Gaming: Age Of Empires II – A Golden Oldie, Not a Mouldy Oldie

By James

With Microsoft’s announcement of Age Of Empires IV and with II & III getting remastered, definitive versions, I have felt the need to try and spread the word about these glorious games; games that have stood the test of time, despite the bashing they get here, there and everywhere. They’re nearly two decades old! Despite getting an HD overhaul, they’re not going to be as pretty and refined as the latest Command and Conquer or Supreme Commander.

As you might have guessed from the opening, AoE II has taken its fair share of knocks over the years in regards to its playability. I say it is still as fantastic and beloved as it always has been. Using one of the most accessible and simple gaming platforms (literally, single and double mouse clicks with small amounts of drag and drop) it’s like riding a bike again for the first time in years; you can jump back in as if it were yesterday or pick it up fresh, either way, it’ll be second nature within minutes.

Essentially, for those that haven’t been fortunate to grow up with AoE, it is a real-time strategy similar to the likes of Halo Wars, League of Legends or Starcraft, that follows a lot of standard practices in the genre. The pixelated sprites hobble across the map and fight in a formulaic hierarchy: Pike man are strong against cavalry, cavalry are strong against infantry, infantry are weak vs archers, you get the jist. You exploit gold, stone, timber, and food resources in order to produce all the ships, units, etc and build the big, small, weird and wonderful buildings to eventually crush your enemies. Each nation has particular strengths as is the norm with most of these types of games like improved build times, reduced unit cost, those kinds of perks, and depending on your playstyle (aggressive, defensive, guerrilla tactics, etc) you can win through varying means depending on what you seem to be good at – be it combat, building a wonder, etc. For those that don’t know, as I can see it wouldn’t be very obvious, a wonder is a special building with a unique style, depending on your civilisation, that counts down to an instant win. It requires a bazillion resources and takes forever to build so it’s only for those with hardy defences to ensure it stays built.

I haven’t played the multiplayer, so I can’t comment. I’ve heard it is buggy and laggy but to be honest, I’m not writing this with online in mind. The game holds up in single-player. Like a pre-Mojang Minecraft, the map editor has an almost limitless array of creatable and craftable scenarios - from a desert full of roaming wild-cats to mountainous, ambush-prone passes; you can create anything your mind fabricates. I myself, have spent hours and hours just building a map full of little quirks and features to make for an interesting bout with the enemy. I love the fact there are so many terrain options and possibilities to create unique and interesting landscapes for your armies to cover in your foe’s blood! It’s like digitalised Warhammer (Warhammer also did several RTS games almost identical to this one. They’re also very good).

When it is accused of not ageing well, it makes me angry. What did you expect? For people like me, nostalgia is always going to play a huge part in reliving moments from this game but I’m arguing that it is just as playable now as it has always been, like an old film. Even if you play the campaign for an hour, you’re imbued with a historical knowledge of famous figures you didn’t have before, like Attila the Hun and his campaign against the Eastern Roman Empire. See! Another reason it is great... it’s educational... Always the best kind of game... *cough*

As stated above, it is rooted in history - but this gives it an understandable basis and an intrigue into the races, civilisations, and units that it couldn’t achieve if it was inherently fantasy.

And yet people knock the HD re-release for falling short of the ‘HD’ title. Buildings and the majority of the scenery are in impeccable detail – especially the national specific castles and monuments. In 2D isometric projection (visually representing 3-dimensional objects in 2-dimensional drawings), rather than 3D, it is quite impressive. I guess this is an area where the new, remastered, ‘Definitive Editions’ are set to fix a lot of the issues people had with the HD versions. I expect they’ll be fully rendered 3D sprites, like modern RTS’s, on gorgeous backgrounds which will make the game even more stunningly visual.

AoE III never lived up to AoE II, in my opinion. Whilst the graphics were improved and the gameplay slightly modified, it was not as clear during gameplay or even as fun due to the added complexities like flamboyant, overly detailed additions to the HUD. Age of Kings was, and still is, the series high-point. The constant micromanaging strategy is very appealing and the decks and home city in III drew something away from the point of the previous game for me. The transparency and ease of use (but by no means a walk in the park at times) is one of the winning factors. AoE III altered the difficulty to allow for quick wins (the AI seemed to be simplified) which ruined the satisfaction gained from emerging victorious after a 4-hour long, gruelling war. In which many men perished and many battles were fought.

With all this in mind, I’m very excited for the remaster. It’s a great game and if the gameplay is upgraded to a 3D version with the capability to zoom into the action and out to view the map in its entirety, then I will be very happy. I’m very intrigued to see how they develop the series after all these years with IV  being produced as well. If it is half as good as Age of Empires II then it will be worth a play as it remains one of the best RTSs to date.

Controversial? Then let me know on Twitter: @MugwumpBlog

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