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Game Review: Age Of Kings


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Following up on the Age of Empires review I posted a few days ago, here's my second review.

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings was a phenomenally successful game. One of the best-selling RTS games in history, if my memory is correct. Ensemble Studios did a fabulous job, bringing the Age series into the Medieval period and creating a truly remarkable game!


Animation [Good]

I don't think you can get any better than this with sprites. I read somewhere on the Ensemble Studios' website that they created every single animation by hand, without any motion capture. There really aren't any bad points about the animation, except the normal pitfalls of sprite-based units and terrain (units hovering over cliffs after they die, etc).

Civilizations [Good]

In the last review, I criticized the Age of Empires civilizations as not being unique enough. Age of Kings got rid of this problem, almost. The civilizations in Age of Kings weren't as unique as Age of Mythology or Empires: Dawn of the Modern World, but I wouldn't change them much. The games that have very unique civs, tend to have less civs, and I liked the wide variety of civs in Age of Kings.

Gameplay [Good]

The gameplay in Age of Kings was simply awesome. Especially with the tweaks in The Conquerors that took some focus off tiring micromanagement. Again, there is a balance between micro- and macro-management. Too much micro and the game isn't much fun. Too much macro, you start to take the 'S' out of 'RTS'!

Graphics [Good]

As said above, Age of Kings is right on the limit of what you can do with a sprite-based graphics engine. You can't really get any better without moving to a 3-D engine. Ensemble Studios did a terrific job!

Interface [Good]

The interface was very pleasant, and very intuitive. A very good feature introduced here was the Advanced Commands button. Beginners could view a simplified in-game GUI, while experts could utilize commands for formations, unit stances, and so on.

Multiplayer [Neutral]

I'm giving multiplayer a Neutral rating here because of some of the frustrations involving OOS (Out of Sync) errors, NAT (Network Address Translation) and router non-support, and a few other issues. Unfortunately, you could only play multiplayer if you had a direct IP-to-IP link to the other player(s). That meant, that people behind a router experienced weird problems and only one person behind the router could play at a time.

Other than those issues, multiplayer was very fun. Lag was not too bad as long as all the computers were nice and fast. Ensemble did a good job of fine-tuning the unit and civ balancing, as was apparent in the huge variety of strategies that popped up on the 'net.

Music [Good]

I really enjoyed the music in Age of Kings. It was definetly a little less MIDI-sounding than the original Age of Empires music. Sometimes, I'd pop the CD in a CD player so I could just listen to it!

The opening theme is one of my favorite tunes of all time. I find myself playing it on the piano and humming it quite often!

Pathfinding [Good]

The pathfinding was much improved from the horrible pathfinding in Age of Empires. Still buggy in a few places, but overall, very well done.

Single-Player [Good]

Yes, this is a new category! I forgot to add this for Age of Empires, oh well.

The Single-Player category is for the campaigns and scenarios that shipped with the game, along with the computer AI.

The campaigns in Age of Kings were awesome, and very challenging. I have only beat a few of the scenarios (still try to beat some once in a while). A very good addition is the William Wallace Learning Campaign. The "training campaign" in the original Age of Empires was pretty dull, but Age of Kings is quite the opposite!

The skirmish AI for the computer is pretty good, and pretty hard to beat at the highest level. Unfortunately, the computer actually cheats on "Hardest", which was kind of a quick-fix by Ensemble.

Sound Effects [Good]

The sounds and voice-overs in Age of Kings were much better quality than the low-quality Age of Empires sounds. I suppose a good analogy is Stereo vs. Mono. The Age of Kings sounds were very lifelike-sounding.

Timeframe [Good]

Medieval history is exciting to almost anyone, and definetly to me. Playing this game is a great way to learn real history, and have fun doing it!


Most, if not all, of the bad points of Age of Empires are gone in Age of Kings. It's been rightly said that there are not many good sequels. This was one of the few good ones!

Age of Kings made it much easier to pick a civilization than Age of Empires, in two ways: more civ bonuses, and the tech tree viewer (which let you easily see the ups and downs of a particular civ).

What it Means for 0 A.D.

A good interface, crisp graphics/animation and fun, balanced gameplay are very important points for any RTS game. Keeping the civilizations unique is also a key. Age of Kings made a step in the right direction with the addition of Unique Units and Unique Technologies. In a future review (Empires: Dawn of the Modern World) I'll point out that you can go even further with civ distinction and make a game even more fun.

Personally, I think the music is another important factor in a game. Some people ignore the music or turn it off completely, but I love to listen to it. I also think that a distinct melodic tune for the main/opening "theme", something that people can associate with the game, is important.

With routers and other NAT hardware becoming very mainstream, it's almost critical for any new game to support NAT traversal. When Microsoft released DirectX 8, which included support for NAT traversal in DirectPlay, it was a great benefit to router users. I'll talk more about this in my next review.

Next Up: Empire Earth

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that was an awsome review, straight to the point and not one bit overrated.

What you said about the music was true, the main menu especially. ES had done a spectacular job with the opening theme in both AoK and AoM. I also btw, find myself humming the the AoK them quite often. A catchy, memorable, non annoying opening theme is probably one of the things that people most remember about AoK (da daaa dadada daaa -- da daaa dadada daaaaaa!! :D)

Also, a famous time period is what gets anyoe interested in a game...you dont often see a popular stone age or victorian era game you ya :)?

the time period focused in 0ad is one of the most famous and favorite points in human history, which is obviously great for Wildfire Games :)

what you said about the animation was also true, i still think its the best animation out there (along with EDMW, which i think is great). i liked them because the units actually looked like they were on the ground, not floating off the ground, like you see in most 3d games these days

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I agree this is a very no bias review. I wouldnt have been able to look over the fact that Age of Kings was, and still is my all time favorite game. My review would have consisted of @#$%ing Awsome, Best RTS ever... etc etc. You were able to take a good netural view point and as a result raised some good issues.

One of the points you raised about unique civs intresed me. How Unique should a civ be? Personally I think AOM civs were too unique, although I think the concept of completly unique civs worked better in warcraft 3. Aok had cool unique units, you could saftly take this a little futher with unique buildings tecs and other units, but is there too far?

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Another great assessment!

One thing that irked me the most about AoK was the sharing of graphics between civs. Especially when the image didn't fit the civ at all. I would have liked to see more unique graphics on a per civ basis.

I also hate to say it, but I didn't really care for the mindless repitition of the upgrading of things all the time. For instance, why couldn't the swordsman just all upgrade when you went to the next age? Instead of making you go back the barracks and click that button.

Sorry I'm a big fan of the less econ/tech management the better... I would rather manage war.

Pathfinding was a bit buggy like you say, but overall not to bad.

I also wish the AI would have played water maps better.

Thats all the negatives I can think of right now :)

One of the best in the genre though! Its hard to find faults.

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Render and Wijit:

There is definetly a balance with the uniqueness of civs IMO. AoE was one extreme (very similar civs), and AoM is close to the opposite extreme (very different civs). On this issue though, my mind keeps going back to the Empires:DMW demo. I think that game hits the perfect balance!

In that game (at least the demo), every civ felt very different. They created a completely different building/unit set for each civ.. lots of work, but it definetly paid off.

However, not only are the graphics different, but the unit special abilities and civ bonuses are different. If you look hard enough, there are unit "classes" (light infantry, tanks, fighter aircraft, etc), but each civ's unit is named differently (not something AoK did) and has different powers/abilities of it's own.

I think all the 0 A.D. staff should download and play the demo :)

...the mindless repitition of the upgrading of things all the time.

You have a point. While I didn't particularly loath upgrading, it's one more thing that makes the civs seem similar. When all the civs share the same unit base and the same upgrade path AND the same buildings and technologies and... well, you get my point :)

Yes, in AoK there were different tech trees.. but only to allow/forbid different units/techs from civs. I definetly prefer "civ-personalized" techs, upgrades, units, buildings, graphics, etc, over AoK's style.

(whew, I'm going to have to write an article dedicated to this subject sometime :D)

I kind of feel bad though, since we're all pointing out the faults in AoK.. It really was one of the best games ever!

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Quick thought:

I have been told that the original AOE had an upgrade option for 'salvage'/'cannabalize'. Basically destroyinfg a building and recovering some of the building materials put into the building. That is a feature I would like to have seen in the AOK. Perhaps 0AD could incorporate such a feature, altered by the amount of damage to the structure, etc.

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