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Age Of Empires Online Review (PC)

Game Review: Age of Empires Online
Release: August 16, 2011
Genre: RTS
Developer: Gas Powered Games / Microsoft Games Studios
Available Platforms: Windows XP, Vista, 7
Players: 1 – 4
MSRP: Free + $ for Add Ons
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone (10+)
Website: www.AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com

Age of Empires is back with a new online “Live” enabled version of the popular RTS game.  With two civilizations to begin with, the Greeks and the Egyptians, you can build your Empire as you see fit.  With a blend of features from both Age of Empires II and III, this is not a watered down version of the game per se, but many of the parts are sold piecemeal (more on this later).

The entry point for the game is somewhat carved  from AOE III – having a Capital City serve as a main menu of sorts – but it’s much more than that.  Here is where you spend Technology Points, placing them in a tree structure to guide the development of your civilizations.  This is also much like a trophy room, as you can add structures, shrubbery (as an upgrade pack, seriously), etc. to show off your accomplishments to your friend, who can visit your Capital City.  Among the buildings here is the online store where a plethora of bolt-on content is available for sale.

 

OFFICIAL TRAILER

Beyond the “hub world” Capital City for each civilization, AOE Online feels very much like an HD version of AOE II.  Collecting resources such as food, stone, gold and wood allows you to build your civilization, train armies, and advance through the Ages.  Quests are handed out by Quest Givers and initially serve to ease players into the complexities of the game, but the real meat and potatoes is in the player verses player arena.  This is where you go 1 on 1 (or 2 on 2) against other online players to build a civilization to conquer and defend against the others.  Don’t worry if you can’t jump directly into the PvP arena; it’s not available until you have reached level 6.  Sadly missing are the AI opponents, forcing the anti-social crowd out of their comfort zone and into the community.

Game play and the controls feel like a well worn pair of boots, nice and comfortable, especially for those who are already familiar with AOE.  For those new to PC gaming who are overwhelmed easily by keyboard shortcuts – the entire game can be played with the mouse.  Graphically, the makeover looks great and can be adjusted to compensate for available PC horsepower.

GAMEPLAY VIDEO

The best thing for me about Age of Empires Online is the integration into Games for Windows Live which connects me with my Xbox 360 and PC gaming friends.  It also allows players to trade or gift items to other players via email message via Live.

One of the requirements for this game is a broadband Internet connection.  Not only is the connection needed for delivery of the game to your PC, but, let’s just say that when they call this game Age of Empires Online they really mean it.  If you are not connected to the Internet, the game simply will not even load, so take the ONLINE part very seriously.

I will miss the AI player matches; it was my favorite part of the past renditions of the game.  This is mainly because I could set the difficulty level to keep from getting my ass handed to me while taking my time and trying various strategies.  However, my main concern with this “free to play” game is the “free” part.  It feels so stripped down it could pass as only a demo, leaving the two included civilizations in need of the premium content upgrades just to be able to create player vs. player arena matches and have access to configure the match the way you would like it – or – to be able to invite other players of the free version to join your game.

Granted, there are package deals being offered to the early adopters.  One such package is a season pass that includes all the downloadable content for the first six months at 30% off.   That’s not bad until you realize that it cost 8000 points or $99 US.  It includes more civilizations, campaigns, even plants to decorate your Capital Cities.  It sort of feels like Gordon Gekko picked up the aging franchise for a song and is splitting it up into pieces and selling it all off individually at a huge profit.  Unless there is a ton of content coming for that hundred bucks, it will fall very short of what was included with AOE II (13 civilizations) or AOE III ( 9 civilizations) for half the price when they were released.  Additional “Premium Civilizations” will be $20 US each with other additional content costing from $5 US to $10 US per pack.

For my final take on Age of Empires Online, I am torn.  It’s a game that is true to the canon of the Empires franchise, with a bit of social network city building thrown in – thankfully without the micro-transactions.  In order to get the full Online experience, is it worth a hundred bucks?  Maybe.  You can pick and choose the content you want, so there are certainly cheaper routes to enjoying this game.  My advice is to download and try the free version and go from there.  My gut tells me that content pricing is going to come down or be restructured to appeal to more people, but that probably won’t keep me from buying some nice shrubbery for my Capital City, and it’s just this level of addiction that Microsoft and Gas Powered are counting on.  If it wasn’t habit forming, do you think your first hit would be free?

  • Great looking HD graphics makeover
  • Familiar Controls
  • Fully integrated with Live for Windows
  • Free to play with Greeks and Egyptians
  • Potential high cost for completists

Final Score 8 out of 10

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