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August 14, 2011

Age of Empires Online review – Part 1 – Gameplay

According to the online countdown over at AOE-O Fans, Age of Empires Online is now just 2 days away from launch. A number of community members have been lucky enough to secure pre-release keys to play the game early ahead of the August 16th launch date. Remember ES has been checking out the pre-release and today wanted to share my thoughts on the final product. The pre-release is the full version of the game, although there will be a small patch in the coming days for the full launch what we are seeing is the near final version. In just 2 days Age fans worldwide will get what they have been longing for, a new release in the Age franchise since the Asian Dynasties release in 2007.

The Remember ES review will be split into 5 parts:- Gameplay, Multi-player, Art & Design, Sound & Music and Conclusions. Each part will be coming out over the next few days, so keep checking back!

Gameplay

Age of Empires Online *is* a different direction for the franchise, it is the first game to be a hybrid MMO/RTS, which some are calling a MMORTS. AOEO is also the first game in the series to use a fremium, or “free to play” model. The free version of the game includes access to the Greek and Egyptian civilisations offering over 40 hours of game play with a huge amount of quests (or scenarios) each. The free to play aspect isn’t a slouch on content, there is alot here to keep people busy just as much as a paid for off the shelf retail game, if not more. This whole concept, in my opinion, an excellent way to market and grow the game. I expect the free to play model to draw in huge numbers of players who perhaps have never played an Age game before, or perhaps those who have not been so keen to purchase RTS based games. Combined with the approachability and ease to pick up and play, AOE-O is in a fantastic position to take the market by storm and take the series to new heights.

My first capital city as the Greek civilisation. The capital city concept improves greatly on the Age 3 home city concept. Players can build up huge capital cities where they will spend their time crafting gear, consumables, resources and more. Vanity packs are also available for the creative folks!

Although the free version offers considerable depth and game play hours it is important to discuss some of the benefits of upgrading to a premium civilisation and the pricing of such content. Upgrading to a premium civilisation gives players extra access to gear, advisors, workshops, and PVP features. Essentially, the gears, advisors and workshops offer a more in depth experience adding new strategy combinations into the mix and promote further collecting of items. The content is great for those who have tried out the free version, liked what they saw and want to unlock further features. Premium versions are priced at 1600 Microsoft points each. The price point, seems to be adequate, I wouldn’t say it offers incredible value. Only time will tell about the community reactions with that price point. Considering players will need to spend 1600 MSP per civilisation this certainly can add up over time. In terms of necessity, I think for those players who want to get the most out of the game the premium packages are a necessary. Advisor’s and rare / epic gear do add alot more to the experience and variation.

Purchasing DLC, be it premium civs, gameplay packs or vanity packs is a doddle and can be purchased and activated in game in minutes.

Like many when AOE-O was first announced I was concerned that moving into the MMORTS style would be a big departure from traditional game play and that the focus would be too much on crafting and creating enormous home cities instead of actual RTS play. These concerns were soon dashed early on in the beta program. There is a great deal to do in the capital city but the traditional Age game play in terms of scenarios or rather “quests” are still there. Personally, I have always really enjoyed the “campaigns” of Age games in the past, particular hats off to the Age of Mythology campaign. While AOE-O’s quest lines are no where near as detailed in terms of history, or storytelling they are still very fun to play. Each quest line has some type of story attached and they are all objective based. What is pleasing to see is that there is variety amongst the different quests. Some quests will have players starting in Age 1 with a Town Center, building up an empire to eventually overthrow the enemy. Other quests however might vary the starting Age and victory conditions. Some quests are different entirely, like racing camels to a certain point in the map, building up tower defences against waves of enemies and creating farms in record time. There always seems to be a number of quests available to the player at one time, so if you’re getting bored of one type of formula, just try out a different quest entirely.

As discussed earlier, there is a claim of 40 hours of game play. I do think this is a realistic figure considering the huge amounts of quests available for both the greeks and egyptions. For campaign lovers of past Age games, theres alot for you here!

The gameplay mechanics are very traditional to previous Age games. The concept of gathering resources with villages to build up an army is all the same. This time round Food, Wood, Gold and Stone are the four resources utilised to build your empire in quests, a nod to Age of Empires 2. Buildings are also pretty much the same as previous games in the series – town centers, houses, docks, barracks etc are all there. If you’ve played previous Age games you’ll be right at home here.

Perhaps one of the best things about AOEO is that we can expect lots of future content to be pumped out, potentially, faster than previous Age games. Robot Entertainment has built AOE-O to be an “evergreen” game, this means the game has been architectured to support new content to be developed and distributed quickly. From gameplay packs like the Defense of Crete to brand new civilisations. I would expect we will see new content packs being released much more often and faster then the retail expansion packs found in previous games in the series. The Age series has been quiet during the last few years, its about to ramp up the production dramatically with Age of Empires Online which can only be a good thing for players and fans.

Check back for part 2 tomorrow where we take a look at the multi-player elements of AOE-O!

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Related posts:

  1. Age of Empires Online review – Part 2 – Multiplayer
  2. Age of Empires Online is free to play with premium expansion packs
  3. Age of Empires Online – Egyptians revealed plus pricing model details

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