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Age of Empires 2 - Age of Kings
AoE2 BoxAlready, many think it is better than the recently published Command & Conquer: Operation Tiberian Sun, simply because it has far more innovations to offer than its competitor. In principle, Ensemble Studios have only extended the successful gaming concept established with Age of Empires, but now provide more historical background, more action-filled real-time battles, and a much more complex technology tree. You see, a journey back into the "Age of Kings" is worth the time, not only for novices to the strategy genre but also for professionals.
 
Graphics:
AoE 1Even though on first sight many things look somewhat familiar, the graphics have been enhanced considerably. For instance, it is now possible to choose between a resolution of 800 x 600 and 1280 x 1024 pixels, and the level of detail can be customized as well. The terrain features different altitude levels, although they have no impact on the units' speed. Most of the units' animations have been refined as well, and there are 13 different civilizations with their individual set of graphics. Moreover, the landscape appears to be teeming with life: eagles glide through the air, fish jump out of the water, and predators roam the woods. Only the animations for constructing and destroying buildings are quite unspectecular. And the - in my opinion atmospheric - cutscenes won't be to everyone's liking, because except for the nicely rendered intro they are all depicted as some sort of hand-drawn picture book, accompanied by a narrator.
 
Gameplay:
AoE 2AoE II is divided into five campaigns (including a tutorial campaign), in which you lead a like number of the total 13 civilizations through historic missions, e.g. the Scotsman William Wallace or the French heroine Joan of Arc in their corresponding fight against the English. In most cases, you guide your civilization through various ages, ranging from the Dark Age to the Imperial Age, gaining access to better units and structures when reaching the next age. In order to keep up with the strong computer player, it is inevitable to dedicate a great deal of your time on finding and collecting resources, since without tons of wood, food, stone and gold all your efforts will be in vain. Above all, the special units every civilization can recruit - e.g. the samurai of the Japanese, or the war elephant of the Persians -, cost you a fortune.
Another novelty are the different formations you can apply to all groups of units. But irrespective of the practical benefit of rectangular or wedge formations, they do have some disadvantages. When part of a formation, the faster units (cavalry) adopt to the speed of the slower units (infantry, catapults), thus preventing your units from charging unless you seperate the cavalry from the other units. Fortunately, the units' AI has been notably improved and in 90% of the cases you can be sure that they will reach their destination. The greatest innovation compared with its predecessor, however, are the various siege options. Constructing defence structures such as walls, turrets or castles has become the most important factor for survival. When trying to charge the fortified walls of the enemy with battering rams or with the mighty but cumbersome trebuchets (catapults), you'll experience the excitement of medieval battles.
Details:
Producer:
Ensemble Studios

Website:
Age of Emp. 2

Genre:
Strategy

Graphics:
good

Sound:
very good

Gameplay:
very good

Verdict:
very good

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Pros & cons:
AoE 3The strength of AoE II lies in the complex but easy-to-handle reproduction of a medieval world. It is even possible to conduct basic forms of trade and diplomacy. The game's particular charme stems from the sophisticated economic system, the fight for resources, the battles both on land and on sea and, of course, the option to lay siege to an enemy's castle or city. Besides this, AoE II comes along with a huge variety of civilizations, who all differ in appearance, their set of graphics, their particular benefits and disadvantages, and their language.
Nevertheless, AoE II is not without some flaws, which is mainly due to the fact that the game is bloody difficult. Although you can choose between five difficulty levels, even the second easiest causes frustration among beginners because of the sheer strength and resources of the computer opponent. And it might be realistic that your units can be harmed by your own catapults or canons, but during charges on a enemy fortress it doesn't even require much of a defence from your foe to decimate your army in the blink of the eye. In order to avoid this problem, the Ensemble Studios integrated several attitudes for the units (ranging from aggressive to passive), but while aggressive the units show suicidal tendencies while the passive stance (useful for catapults) makes them react a bit too passive, i.e. they don't even take countermeasures when an enemy priest tries to convert them.
But despite these minor flaws, it is simply a lot of fun to play AoE II; a map and campaign editor as well as a range of mulitplayer options (e.g. Regicide) contribute to the positive impression of the game. Not only history freaks, who are provided with lots of background information about the Middle Ages, but also strategy fans should stop hesitating and start gaming.
© 2000 by CE

 
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