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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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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??
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