Saturday, September 8, 2012

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings (PC)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: A good RTS that's offers a lot of options and high replay value
Cons: A bit dated

Age of Empires II: Age of Kings is a real-time strategy (RTS) game developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft in 1999. In addition to the standard Windows PC release, it was also made available for Mac computers as well as the PlayStation 2. Following on the heels of the original Age of Empires game, Age of Kings brings the same wonderful gameplay but adds some much-needed new features like group formations and a button to locate idle villagers.
Like its predecessor (and most RTS games), Age of Kings is a game focused on gathering resources, churning out a military and defeating your enemies. This takes place over the course of four ages of the world, starting with the Dark Age, graduating the Feudal Age, then the Castle Age and eventually the Imperial Age. You only have a few buildings and units available at the start of the game and more are unlocked as you progress; most of these will only be unlocked during certain ages. For example, building a Siege Workshop to crank out battering rams is impossible until you've reached the Castle Age.
As you may infer from the title, this is a game of kings. You'll find peasant villagers, knights, boats, archers and horses; but no laser rifles or air support. You'll find barracks and archery ranges, castles and marketplaces. Resources you collect are food, wood, stone and gold, and these are the base upon which everything is created. Stone and gold can be gathered from mines spread around the map, wood can be collected by chopping down any trees on the map, and food can be gathered from farms, berry bushes, fishing, hunting animals, etc.
You have 13 different civilizations to choose from; these include the Britons, Byzantines, Celts, Chinese, Franks, Goths, Japanese, Mongols, Persians, Saracens, Teutons, Turks and Vikings. Each civilization has between three and five bonuses specific to them. Some are pretty useless like one of the Goth's bonuses is that villagers have +5 attack versus wild boars. That's a terrible bonus that nobody would ever care about.
My favorite civilization would have to be the Britons, because one of their bonuses gives foot archers +1 range in the castle age and another +1 range when you hit the imperial age. Archers who can shoot 2 squares further than your enemy's archers is a giant win for me because I always use a lot of archers.
Each civilization has another bonus... they can each make a unit unique to them at their castle when they build it in the Castle Age. Some are powerful, like the Persians' War Elephant while others aren't as strong but can be situationally useful like the Celts' Woad Raider. Personally I like the Britons' Longbowman because when fully upgraded it has the best range in the game and can take down towers from just out of range. If I'm playing on maps with a lot of water though, the Viking Longboat is unparalleled.
Speaking of maps, there are 13 different map types that you can choose from for a game. Maps are randomly generated, but the topography changes based on the type you select. Want a lot of water? Choose Coastal, Rivers or Islands as your map type. Want a land map only? Highlands and Black Forest sound like a promising choices. Experiment, or if you're not fussy just choose Random and let the computer decide for you.
Multiplayer matches are especially fun in Age of Kings, and up to 8 players can play at the same time. There are many options you can set for multiplayer games such as the map size, what technologies are available, population limit, starting age, etc. You can play with a modem or serial connection which are hardly used these days, or you can play with a standard TCP/IP connection. You'll need to do some port forwarding on your router to use this mode with people over the internet, but it works great out-of-the-box for LAN play. I play with one or more of my brothers once in a while on the different computers in the house.
The graphics are nice, and a big improvement over the original Age of Empires. They're not spectacular and they're still just two-dimensional, but everything is more detailed and looks cleaner. Units are generally small on the screen but easy to distinguish from each other; you can almost always tell at a glance which unit is which. Colors are a little messed up in Windows 7 though, with pink speckles covering a lot of the land. It doesn't make it unplayable, but it's sure annoying to look at.

Sound effects are decent. When you click on a villager you get the standard garbled speech that sounds like words but really isn't like would expect in The Sims. A villager chopping trees makes a sound like an axe into wood, etc. Battle sounds are sword clangs, galloping hooves and cannons and generally sound good. Background music is also decent, but there's not all that much of it. Most of it is just ambient noise, but it works well for the game.

System requirements are low since this game is a number of years old now; a 166MHz processor with 32MB of RAM and 200MB of hard drive space will suffice. It still works fine in Windows XP, and also in Windows 7 except for the aforementioned graphic distortion that I experience. I wish it would support a higher resolution, but 1024x768 is as high as it goes so that will have to suffice.

Overall a great game, and I highly recommend it. Tremendous replay value (I still play it often despite its age), and you can usually find it in the bargain bin. The Age of Empires + Age of Kings set is usually in the bargain bin even for under $10, so there's no reason to pass it up if you like RTS games.

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