Age of Empires Online attempts to bring together gameplay elements from real-time strategy, massively-multiplayer games, role-playing games, and adds a good dose of Farmville like addiction. This might just be an attempt from Microsoft to cash in on a long-forgotten franchise, or it could be a fantastic new take on the Age of Empires series.
Thankfully, AoEO is an excellent game. If you were afraid that this wouldn’t feel like Age of Empires, than you can put those fears to rest: this game is Age of Empires. If you have played Age of Empires 2, then you’ll feel right at home here. They didn’t try to reinvent the wheel.
The creators of AoE, Ensemble Studios, were shut down by Microsoft after they released Halo Wars. Robot Entertainment, which was created by the founders of Ensemble, took over the maintenance of Halo Wars, and they started development on AoEO. Microsoft recently handed over the development of AoEO to Gas Powered Games, the makers of Supreme Commander, Demigod, and Dungeon Siege: Robot Entertainment is now working on Orcs Must Die. You would think with that type of complicated history that this game would be crap, but the final product is great.
You take control of a civilization such as the Greeks. You have a home city, similar to Age of Empires III, that grows with you and gains levels. You build your city up with various shops that allow you to buy items. You can also make items from workshops. These items can be equipped to your unit types. So, you can make a bow that gives your archers 5% extra damage, or a shirt that makes your villagers work faster. You can also decorate your home city and build statues or add some trees.
Your civilization will also have levels, which are increased by getting more XP. With each level you can unlock new technology, units, and buildings. You get XP from doing quests, just like in any other MMO. Quests are where you actually get to play the game. You start off with a town center, some villagers, and a scout. You gather resources, make better buildings, and build up an army.
The quests are actually varied a lot more than you would think. Instead of just “kill the enemy” you’ll get objectives like defending two allies town centers from attack for 30 minutes, destroy all of your enemies’ fishing boats, building 10 farms in 7 minutes, and lots of fun variations. There are even a few “tower defense” style maps where all you have are villagers who can build towers.
AoEO will be free-to-play, with the option to buy premium content. You’ll be able to pick two free civilizations, the Greeks or the Egyptians, but there will be others that you can buy. Exact pricing hasn’t been announce yet.
You will have to get the game from Games for Windows Live, which is a huge pain in the ass. Logging in is way more complicated than it needs to be. For all of you achievement whores out there, they do have plans to include achievements at launch.
It features co-op and PvP, but I didn’t get a chance to test either. Trying to find a match in a closed beta is a pain. I’ll update you as soon as I get some time playing around with those. From what I can see, there are certain missions that will allow you to do co-op (there is even an elite mode for more loot and XP). PvP is accessible from an arena that you build in your capital city.
I’ve sunk a good amount of time into the game so far, and if you have any questions feel free to ask away in the comments. It’s supposed to launch sometime this year, but an exact date hasn’t been announced yet.