Would you like to rule a civilization? Age of Empires Online will let you build, defend, and concur as the ruler you always wanted to be. As a bonus the game is free to play, but is it worth it? Pick up your sword and shield, “for tonight we dine in hell!"
Age of Empires Online currently offers two civilizations to choose from, the Greeks and the Egyptians, (note, other civilizations are planned for future expansions). The basic story for both are the same, build your capital city to help support your civilization. In the Greek story you are helping cities defend against and attack the Followers of Autolycus. In the Egyptian story you are trying to unite the kingdom by attacking and defending against the Badari.
Controls and Gameplay
The controls for Age of Empires Online are simple, you can do it all with just the mouse. There are keyboard controls, but so far I've hardly touched it. Age of Empires Online takes the real time strategy (RTS) gameplay it's know for and mixes in massive multiplayer online (MMO) elements. Your capital city is where you will receive quests, build stores, equip your units with items and create items and resources to use or trade with other players.
The quests can vary from a simple collection of items to massive battles. Most will have you gathering resources, such as food, lumber, and gold to build your army for deploying and improving the defenses of the village for that map. Almost all of the quests can be played cooperatively with other players. If the quest seems too simple you can toggle on "elite" to make it challenging. To me the normal difficulty seemed just right, but die hard RTS players may want the challenge.
There is also a player versus player (PVP) arena where, if you wish, you can battle other online players. The game will match you up with a player of the same level and ranking. Win your battle and you can see your name move up the ranks of the leaderboards.
Graphics and Sound
Age of Empires Online's graphics are cartoony, they remind me of Disney's Hercules. A bit of departure from the more realistic Age of Empires III, but personally, I think they work well for the game.
Sound for Age of Empires Online has been done well. The music fits the civilizations you have chosen along with phrases the units say when you choose them. Effects fit the actions taken, building sounds like hammering and battle sounds like swords clashing. Nothing here sounded out of place or jarring.
Microsoft has decided to take the classic and successful Age of Empires series into the age of social interaction with Age of Empires Online. First off they have made the game ‘free to play.’ It's as simple as going to the web site (see below), downloading the game, and having an internet connection. With free to play gamers will have lots of content to enjoy. Quest, battle, co-op, chat and trade with other players all free, with at least 40 hours of content at launch. Socially it works through Games for Windows/Xbox.com which allows you to access your friends list and show off achievements earned.
Players who want more can get more, but this is where the game stops being free. You can purchase different levels of packs and add-ons: Booster Packs ($9.99) that add new game modes like a "horde" mode where you battle wave after wave of enemies; Premium Civilization Packs ($19.99) that include rare and epic gear, advisors, an expanded tech tree, more inventory slots, and much more; Pro Civilizations Packs ($19.99) that include all the Premium items and starts the player at level 20; Empire Extras Packs ($4.99) that includes decorative items for your capital city like statues and bushes; Lastly there is the Season Pass ($99.99) which gives you all of the extra content listed above and anything else put out in the first six months of the game's release.
While all that will certainly add to a player's experience of the game, it is not required. You can still enjoy the game as is. Balance for PVP will not be upset either. When players are matched up Age of Empires Online takes into account whether or not players have any premium content. So you will never have to worry about being matched up against someone with powerful, rare, or epic level gear.
I like RTS games, but they are not my forte. That said I did find Age of Empires Online very enjoyable. Developers Robot Entertainment and Gas Powered Games have found great balance between RTS and MMO with Age of Empires Online. It's easy to pick up and learn, and with it being free to play, anyone who has never played a RTS style game before can get more than just a taste. If you find you like it, investing in more won't break your bank.
A quick tip, explore the whole map, even after you finish the quest. There is always treasure to find hidden away out there. Treasures can include anything from resources to craft items, blueprints or sellable items.
Free, fun, easy to learn, and able to play with your friends. Achievements and no faults brings me to a 5 out of 5 for Age of Empires Online.
Age of Empires Online is rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older for Mild Violence by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
It is available now for Windows PC. For more information see the Age of Empires Online web site.