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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.

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