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  Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings
Pennants unfurled as the massed army approached the battlements. Archers arrayed to the rear and cavalry prepared to the flanks. Foot soldiers slowly advanced to meet the enemy exiting the castle gates. With a great cry, the armies ran to each other and steel clashed. At stake was the honor of empire. This was a great age and kings rose to the challenge.

Preamble...

Age of Empires is considered by many to be a true leap in strategy gaming. In the tradition of Warcraft, Ensemble Studios produced a game that grabbed many a players’ imagination and thrust them into the world of centuries past. For not only do you experience life in periods that we could only read about or see in a movie but actually learn what helped man conquer far lands. Age of Empires II: Age of Kings (AOE2) takes us forward many years from the first release to where advanced techniques were employed to battle superior numbers and win.

Companyline...

One of the most anticipated games to be released this year, "Age of Empires II" is the sequel to the award-winning strategy game "Age of Empires." "Age of Empires II" spans 1,000 years, from the fall of Rome to the Middle Ages, and challenges players to lead one of 13 civilizations into greatness. Developed by Ensemble Studios of Dallas, "Age of Empires II" retains the epic scope and accessibility that has helped the "Age of Empires" game series sell over 3 million licensed units worldwide. Featuring the design expertise of Bruce Shelley, co-creator of such game classics as "Civilization" and "Railroad Tycoon," the game combines stunning graphics with the drama and intrigue of the Middle Ages.

"Age of Empires II" features new and improved design features to quickly engage the casual player while offering more intense and engrossing gameplay to satisfy the hard-core audience. Beginning with minimal resources, players are challenged to build their nations into great civilizations and defeat the enemy by making strategic decisions throughout the game. Each of the 13 civilizations represented in "Age of Empires II," including the Mongols, Celts, Vikings and Japanese, features distinctive attributes, buildings and technologies and a unique combat unit based on its historical counterpart. In addition, "Age of Empires II" features five campaigns based on the adventures of prominent historical figures, including Joan of Arc, William Wallace and Ghengis Khan, that draw players deeper into the game as they march alongside the hero to victory.

"Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings" supports multiplayer Internet gaming for up to eight players on the MSN Gaming Zone. The estimated retail price of "Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings" is $49.95 (U.S.).

Gameplay...

With 13 civilizations traveling through four ages (Dark, Feudal, Castle and Imperial), you will find diversity that has greater depth than what AOE I offered. Gunpowder plays an important role, as do other technologies. Playing improbable battles of Celts versus the Chinese is possible while trying to protect your King in a game of Regicide.

I believe that many players are going to first jump into the campaigns as soon as they master the controls of the game. The first campaign to play would be William of Wallace because it is the tutorial as well. Once this is mastered then you can play Joan of Arc, Saladin, Genghis Khan and Frederick Barbarossa. Having finished the campaigns does not mean that AOE2 is done. There are Random map games, Regicide (protect your king while going after the enemy's royalty), Death Match and Custom scenarios and campaigns. Not happy? Then it's off to the Internet to play against real people or on a LAN with your friends. Crank up the Map Editor and make scenarios to share with others or go further with the Campaign Editor. AOE2 has replay ability down solid.

Look and feel is like an old pair of shoes. Very comfortable and easy to get into. You can have lots of control or limit it to unclutter the screen. Click a button and find a villager who is sitting on his/her butt. View a strategic map that informs you about your economy or army status. Military units can be arrayed in various formations along with different stances. There are box formations, horde, line and others while on patrol, aggressive, defensive, no attack or stand ground. If your town comes under serious attack, recall all the villagers into the Town Hall for protection. Place units in buildings to heal or improve attack capabilities. Watch as your village develops into a grand city with great walls, towers, churches, universities and castles that overlook your lands. Marshall armies that swoop through large maps and discover lands to enlarge your realm.

There are many buildings to be built and each are styled after the civilization you choose. Some of the advancements may not be available to certain civilizations according to historical context. Most of them help contribute to the technologies available if you can afford the costs. The costs are defrayed by the efforts of your villagers in getting wood, gold, stone and food. Trade can make this easier as well. One thing that I did not enjoy was having to continuously keep an eye on my farmers. Farms only last so long and it was a hassle to monitor them to make sure that the food supply was kept up.

Diplomacy can play a big part of AOE2. You can be an ally, neutral or an enemy. Send tribute to an ally and then when you are attacked, you can call on them to fight by your side. Send trade cogs or carts to friendly cities to keep your profits rolling in.

Researching technology gives each civilization different advantages and you must consider which ones will be to your advantage. AOE2 comes with a foldout that lays out the tech tree and which civilizations get what. Studying it will give you an idea what your goals should be to improve strategic advantage.

Movement is simple as click and dragging. Assemble groups of military units and give them hotkeys and you can respond to emergencies with the appropriate soldiers to counter the threats. You may want to grab everyone available and move them enmasse to new position. Then, in order to create order out of the mix you ended up with, simply push the CTRL key and click on a unit and all similar units will be selected to do as you order. That is simply one of the smartest implementations I have seen yet. Controlling units in similar games has always been a hassle but AOE2 does it just fine. Throw in waypoints and you have all the control you need. Well done.

The manual is well laid out and contains all the essentials. It is replete with data on the civilizations and the units they generated. Since gameplay is pretty simple, it has the basics. A foldout gives on hand info for quick reference.

In the End...

AOE2 is a simple game that has underlying complexity that is surprising. While it is easy to jump into, it is not necessarily easy to win. The replay ability is top notch and will carry this game a long ways- at least until the next version. The Map Editor for creating scenarios and campaigns is a tremendous boon as well. It played very stable and bugs were not apparent. The classic look and feel makes it a true winner in any gamer’s collection. And expansions are now on the way for AOE2!

I highly recommend it.

Review ID Number: 218
  Product Details
Microsoft
Review Date: 2001-04-19
Reviewer: Nick Sardy
Rating: 10 out of 10
 
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