Review by Yoh_of_Izumo

"A Very Enticing Game"

Now several years ago, when I was only beginning my journey into a higher level of gaming that surpassed portability and could be taken advantage of on the personal computer, I found Age of Empires. How I encountered it, it is hard to say. In truth, I found it when I formatted my ancient computer with the Windows 98 SE disk and found that it contained some games. And one of the games was a demo of the Age of Empires: Rise of Rome game. At first I did not understand what type of game it was – it was no role-playing game such as Pokemon, but something that totally required different coordination.

And thus my adventures into real-time strategy games were born. Once I understood that both the left and the right mouse clicks were necessary in order to successfully manage your army, it was full sailing. I was immediately drawn into a world that I had never known could possibly exist. Artificial intelligence at this level? Well, even though it is dismal in contemporary standards, I was quite gawking at this ingenuity in gameplay.

Finally after convincing my parents to get me the game, I got the Age of Empires Gold Edition with both the Age of Empires and its expansion pack, the Age of Empires: Rise of Rome. With such epic gameplay at my fingertips, at such a young age, I enjoyed seeing my army lay waste to the enemy. Unfortunately though, I was young in the mind, and was not skilled at strategy games, so I cheated with the codes secretly hidden in the game. Though I enjoyed the funny Easter egg pranks available at my disposal, there was a sense of emptiness knowing my mind was incapable of beating a computer on normal difficulty. But several years later, I played through the game, at with a more seasoned mind, I found strategy and integration with the mouse, the units, and the technologies by reading up on classes and my alliance, I finally knew how to take advantage of this game without cheating, and it proved joyous.

Now enough with my experience and onto an objective review…

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Gameplay: 7/10
Now, do not get me wrong, even though this game had some very noteworthy gameplay action, it did contain some fallacies. Let me begin though with the great aspects. Of course with real-time strategy games, the essence of gaming is focused around the battlefield, the building of units, and the integration of strategy to defend your village, but at the same time lay siege upon the enemy. Age of Empires Gold Edition game pack does a superb job of delivering on these expectations, and with simple gameplay actions, much can be accomplished. In an era when technology in computers was quite primitive for gaming, this real-time strategy game delivers in the gameplay aspect. The game focuses around historical events and playing the battles of these historical events. The units are bountiful and the technologies are immense. A play progresses through four ages: the Stone Age, the Tool Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. With each progression in the ages, a player gets an increase in what technologies to invest in so that a player can deliver more effective and powerful blows to the enemy without having to resort to mere masses.

The certain rock-paper-scissors strategy is not scene in the different tribes such as Phoenicians having superior strength while the Yamato have superior defense, but instead in what units a player wishes to specialize. All people have access to a boutique of buildings and of these buildings there are three made for rock-paper-scissors strategy: stable, archery, and barracks. The stable is for the cavalry, the archery is for the archers, and the barracks produce the swordsman. While the archer is superior to the swordsman distance wise, a horseman can swiftly take down an archer who is far away, while multiple swordsmen can overwhelm the horseman. Though this as far as this strategy can be taken for there are so many units and so many technologies available that much of this strategy is null and void. A key is the fact that the Siege Workshop produces siege weapons such as the catapult. While ineffective at close range, it can lay waste to an enemy siege when the enemy is too close together. Another unit, the hoplite, created in the academy when full upgraded, can lay waste to almost any unit and are basically the best of the best, especially when their speed is increased thanks to Government building technologies. And finally, another unit to through the spinners into attempting to make a balanced system in which strategy can be played is the priest. The priest can not only heal the wounded, but also convert the enemy to your side.

Now the units may pose confusion, the buildings themselves can also be quite annoying to deal with, and what I mean is the towers such as the Ballistic tower and my most dreaded tower in one battle, the Mirror tower. Nonetheless with all these counterbalances, it becomes necessary that a person build an army that focuses on the best siegecraft, the best infantry, and the best armada. Unfortunately though, this can be quite difficult with the capped unit limit of only a mere fifty people. Though this limit seems to be an attempt to prevent massing, it actually results in it. With the inability to spread out units into multiple fields to provide support, the game merely becomes a fight for who can amass the strongest troops in the shortest amount of time. The strongest infantry, the Centurion, can eliminate any horse and ground unit in seconds, and with the support of a few archers to defend against other archers and with the catapult to eliminate the walls and towers this becomes the most practical strategy to use on the gaming field. Though with this however, new strategy can be built, will you stick with offense or go defense and let the other player make the first move, and so forth.

Though massing may seem dull, a skilled player will learn to find a strategy to counter massing. As with all strategies, a flaw must exist and it is necessary to find it and exploit it and prove yourself the true strategist. Unfortunately there are a few flaws in the gameplay system that can prove detracting, but not truly. Of the worse things I can list are your characters' movements. Sometimes you wish them to stay put and not attack, but nonetheless they take charge and immediately cause the entire other enemy team to come down and eliminate you. Though once you figure out that you can tell your troops to stay still, that does not become a hassle. But another annoying factor is that sometimes if a player tells a villager to move to a set mine to mine the gold, it is necessary that you have to guide the village from set path to set path or else he will wonder off and get lost or killed. And sometimes this happens in battle when you wish to have your troops continue up onto the higher ground, but instead they decide to walk around at the base of the cliff and get pummeled by the towers.

Nonetheless the gameplay can prove truly epic, because not only do you have so many units at your disposal, but also the advancements in ages truly make the gameplay a boost and worthy. I see a lot of the strategy while playing this game in the effective allocation of resources. If a player fails to invest in technologies necessary to conquer a neighboring enemy, and instead invests only in the villagers, what happens when the resources run out. Instead, the player should invest in an army, conquer a neighboring enemy first, and then with the enemy's resources and your home base's resources at your disposal, it is possible to focus on other aspects as army and increased resource gathering.

The heads-up display is simple and very easy to follow. Gold, stone, food, and wood are the basic commodities of your empire and those are the ones in which you must use to bring your civilization from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Another annoying issue in gameplay is the limited ability to select multiple units at once. If you have an army of 35 units, it is only possible to select about 15 of these units, so you must select 15, move, select 15, move, and select 5 and move. This can get quite frustrating in battle when you wish the support units to be neck and neck with your main attack units, but unfortunately they are lagging behind.

Now then how could I forget the multiplayer aspect of this game. Although most of the Age of Empire's community has moved onto the sequel and sequel of that sequels game, it is still possible to find the lingering soul who is willing to put up a match. With these multiplayer battles a person can learn about strategy where it is not commonplace and predicable artificial intelligence that a player must deal with, but the unpredictable elusive mind of a human living being. Well, if unfortunately multiplayer is not your kettle of fish though, you can transition into random map gameplay in which you can set up different scenarios to get different flavors.

Not only does this game contain the campaigns to play around with, but also other historic battles in the gaming list that you can learn the history about and become one with the command of history in your hands. Besides randomly testing your hands out in those type of scenarios though, it is possible for a player to create his or her own campaigns and his or her own maps through the scenario editor, which is quite expansive and elusive. Now then, how could I forget the comical Easter eggs and cheats that lace this game. Unlike the other future Age of Empires games, I find the cheats in this game to be the most hilarious from nuclear shooting cars to an Armageddon troop, if the game starts to bore you, well, you've got a nice look into how our contemporary age would deal with those of the ancient era, and it can prove quite comical.

With that said, the gameplay is well worthy of admiration, but does have some flaws that could be kinked out, but with that said and done, it is game where a player can enjoy playing without pulling his hair out and complaining about fouled gameplay systems.

Story: 10/10
This is a little silly, but how can I judge history? This game focuses around history, and in my opinion, history is the best story of all. Yes, it repeats, but in its repetition, history still contains innovation and mystery. The history of this game spans from the several millennia before the birth of Christ into a few centuries of the Year of Our Lord with the fall of Roman Empire and the start of the Dark Ages. This is game where not only did the creators spend a great deal of time hammering out gameplay schematics, musical detail, and graphical detail, but also spending hours researching and putting together historical background and information well worthy of any history textbook and worth knowing for anybody wishing to learn about the development of Western Civilization. Though most people will skip these history lessons and only play the game for killing and gore, I find it as important as the gameplay, because this is a game that not only develops the critical thinking aspect of the mind through strategy, but also develops the information database of the brain with the great volume of history at a gamers fingertips. History, unlike many stories that exist out there, is a story worth knowing and learning from so that the past mistakes can be avoided, and this game does a wonderful job at informing the gamer of such epic stories.

Graphics: 9/10
The graphics of this game are outstanding for a time when such technologies were far under what they are today. From the killing and decaying of a human body to the destruction of a building to the cutting down of a tree, there is quite a good amount of detailed portrayed graphically. The water color is a great blue and many can enjoy watching as a bird flies overhead or as a whale jumps out of the water. The only complaint I have about the graphical quality is the fact that the elite units look the same as their lesser unit: the Centurion looks the same as the Phalanx, the Juggernauts looks the same as the Catapult Triremes, and so forth. I mean after spending so much effort to accumulate the thousands of food and gold to advance a unit, I wouldn't mind seeing some graphical tune-ups on the playing field. Nonetheless though, the most favorite graphical seen in my opinion is the site of a constructed wonder. From the Pyramids of the Egyptians to the Coliseum of the Romans, it is truly a wonderful graphical design, and even when I am the enemy destroying the wonder, I look at and I think about how much work must have been put into such buildings in real life in Egypt and Italy. The graphics are outstanding and well-polished, and quite aesthetically pleasing to the eye in a time when graphics were usually painful to look at due to disproportions, but fortunately Age of Empires lived up to a legacy in which graphics and real-time strategy games could come together effective. From the flames of the Fire Galley roasting the hull of a Trireme as its sails blow in the wind to watching the projectile of stone getting launched from a catapult, there is nothing much that could be as satisfying throughout the game. And how could I forget the cinematic scenes: the graphics were pure stunning and they brought entrance and closure to each campaign. While some were awesome, others were lacking, but nonetheless, this was the icing and the cherry on the cake.

Sound: 7/10
Well, the sound was not its true strength, it was still very well composed when it sounded. Throughout battles there was the same one song, but it was a decent song, and a pleasing music that neither dulled the battle scene or caused a player to make rash decisions just because it would elevate the adrenaline glands. Sounds such as the battle cry for help let players immediately know that something was occurring and would prevent mass disaster when the necessary precautions were taken to allow a player to come into that field of gaming and defend. Other than that though, the music was lacking. While the cinematics had some great music, and the menu selection music was quite interesting, there was just an overall lack of quantity. I will say though that the theme song in the Age of Empires series is one of my favorite game songs to this day, and when the quality delivers, it delivers well, but sometimes some variety is needed.

Replayability: 8/10
The replayability content of this game is enormous. With so many civilizations, campaigns, random battles, preset battles, campaign editor battles, and multiplayer battles, there is quite a decent amount of hours that can be spent playing this game. Though only reason why it lacks in some replayability is the fact that the gameplay does have some flaws that restrict a player from truly incorporating a strategic game, but in later games, such flaws have been drastically improved upon. But just like Starcraft and Warcraft, this is another real-time strategy game that does not make fantasy its main focus, but the true history of the world. When it comes to replayability, the skies are the limit on this game, but unfortunately with the advancement in games, and the improvements on artificial intelligence, there are many other real-time strategy games out there that are truly worthy of gaming then just spending hours away trying to perfect this game. Play this game and learn its history, but please, do not make this a Starcraft, it is not like a Starcraft, but is a challenging real-time strategy game in which a player can learn to adapt and make the most of a history lesson. The Rise of Rome expansion pack that goes along with the Age of Empires original game adds some more flavor with the increased amount of campaigns, improved artificial intelligence, improved gameplay abilities, and an addition of units and technologies to make the game more worthy and enjoyable to play. It is a fun game, and given the time and the chance, I would enjoy playing a few games again on it.

CONCLUSION
Using my rating system for real-time strategy games:
27.5% Gameplay, 25% Story, 20% Graphics, 7.5% Sound, 20% Replayability

Overall Game Rating: 8.35

OVERALL RATING: 8/10
Suggested Action: Worth a try, though there are better games out there now.


Final Comments: Though it was a great game when it came out those several years ago, with the advances in computer technology, there are far superior real-time strategy games out there currently, including the prequels to this game such as Age of Empires II and Age of Empires III. I will not discourage a strategist from trying his hands on this game though, because it is truly a noteworthy game, but I really feel that it is just not a game worth buying, because while it does teach about history, most people can learn this history in a textbook, and with better real-time strategy games out there now, why don't you just enjoy their graphical capabilities during this modern era instead of testing them out when they outdated. Age of Empires and Age of Empires: Rise of Rome set the foundation for Ensemble Studios so that they could rise to the occasion, and now many real-time strategists enjoy the history aspect and the gaming aspect of the newer games and have the success of this game to thanks for the continual improvements and innovations in the future games. While real-time strategy games are not for everyone, if you have never tried them before, now is an awesome time to try them with the ever improving artificial intelligence and the pleasing graphics, many will connect with the generals of battle that had to face this in the years former.

Fin


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/20/07


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