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'Age Of Empires II: Age Of Kings' - The Game
Released in 1999, Age of Empires II: Age Of Kings is the sequel to the Microsoft real-time strategy game Age of Empires. Set after the decline of the Roman Empire, the game allows you to play as one of 13 of the world's civilisations in the time between the Dark Ages through to the Renaissance.
Like other real-time strategy games1, the game is played by selecting units that you control and give commands by use of a mouse. In so doing you develop your civilisation and hopefully outdo your opponents, usually played by the computer. So for example, you can get your villagers building houses and barracks while you order your soldiers to march off and lay waste to something. They'll obey you religiously2, so no worries there.
Years tick by every few seconds, which is kind of odd as it takes vehicles and characters years to travel anywhere. If distances are really that great then why do the people and buildings take up so much space? Fortunately, this little glitch in time and space doesn't disrupt gameplay and it still has a very real feel to it. If the game were in real Real Time then you'd be there forever.
You can win a game by:
Certain missions allow you to win by killing your enemy's king, by safely guiding your king to a specific destination or by various other specific quests and objectives.
One downside though is that while you're moving the mouse round the screen trying to round up your troops, the computer isn't hindered by a mouse and can do things much faster. If you're not swift enough you'll find enemy civilisations blossoming like spring buds while yours is bogged down in autumnal mud.
Aim of the Game
Age Of Empires II: The Age of Kings allows you to play as one of 13 civilisations5 who take part in the five campaigns contained within the game:
In these campaigns you play as the army and sometimes even historical figures from that campaign. The stages of the campaign also depict real historical events; although obviously gameplay has precedence over strict historical accuracy, a good balance between the two is maintained throughout. The only disadvantage is that, unlike other real-time strategy games, you cannot chose which side you wish to play on.
Each civilisation has its own strengths and weaknesses, its own unique elite unit and its own technology. Making the most of the strengths of the civilisation that you are playing as will help guide you to victory.
In order to win, you will guide your civilisation through four ages:6.
This progression not only increases the strength of your military units, it allows you to build better buildings.
In common with other real-time strategy games, resources must be gathered. These resources are needed in order to train units, build buildings, research and develop new units, improve your existing ones and advance into the next Age. Unlike other games where there is only one resource to gather, in Age of Empires II: Age of Kings there are four:
Villagers are used to collect these resources, although fishing boats can be used to fish. Resources, when gathered, are normally deposited in the town centre (or the dock in the case of fishing vessels). Additional repository buildings next to the resources to be gathered can be constructed to speed the process up: mills for food, lumber yards for wood and mining camps for stone and gold.
Ah... Hang on...
Maybe you're thinking "I like games where you wander round hiding behind walls and then you jump out and shoot people, or fast-moving games that can be over in seconds if you're not quick on the ball".
In that case, this probably won't grab you all that well. It's got some lovely features that'll keep you entertained for a while, but after the novelty has worn off you'll start to wonder what else you could have spent the cost of the game on.
Or maybe you're thinking "Sounds a bit gory, probably not a good present for my kids." Well, it's certainly a war-themed game, which leads us somewhat tenuously into...
How Middle Ages-realistic is it? Anyone remember what it was like back then?
Well, it is a computer game, not a recreation of mediæ val life. Playing this game won't help you get a history degree - it's about as real as it needs to get. The opening screen has a little link for you to read up on the various civilisations you can play as. If you're an amateur historian then these potted histories won't tell you anything you don't already know, and they present things in simple 'Goodies and Baddies' terms. To be fair though, the representation of the various nations, in the garb as well as the game itself, does hint at a reasonable amount of research on the part of the designers. For instance, the special characteristics of the Britons in the game are that they have the best archers and shepherds. In the Middle Ages, the highly-skilled English archers decimated much larger armies at battles such as Agincourt, and English wool was considered to be of the finest quality throughout Europe.
The graphics are pretty sweet, giving a very nice mediæ val feel overall. They also vary a little between groupings. All the western European civilisation buildings look alike, all the east Asian buildings are the same, and so on. These graphics also change as you advance through the ages, starting as rude canvas shacks to become ornate examples of mediæ val architecture. Nice touch.
Any Advances on the Last Game?
"So it's basically Age of Empires with different graphics?"
Not quite, although the graphics are substantially improved. But if you didn't like Age of Empires then you won't like this either. There are added features though which make the game run a little smoother, and make it more tactical.
And they are?
This last feature allows you to add historical characters to your games. Set Robin Hood off against the Sheriff of Nottingham, play as 's escort, or give Hrolf the Ganger a big horde and squat on the banks of the Seine. Unfortunately if you don't know who for example Hrolf the Ganger7 is, then the game won't help you. While they have a run-down on the civilisations, there's sadly no similar help to explain who the historical heroes are. Shame.
As for the playing online option, bear in mind that games can take quite a while. It does, however, give you chance to make good use of the 'Chat' facility whereby, upon having laid waste to your friend's settlement, you can send him the humble consolation "Ha ha ha! It is good to be king!"
Who Is Who?
There are eight different types of units that can be built, and all games include a unit limit. To build units, though, you must first build houses. The types of units you can build are:
You can group units together, and assign numbers to these groups to make the units work together as a team.
If you have reached your population limit and wish to kill off redundant units so you can build other, more useful units, simply select the units you no longer require and press delete.
There are also animals that populate the map, including fish in the rivers and seas. For the most part, these animals are wild and exist either to menace passing units or be hunted. Sheep, however, can be directed to a limited extent, provided one of your units is nearby. If an enemy approaches your sheep, the sheep will happily follow them.
Unique and Elite Units
Each civilisation has its own unique unit which is more powerful than other, similar units. These unique units reflect the culture of their civilisation and play to their strengths. These units can only be constructed in the Imperial Age, with the exception of the unit for the Britons and Vikings, who can build their unique units in the Castle Age. To build a unique unit a castle is required, with the exception of the Viking Longboat, which also requires a dock.
In the Imperial Age these units can be upgraded to Elite status to make the strongest units available in the game. Elite units are either archers, infantry or cavalry.
I clicked on a person and they made a funny noise - What are they saying?
They're repeating the order you gave them, in their own archaic little languages.
To build a building, you use one or more villagers to construct what you want, where you want. You can build anywhere except on swamps, ice or water, on rocky cliff faces or on forested land. If you wish to build something where there are trees, you can use your villagers as lumberjacks to clear your construction site. Docks cannot be built on land and have to be built in coastal water.
The Game sounds great, how do I cheat?
As with many other games, it is possible to cheat. This is done by entering various phrases into the Chat line. In order to use the same cheat repeatedly, it is possible to copy and paste the phrase. On entering a cheat code, the playing screen discolours slightly and adopts a grainy quality so that it is obvious that cheating is taking place.
If you only have a short time to play or wish to dip your toe into a game without fully committing, then these cheats may come in handy, however they do rob you of the full experience and enjoyment of the game. Part of the skill and strategy of the game is how to use the available resources to defeat your opponent.
So... Good Game?
If you like games like Civilization, Command and Conquer, or even Roller Coaster Tycoon, then you'll probably find this one really addictive. Perhaps the appeal of playing in the Middle Ages means that this game has not dated as much as other games released in the late 20th Century. As one h2g2 Researcher put it: It's like a favoured and well thumbed book, there are no surprises but you can read it again and again.
I've completed the game, but want to play more! What can I do?
After completing the five campaigns, players can continue to enjoy the additional modes that the game provides. There are a range of skirmish modes that can be enjoyed. You can play on a random map starting only with a town centre, some villagers and a scout and aim to win through conquest, construction of a Wonder or by gathering all the relics. Other game modes include Regicide, where you must keep your king safe while attempting to kill your enemies' kings, and Deathmatch, where you must conquer the map.
A campaign/scenario editor also exists which can be used to create individual games as well as join several games together to create a campaign.
Just like Age Of Empires11, an expansion pack was released for Age Of Empires II: Age Of Kings. Entitled The Conquerors, this features five new civilisations - the Aztecs, Huns, Koreans, Mayans and Spanish - new maps as well as other improvements and refinements. A double-pack edition containing both Age Of Empires II: Age Of Kings and Age Of Empires II: Age Of Kings - The Conquerors Expansion was widely available.
As well as campaigns involving the new civilisations, you can play a selection of the battles of mediæ val times, including the Battle of Agincourt, the saga of Erik the Red and the Battle of Tours, among others. Like the other campaigns, these have a reasonable degree of verisimilitude for a computer game. For example, with the Battle of Hastings level, the forces involved are not just those of the Saxons and Normans, but also forces of Harald Hardrada and other Saxon raiders12. The level hints suggest that any invasion of England should take place on the Isle of Wight - this had indeed been William the Bastard's plan before weather forced him to land at Pevensey, near Hastings, instead. This historical accuracy is sadly offset by the vastly inaccurate portrayal of the Isle of Wight itself. Not only is it completely the wrong shape it is also insultingly shown as being attached to the mainland!
In 2002 a spin-off, Age of Mythology was released. This is a more mythical and magical and less a historical game. In 2005 Age of Empires III was released. This is a similar game, with modified gameplay that takes place at a later date.
Nintendo DS Version
In 2006 a version of this game was released for the Nintendo DS, a double-screen hand-held games console. Due to the complicated nature of the game, the DS version is a turn-based game rather than real-time strategy, yet despite this it retains the character of the original game.
Screenshot: 'Age Of Empires II: Age Of Kings' © Microsoft Corporation
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