Age of Empires


Review by Eddie Dalton-Morris



Graphics: 8

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 5

Overall: 5


Ensemble Studios’ Age of Empires promised to offer a blend of the action orientated gameplay of Command and Conquer and the historical empire building of Civilisation. Unfortunately, despite its impressive presentation, the game does not live up to billing.

ageofempirespc.jpg (61275 bytes)The “conflict” and “intrigue” promised on the back of the box are nowhere to be found. From the start it becomes apparent that Age of Empires is simply another exercise in resource gathering and conquest through four historical ages - Stone, Tool, Bronze, and Iron. The lacklustre attempt at diplomacy, which lets you offer tribute to competing factions, is all but useless. Alliances are simply not worth the cost in resources. While you are trying to forge a partnership with an AI player they will continue to attack you – there are no cease-fires here. The entire tribute system seems like a token addition to the game and you will probably never, ever use it.

If you wanted to build an empire you will again be sorely disappointed. Building up your city is very much like building a base in every other real time strategy game of the period. You select a worker, then a building from a sub menu, and click to drop it. There are no actual people with needs and desires living in your city, there are no roads or public services. Once again it effectively comes down to building structures to either upgrade or gain new combat units. Any hope of finding the depth of something like Caesar 3 is quickly extinguished.

This means that the game is left to stand entirely on its combat. Unfortunately, this aspect of the game is seriously crippled by the AI. Simply put, your units are stupid and your enemies are not. An army could walk right past your amassed units and they will not lift a finger. You have to tell them to attack, there is no option to set friendly units to be aggressive. As the game progresses and your armies swell this degree of micromanagement becomes increasingly annoying as you simply do not have enough time to issue orders. Grouping units together helps somewhat, but faced with a battle on two fronts you are going to take huge numbers casualties as it is simply impossible to tell everybody what to do. If there were a way to pause the game and issue orders then the combat would be less aggravating, as it is it simply seems unfair.

This sense of unfairness is not helped by the computer AI. Not only does it not have the same logistical problems are you when it comes to issuing orders, but computer players also seem to be able to amass supplies faster than you can. Facing just the one computer opponent, this is not much of a problem, but most missions require you to face multiple factions at once. These factions will not fight amongst themselves, but instead seem to go straight for you, stacking the odds heavily against the player. Coupled with your units’ horrendous intelligence this leads to some very one sided conflicts as you find yourself constantly on the back foot. This is particularly noticeable in the opening missions, when you don’t have enough units to defend your base from two sides at once.

There are a good number and variety of units to build, considering the other games around at the time, which keeps the game interesting. Having to build every unit individually, one at a time is cumbersome and time consuming. When you find yourself trying to issue orders to two sets of troops and trying to build more units at the same time you’ll be pulling your hair out at that particular oversight.

It is a shame that the gameplay never really rises above being passable, because Age of Empires looks fairly impressive. The attention to detail as your workers kill an animal and strip its flesh or as perform do other mundane tasks such as pick berries is commendable and all the units and buildings look wonderful.

The campaign mode is a fine idea and lets you play as one of a number of different races, but because of the way the game plays it simply isn’t that much fun. More time will be spent in multiplayer, where both players have to struggle with the AI, levelling out the playing field. The custom scenario editor is also likely see some use, letting you tweak the game back in your favour a little.

The music is fitting but not particularly memorable. The all-purpose horn sound that plays when various things happen is more often confusing than helpful. You can’t immediately be sure if that unit you ordered has been finished or if there’s a horde of angry natives knocking over all of your buildings and generally making a mess of the place.

Age of Empires is a game that probably needed a few more months in development to iron out the AI issues. The lack of a true city or civilisation building option is disappointing, but would be easily over-looked if the combat made up for it. Unfortunately, the stress inducing AI scuppers that, leaving the game short of redeeming features. The sequels both improved on the formula established by this game but it’s a pity, the series definitely had the potential to be great right off the bat.


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Last updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2007 11:12 PM