reviews\ Oct 17, 1999 at 8:00 pm

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings - PC - Review

The genre of civilization games is a well-stocked one. Microsoft redefined the look of the genre in 1997 with Age of Empires.

A loyal following demanded more and in 1998, the software giant released Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome Expansion. This narrowed the focus of the game a little more. Rather than challenging the game player to build a civilization from the Stone Age, it concentrated on the foundation of an ancient Roman empire.

In 1999, Microsoft has taken the popular title a little further down the evolutionary trail. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings focuses on the medieval civilizations in human history. You are challenged with guiding a society through the Dark Ages into a vibrant, productive civilization. Along the way you will march down the path to the Feudal Age, the “Castle Age,” and finally to the “Imperial Age.”

And what a trip it is. Microsoft has rendered this program with the hands of master craftsmen (and craftswomen) to take a great title and make it the best on the market. OK, there are no frills here - no spacecrafts, no exotic locations other than those which appeared in the history of man. But there is romance to the ages and civilizations presented. And it is precisely that which powers the imagination and makes this game so addictive.

Graphics? The best in this genre. Age of Empires II presents a game board with all the contours and features of a three-dimensional world, intricate detail on the buildings and population, and the creatures of the world (such as deer or hawks) are even better rendered and react in a more lifelike manner. The sound is superb. Regional dialects for the different civilizations give this program an authentic air. The rest of the ambient sounds are very realistic.

One of the nicest new features is that units - foragers, villagers or soldiers - are no longer lost behind buildings. An outline image lets the game player access control of those units and continue to manipulate them. Thirteen new civilizations have been added, each with unique features. The Japanese have a samurai; the Persians have a war elephant; the Franks have throwing axemen; the Vikings sport longboats and berserkers. Other civilizations joining the fun include Britons, Byzantines, Celts, Chinese, Goths, Mongols, Persians, Saracens, Teutons, and Turks. New buildings and new villager types make this a well-rounded program.

The tutorial is an easy walk-through of everything you will need to play this program. Following the theme of William Wallace and the Scots battle with Edward Longshanks and the English, it builds the foundations for beginning and succeeding early in the game. From there it is on to a random map and the turmoil of guiding your chosen people to the promised land of fealty to a monarch. However, the tutorial is geared for success - thus the challenges are simple and easily attained. Don’t expect it to be as easy once you start a real game.

As beautifully rendered as this program is, it is also a tremendous challenge. Nothing can be taken for granted. Hoping to live in peace, especially during these ages, is a far cry from the reality of being a peace-loving society. You have to build troops to protect what belongs to you. There are raiders about, quick to prey on the unsuspecting or unprepared. Yes, extend the olive branch of peace, but don’t be surprised if it is greeted by insults and the flame of war. Establishing trade is one way to deflect hostile intentions.

If the preprogrammed scenarios are not to your liking, Microsoft has included a great custom scenario editor that allows the game player to create their own campaigns. That is a tribute to the versatility of this title.

There is also a wealth of new multiplayer scenarios that can be played over a LAN or the Internet. The latter is available through the MSN Gaming Zone.

Here are a few tips for surviving in this game: Exploration is the key to establishing the boundaries of your world. Find out where the enemy is and build your defense fronting them. Building your city near a wealth of resources is essential to maintaining a thriving culture. You can never have too much food.

Age of Empires II is simply an awesome game - great in historical imagery, solid in sound and game play, and a lot of fun to play. The Age of Kings deserves its title.

Installation: 6. Nothing very unique here

Gameplay: 9. The game board is well-rendered and the flow of the game is uninterrupted.

Graphics: 9. This is the finest looking civ game on the market.

Sound: 9. The dialects are a wonderful addition to the ambient sounds usually heard in a civilization game.

Concept: 7. Though the program focuses on a set time frame, this is still a civilization game.

Difficulty: 8. Any game of this genre is a mixture of building homes and fending off intrusive neighbors. Yes, you can wave the olive branch of peace and try to co-exist through diplomacy, but either proposition is a chore that must be planned carefully to be effective.

Value: 9. This is the best civilization game - no frills like space travel - on the market.

Overall: 8.1


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