resist siege weapons and will just get picked off by towers. Having a bullet proof defense can make you practically invincible against certain opponents. They are very quick though and on very hard they get resources bonuses which offset their dumbness.

There are new game types such as King of the Hill where you try to hold a certain place in the map with your forces and keep enemies away and Defend The Wonder, where one player starts with a wonder surrounded by wall and defenses and has to keep it safe from all other players. There is also the new Last Man Standing victory condition. In this type of game, once the team has killed the enemies, they turn against each other until only one player is left. This can be a sneaky game type with huge amounts of mistrust and tension with units being stationed in ally's bases and guard towers being built everywhere to guard against all possible betrayals as well as a certain amount of reluctance to help your ally too much in battle, lest they become too strong.

There are also real world maps such as Britain and France, as well as many more normal maps such as Arena, an extremely tiny map with very limited building space which forces you into fast battle in its cramped environment and Ghost Lake a map based around a huge frozen lake creating a no mans where no building can be built and death is often found, as well as high competition for limited building space.

There are tropical landscapes with turkeys to hunt and jaguars to fend off, instead of just the same old deer and wolves. There are winter maps, complete with units leaving footprints. This may seem like a mere graphical flourish, but I have used footprints to track down and kill scouts or units and sometimes the footprints can be followed and you can discover the enemy's base!

There are also a lot of small changes. One of the most useful is the farm queue at the mill. Just add farms to it and all your farms will be automatically reseeded when they go fallow instead of you having to remember to do it. This is great since in the middle of a big micromanagement intensive battle it can be easy to forget about your farms and suddenly run out of food and having to move your view back to your base and manually click on farms takes away from time that could be spent moving your troops to better positions. A very, very handy feature. Bombard towers (towers equipped with huge cannons) now do piercing damage instead of normal damage so battering rams are resistant to them now, when before they did normal damage which rams are very weak to. You can now garrison infantry into rams to make them move faster and garrisoned Swordsmen and Pikemen make the ram inflict more damage on buildings and move faster. This is handy for getting slow Teutonic Knights up close without them being killed by archers too, since rams are extremely resistant to arrows. These changes serve to make AoE more realistic with more real life tactics such as the ram garrisoning. The change of bombard towers to piercing make it more realistic, as battering rams are able to take them down, unlike before where they were useless against them.

Ships now move in formation such as box formations to protect weak units in the center and staggered formation to help avoid missiles, before you couldn't use formations for ships. Siege weapons don't auto attack if they would harm friendly units (thank god). Which is great as it got utterly annoying in AoK when they would fire into a melee wiping out your troops too. Tributing resources is improved since you can now hold shift and click to send lots of 500 of a resource, or hold alt and click to send your entire stockpile of that resource. Chat messages now appear in the player's color that they are from making it simple to tell at a glance who's talking. You can turn on friend and foe colors to see clearly who is an enemy and ally, with allies being blue and enemies red. Recorded games which are basically replays of games now record chat as well, which is great. It's always funny and satisfying to see chat in game such as insults, threats and just general banter. You can also command computer allies in skirmish mode now, which is really fun. This makes you feel way more like a leader and stops them just doing their own thing and not attacking together with you for maximum impact. You can tell them to attack, wait for your signal to attack, build a wonder, give you resources or build a navy as well as many other things.

There are a lot of tiny balancing changes too, like the Chinese starting with less wood to balance their extra starting villagers and Goth villagers carrying +15 meat, Woad Raiders being created faster and normal swordsmen having piece amour. Most of these seem small but the piece amour is a big change, as well as making sense. I mean if you're a slow infantry unit you're obviously going to want something to help you survive arrows.

The Conquerors is the best kind of expansion pack. It adds all these changes which add a gigantic amount of fun to the already astoundingly brilliant Age of Kings, but doesn't intrude too much on the original's killer formula. That said, this is basically the same game with an avalanche of new stuff, new tactics, playstyes and fun. If you didn't like the Age of Kings you won't like The Conquerors either.

Fin


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/20/08

Game Release: Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Expansion (EU, 09/15/00)


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