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August 15, 2011

Age of Empires Online review – Part 2 – Multiplayer


Multiplayer in Age of Empires Online takes two forms – player vs player (PvP) or Co-Op play. PvP is similar to traditional Age of Empires multiplayer and refers to players being matched against each other, such as “Supremacy” and “Deathmatch” on ESO from Age 3.  Co-Op play on the other hand refers to co-operative play where players join forces against the AI in quests or the Defense of Crete.

A lot of Age of Empires fans will no doubt have their eye on the PvP multiplayer as this has been the main focus in the multiplayer element of Age games of the past. At the start of the beta process back when AOE-O was announced in 2010 there was some concern by fans about the lack of PvP elements in the game. As the game developed PvP elements have been making their way into the finished product. A new region called “Sparta” was created as the hub of online PvP, think of it a bit like ESO but in city form.

Sparta – the region where most PvP’ers will spent their time!

The PvP in Sparta allows players to choose between either ranked or unranked 1v1 or 2v2 modes. There is on proviso, in order to play in a ranked multiplayer game you will need a capital city of at least Level 25. This helps ensure players competing have a suitable amount of gear and technology to help ensure a fair match. This restriction also helps ensure that newer players of the franchise can learn a majority of how the game works by questing up to level 25 first.

Ranked multiplayer is taken place using Microsoft’s infamous “TrueSkill” matchmaking system. This system assigns a score for each player depending on how well they play. The system then tries to match up players with similar score which should in theory result in a fair match. For new players the system can be in-accurate as it takes a few games before a good average score can be determined. For example a player which wins their first match will be given a high initial true skill score so next time they play they will be pitched against higher level players. The system balances out wins and losses to find players of the most suitable skill.  The system has previously been used on Ensemble’s Halo Wars. Here is how the system was described to work previously:

When players of very different TrueSkills™ play each other, the resulting change may not be what you’d expect. For example, if Alice (Trueskill™ of 40) plays Bob (TrueSkill™ of 10) and wins, Alice’s TrueSkill™ will increase by a tiny amount. However, if Bob were to win his TrueSkill™ would increase by a good amount, but not necessarily a huge leap, especially if both have been playing for a long time.

The PvP matchmaking screen, with ZutaZuta at the top the 1v1  leaderboard

Once a PvP match starts it works pretty much the same way as previous Age games – build up your empire in order to crush the enemy. Players can either rush, turtle or boom depending on their strategy. In PvP mode players cannot make use of consumables (which are similar to Age of Mythology “god powers”) but they can make use of any gear which they have previously brought in their capital city.  The gear purchased will be a reflection of their home city level.

There is no “vanilla” PvP which some members of the community are slightly disappointed about. Vanilla refers to a game with no gear or bonuses, where everyone is on a level playing field. Think of it as a mode without Home City cards in Age 3 or god powers in AoM. It’s not a big issue as TrueSkill and capital city levels help ensure matchmaking is fair. Age of Empires Online is also an ever evolving game, so like Halo Wars, expect patches in the future as the developers fine tune certain aspects depending on the communities feedback.

Co-Op play takes numerous forms – firstly there are questing co-op options. With certain quests players can invite friends to help them beat the objectives. Inviting players to help is a doddle, just right a click a friend in your friend list and choose “invite”. Alternatively, players can ask in the chat room is anyone is available to help out on a certain quest. Other aspects of co-op play include the whole world of trading gear and materials. For those that enjoy building up their cities and collecting rare and epic items, the capital city offers plenty in the way of co-op trading, there’s even an exclusive chat channel for trading and a dedicated forum on the community website, the “Trading Post

Expect the trade channel will be buzzing come release

Store plenty of in-game inventory. Even more if you have a premium civilisation

Overall there is a lot in Age of Empires Online for those who prefer the multiplayer aspects instead of questing. While currently there are only a few multiplayer modes, 1v1 or 2v2 at present, hopefully there might be more combinations in the future such as free-for-all, but nothing like that has currently been announced. The Defense of Crete booster pack which is available at launch allows players to join forces and help defend against hordes of enemies, adding some multiplayer mode variation outside of the typical PvP

Numerous difficulty and customisations are on offer for co-op defense of crete

AOE-O caters will for both singleplayer and multiplayer experiences giving the best of both worlds. Classic Age multi-player fans should find something in the Sparta region to take their fancy. See you on the leader-boards!

Stand by for part 3 later this week!


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