Review by maximus86

Reviewed: 09/14/02 | Updated: 09/14/02

An Instant Classic Strategy Game

After lots of success with Age of Empires, fans have wanted a sequel to improve on lots of things. The original game actually had a lot of great features like a good and challenging single player mode, and very fun multi-player online experience. Well finally, our prayers have been answered, Age of Kings, the successor of Age of Empires has arrived with much anticipation and potential. But just how good is the game? Well, read this review and find out for yourself!

The opening video is a good introduction to what you will see in this game. As the intro starts, you will see two kings playing chess, each move corresponding with its own real life battle. You will be quick to notice the military units, which is this game is mostly based on. After a few minutes of playing it out on the chess board, the battle eventually ends, with both sides losing all of their men, and nobody wins, the last survivor drops the king chess piece from his hands, signifying the end of the battle as he breaths his last breath. Finally, the last screen introduces the title of the game you are about to play; Age of Empires II: Age of Kings.

The main menu puts you in a medieval city background, which gives you many options. You can choose from Single Player, Multi-player, Options, History, Learn to Play, MSN gaming zone and Map Editor. Single player is obviously the story mode, providing you with five campaigns to choose from(including the learning campaign). The multi-player is for online play over the modem, local area network, and what not. From options you can configure your visuals and audio, etc. History is actually an educating feature which will teach you a lot of knowledge of the history of the cultures, life of the Middle Ages, military strategies and so much more, if you choose to read it. Learn to Play is a campaign teaching you the basics of Age of Kings. This is recommended for anyone who has not yet played this game and is just starting out. It is short and you can learn the necessary things to play. Msn gaming zone is just a link to the actual site. Finally, Map Editor is a mode where you can make your own maps and campaigns. A nice addition that was put in for those creative players who want to do their own little something.

If you choose to click on the shield that symbolizes single player, you will be presented with more choices: campaign, random map, regicide, death match, custom scenario, custom campaign, and saved game if you want to continue. The campaigns are the best things to start off with, since it has several different civilizations you can play as. Put your mouse over a campaign selection, and there will be a brief explanation of the campaign, and what to expect in the upcoming missions. There is a Celtic campaign, commonly known as Scottish, will put you in the armies of William Wallace, made famous by the movie Braveheart. This campaign is for beginners, and no challenge at all. The other four are Joan of Arc, Barbarossa, Genghis Khan, and Saladin. Each one is different and unique. These campaigns will take you to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Each campaign has about six to seven levels. Once you choose which one you want to play, you will be given the first level to play, once you beat a level, you can always come back to it and replay it on a harder difficulty. Easiest, Easy, Moderate, Hard, Hardest. You can choose your preferred difficulty anytime before a mission. If you start off on hard, and decide that it is too much for you to handle, you can tone down the difficulty at any time when you're not playing a level. However, even easiest is not as easy as most people think. The enemy will still attack you and you won't be able to slack off much. Overall, the single player mode is very good, and chances are you are going to play all of the campaigns.

One thing that is different than Age of Kings and the original game is its movie sequences. In the original, you would have seen cinematic graphics In this game, the movie sequences are a sequence of still pictures that will be played before and after a level narrated by someone. There will text on the bottom, and the story of the current level will be narrated. I actually liked this new feature, as it gives you more detail about the current situation and educates you on the topic. Just to warn you, the introduction video will be the only full motion video that you will see in this entire game. I had no problem with that, and neither will most of you.

The visuals are excellent in Age of Kings. If played on the highest resolution, you will notice great details in the environments, military units and buildings. As people or animals die, their remains will slowly fade off and erode into oblivion. As the buildings get more and more damaged, they will burn gradually more as they get more damage. Even castles go on fire, surprisingly. Last time I checked castles were made of stone, and according to my knowledge, stone doesn't burn. It would be nice if it crumbled or something, but it doesn't. The stone walls do crumble, thank God, and shed no fire whatsoever. Truly great graphics, that could not have got more better.

The Audio is also great. First off, let me mention the music. It is simple and mostly in the background, just something to fill in the silence. You probably won't ever pay much attention to it, but it is pretty good and never gets old. The sound is realistically good. When soldiers strike their swords, you can hear the clash. When cannons fire, you hear the boom. When horses travel in groups, you can hear the hooves of the stampede noise they make on the ground. Another new thing is voice acting. In each level, you will hear the voices of people, with their accent. Great actors were chosen for this job, as every time they talk they show emotion and don't just talk in monotone found in some games. Great job done in the graphics and audio department.

Now comes the great gameplay factor. For strategy games to be excellent in quality they have to have good balance between the many different units. If you can build just one unit that is superior and has no flaws, than it can simply ruin the game. Every unit must have its own good thing and bad thing. If it is superior in every aspect, than it has to be very expensive. Age of Kings has great balance. The manual that comes with the game is very helpful in showing which units are good for what, and they are bad for. For example, heavily armed camels can overpower heavily armed horses, but they are very bad when it comes to destroying castles, where on the other hand the horses can easily destroy a castle. I suggest that each player study every units' attributes to prevent major disasters. Therefore, a good army is composed of many different units, such as infantry, cavalry, archers, siege weapons, and even priests. So just a small tip, never specialize in one single unit, you will lose quickly. Other than units, another important military matter are buildings, primarily walls and castles. Walls can be a major pain early on in the game, stalling you and halting your advance for a long time(in terms of game time). If you don't have right equipment, such as siege equipment, you will lose a lot of time and your enemy will quickly eliminate you, unless you retreat of course. Castles are fortifications that can destroy an entire army when properly upgraded and fortified well. However, if the enemy is trained and experienced, those castles will quickly be destroyed by long range trebuchets or heavily armed battering rams. Finally, each civilization (there are many of them) has their own bonus and negative points. For example, Goths have faster infantry, but they do not have the ability to build walls. It is unbelievably good how there are so many strategies and counter strategies in this game. Very well done gameplay!

The maximum population in Age of Kings is two hundred people. For the most part, that won't be a problem because it is hard to get that many people in the first place, and if you do get to the population limit, chances are units are going to die or are already dying so there will be more room for your army. The resources are quite simple. There are four resources that you will need to create your empire: Food, Wood, Stone, and Gold. Stone is obviously used for stone structures like towers, walls, and castles, and wood is used for other buildings. Food and Gold is mainly to pay and feed your army and military might. You can get small quantities of food from berries or animals, but you will be getting 95% of your food from farming. Wood is taken from trees, and stone and gold are mined from small patches scattered around the map. Seizing these patches early on and protecting them will be an important procedure during each war.

You can also upgrade almost everything. You can make your soldiers stronger, better in defense, make your buildings sturdier, enhance military speed, and so on. This could change the outcome of a war and are important. Another more important upgrade is the different ages you will advance through. First is the Dark Age, Feudal Age, Castle Age, and Imperial Age, spanning from 500 a.d. to 1500 a.d. One thing that is strange but probably necessary is that if you advance all the way to the imperial age in your current level, you are going to start from the dark age all over again in the next level, and will have to start from scratch.

Another thing I noticed that is actually very original is the ability for two people to command one civilization! Say that you are going one on one with the computer. Well, eventually you are going to have problems when your population reaches high numbers, mainly because you might be fighting on two fronts, and can't maintain what is going on in the home front. Since the enemy AI is smart and can make hundreds of decisions in a second, you might fall behind and the computer will gain the upper hand, especially on the hardest difficulty setting. Well, this problem can be narrowed by having your empire commanded by two or more people! One might control the army, the other might control the economy, and so on. I found this very intuitive and glad this was put into the game.

If you like to have wars on land, you can pick a land map, if you like battles on the sea, you can have a map made mostly of water. If you want and island map, you can put the map to have mostly islands. Of course, you can't play these on campaign mode, but when you play them with your friends, it can get very fun....and long. One time my friend and I were battling each other for seven hours(gameplay time, shorter in real life time, but it was still very long) island hopping for hours conquering islands and constantly battling for the smallest resource patches. But these are what memories are made of from this great game.

Final Score: 10/10

The value in this game is enormous. There is the lengthy and challenging single player campaign mode, online multi-player mode, with countless possibilities, simple random map games, death matches, and finally, campaign editor. This game will last you a long time, and you will come back to it from time to time.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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