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:
Razing all your enemies' towns to the ground and slaughtering all the villagers. This can take a while, as while you are destroying the enemy's town in one place, a few villagers invariably escape, building another one somewhere else3.
Teaming up with some of your former enemies (alliances can be struck up with a decent amount of trade) and defeating the others as a joint effort.
Being the first to build a whopping great cathedral and stop the others from knocking it down, or to collect all the holy relics off the map and safeguard them in your monastery for a couple of centuries. As mentioned already, these tick by in a matter of minutes.
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:
William Wallace - This campaign is a tutorial on how to play the game. You play as the Scottish (Celts) and fight the invading English (Britons).
Joan of Arc - Follow Joan of Arc in the last stages of the Hundred Years' War as the French (Franks) fight the English (Britons).
Saladin - The Crusades. European Knights, including Richard the Lionheart (Britons) and Philip of France (Franks) wish to recapture the Holy Land. Assist Saladin (Saracen) to gather forces and fight to stop them.
Ghenghis Khan - Assist Genghis Khan unify the Mongolian tribes and lead an army to conquer Persia, Germany (Goths) and China.
Barbarossa - Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa wishes to unify the German people. Defend his new nation against Italy and the Pope.
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.
Dark Age - In the Dark Age it is only possible to build basic buildings, such as Town Centre, House, Outpost, Farm, Mill and Mining Camp, Palisade Wall, Dock and Barracks, and basic units such as villagers, militia and fishing ships.
Feudal Age - In the Feudal Age it is now possible to construct an archery range, stables for basic archers and cavalry units, more advanced infantry, as well as warships and trade and transport ships. Buildings include defensive towers, gates and stone walls as well as a blacksmithy and a market.
Castle Age - the Castle Age is defined by being able to construct a castle, and the civilisation's unique units. It is also possible to build a University, Monastery and Siege Workshop, enabling siege machines and monks to be constructed. More advanced military units and ships can be trained and better walls and towers built.
Imperial Age - The Renaissance. Elite units and trebuchets can now be trained in the castle, and Wonders (see the Domestic Buildings section below) can be constructed. The strongest units of each type can now be built.
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:
- Food - gathered by collecting berries from bushes, fishing, hunting and farming.
- Wood - gathered by chopping down trees.
- Stone - collected from stone mines.
- Gold - collected from gold mines. Gold can also be collected by trade vehicles, such as the merchant ships and trade carts, travelling to other players' docks and markets and returning. The further the journey, the more gold collected. Taking relics into your monastery can also generate gold.
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 mediæval 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 mediæval 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 mediæval 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?
- An 'Idle Villager' button, to save you having to hunt the screen for anyone who's clocked off for a lumberjack's slumber.
- Varied command buttons to tell your units whether to attack on sight or just hold back and exercise caution. This is especially useful for siege engines, which otherwise attack any enemy on sight and frequently your own units with friendly fire.
- Learning campaigns: The game can take a little while to practise for the uninitiated, but the learning campaigns take you through the basics.
- You can play online against other players.
- A town bell can be rung to send villagers scurrying to safety in the event of an enemy attack.
- Better Artificial Intelligence for the computer opposition, resulting in a more challenging game.
- Different units and buildings, especially the castle.
- Create Scenario: Pit huge armies against each other, recreate historical events, or just conjure up an immense horde and trash next-door's village for sheer stress-relief.
This last feature allows you to add historical characters to your games. Set Robin Hood off against the Sheriff of Nottingham, play as Joan of Arc'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:
- Villagers - These male and female characters are the backbone of the game, and can be set to do a wide variety of tasks. These include building, farming, hunting, mining gold and stone, chopping down trees, repairing buildings and vehicles. They are extremely vulnerable to attack but can shelter inside, and garrison, certain buildings such as the town centre, castles and towers.
- Infantry - foot-based warriors. These are usually vulnerable to cavalry.
- Archers - Warriors who can fire projectile weapons. Archers can be both on foot or mounted, and in the Imperial Age can even be armed with guns.
- Cavalry - mounted warriors. These range from lightly-armed scouts to knights in armour, camels and even war elephants.
- Siege units - these vehicles include various forms of catapult, including trebuchets, as well as battering rams. These are usually powerful offensively but very vulnerable to attack.
- Monks - these specialist units can heal units (but not vehicles, which need to be repaired) and can convert enemy units to your side, allowing you to control them. Monks can also carry relics.
- Trading vehicles - merchant ships and trade carts can be constructed to travel to allies' and enemies' docks and markets8 and return with supplies of gold.
- Naval vessels - these range from fishing vessels to galleons and other attack vessels, as well as transport vessels to ferry your troops across water.
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.
- Britons - Longbowman
- Byzantines - Cataphract (cavalry)
- Celts - Woad Raider (infantry)
- Chinese - Cho Ko Nu (gunman)
- Franks - Throwing Axeman
- Goths - Huskarl (infantry)
- Japanese - Samurai
- Mongols - Mangudai (cavalry)
- Persians - War Elephant
- Saracens - Mameluke (war camel)
- Teutons - Teutonic Knight (infantry)
- Turks - Janissary (archer)
- Vikings - Berserker (infantry). Vikings can also build Longboats9.
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.
- Archery Range - build this for archers
- Barracks - build this to create infantry units
- Dock - build this to construct all naval vessels, both military and merchant ships.
- Siege Workshop - build this to construct siege engines, with the exception of the trebuchet
- Stable - build this for cavalry units.
- Castle - The ultimate defensive structure. Castles can be garrisoned by villagers and infantry in time of need. Building a castle also allows you to construct trebuchets and special units.
- Gate - Allows your units access through a wall.
- Outpost - This unarmed building monitors enemy movements.
- Tower - There are various towers that you can build and upgrade, including towers armed with cannon. They attack enemy forces that come within range and are a safe refuge for villagers and infantry units.
- Wall - These are either wooden palisades or stronger stone walls and restrict movement. Your units cannot go through a wall without a gate, but archers and catapults can fire projectiles over the wall. Walls do not hinder a monk's ability to heal or convert.
- Blacksmithy - Build a blacksmithy to upgrade the arms and armour of your units.
- Dock - see above.
- Farm - Once all animals have been hunted and fruit gathered from bushes, farms need to be built to gain food.
- Fish Trap - erm, traps fish.
- House - In order to increase the number of units you can command, you need to build houses.
- Lumber Camp - A repository for wood.
- Market - Used to build trade carts to trade with other players and to purchase needed commodities.
- Mill - A repository for food.
- Mining Camp - A repository for stone and gold.
- Monastery - This allows you to build monks and upgrade the monks that you have.
- Town Centre - This allows you to build villagers and can be garrisoned by them in time of attack.
- University - Like the blacksmithy, a University allows you to upgrade your vehicles and structures.
- Wonder - A highly decorative building. This has no function in itself, but building a Wonder and defending it for a period of 1,000 years will win you the game.
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.
- Robin Hood - Gives you 1,000 gold.
- Cheese steak jimmy's - Gives you 1,000 food.
- Lumberjack - Gives you 1,000 wood.
- Rock On - Gives you 1,000 stone.
- I love the monkey head - Gives you a useless villager.
- How do you turn this on - Gives you a classic car you can use for drive-by shootings10
- Marco - Gives you a map of the whole game area.
- Polo - Gives you a clear view, free from fog.
- Torpedo - Kills selected opponent.
- Black Death - Kills all your opponents.
- wimpywimpywimpy - Kills yourself.
- I r winner - You win.
- Resign - You lose.
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 mediæval 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