This week, on the HUNT, a game you probably knew was coming since we did its venerable predecessor four weeks ago: Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. Released in 1999 by the very same combination of developer Ensemble Studios and publisher Microsoft, Age of Empires II garnered high praise everywhere it went, with such rankings as 92% on both Metacritic and Gamerankings, and won a slew of Game of the Year prizes. Its expansion, The Conquerors, went on to win two ‘Computer Strategy Game of the Year’ awards, in 2000 and 2001, respectively. As the Internet will be happy to tell you, Age of Empires II ended up shipping over two million copies.
Now, at first glance, Age of Empires II looks a lot like Age of Empires I in the gameplay department: the same basic structure of ages, villagers, four resources and progressively upgraded units is still in play. This was one of the common points of criticism the game did gather: next to the overly samey gameplay (caused in no small part by the fact that both Age of Empires games run on the same engine), the different units were often seen as bland and unimaginative, and Age of Empires II’s approach to different factions, while more evocative than that of Age of Empires I, still paled in comparison to similarly-dated games like Starcraft and Tiberian Sun.
Overall, though, most of the critical focus was applied to what the game did well. Age of Empires II featured the now-common Idle Villager button, solving the problem of ‘lost workers’ effectively, and its Town Bell allowed a fast and effective response to raids that most games (intentionally) lack. Pathfinding and AI were improved with respect to Age of Empires I, and the new UI was often praised for allowing easy, yet advanced unit grouping, including formations.
Presentation-wise, Age of Empires II was noted for its realistic use of scale, displaying buildings as actually large in relation to units; the new Castle buildings especially tower over everything else. Units in Age of Empires II use soundbites in their civilization’s native language, instead of Age of Empires I’s ‘Rogan?’ (some would consider this a loss), and villagers now had an equal chance of being male of female.
Age of Empires II being as similar to Age of Empires I as it is, there’s not a whole lot to talk about that wasn’t already covered in our Age of Empires I article. We played a grand total of one full game: while Age of Empires II requires (like its predecessor) no special magic to get running, we ran into as-of-yet unexplained game-freezing glitches on the first three tries, prompting disconnect and restarts. Our one free-for-all game was one for the ages, though, with dominance passing from PlayerIII (as always) to Church (who built a Wonder halfway in) back to PlayerIII, to finally end up with Jasper, whose Turkish hand cannoneers proved historically superior; Nagilum and Honing were eliminated early on, due to unlucky positioning (i.e. close to PlayerIII), and Jarenth was quickly relegated to a role on the sidelines after a succesful Church invasion, acting as minor annoyance for a while before finally being defeated by PlayerIII.
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