Review by Ofisil

"It hasn't... aged well. Got it? "AGED" well? Err... nevermind"

Age Of Empires 2 is a RTS developed by Ensemble Studios. I loved this game when it came out. I've completed it in a matter of days and then spent an eternity on playing online and making tons of custom scenarios with the Map Editor. I pick it up again after lots of years and what do I find? A game that has aged very, very badly. It ain't broken, it ain't bad, but its pretty clear to me now that it was never the great game I believed it to be…

Story: 4/10
Presentation: 5.8/10

The developers of Age Of Empires realized that you must create whole campaigns that tell a certain story and not single maps with a single history lesson like in the first game. We have campaigns for Joan Of Arc, Saladin, Barbarossa, Genghis Khan, along with the tuturial-type campaign of William Wallace. Also there is a great deal of history lessons in the game via a certain menu in the title screen. Before each campaign chapter you see an overview of what has happened till now in a unique type of narration. In each campaign the narrator is a different person. A friend of the hero, a guy in a tavern that is telling the story and so on. Along with the narration we have some sort of a slideshow consisting of great sketches. The only problem with the game is the great deal of historical inaccuracies. While most people won't care, history buffs will be quite annoyed because not only things are inaccurate but also tend to be too “romantic”, too much like legends rather than actual history.

Gameplay: 6.5/10
Replay Value: 3/10

Lets see what this game is all about with a gameplay overview: You begin your map and you send your villagers to gather resources and send a scout to explore the map. You can create buildings where you can drop recourses so that your villagers don't walk all the way back to the town center. After building some houses you can create more villagers in the town center and after gathering enough recourses you can Advance to the next “Age”, which means that you can now create more buildings and choose amongst the many upgrades available. You can create buildings that train military units, like melee, ranged or cavalry ones and later on you can create castles and structures that can make siege machines. The rest of the game follows the same formula: Gather recourses, advance through the Ages, improve your civilization by “buying” new upgrades and fight your opponents. You can build watchtowers where you can garrison units, train monks that convert enemy units and heal yours and many more that I'm too bored to write about :) However the game is pretty much gather stuff, build stuff, upgrade your stuff, fight other people's stuff. Finally you can play single maps or choose to play a Campaign like Joan Of Ark, Saladin Genghis Khan and so on.

Now the bad stuff. There is little difference between the various civilizations, the campaigns are poorly designed and the formula of gathering-building-upgrading can get pretty boring at times not too mention that it makes the game more like a resource-gathering race rather than a good strategy game. If a civilization manages to create a larger and better army faster than you he will wipe you off your feet pretty easy and vice versa, while in the Total War games you can win against an army 4 times larger just by playing smart. Of course the Multiplayer mode is far better, since you don't have to deal with predictable AI but with unpredictable human opponents, but there is only a number of matches that you can play before you get bored because in the end it's all the same. Gather, advance, fight, the end! What could save the game, (and for many people it does), is the Map Editor with which not only you can create custom maps for Multiplayer, but also custom campaigns with more complex gameplay. The Editor is exceptionally easy to use and with it you can create some really wonderful maps even if you aren't experience in Map Editors. There is a problem though… the AI. The Standard AI that the game uses in your custom maps is terrible at best, with the CPU player being very slow, very stupid and does a lot of bad things like changing diplomacy setting on its own and so on. The only way to fix this problem is to create your own AI Script. In my opinion the developers should make a decent AI for the Custom Maps and leave the AI Scripts for more advanced modders.

Graphics: 8/10
Design: 7.5/10

Age Of Empires 2 looks beautiful in all its top-down isometric glory. The maps are quite detailed with lots of stuff like small forests, different terrain types and various units and structures. Especially the buildings look magnificent due to their great design and amount of detail. Furthermore each time you “upgrade” your civilization to the next age your buildings change to their more advanced versions! Now the bad stuff… while everything is just fine the game lacks one very important thing: Variety between the different civilizations. The only difference between the many civilizations available is the 1-2 unique units each one has and some of the buildings, mainly castles, towns and wonders. Of course that's just my usual nitpicking since the game, as I've said has very good graphics.

Sound: 6.7/10
Music: 7/10

The sound quality of the game is quite good although not flawless. There are very sounds available whether we talk about in-battle ones or simple SFX. Each time you click a unit he response in his own language which is a nice touch. In the campaign mode we have a great deal of recorded dialogue, all in English of course but with an accent for each separate civilization. The music is quite good also although it might get a bit repetitive after a while. One of the most serious problems that I have with the game's sounds is how annoying some of them can be. As I've said the overall quality is good, but that doesn't erase the fact that some of them can drive you to nuts. I will refer to just one of the irritating ones… the “alarm”. When you get attacked you hear a horn being blown, a horn that is actually more powerful than a 21st century train's!!! It can drive you nuts after a few for repeats but you'll survive…

-An easy to use Map Editor
-Very good gameplay although quite outdated
-Good graphics and sound quality

-Look elsewhere for a more historically accurate Strategy game
-The gather-build-upgrade thing can become very boring
-The AI for your Custom Maps is terrible
-Some annoying sounds

Also Play:
Age Of Empires 3 (PC)
Age Of Mythology (PC)
Medieval 2: Total War (PC)
Rise Of Nations (PC)
Starcraft 1 & 2 (PC)
Warcraft 3 (PC)

Overall: 6.1/10

The game is far from a bad one. In fact it has a larger fanbase and not just because of hype. However I must warn you that it has aged badly and that its gather-build-upgrade gameplay is not for everyone. IMHO if you want a good Age game better buy Age Of Mythology straight away…

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 01/06/11

Game Release: Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (US, 09/30/99)

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