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Product: Age Of Empires 2: Age Of Kings
Company: Microsoft
Website: http://www.microsoft.com/games/age2
Estimated Street Price: £35/$55
Review By: Byron Hinson

The Features

It has been nearly 2 years since Age Of Empires first hit the PC strategy world. Age Of Empires 2: Age Of Kings (AOE 2) has been a hotly awaited title now for sometime, delayed from earlier in the year, it finally arrived in October 99. Here are a few of the basic features:

  • 13 new civilizations — Each with a unique unit and a team bonus.
  • New units — Including Kings, Heroes, female villagers, knights, cannons, and exploding demolition ships.
  • New buildings — Including impressive castles and gates that automatically open and close for you and your allies.
  • New technologies — Including Conscription (increases military unit creation speed) and Town Watch (increases building line of sight).
  • Formations — Precision control of how your army moves and engages in combat.
  • New multimedia campaigns — Unique music and more than 300 pieces of original art enhance your game as you follow a soldier through battles featuring William Wallace, Joan of Arc, Saladin, Genghis Khan, and Frederick Barbarossa.
  • New ways to trade — Trade with other players over land and by sea; buy or sell resources at the Market.
  • Learning campaign — Master the basics by helping William Wallace rise from his humble beginnings to defeat the British.
  • Regicide game — Defend your King to win the game.
  • 8 new map types — Including Arabia, Black Forest, Rivers, and Random, which allows the computer to pick a surprise map type for you.
  • Garrisoning — Station units inside buildings for protection, healing, and surprise attacks.
  • New combat features — Order military units to patrol, guard, or follow and choose their combat stance.
  • Record and replay games — Watch your single-player and multiplayer games later.
  • Find idle villagers — Automatically locate villagers not assigned to a task using the Idle Villager button.
  • New online tech tree — See what is available to your civilization and which units and technologies you’ve researched while in the game.
  • Improved multiplayer features — Save and restore multiplayer games; lock the game speed for all players; lock game teams so players can’t change alliance during a game; signal allies.
  • Gather points — New units automatically gather at a location or garrison inside a building.
  • Improved interface — Units behind buildings and trees are visible; the mini-map has Normal, Combat, and Economic modes; chat interface is expanded; Help is integrated into the game.
  • User profiles — Customize options and hotkeys and automatically save them from game to game.
  • Online encyclopedia — Extensive histories of 13 medieval civilizations; background on the Middle Ages, armies, weapons, and warfare.

Ensemble studios return for another bout of real-time empire building, Age Of Empires was quite a hit for Microsoft and Ensemble Studios and they haven't sat around doing nothing for these past 2 years, offering us a number of new features, improved graphics and a greater depth of gameplay.

Installation & Settings

It is a Microsoft game so the installation of AOE 2 isn't a problem, Autoplay starts you off and the install takes up around 170 MB's of space on your hard-drive. Once you have the game installed, Autoplay starts up again and gives you a list of the following options:

  • Play - Obvious.
  • Web Connection - Takes you to the Age Of Empires 2: Age Of Kings website on microsoft.com.
  • Reinstall - Lets you reinstall the game incase any files have gone missing
  • Uninstall - Allows you to uninstall the game from your PC.
  • Exit - Lets you return to the Windows desktop.

aoe2_1.jpg (104621 bytes)

Once you click on Play a short 3 minute introduction movie is played, it isn't anything bad, but it also isn't anything great either...Thankfully it can be skipped. Once you finally get into the first in-game menu you get the chance to change the graphics, sound and gameplay settings to your liking. The main options are as follows:

  • Learn To Play -- Training Mission Scenario.
  • Single Player -- Allows you to begin a campaign, play on a random map, regicide or play a death match.
  • History -- Lets you read up on the civilization histories.
  • Multiplayer -- Play against other human players.
  • Map Editor -- Create your own game settings
  • Options -- Change resolutions, sounds etc
  • Zone -- Play over the internet via Microsoft's Zone.
  • Exit -- Return to the Windows Desktop

Gameplay

I began the game's first tutorial lesson via the Learn To Play option. From the Learn To Play screen you can begin to learn all of the controls, how to move troops, how to fight, forge alliances and how to harvest resources. They are all very well done, but the extremely bad voice-overs will almost certainly get on your nerves.

At the beginning of each mission you are given a run through of the proceeding storyline in the form of cutscenes, well actually I would just call them drawings. They help you understand what exactly you are fighting for on each campaign.

aoe2_2.jpg (79383 bytes)

Age of Empires II, at first glance acts very much like the first game. Each campaign, map etc circulates around collecting the four basic resources in the game.

  • Wood --  This resource allows you to build up your empires houses, mills etc
  • Food -- Lets you add more peoples to your empire.
  • Gold -- To buy buildings etc.
  • Stone -- Buildings, tools etc.

The main unit bases are as follows cavalry, archers, infantry and siege engines. As you advance through the various ages (More on those in a bit), you will be able to improve each unit type with new technologies and training styles. So as you can see, the setup is very similar to the first game.

Die British Scum (Byron, you are british)

I guess most of you are wondering what has changed, well quite a bit has actually. The most obvious thing you notice when playing is that resource gathering farmers and buildings can be improved, this means that you can speed up and improve the amount of work that the villagers will do for you. For example, new axes can means faster wood gathering, these are simple changes which work very effectively. You also have the new option of a villager called a "Sapper" this options means that villagers can cause more damage to buildings that they attack. Much later in the game you also get the option of using spies, these guys can let you see what your enemies have explored and their units line of sight.

Not only that, when your town is under attack, instead of letting your villagers stand and fight the enemy (And die), you can ring the town bell. This moves all of your villagers into the town center where they can fight the enemy. The game also introduces a number of new ways to play:

  • Campaign Game -- From here you can play various historical scenario based games such as Joan Of Arc, Genghis Khan, Saladin Or Frederick Barbarossa, you have to win each one before you can progress to another.
  • Random Map Game -- In this game you play a different game every time because the map is never the same
  • Regicide Game -- In the Regicide Game, your king must be the last to survive
  • Death Match Game -- This is a single player game where all players start with huge piles of wood, food, gold and stone and then fight it out to the death.

You begin the Random Map, Regicide and Death Match games by selecting from one of the 13 medieval civilizations. The main game you will want to play in single player is obviously the campaign mode, during these games you have set objectives to complete, such as move Joan Of Arc to safety etc (First basic mission). Death Match single player games are also great fun if you don't feel like playing the game for a long time and just feel like letting out some frustration.

Graphics, Sound & Music

Graphically Age Of Empires 2 is much improved over the original, with much better detail and animation. I run the game in 1024x768 and the game runs smoothly with little or no slowdown when there is a massive battle on screen. Soundwise most of AOE 2 is great, but one of the main downers are the voices over for the Scottish, French etc, they are really, really bad, why oh why they couldn't have brought in people from the specific countries to do the voices I'll never know.

Multiplayer

Age Of Empires 2 really shines online via Multiplayer modes. The game comes with support for IPX, Modem, LAN and serial cable and the usual internet play via the Microsoft Zone. The multiplayer options are similar to the single player game.  Random Map, Death Match and the Regicide options are all there. Surprisingly AOE 2's multiplayer side even has a save game option, set up so people can't cheat while others are away too ;o) There are also a couple of specific maps designed only for multiplayer modes.

aoe2_4.jpg (121615 bytes)

You can also yet again create your own missions via the Custom Scenario Editor, this allows you to create troops, landscapes etc to play on. Playing online via the Zone was fun as usual, I'm not really a multiplayer person (For reasons known) but I have spent the weekend playing AOE 2 online and have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Creating A Scenario The Scenario In Action

Final Comments

How It Grades
Originality: 85%
Gameplay: 92%
Story: 89%
Graphics: 89%
Cutscenes: 75%
Sound: 82%
Music: 80%
Interface: 90%
Multiplayer: 93%
Overall: 90%

Overall the last 2 years spent creating Age Of Empires 2 haven't been wasted by just adding a few new maps and some better graphics, Ensemble studios have spent their time creating many new features, options, editors and campaigns for both single player and multiplayer games. There are a few bad points such as the extremely bad voice-overs which ruin some of the atmosphere, but nothing that can ruin the game. Another excellent release from Ensemble Studios/Microsoft which deserves to sell well. Anyone else up for an online beating? Bob??

 

Overall Score 90%
Version Reviewed Version 1.00
Release Date Out Now (US)
Late October UK
In The Box? 1 CD
1 Set of instructions
1 Reference Card
1 Pack Of Information Cards
The Good Points Detailed Graphics
Improved Interface
Good Music & Sound Effects
Good Story
Good Intro Video
Excellent In Multiplayer
The Bad Points Truly The Worst Accents Ever Heard
Static Cutscenes
Reviewers PC Setup Pentium II 450
Windows 98 Second Edition
128 Meg SD-Ram
Matrox G400 32MB AGP Graphics Card
Voodoo 2 - 8mb
DirectX 7
SoundBlaster Live! Value
17" LG Electronics Monitor
Microsoft Force Feedback Pro
Microsoft Game Pad Pro (USB)
Microsoft Digital Sound System 80
Microsoft Intellimouse

DVD Setup: Toshiba SD-1202 DVD-ROM - 32x
DVD TV Player - Samsung 807

PC Required Pentium 200
32-MB RAM
100 MB HD Space (plus 50 MB permanent Swap File)
4x CD-ROM
4 MB PCI Video Card (16-bit color, Direct X compatible)
16-bit DirectX compatible soundcard
Win-compatible Mouse
Windows 95/98/NT 4.0

 

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