Friday, September 14, 2012

Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Expansion (PC)

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Ship formations, farm queues, smarter villagers. New units and civilizations are always a plus
Cons: None. The Conquerors does nothing but add to the gameplay in Age of Kings

Age of Empires II: The Conquerors is the expansion pack created for Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. If you're unfamiliar with the game, skim over that review first as this one is just about the new features this expansion pack brings to the table. It brings new maps to play on, new civilizations to try out, new units to play with and new technologies to research, among other things. It's not that expensive these days, and in fact you can usually find Age of Empires with the Rise of Rome expansion along with Age of Empires II and The Conquerors expansion all bundled together for under $10. It's a little more expensive to purchase it separately, so I recommend picking up some type of bundle these days.
One of the first things you may notice when starting up The Conquerors is the fact that there are new civilizations to choose from. These consist of the Aztecs, Huns, Koreans, Mayans and Spanish. Like the civilizations in the regular game, each one has unique unit(s) available to it. One of my least favorites of these unique units is the Huns' Tarkhan unit; it's a cavalry unit who is good against buildings. I prefer to just stick with my siege weapons for that purpose and the unique unit isn't all that beneficial to me. The Spanish Missionary is a good unit though, as it's more or less a mounted monk. A monk who can travel fast to convert enemies is never a bad thing in my opinion... unless it belongs to an enemy.
On the other hand, I really like playing the Huns despite my dislike of their unique unit. Mostly this is because the Huns don't have to build houses to support their population. This makes it easier and faster to churn out tons of villagers at the start of the game, keep setting them to collect food and churning out even more villagers until you're at the population limit for the game. Then you take them all and collect massive amounts of resources for a little while and then send them off to find an enemy and die so that you can free up that population to create an army with your new supply of resources. It's not a huge advantage because houses are cheap enough and quick enough to build, but every little bit helps. It's especially effective if you're planning an early rush against one person, because you can get a much bigger and more advanced army sent over there in the same amount of time and completely decimate them instead of just weakening them severely.
Another thing you may notice right away is the fact that there are three new game modes: Defend the Wonder, King of the Hill and Wonder Race. Wonder Race isn't really my cup of tea, but the other two I liked (though I still usually play either Regicide or random conquest). There are also four additional campaigns: Attila the Hun, Montezuma, El Cid, and The Conquerors. The Conquerors is really a series of separate maps that don't really go together, but it's fun all the same. There are also eight new maps, like the Nomad map where players start spread out and with no town center, or Mongolia where there are a ton of cliffs that make it annoying to move around. There are also maps based on real-world locations such as France, Britain, Texas or the Sea of Japan.
Some other noteworthy new features are the fact that you can now sail your ships in formations. In the original game you could do this with ground troops, but ships were still unwieldy. If you create a resource depot such as a mining camp, any villagers building it will automatically start collecting nearby resources. Previously they would just stand beside it idle when they were done; now you can send em building somewhere across the map and ignore them because they'll automatically get right to work.
There are also new unique technologies to each civilization. These mostly improve one certain type of unit by giving them a bonus like extra range, damage or health. The Goths have a technology that allows you to make units at the barracks quicker, which is handy because they already have a unique bonus of quicker training there as well and the two stack together making for some really fast infantry in a pinch. There are also a few new units in general that are usable by most civilizations; most notably an upgraded pikeman and a new really fast infantry unit that's hard for enemy monks to convert.
You can also queue up new farms at the mill so that they're built automatically when a farm is exhausted, which I really like because it's so annoying to try and keep up with them all if you rely heavily on farming for your food income. You can also stick troops inside battering rams now to make them stronger. Graphics and sound for this expansion pack aren't any different than for the regular game that I noticed, except for the new units which are still of the same small but detailed quality and look nice. They also did add in some winter and tropical tile sets which look just as good as the originals.

System requirements are identical to the Age of Kings (Pentium 166MHz processor and 32MB of RAM), except that this expansion pack requires an additional 100MB of hard drive space.
Overall I like having more civilizations and more units to choose from, and I really like some of the improvements like villagers auto-tasking after building, ship formations and farm queues. If you have Age of Kings you really should get this expansion pack as well since it adds a lot to the game. If you don't have Age of Kings, get it... and then get this expansion pack. Like I mentioned earlier it's really cheap these days and it's a terrific RTS experience.

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