Review by ZaleIsBackAgain

"It's educational, but that doesn't automatically mean it sucks."

Microsoft is the Nintendo of the PC gaming world, and you know why? Just like Nintendo, Microsoft will immediately expand their money towards popular genres they have no experience with, such as the popular Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings proved. While they didn't actually develop the game, they did publish it, which means something. Age of Empires II fixes up the countless flaws and bugs from Age of Empires, and refurbishes it's name to a game worthy of competing against the mighty StarCraft that dominated the genre for too long.

The Age of Kings takes place in the middle ages of when legends such as William Wallace, Joan Of Arc, Saladin and others led their countries to what made them so popular. In the campaign mode, you'll be treated with five campaigns to complete! Usually you'd only see a campaign with various missions, but here, five are present. There's six levels in each campaign, and in each level there's about two hours of game time you can spend. The best thing about this is that none of these levels will ever get repetitive or boring. Each campaign is based off of the legends as said before; whereas you can learn the leader's long history, both interesting and pathetic. If your history class includes a medieval times unit, Age of Empires II will help you here.

The game plays like a standard RTS; you collect resources towards military or economics development, expanding your village into a city while waging war against your foes. The sweet thing when playing the game is watching your battles. For instance, a Japanese Samurai had just killed a Persian War Elephant, but the slain War Elephant's comrades gang up against that one Samurai and the Samurai is slain, though reinforcements from the Saracens ensured a victory for them and the Japanese. It's such a sweet feeling playing the role of the general. While this may sound way too deep, when you're hooked to the game as much as I am, you'll have sympathy for your units, like once my innocent villagers fell murdered amongst a group of horsemen, all I can say is "They were just farming, minding their own business."

The real thinking is concentrated more on the economics parts, which covers things such as gathering resources, researching technologies to improve building structures and military stats, and setting up trade routes with your ally. You'll be much more observant about your economy rather than your military, because economy creates military. Though economy requires a lot of careful thinking, such as sending a villager to either collect food or gold, because this will all govern who will remain victorious.

A lot of skill is required to be a good economics person. Though that doesn't mean military isn't any fun too. Something called micromanaging requires as much skill as economics, but it's importance isn't as valued. Basically, instead of letting your army of swordsman fight off on their own without your lead, you'll be completely controlling them with every single order coming from you. For instance, instead of right clicking your army of crossbowmen and swordsman to the area of your enemy, you'll be telling them specific orders, like having arrow men picking off swordsman while your swordsman creating a barrier for your arrow men.

In a Death Match game, micromanaging is much more needed, since resources has been set high for you. Putting economics over military in this mode for the first minutes of the game would just be ludicrous, since you have so much resources to start with, which makes Death Match and your standard mode for the game more unique. Those wanting to wage long and large battles would be better off with Death Match, though your standard mode would require your economics skill more, which people find better. The Death Match mode serves to be one of the most addictive modes ever played, especially when playing online.

It's all about thinking, though not everything is like this. With the game's brilliant map editor, you can create your own maps! A popular concept to use is RPG's, which has a main character going around a world to discover a deep plot, while leveling up it's stats. With the map editor, it's practically a game by itself! The editor does wonders; giving the gamer a variety of different activities to create. Whether it's making a scenario of an epic battle of Alexander the great and his glorious fight against the Persian army, or just a soldier going around and assisting the people of the area, the map editor is a great source to start off developing video games for those looking to have a future in it.

The only down part of Age of Empires II is that the different civilizations are based off of one civilization! The developers aren't stupid; what they did was eliminate specific units and technologies differently for every race, making them more unique from each other. The only unique thing that aren't seen in the other game's civilizations are it's unique unit, which are units that reflect off of that race's culture, like the Japanese's exclusive unit is the Samurai while the British's is the Longbowmen. Basically, the unique unit was governed according to history, like the British were notorious with their Longbowmen while Samurai's were famous warriors of the Japanese. You'll find a wide range of unique units, such as a Celtic Warrior for the Scottish and a War Elephant for the Persians, even though Ensemble Studio's stated themselves the Persians historically never used Elephants for war.

Graphically, Age of Empires II looks realistic to what they would look like (Assuming through movies and artwork) in the battlefield. The only thing that isn't is the lack of bloodshed, but considering the high death rate you'll encounter, I guess it was for the better. Very crisp, especially the War Elephant and Samurai, the smallest detail that are never noticed look great. While only limited to certain units, the game does have some great rag doll effects, especially when a large army of the same unit dies instantly by a catapult. The buildings also burn when under heavy fire, though when they've been destroyed, they completely disappear. No tumbling buildings, the only thing it leaves behind is rubble.

When clicking on units, they'll respond to you in their language, like if you click on a Japanese unit, you'll hear a voice saying "E-qwi-lin" (Assuming that's in Japanese). The most common sounds you'll hear are bows and arrows piercing through warriors armour and warriors slashing their swords against each other. They sound astonishing, and to this day, after playing the game for three years, they never get boring to listen to. The music is phenomenal. The music is actually one large piece with like ten different pieces, and every single one of them sounds spectacular. It definitely sets the mood for you, especially with all the middle age music playing, perfectly fitting the theme of what Age of Empires II is.

A great package Age of Empires II proved to be, even after a the mess of what Age of Empires presented, it shows that you can never give up on a formula. After playing through the game's ambitious and educational campaigns, there's still a lot more to it than that. The map editor can prove to be a hobby that will get any gamer instantly hooked to it, and playing a standard game or Death Match game with your friends serves to be enjoyable. With these many things to consider, you can't go wrong with Age of Kings.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 08/22/04

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