"Age of Emires II: Age of Kings" is the sequel to the Microsoft strategy game "Age of Empires".
It is set after the decline of the Roman Empire, and allows you to play as one of twelve of the world's largest civilisations from the Dark Ages through to Imperial times.
The game is played by selecting people and giving them a command, and in doing so you develop your civilisation and hopefully outdo your opponent who is 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 religiously, so no worries there.
Years tick by every few seconds, which is kind of odd as it takes a ship the same amount of time to sail to your ally's trade port and back. If distances are really that great then why do the people and buildings take up so much space? However, 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 either razing all your enemies' towns to the ground (which can take a while), by teaming up with some of your former enemies (alliegances can be struck up with a decent amount of trade) and defeating the others as a joint effort, or you can be 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 monastry 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, or various other specific quests.
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.
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's worn off you'll start to wonder what else you could have spent the cost of the game on. At the time of writing this game retailed in the UK for around 35GBP.
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. Microsoft do however have a policy of not featuring blood in their games when poeple die. Which leads us somewhat tenuously into...
How real is it to the events of the Middle Ages? Anyone remember what it was like back then?
Well, it's a computer game. 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. (These, incidentally, are: The Britons, the Franks, the Celts, the Goths, the Teutons, the Vikings, the Turks, the Persians, the Saracens, the Byzantines, the Mongols, the Chinese and the Japanese.) If you're an amateur historian then these potted histories won't tell you anything you don't already know, or they may even harbour a few historical inaccuracies. To be fair though, the representation of the various nations, in the garb as well as the game itself, does hint at a decent amount of research on the part of the designers.
The graphics are pretty sweet, giving a very nice medieval feel overall. They also vary a little between groupings. So all the west European civilisation buildings look alike, and all the east Asian buildings are also the same, and so on. These graphics also change as you advance through the ages, starting from rude canvas shacks to become ornate examples of medieval architecture. Nice touch.
Any advance on the last game?
"So it's basically Age of Empires with different graphics?"
Not quite. 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.
- Learning camapigns: The game can take a little while to practice for the uninitiated, but the learning campaigns take you through the basics.
- You can play online against other players.
- 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 is this researcher's personal favourite. Especially as you can add historical characters to your games this way. Set Robin Hood off against the Sheriff of Nottingham, play as Joan of Arc's escort, or give Hrolf the Granger a big horde and squat on the banks of the Seine.
Unfortunately if you don't know who for example Hrolf the Granger is, then the game won't help you. While they have a run-down on the civilisations, there's no similar help to explain who the historical heroes are. Shame.
As for the playing on-line 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 "Hahaha! It is good to be king!!"
So... Good game?
As said before, there are plenty of gamers to whom this game just won't appeal. But if you liked games like Civilization, Command and Conquer, or even Roller Coaster Tycoon, then you'll probably find this one really addictive.
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. No more questions now please, I'm weary...