'Age of Empires Online' (PC)
Published Aug 16 2011, 17:00 BST | By Mark Langshaw
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© Microsoft Games / Edelman
: Gas Powered GamesPublisher
: Microsoft StudiosGenre:
Real-time Strategy / MMOAge of Empires
was bound to make strides in online gaming sooner or later. Most strategy titles derive their longevity from this method of play, so it's where the future of the genre lies, plus some might argue it was time for the franchise to take a fresh approach after countless traditional instalments.
With Age of Empires Online
, Microsoft has completely reinvented the series. The latest addition to the fold is a free-to-play offering for the Games for Windows Live platform. It's a bold attempt at marrying real-time strategy values with MMO elements, and although it's difficult to judge the game until a community has built up around it, the early signs are very positive.Age of Empires Online
will feel familiar to those who have played any of the previous instalments, at least in the sense that it's true to the series' RTS roots. Aside from the alternate business model at its core and its cartoony new look, the most notable change is a persistent online world that continues to function and evolve in the player's absence.
It's a space shared with friends and rivals across the world, making this perhaps the most ambitious entry in the series to date. It is now possible to set up shops in your capital city to trade with other human participants in your absence, but thankfully attacking inactive players is not permitted, so you won't come home from work one day to find your civilisation in ruins.
Players are handed dominion over a small village in an alternate Mediterranean, and tasked with developing it into a mighty empire through cultural, military and economic expansion. It's a tried and tested formula that's simple and intuitive to pick up, yet difficult to master.
As we previously mentioned, the fans won't need to spend a great length of time familiarising themselves with the fundamentals. There's also plenty of scope for newcomers to use this as a jumping-on point, since it costs nothing to try after all.
The bulk of the gameplay takes place on two fronts. While taking part in online battles with other players or computer AI, players must keep a close eye on the empire management side of things. As with any Age of Empires
title, much of the game's depth comes from the volume of military units at your disposal and the amount of structures that can build on that near-barren plot of land you start out with. Gold is the key to expansion here, and there is mountains of it to be earned through questing.
Quests are what gives Age of Empires Online
its MMO flavour. They usually involve taking on the AI in various scenarios, such as defending a strategic point against a wave of attackers, or taking out an enemy leader. All of the standard missions can be tackled solo or co-operatively, and for some of the more difficult ones, the latter approach is strongly recommended.
There are also repeatable quests, which usually involve building a specific amount of structures against the clock. These tasks become gradually more difficult and offer greater rewards the more you tackle them.
Once a strong user base has amassed around the game, PvP combat looks certain to be a central part of the experience, since we felt like we were being schooled in the most effective ways of taking down an opponent's empire throughout.
Also in keeping with MMO traditions, completing quests sees you accumulate XP points which enable you to level up and unlock additional units, buildings and perks on the game's talent tree. As you advance through the ages (Bronze to Heroic this time around) new upgrades are introduced, adding depth and incentive to continue playing.
Premium account holders (basically anyone who purchases a piece of premium content) have access to the items in the upper reaches of the tech tree, larger inventories and workshops and bonus packs to add some creative flair to your cities, but the free subscribers are treated to a generous amount of content.Age of Empires Online
will not be reliant on micro transactions like so many free-to-play titles, so there's no need to worry about the gaming gradually eating away at your wallet, one tiny bite at at time. An in-game store offers large chunks of additional content available as a single purchase. The game launches with Greek and Egyptian as playable civilisations, but it will be possible to purchase other playable nations with their own units, quests and tech trees.
With the ability to customise their PvP options, premium subscribers will undoubtedly get more out of the game, and serious players will certainly want to sign up as soon as possible. That said, there's still a great deal on offer free of charge, certainly enough to give you a firm idea of whether you feel it is worth investing your hard earned cash in.
Series fanatics might take one look at the Age of Empires Online
's cartoony aesthetic and be deterred. However, this shift in visuals does not mean that the game has been watered down. It may be a user-friendly entry, and veterans might find it slow paced to start out, yet the tactical depth the franchise has long prided itself on becomes more and more evident the longer you play.
The map is vast, and the new online features, such as persistent cities, serve only to bring more scope and potential. As is the case with any great empire, only time will tell whether this one will become a force to be reckoned with, but with so much on offer for both free and premium subscribers, it's sure to attract a dedicated community.> What do you think of the game? Share your views