Before I purchased Age of Empires 2: Gold Edition I never thought I would enjoy strategy games. Once I bought It, I had a completely different opinion on this genre. Collecting resources, building Castles, assigning troops and battling over the net. Best of all, Gold Edition includes the expansion pack for Age of Empires 2, The Conquerors, which includes new civilisations, Technologies and units. I advise booting up Age of Empires 2, then straightaway installing the Conquerors expansion pack.
You can choose to go straight into the Campaign mode, effectively a story mode. You choose a storyline, such as the Fall of the Roman Empire, in which you have to take on about 6 different story-based battles to do with the scenario you picked (there are 4 scenarios with battles totalling up to about 20 in all). In between each battle are wonderfully cinematic scenes that introduce you to the campaign (for example, if you choose the Hun Campaign, your goal of driving the Huns out will be spread over about 5 different battle scenes, which include missions). Unfortunately, the Campaigns feel far too linear to be much fun, so this is one of the disappointing aspects of the game.
Instead of the Campaigns, you should head for the Standard game option. In this, you can customize almost everything. You choose your civilisation, and you can have up to 7 enemies/allies on the same map as you (you can choose what civilisation they are and their difficulty setting) and the is a huge range of random maps. You can also design your own or even choose a real life map of places such as the Middle East, Britain and many more. This enables you to re-create famous battles of the past, adding extra options in the game. I almost always use the real world maps in conjunction to the randomised ones because they add excitement in conquering real countries rather than fake lands. As I have mentioned, nearly everything is customisable. This includes unique rules about Relics and Wonders, as well as the colours of you and your enemies and the game type. If you don’t use the real world map feature, then you can adjust how much resources there are on the map. At first, I recommend using the Training scenario. This teaches you pretty much what you need to know to start playing the game; it is enjoyable too. In many ways this game is user friendly, which can only be a good thing.
Controls and Technique
The controls rarely go beyond the mouse; just scroll, point and click. You may need the keyboard a couple of times but this isn’t a regular feature of the controls. This game really was the pinnacle of strategy games when it was released 3 years ago. In fact, It holds out against today’s best, too. You start off in the Dark Age; at this stage, little is available to you or your enemies around you. Indeed, you will rarely attack or be attacked in the first age. The best thing to do in the Dark Age is to make a high amount of villagers (around 15) and make them build houses, Barracks and the like. Once these essentials are built, you will need to begin collecting resources. The Four resources are Food, Wood, Gold and Stone. Food is collected by fishing ships, farming, hunting and gathering from bushes. In the Dark Age, it is best to hunt and gather, as you will not need farms just yet. Chopping trees collects Wood. For villagers to do this, you will need to build a Lumber Camp next to a forest and assign them to chop. Gold and Stone are collected by mining; a mine camp is needed for villagers to do this. When you gather enough resources, you can start on the Technologies. Technologies either enhance what you already have (for example, Loom gives Villagers twice as much health), or give you access to new buildings/units (for example, Chemistry allows you to build Bombard Towers). There are about 60 technologies in the game, with each civilisation having access to about 45. Each civilisation has a different combination of technologies to total 45, no civilisation has all sixty. Eventually, you will progress to the Second Age, the Feudal Age (this costs 400 food). In the Feudal Age, many more Units, Buildings and Technologies will become available, and you can begin to build a navy. Your army should be growing, and maybe you will have your first battle. The new buildings that become available in the Feudal Age are the Blacksmith (with many technologies inside), the Stable (Knights, Cavaliers, Camels etc) Archery (Archers and the like) and the Market (*allows you to give and receive tribute). Remember, not all buildings are available to some civilisations, so these may not come up. Moving on, the Castle Age beckons, again, costing resources. The main feature of this age is the Castle. Costing a whopping 650 stone, these are arguably the best buildings in the game, firing arrows to any enemy within its range (which can be increased through technologies). The Castle also provides your Civilisations Unique Unit, a Unit unique to your particular civilisation. This is usually the reason you pick your Civilisation; to gain access to a particular unique unit. A Castle also has technologies to upgrade the Unique Units; for example, War Elephant into an Elite War Elephant. The Castle Age also brings in new, diverse buildings such as the University, Monastery, Wonder, Walls, Gates and Siege Workshops. The University has many very useful Technologies, which upgrade Towers, Ships Castles and more (more Technologies become available as you enter the Imperial Age). Monasteries introduce Monks to the game, which convert enemy units in your favour. Monasteries include Technologies to improve Monks. Wonders can be turned on or off; if you build one and it withstands for a certain period of time, you win the match. Walls can be built, and gates allow only you and your allies to pass through. Siege Workshops allow you to build and upgrade Siege weapons. Although powerful, the cause damage to your units if they get in the way, which happens frequently (unfortunately friendly fire cannot be switched off). The Imperial Age is the final age, and usually the one you spend the most time in. Initially, it includes technologies to upgrade almost everything you own. The Imperial Age is the best age to wage war in, as by this time you’ll be feeling quietly confident with the amount of artillery you’ve built up. A standard game usually lasts a couple of hours with 7 enemies (if you’re good). All games can be saved at any point and about 100 games can be all saved at the same time.
Generally, Age of Empires 2: The Conquerors plays beautifully. What I described in the last section is very enjoyable; especially when you beat your first file. I find this game most exciting when you change the scenario to Death Match. In this, each civilisation starts of with thousands of resources instead of a couple of hundred. There are many features to get to grips with, and at first the game does seem hard and even boring. The game is insanely difficult when you crank it up to Hardest mode, although it is doubtful that you will play the game on this setting. ‘Standard’ and ‘Moderate’ are usually the most fun with six enemies and an ally on Death Match scenario in a real world map. These are the settings I find the best for a fun match.
For a Strategy game, Age of Empires can feel strangely arcade like and hollow. This is mainly because there aren’t any proper tactics in the game. You just build up a Civilisation, get a large army and attack. There are no real battle tactics either, and although the game does prosper in being arcade like, the none existent tactics damage the games playability in the long run. Don’t let this put you off, though; Age of Empires is a great game.
There are some great features in the game. You can bribe an enemy to be an ally by sending tribute of resources, or just start the game with allies beforehand. The thrill of penetrating a huge fortress of an empire with your allies has to be played to be believed, especially when one of your allies is a friend on another computer in the house! There are other fun options too: Make your own Scenario and Map, recreate battle scenes and turning against your allies in mid battle are all great. Sometimes the usual mode gets a little stale but then again, so do all games (apart from Championship Manager 4).
Sound and Graphics
There’s a wonderful mixture of Celtic and renaissance type music that is amazingly memorable and hummable. It really is great, and the sound effects aren’t bad either; the units scream as they die. When you click on a unit and command it to do something, it responds in its civilisations language in a thoroughly meaningful tone (for example, the Britons say ‘Chopper’ when you command them to chop wood). The graphics are also good, considering it’s an 8MB graphics game. The houses are different to each culture, and the units are detailed. However, the game is in semi 3D, which means that the graphics look like 3D but aren’t. The only way you can tell this is in the annoying way that the camera is fixed. This is semi-annoying as there are a few times when you need to turn the camera around to get a better view. You’ll learn to live with it; it’s only a minor fault and doesn’t spoil the game.
You can set up a LAN mode to start a new match; this can be done via the internet with other avid Age of Empires gamers around the globe. An easier option, however, is to just link to computers in the same house with a mate using, again, the Internet. To put it simply and truthfully; this rules. The pleasure of ganging up against a player or attacking an ally is great and much better than on your own (although it’s still great). Two Conquerors disks are needed, although this is a small price to pay for the multiplayer heaven experience.
Many scenarios are ready to be played in the one player. These are generally fun and easy to use, especially on the real world maps. Creating your own scenario is also easy to use, and there are many units unique to this mode. Creating thousands of units and watching them battle each other over a fortress can also be done, and is strangely pleasurable. There’s even an option to look at each Civilisation’s history (all correct, I’m pleased to say) and many training options if you’re not familiar with strategy games.
Length and Conclusion
All these and more emphasise that Age of Empires 2 has more than enough modes and options to keep you playing for ages; put simply, I’ve had this for about two years now (I bought it after the recommendation of a friend) and I still play it regularly. I wasn’t a strategy nut before I bought this, and you don’t have to be to enjoy this. It’s greatly simple, to its advantage, yet very deep and subtle; there are many features in the game for you to explore. However, Rise of Nations, similar to this game, has recently been released and starts in the Stone Age and ends in the Space Age. As much as I hate to say it, it’s slightly better than Age of Empires, and would advise people to get that instead, although this is still a great, great game that deserves to be played by all. From the memorable starting sequence, you know you’re going to love it. I bought it a couple of years ago for about £34.99, although it’s still available for £24.99 (remember, you’re getting 2 games, not one) now. I would say that this was the pinnacle of strategy games for the best part of three years, and even if you’re not into strategy games, this deserves at least a chance. Age of Empires 2: Gold Edition may be old, but it can still hold out against even the best of today’s games.
In short, magnificent.
More units please.
More real world maps.
That’s all I can ask for, really.