Review by TKDBoy1889
"Despite having aged, this original classic is still plenty of fun."
Age of Empires is among the classics of RTS games, and the original Age game that opened up a door to all kinds of sequels and spin-offs, many of which are amazing games. Is this older, simpler original still fun to play? It most certainly is. It does have it's drawback's, and does show it's age, but it's got many great features and a great charm for fans of this type of game.
The meat of the gameplay in Age of Empires is building up a civilization and conquering rival civilizations. All players move and interact with their nation in real time. You use your villagers to gather resources and build structures, and then create military units to defend your city while you go out and conquer. The game relies on establishing a strong economy which can be used to advance your city and build up your armies. You collect the four resources of food, wood, gold and stone to build up your city and army, and advance through four ages to gain access to more powerful units and upgrades. It's designed pretty well, with a nice variety of military units to create, with the more powerful units costing more resources and taking longer to make. You have the basic infantry which is decent at first but at the end of a game is usually useless, archers that can shoot from a distance, and cavalry units that are generally both faster and stronger than infantry but also more expensive and take longer to make. To add more depth you have siege weaponry that can demolish towns in a matter of matter, and they can also damage an army pretty badly from a distance. When the army closes in on them though, they are defenseless though and die fast. And then you have the elite infantry which are so slow anything with range can slaughter them, but they excel in destroying cavalry. To top it off, you have priests which are slow and fragile but can convert enemy units to your team. For it's time, the variety is fairly in depth. Admittedly there are some places that are lacking, like regular infantry units that are pretty much useless once you reach an advanced stage of the game. The more basic archers also become fairly useless pretty quickly, as their cheap cost doesn't make up for how weak they are compared to everything else.
There are twelve different civilizations to choose from, each one differing slightly in terms of their technology. The different cultures are all designed to have various strengths and weakness in this regard, as there are areas where they excel and others they don't. For example, the Minoans have strong ships while the Greeks have strong heavy infantry and siege weapons. Each civilization also has unique bonuses to bolster it's strengths, like the Egyptian Chariots having more hit points and the Persians having faster War Elephants. When playing a random game there is the option to use the full tech tree, which grants every player access to every unit and technology but takes away their unique civ bonuses. I don't like this option though since it takes away the variety between civilizations that makes the game rather fun. Every civilization is slightly different in it's strengths and weaknesses. This is one of the special things about the game.
Visually, the game is impressive for it's time and I still find the graphics pretty enjoyable. Of course, graphics are the least important factor of a good game but here, they are good. Colorful, pretty detailed for their age. Many units change visually when they are upgraded, often gaining a more heavy-armored look which genuinely does make them look more menacing. Buildings also change their look as you advance through the four ages, looking more sophisticated and less crude. And the different nations sometimes have different looking buildings, depending on what part of the world they are from. The audio is also pretty impressive. The music is pretty well made time-period soundtrack to fit the atmosphere of the game. Sound effects are also cool. The clashing sword sound from knights, the explosions when siege weapon launch attacks and buildings crumble, and the sound units make when they die are all nicely done. The priests even chant when converting units, which is a cool sound, but one you'll come to fear being used used by you enemies.
Does the game have drawbacks? Yes. For one, the AI of the computer is good for the time but not sophisticated. The computer is aggressive, but not very smart or complex. They will sometimes send villagers out to the same area over and over to explore a section of the map, even if you keep killing their villagers as they wander into your town. Occasionally, the computer never even advances to the final age even when it's clearly hoarded the resources to do so, leaving itself at a disadvantage. Sometimes, it will also strangely never attempt to rebuild or repair itself as you attack it. This sort of leaves itself open to just eventually falling apart. Overall, the AI is usually decent and it will be aggressive related to the difficulty setting you choose, and on the hardest setting can be incredibly tough to overcome. It's just very basic and sometimes stupid. They explore, gather, build an army, and attack. Not much strategy to it. It's usually all brute force, and occasionally stupid.
Also, there is a population limit of 50 for each player. This is kind of primitive even for the time, as other similar games had much bigger population limits. 50 is pretty limiting, especially on a water map where that must be divided between villagers, army units, and boats. Usually you can make do okay with the limit, but you will usually find yourself hitting them limit within the game. And on the larger maps, it can make the game feel a bit empty unless there are a lot of players. As as previously mentioned, some units become obsolete early in the game as they can't be upgraded enough to be main competent for the advanced stages of gameplay.
This game, however, is still a lot of fun to play. It can be challenging and presents a nice amount of variety between playable nations and units. It has three campaigns not counting the tutorial, each following historical events of a specific nation from the game, with each lasting about 7 levels or so. It also features a random map generator that lets you play a game on a random map, choosing various options like the civilization of each player, the starting resource amounts for everyone, whether the map is entirely revealed or not, and so on. You can also select different victory condition, like building a wonder and defending it for a log time, capturing all the ruins or artifacts on a map, or of course just defeating all your enemies until you are the last one standing. And the game also has a pretty advanced scenario creator, where you can create and save your own map, designing everything from the landscape to the starting layout of players to starting resources to the victory conditions.
This game has definitely aged, has it's drawbacks, and is somewhat dated compared to the sequels and similar games it influenced. But it's still a lot of fun and can hold it's own against them. Copies of this game are rather cheap these days and if you come across a copy, I definitely recommend it if you like RTS games that involve creating armies and destroying enmies in real time.
- Nice variety of units and depth in unit strategy
- Variation in playable civilizations
- Plenty of playable modes and campaigns
- Easy to use and detailed scenario creating tool
- Population limit is too small, even for it's time
- Some units are obsolete early in the game
- Computer AI is somewhat simplistic and can be stupid at times
Final score: 7/10. A pretty good game, a definite recommendation to fans of the genre.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/25/12
Game Release: Age of Empires (US, 09/30/97)
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