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Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings

aka: AOK, Age of Empires 2, AoE2
Moby ID: 368

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 88% (based on 62 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 251 ratings with 9 reviews)

SHEER GENIUS! This is my favorite game ever!

The Good
(Fanboyism ahead)

To me, this game represents the peak of the RTS genre. Age of Empires II isn't merely good, and it isn't merely great. It's almost perfect. Graphics, sound, gameplay, design...no matter how I look at it Age of Empires II comes up aces. It truly is a masterpiece.

The sequel to the promising but flawed Age of Empires, this game is where we see Ensemble Studios get their sea legs (so to speak) and begin their rapid ascent to becoming the arena giants they are today. Age of Empires II, Rome has fallen and you must lead one of 17 civilizations through the Dark Ages to the glory of the Renaissance. Like the original you can trade, fight, and form alliances with your neighbours both on land and on sea. There are lots of ways to victory; you can be a mercantile nation, an aggressive militaristic power, or an advanced nation that relies on superior technology. Each civilization has a set of bonuses and handicaps (for example, the Mongols have strong cavalry but weak infantry, making them suitable for raiding) that make each civilization feel unique.

Minus some details, this was pretty the same idea of Age of Empires, which honestly wasn't the most innovative game ever to begin with. So what makes Age of Empires II so great? Many things, but predominately the fact it is simply one of the highest quality games out there.

I've probably spent hundreds of hours playing Age of Empires II and for a couple years it was the only game I played. I had played through all of the campaigns several times, played random map mode to death, downloaded 200MB worth of custom maps from the internet, and logged over 200 games on the MSN gaming zone before it went the way of ARPANET. Age of Empires II simply never gets old. It's one of those games you can just play again and again. There's so much gameplay depth, so much strategy, you can still discover stuff about it you didn't know before after years of playing.

Design takes priority over everything. This isn't a game that was rushed to release. Gameplay is smooth, polished and refined. Even tiny details have been glossed over to provide the most intuitive gameplay possible. Example? When a villager finishes building something he will immediately start work on another building if there is one; meaning you can quickly lay down 20 foundations, point a villager at one of them, and trust that they'll all get built with NO micromanagement required on your behalf. So simple! Yet so...genius!

Since millions of problems that plagued Age of Empires have all been fixed, and what is left is one hell of a solid gameplay deal. There are enough units, buildings and civilizations to keep the average player busy for ages, and that’s only scratching the surface. Although the game doesn't take huge strides in any new directions there are nevertheless a lot of innovative details that have left a permanent mark on the RTS scene.

Most common tasks are automated, meaning you have to spend relatively little time micromanaging an economy and are free to plan offensives. This is quite a radical departure from Blizzard and Westwood's non-stop clickfests. Handy features have been introduced like garrisoning (you can hide villagers inside certain buildings, keeping them safe from raiders). As far as warfare goes, you can group your soldiers into formations. Strong soldiers (swordsmen and cavalry) will be at the front and weaker ones (archers and siege weaponry) will be at the back. There are advanced formations that can be customised for more specialised tactics, such as making your soldiers split into two wings and flank an enemy. It's a really simple, versatile idea, and helps keep your troops organised as well as protecting weaker elements.

Unit AI is excellent. It's a sad testament to the state of pathfinding AI in RTS games that I was impressed Age of Empires II's soldiers know how to walk around corners and obstacles without getting stuck. Like most of the game, pathfinding can be customised for easier control.

And believe me, easier control is something Age of Empires II has high on its priority list. Age of Empires II isn't a game tailor-made for hardcore geeks like Starcraft. It is squarely aimed at casual gamers. There's an interactive learning campaign, near-encyclopedic documentation (the manual that comes with the game is nearly 200 pages long, and there are additional files on the CD) and helpful text-messages that appear whenever you mouse over something. Fortunately, Ensemble Studios was able to keep the game simple without actively dumbing it down and most of the newbie-friendly features can be turned off.

Graphics are great. Despite using a sprite-based 2D engine Age of Empires II pulls out all the stops, from arrows that get stuck in the ground, you can see individual plants growing on the farms, and smoke rising from the chimneys of houses. The game captures a sense of scale that was missing in the original. Huge castles loom over everything, and mountains and cliffs are rendered in amazing detail. The numerous unit sprites were designed in the manner typical of isometric games (modelled in 3D studio and then converted to 2D) which gives the whole game a rendered, pseudo-3D look. The game models things like terrain, cliffs and mountains, which have tactical uses as well as serving as decoration.

And there's an epic medieval soundtrack, hundreds of voice-acted sound-bytes (each of your soldiers speaks in the language of his nation, a nice touch), and lots of SFX an ordinary person would probably phase out altogether. It's fun to mute the music and just listen to the faint bird calls, crashing waves, and windy echoes of the empty highland mountains. Age of Empires II captures well what was perhaps the best part of its prequel: the epic sense of immersion. You're in an actual world.

The Bad
OK, there's aspect where the game sucks and blows: the voice acting. The verbal responses your soldiers give when clicked are fine, but the cutscenes are cringe inducing. It sounds like they were behind budget, needed a voice actor, and grabbed a programmer from the next room. By far the worst is the William Wallace cutscenes, where they've got an American guy trying to force a Scottish accent. I agree with what that other guy said, couldn't they have just hired a Scottish person? The cutscenes are short and skippable so this is only a minor issue.

Gameplay is rather slow-paced next to games like Starcraft (usually several minutes have elapsed before you start fighting) but from where I'm standing that's actually a good thing, as inexperienced players don't have to worry about being steamrollered in the first minute of the game. Age of Empires II actually gives you some breathing space.

The Bottom Line
Greg Street is famous for his quote "anything that harms gameplay will be blindfolded and shot". In most cases this would be mere marketing rhetoric, but they meant it when they made Age of Empires II. This game is stellar. Ensemble Studios would never approach these heights again, not even with the game's sequels. All of the game's elements are great on their own, but everything just comes together to create something even greater.

Obviously some aspects of Age of Empires II will seem dated by today's standards but it's still a superb game and an awesome classic. Highly recommended.

Windows · by Maw (832) · 2007

Definitely the best RTS to date. Nothing can match it.

The Good
Age of Empires was so good that when I heard about Kings, I was a bit confused-- how could it get any better? Here in AoE you had smoothly animated, realistic units, varied civilizations, epic pitched battles, and an expansion pack that added to the fun.

But it did get better. AoK is clearly a gem right from the get-go. The graphics have been greatly enhanced. They are still flat sprites, but Age of Kings uses 2d graphics better than any other game I have ever played. You hardly ever see a clipping error, IE a catapolt wheel running through a house (which is painfuly common in other 2d RTSs). Another thing few people know is that the sprites were only in 256 color, a choice the devs made to keep performance optimal. Well, I didn't even realize this until I was told!

So many things have been expanded, fixed, and polished since AoE I really don't know where to start. One of the major ones, however, is scale-- no longer are building either 2 or 4 times as big as cavalry; no, now trees stand as high as they should, barracks are properly large, and castles tower above all before them.

All sorts of new features have been added too. You can now garisson your units inside of buildings, something I can't believe I lived without before. Archers and townspeople will fire out at attackers if they come near. Units are more plentiful and balanced, and they look cooler too. Researches no longer occur in weird places (whoever heard of researching Watch Towers at a grainery? Well, no more!).

Some people dislike the game because of its scope. It has more resources, units, tactics, and ways to utterly destroy your enemy than any other RTS out there. It takes almost forever to master this game, and then you'll find that it's a whole new challange to play a different civilization with a different special unit.

There are all sorts of game types, the random map generater is better, maps are bigger (up to four times), and enemies are a hell of a lot smarter. If you've been playing for years, like I have, you'll still get to know all their possible tactics fairly well, but to be honest with you I still can't beat the game on the hardest difficulty level. The unit max has been moved up to 200-- wooohoo!

I really should put loads more here, but I couldn't possibly cover all of the improvments. Suffice to say that just about everything that could have been fixed and/or enhanced from AoE was.

The Bad
...just about everything. The diplomacy is still awful. Now, don't get me wrong; I almost feel like a traitor for not putting this in the Good section, because the guys at Ensemble clearly made it much better. But they just didn't get it right (again). As I said, it's better; you can actually tempt players to become your allies, trade with them well, etc. But there are HUGE holes in the AI code! For example, if you make someone your ally, you can switch your status with them to Enemy for a second and then go slaughter a hundred of their men, while they whine 'I'm your friend, be mine!' (I do this when they're hacking at MY lumber). Then when you're done, switch your status back to Ally again, and bam-- you're bestest friends again! They don't have a single memory of the terrors you unleashed unto their civilization. Huh.

I also miss the animated cutscenes from AoE. I know they had reasons to keep them out of this one, but I still really miss them.

I also felt that the map system could have used some tweaking, to handle their Campaigns (that attempted to put some RPG into the game, like W3: RoC did later). The Campaigns were not the best I've played in a game. But hey... who plays them anyways?!

The Bottom Line
Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings remains, in my opinion, the undisputed master of the real-time strategy scene. No other game-- yes, not even the overhypted Warcraft 3-- can defeat it. This isn't a game with hours of gameplay inside-- it's a game with years of it.

Windows · by ShadowShrike (277) · 2005

The best RTS since StarCraft.

The Good
Ever since Dune II, the conventions of the Real-Time Strategy games have been pretty much set. You gather a lot of resources, build some military to defend with and advance your technologies, then build a LOT of units and fling them at the gate. They are usually 2D, isometric, with good production values, and online play. Very few RTS games (such as Homeworld) manage to break this mold in any way. And while AOE2 doesn't exactly break new ground, it manages to execute this formula better than any game since StarCraft.

Produced by Ensemble Studios, the takes as its setting the medieval lands of Europe and Asia. The folks at Ensemble deserve credit for their exhaustive research and commitment to historical accuracy in this game. While I don't think there were many epic skirmishes between the Japanese and the Britons, it's a refreshing change to have something other than plasma beams or exploding dwarves in an RTS.

You start off with a Town Center, a couple of villagers to gather resources with, and eventually, buildings that produce infantry, archers, cavalry, and siege weapons. The elaborate chess system of strengths and weaknesses between the varieties of these units is amazing. For instance, a special kind of infantry is very good against cavalry, but is helpless before archers. But a special archery unit specializes in killing standard archers, and those are in turn easily disposed of with a siege weapon. Very intricate. Thrown into the mix are Monks, your standard healers, except they have the amusing ability to "convert" enemy units, and eventually enemy siege weapons and buildings.

The isometric landscapes of AOK are very good-looking, and actually play active roles in your game. For instance, you may need to use a certain siege weapon to bust down the forest separating you from the enemy. Archers firing from cliffs receive a bonus, and vice versa. And be sure not to herd your sheep too near those wolves. The interactive environments are very detailed. And although only four types of architecture (Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Arabia, and Asia) are used, each of the buildings is to scale and beautifully rendered.

The sounds in the game are spot on. A nice touch is that the farther the action from the center of your viewscreen, the weaker the noise. And the elegant music tracks range from nondescript to amazing. Very solid audio.

And while most RTS games only give you 2 or 3 sides, AOK offers no less than 13 different civilizations. While there is only one unique unit per civ, they are made to play very differently by giving them certain percentage bonuses to certain types of buildings or units, and taking away their ability to produce others. For instance, the Goths have powerful infantry, and villagers that hunt exceptionally well. But since they are unable to build advanced defenses, they are one of the worst races in the game. Very intricate.

The single-player campaigns are very well-done, telling the stories of actual heroes from the era, including Gengis Khan, Joan of Arc, and my personal favorite, Saladin. The tales fit surprisingly well in the context of the game itself, and the objectives are challenging without being frustrating.

Also included is a powerful Campaign Editor, which lets you design and customize every aspect of your campaign. Virtually everything the designers could do, you can, with the nifty Trigger system and even the ability to add custom .avi intros and endings to your episode.

The Bad*
First off, this is a Microsoft game, so the MSN Gaming Zone is your one and only option for multiplayer. Expect nothing even close to as efficient as Blizzard's Battle.net. And once you get online, multiplayer games usually devolve into a race to see who can build the most Town Centers. It's just not very fun.

And the enemy AI isn't much of a help either. Once you've played a few games on each difficulty setting, you can easily spot patterns in the computer's thinking. However, Ensemble helpfully included a how-to guide for programming your own AI, so some alternatives should surface via the Internet.

The voice acting for the single-player campaigns in universally horrible. The William Wallace training campaign in particular sticks out. Why can't they just hire a Scottish guy to do the voices?

And while Ensemble put "Advanced" commands that tell your units to auto-patrol, escort, and the like, they have a very thrown-in feel. The unit AI, nothing to write home about from the start, gets really hilarious when a unit is told to guard something.

Finally, the micromanagement of the economy, while a nice novelty at first, gets tedious once your focus shifts from foraging berries to building an unstoppable military force. You're expected to take time off from coaching a battle royale against the enemy army to go back and tell your villagers to reseed farms. More unit AI would be appreciated. [This was fixed in the excellent Conquerors expansion pack to the game, but this annoyance in particular I would have liked to see addressed with a free patch as well, rather than gouging us another twenty bucks.]

The Bottom Line
Many of AOK's flaws are just as bad or worse in other RTS games, and the nearly flawless presentation of the game, combined with a robust gameplay system, make AOE2 a winner, and the best game we've seen from MS since Minesweeper.

Windows · by Anatole (58) · 2001

A must-have for every RTS fan.

The Good
This game has lovely graphics - it's a pure pleasure to look at those beautiful houses and towers. Proportions of buildings are now improved - you won't see a catapult bigger than stable anymore. People are now much more detailed and environment is much more realistic and varied. Despite being a 2D game, AoE2 still looks good.

Sounds are much more varied than in Age of Empires - instead of saying the same "roggan?" now your villagers are speaking in their native language - when you play Franks, they will speak in French, when Britons - English and so on. Samples of weapons are much better and more realistic than in AoE.

This time, you have 5 campaigns, where you will take place of Joan d'Arc, Saladin, Barbarossa and other famous people. Every mission has short spoken intro and outro. Objectives can change during a gameplay. Most of missions have some scripted interludes. I have to admit, that campaigns are the best thing in whole game.

And of course, there is also a random map, taken almost directly from Age of Empires, but there are some significant differences: first, maps are much bigger and more detailed. Second, there are 13 new civilisations like Vikings, Mongols and Saracens. And third, Ensemble Studios added new gameplay type - Regicide. In Regicide, you try to kill enemy's king, while protecting yours king. Obviously, you can still win by building a Wonder, collecting all relics and simply destroying your opponent.

Your army is now much more intelligent than in AoE, you can change formation of your detachments, and your soldiers don't lose their way anymore. As in AoE, you have plenty of units to train - cavalry archers, camels, trebuchets, galleons, battering rams, and more. Moreover, each civilisation has its own unique unit, unavailable to others. Obviously, there are plenty of technologies which improve your army. Once again, computer player is aggressive and won't let you get bored.

Also, there is a small encyclopaedia. Maybe it doesn't alter a gameplay, but it's nice addition to a game.

The Bad
Well, this section will be short - for unknown reason central and eastern Europe is omitted in the game. And that's all.

The Bottom Line
You may skip Age of Empires, but you have to play it's sequel, if you like RTS. There are still many people who play it by LAN or Internet, so you shouldn't have problems with finding somebody to play.

Windows · by Sir Gofermajster (485) · 2009

The best RTS ever made!

The Good
The amount of options you have in this game are incredible. The included mission packs are insanely fun to play, including such famous people as William Wallace and Genghis Khan. There is a lot of game to play, and barely any micro-management is required to keep your cities up and running and to keep on producing units.

An included mission editor makes the game even greater, as any kind of mission you would like to create can be made with an easily learned scripting system.

The Bad
The pathfinding of the units is not perfect, but no pathfinding is perfect, and it is generally better than other games from it's time period.

The Bottom Line
The greatest RTS ever made, with limitless amounts of options for all players, and with the included mission editor, even more options as you can download other peoples works.

Windows · by Charles Auger (2) · 2008

One of the best RTS games of all time

The Good
A great mixture of Warcraft II and Civilization. Great graphics, nice music and very deep gameplay make this one of the best RTS games ever. Many civilizations to choose from, lots of units and many little facets in the game make for a long entertaining and sometimes frustrating game experience. The interface is complex, but still easy to learn. It's mainly a multiplayer game, though. There are single player campaigns and there are random games against computer opponents but they are only there to train for the battles on the net.

The Bad
The computer AI has some weaknesses like the computer's settlers stopping their work and following a unit endlessly when being attacked by a scout. Marvels can make easy wins for fairly poor players. The game frame rate drops down a lot even on faster computers when you move large numbers of units and can make huge battles a pain.

The Bottom Line
A good mixture of developing a civilization, exploring and real-time battles. All in all a great game especially in multiplayer mode.

Windows · by Robert Teichmann (415) · 2000

The best medieval themed RTS of all time

The Good
It will keep you playing for months the multiplayer is incredibly balanced all the civilizations fight well and strategy is abundant. Back when this came out the graphics where great as well. Choose from the mongols, chinese, britons, franks, saracens, etc. A lot of diversity with each civilization having their own interface and own sounds. I really learned a lot of history from this game as well. I'll never forget how Barbarossa died. The rated system on the zone is what kept me coming back, the numbers were well calibrated and you only got a lot of points for when you really won. Singly player was fun too, though not nearly as fun as multiplayer. The civilizations each possess their own special units which totally change their position on the battlefield. Playing on custom maps was also really fun. You can choose from random map, deathmatch, custom map, king of the hill, and a whole slew of other styles. This is truly a strategy classic.

The Bad
The zone system they used online was a little buggy, and it didn't contain cheaters to well either. I doubt they've fixed it either, the net's best hackers were addicted to this game.

The Bottom Line
A really great strategy game, an unforgetable classic. It also serves as a usefull learning tool about midieval warfare. Truly a groundbreaking game.

Windows · by Thiago Oliveira (85) · 2003

Fun....in the beginning

The Good
This game needs a lot of strategy. I enjoy games that take thought in order to win, rather than just total hack-and-slash. Without thought, you will probably lose.

The graphics are very crisp and nice, and I enjoy the various ways the troops die. I prefer the nice look of the Vikings, and the interesting Aztec/Mayan buildings.

The sounds in the game are sound good, and give the impression of the sound of battle as troops fight.

By far the best thing about the game is the map editor. It is very fun to create a featureless desert, with two huge armies in the middle of the map, resulting in a quick, but violent, battle. The test feature allows you to give your map a test run to see how it works, so that you don't have to leave the editor and create a new game to try it.

The Bad
After playing for a little while on one level, the computer just repeats itself and fails to do anything new. You get bored and just resort to cheats to win, and do the same in subsequent levels.

The Bottom Line
Buy this game if you enjoy large scale strategy battles.

Windows · by Boris Stovich (26) · 2004

Something of a bore

The Good
It did get the mind ticking on how to destroy the enemy, but other than that, I really didn't like it.

The Bad
There were too many different types of people and too many ways to crush them.

Also you need so many matriels to make even the simplest of things and the interface was so long it would take ages to make even 1 soldier!!

The Bottom Line
A general waste of time, money and hard disk. I wouldn't bother if I were you.

Windows · by paul cairey (319) · 2002

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Alsy, Patrick Bregger, Wizo, vedder, Foxhack, Jeanne, Riamus, jean-louis, Caliner, Mark Bradstreet, nyccrg, beetle120, katarn_88, CalaisianMindthief, lights out party, Kabushi, Tim Janssen, Zeppin, Plok, Crawly, Aubustou, Emmanuel de Chezelles, COBRA-COBRETTI, Sciere, Klaster_1, gukker, Scaryfun, Cavalary, mikewwm8, Parf, vicrabb.