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Author Topic: Age of Empires Online  (Read 961 times)

Offline Tinkledeath

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Age of Empires Online
« on: January 15, 2012, 05:28 AM »
When you visit the official Age of Empires Online website, a big, shiny red button invites you to play the game for free. If you take this button up on its generous offer, you'll find that once you sign up for Games for Windows Live, you can enjoy most of what Age of Empires Online has to offer without paying a cent. Like most free-to-play games, though, Age of Empires Online is ultimately designed to make money, and it wastes no time both promoting its aggressively priced premium content and making your chosen civilization feel hamstrung without it. You don't need to spend a fortune to make Age of Empires Online feel like a complete game rather than an extended demo in which you're locked out of certain features, but plan on parting with at least $20 to get the most from both its campaign missions and multiplayer options.

Additional civilizations, including Celts and Persians, are coming in Age of Empires Online's future, but at launch, there are only two to choose from: Greeks and Egyptians. The differences between the two aren't nearly as pronounced as those that distinguish factions in many other real-time strategy games, but they become increasingly noticeable as you progress. It's easy to draw comparisons between the civilizations and characters in online role-playing games: They start out at level one with only a handful of units/abilities in their arsenal; you get to customize them to suit your play style by spending points on skill trees as you level up; and you can augment them with loot retrieved from fallen enemies or earned through quests that's color coded according to rarity. Furthermore, you can play as both the Greeks and the Egyptians, but you're likely to get invested enough in whichever you choose first that you won't feel the need to spend any time with the other. Given that upgrading each civilization to a premium civilization costs $20, sticking with just one is also the more wallet-friendly option.

What do you get when you upgrade to a premium civilization? You get full access to a lot of things that are deliberately dangled in front of you when you're playing for free. One of the most obvious benefits early on is that your units gain the ability to equip any blue (rare) or purple (epic) items that you've acquired. It doesn't take long for the game to start presenting you with these sort of items in the form of quest rewards, but if you're not paid up, you only have the option to sell them to one of the stores in your persistent town or have them take up space in your diminutive inventory. Either way, it's hard not to feel that you're missing out. Another compelling reason to go premium before you're more than a few hours into the game is that you can increase the size of your inventory by building up to five warehouses (think of them as bags in an RPG) instead of just two, and with the correct rare or epic blueprints, you can build larger warehouses.

Collecting resources and using them to build up your town is interesting for a while, but there's little reward for taking the time to make it look good, other than the personal satisfaction you may derive from it. Some rare buildings offer additional quests or opportunities to gamble that make your town worthwhile for other players to visit, but getting them requires both luck and plenty of difficult-to-obtain resources. Getting players to come and use your buildings (which can earn you money in some cases) means letting folks on your server know that you have them. In turn, that means you have to use the ever-present chat window to advertise, which isn't a particularly fun way to spend your time. Predictably, how much you can do with your town depends on whether or not you're playing as a premium civilization. Some early campaign quests require you to do nothing more than place buildings like a player-versus-player arena and an advisor hall in your city, but these quests are impossible to complete if you're playing for free. Both of the aforementioned buildings are considered premium content because they afford you access to additional PVP options (such as playing with friends) and significant benefits for your army (including stat boosts and otherwise unavailable units), respectively.

Make no mistake: Actually playing this free-to-play RTS game for free is not the way to go. Your tiny inventory is forever filling up with items that you can't use; many achievements can't be unlocked because the words "with premium content" are included in their descriptions; and as you progress through the campaign, your inability to equip the best gear or to employ certain units makes many quests noticeably more difficult or time consuming.

Reading their descriptions, you might think that the quests in Age of Empires Online--which are accepted from non-player characters and don't have to be completed in any particular order--offer plenty of variety. Goals include repairing ports on different islands, rescuing characters held in captivity, destroying enemy fortresses, and--when playing as the Greeks--employing a Trojan horse. Unfortunately, though, many of these quests end up playing out in much the same way, in part because your artificially unintelligent enemies appear so determined to stick to their simplistic plans of attack that they're incapable of deviating from them in response to your actions.

Far too many quests fall into one of two categories: Either the enemy sits back and waits for you to assemble an army and attack or you're forced to defend against waves of enemies while simultaneously assembling an army so that you can attack. The former offers no sense of urgency whatsoever; just take as long as you need to gather resources (food, wood, stone, and gold), train units by clicking on the appropriate buildings, and then march them across the map to do their thing. The latter, while occasionally challenging early on when you're still setting up your defenses, ultimately ends up much the same way. It's true that enemies are sometimes smart enough to identify and exploit weaknesses where you've built walls and guard towers to defend your town. But it's also true that you can use a single fast-moving unit as bait to lure enemies away from your town and, if necessary, around and around in circles within range of your defenses until they're all dead.

Can be enjoyed for hours without spending any money   
Almost every quest supports cooperative play   
MMO-style rewards keep you hooked   
Uniformly great presentation

PVP matchmaking rarely finds appropriate opponents 
Enemy AI isn't very bright   
Quests are overly repetitive   
Need to spend at least $20 to feel like you're playing a complete game   
No Skirmish mode at launch.

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(If you decide to play add me at windows live : Aderovgaltis . I play on server Alexandria)
Satan is the bringer of knowledge

Offline Tinkledeath

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