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Age of Empires 2: A Retrospective

In the early 2000s, weekends home from school often meant two wars were to be fought. The first war consisted of a battle between my younger brother and I over the family computer. The second war was fought within the confines of Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings.

Age of Empires 2 released in 1999 on Microsoft Windows and Mac OS. It quickly rose to the tops of international sales charts and garnered critical acclaim from critics and players alike. With a Metacritic user score of 90, and critic score of 92, one might conclude Age of Empires 2 to be one of the best real-time strategy games ever created. Let’s take a closer look at my favorite RTS of all time, and in doing so, understand why it holds up so well after 20 years on the market.

Freedom of Play

There are several win conditions players may pursue in the hope of securing victory in Age of Empires 2. Military Conquest requires a player destroy their enemies by force, but unlike many other RTS games, this is not the only path to victory. Players can earn victory by obtaining and holding four holy relics, or by building a great wonder and protecting it for a set period. In the game mode regicide, players attempt to destroy the kings of opposing nations while protecting their own.  The number of ways a player can achieve victory enable players to develop unique strategies. I’m not aware of many other RTS games that allow for players to achieve victory through solid defensive strategies, and this is my favorite way to play.

Multiple Game Modes

The modern iteration of Age of Empires 2, Age of Empires 2 HD, has reignited the online multiplayer scene for a now classic RTS. Playing with friends through Steam is incredibly easy, though the online infrastructure can sometimes be uncooperative. The last time I played this game with friends, I bore witness to the destruction of a friendship as one friend built a castle right next to another friend’s town center. Six years later, they’re still not on speaking terms. If that is not the marking of a quality multiplayer experience, I don’t know what is.

AOE features a five single-player campaigns in the base game, in addition to a “random map” mode. The five included campaigns are based on the exploits of a few historical figures. In order of difficulty. from least challenging to most challenging, they are William Wallace, Joan of Arc, Saladin, Genghis Khan, and Barbarossa. Playing these campaigns will teach a player basic to advanced in-game strategy and will prepare them to face human opponents online or an offline AI of variable skill.

The previously mentioned random map game mode allows for quite a lot of customization for a game mode described as random. Players may adjust game parameters to their liking, such as but not limited to map size, terrain type, unit cap, visibility, win condition, available technologies, diplomatic restrictions, starting resources and AI skill.

Age of Empires 2 also includes an extensive custom scenario creator, which allows for endless replayability limited only by a player’s imagination.

Extra Authenticity

Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings features 13 different civilizations for players to choose from, each with unique unit models and architecture. I’m no anthropologist, but it appears as if some work went into respecting the history behind each featured civilization. Selecting a unit results in that unit responding in their native language, and this helps humanize the basic villager units. When a random map game is initiated, a few seconds of traditional music plays. This chime is different for each civilization, and this extra effort does not go unnoticed.

Most Important of all, the Cheats!

Age of Empires 2 has a myriad of cheat codes that a player can enter, some with hilarious effect. Press enter to bring up the dialogue box and enter the code exactly as written. Here are a few, should you decide to try the game yourself:

  • Aegis- Production of units and structures becomes instant, as does gathering of resources. This seems to work for the AI as well as the player, so use caution against more challenging AI levels.
  • How do you turn this on? – Spawns a Shelby AC Cobra with racing stripes and machine guns. These units have ridiculously high damage output but are not invincible.
  • Furious the monkey boy- Spawns little monkey.
  • I r winner- Win the campaign.

Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings HD is available via steam for $19.99 USD.

Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoyed the article! If you’d like to see some related content, and support Exclusively Games in the process, click on our Amazon Affiliate links listed below to find related products. – EG Staff

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  1. danelkinnzl on May 22, 2019 at 9:46 am said

    Such a great classic game, the cheats can still easily be recalled even today.

  2. I liked this article, it kind of reminded me of the good old days of gaming. I remember playing AOE 1 and 2 back in the day, unfortunate I couldn’t play much online back then, as I was still only on a dial-up.

    But I still have spend hundreds of hours on both in singleplayer.

  3. lfrmalaquias10 on May 22, 2019 at 10:29 am said

    The first time I played AOE 2 was around ten years ago when my uncle gave me a copy and I imediately got hooked on it. I still remember playing with my friend agaisnt AIs and all of them allied against us and we desperately fought against six armies.

  4. popemeister87 on May 22, 2019 at 12:09 pm said

    Loved the game when i was younger

  5. samgagnon333 on May 22, 2019 at 4:21 pm said

    Another absolute classic. Great game!

    Shhhhhh-hhhhhaaaa (villager spawns)

  6. dpopovic1987 on May 22, 2019 at 4:45 pm said

    I remember pretending to be sick so my parents would let me stay home while they went to work. Me and a good friend would coordinate our “sick days” together and play this all day while having the landline phone attached to my head with a basketball headband (oldschool voice chat) Good times, good times.

  7. Love this game, I main Mayans <3

  8. ZappySquid on May 22, 2019 at 6:17 pm said

    Not to mention the thriving AOE community on youtube and twitch.
    There are tons of content creators that still support this game nearly 2 decades after its release. Even if you are not an active user, the pro tournaments are a joy to watch.

    • CzechMate on May 23, 2019 at 9:37 am said

      Nice to see people know about this. I was very surprised myself when I found out T90 on twitch, young player but mostly commentator. People can watch the best AoE2 players from all over the world and as you sad, even for a non player the tournaments are such a joy to watch. I would like to do a little shout out, people go and check T90 on twitch.

  9. DarkDruid on May 22, 2019 at 7:47 pm said

    I really like these kind of articles. They’re the reason I keep coming back to this site.

    The ‘freedom of play’ aspect you mention is truly the reason Age of Empires II was so good – there was no build limit, and you could place buildings anywhere so long as the terrain was adequate. This allowed for all sorts of unconventional strategies like tower rushing your opponent, walling in your enemy’s base, smacking a castle right in the middle of their town – hell, you could even delete your own Town Center and rebuild it right next to your enemy’s for maximum confusion! (This is a legit, although extremely risky, strategy referred to as “Persian douche”.)

  10. Joy Vargas on May 22, 2019 at 8:07 pm said

    I wish the remastered AOE (i.e definitive edition) is release on steam too. Thanks for this retrospective.

  11. BlackDog on May 22, 2019 at 9:16 pm said

    Ahh, the days of playing AoE2, building big forest maps that players had to cut their way through to be able to fight, acting as an almost built in rush timer.

  12. I loved and hated AoE2 – back then, and still to this day. In terms of style, it was a real candidate to fusion two of my alltime favorite games: Master of Magic, and oldschool Heroes of Might & Magic. And conceptually, it came very very close to pulling this off.

    And then there was the matter of “implementation” that ruined it for me. Balance-issues across the board…. after i spend over 100 hours just on modding the thing to be balanced in multiplayer, i kinda lost motivation to actually play the result. Another thing that annoyed me, was that the heavily streamlined (read: noninteractive) aspect of diplomacy. In MoM and MoO, one defining aspect was that diplomacy meant actually talking with people – you know, actual audiences. It made relations feel far more personal. AoE instead went for the now common approach, of parties just sending emails to each other, and never actually INTERACTING. Yeah, i know – it’s faster, because it means other players don’t need to wait for two holding an audience, but the price is diplomacy becoming meaningless and impersonal. Me and my buddy regularily joked about this system being so similiar to social media, all it lacks is a “like Deria on wizardbook”-button, and you have the fantasy equivalent of f*ckbook – that’s how those modern streamlined diplomacy-implementations feel like: War, peace and treaties are nothing more than numbers and buttonclicks. Okay, i’ll stop ranting now.

    • Mods, please just delete my post….. i…. umm…. mixed up age of empires and age of wonders 🙁 Whopsie.

  13. Such a great game! No micro-transactions either!

  14. Dreadjaws on May 23, 2019 at 5:47 am said

    The first time I saw this game I thought it was a Warcraft 2 repaint. Oh, but after playing it it ended up being so much more. To this day it’s still my favorite RTS, and frankly I don’t see it changing any time soon.

  15. Aegon the Conqueror on May 23, 2019 at 3:56 pm said

    Absolutely adored AoE 1 and 2. Sadly after playing Rome Total War for the first time the sheer scale completely ruined AoE for me.

  16. Matron Malice on May 24, 2019 at 3:52 am said

    I love this game, just started replaying it again. It’s probably my favorite in the series.

  17. When i little, when i got pissed off i cheat all the way. Good ol’memory. Glad this article came up.

  18. Pepperoni Pizza

  19. gulinotm on May 26, 2019 at 1:07 am said

    I really miss the old install programs where all the villagers would come out and build a wonder as the game installed lol

  20. ricdelavega on May 30, 2019 at 3:04 pm said

    Oh man, When I was 21 and moved to LA with my friend we would hook up our desktops, have Braveheart playing on in the background and split a bottle of whiskey. Since we were broke this was pretty much all we did everyday for hours. Brings back so many memories. I bought this on steam a few years back and it totally brought me back to that time in my life. Good times!!!

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