Microsoft (and Gas Powered Games) has finally developed a new game in the AoE series, namely Age of Empires Online. The game will be a fully functional MMORTS and feature various tools for social interaction and casual/addictive gameplay akin to games by Zynga.
Currently in beta testing, AOE: Online is looking at a release on August 16th and will be offered to players via a free to play hybrid – meaning it’s free to play, but you can chose to pay for premium content such as equipment, items, consumables and various vanity items like building and unit styles. There will not be a subscription model to get access to all the premium content like how DDO and AoC:Unrated can offers, so all premium content will be purchased individually or through booster packs. The prices vary between $5 and $20, which seems a bit expensive considering the amount of content you get as a subscriber to all the other Freemium games (DDO, AoC, LOTR etc). Hopefully the prices will go down quite a bit.
The game centres around your capitol city, which works as your base of operations (similar to AoE3). It can be designed to your own liking using a variety of available buildings, similar to Zynga Games like Cityville, Yoville, Farmville, and will generate resources even when you are offline depending on what buildings you own. Your city can also be visited by other people, which can earn you resources if they decide to buy items from your shops. All in all, your capitol city will work as your game lobby, and it’s where Microsoft wants you to hang out when you’re not playing any games.
With that said, don’t worry, your capitol city is only a small part of the game, and the RTS portion of the game is still alive and kicking, well at least sort of… (see gameplay section below the video).
Similar to other social games, you will gain achievements, xp and earn levels by completing quests such as visiting neighbouring cities, building certain buildings or fight off attackers.
Overall the game has been causing some noise amongst fans of the series, which is totally understandable, since Microsoft was changed the gameplay a lot to suit the more casual crowd. The graphic style has also changed to become more cartoon-like, which will partly help the game run on a wider variety of machines and possibly become a hit with the younger crowd. Overall it doesn’t look half bad, just different from what you’d expect from an Age of Empires game (See the latest trailer here).
So with all this in mind, how does this version of the game compare to its predecessors? The original games captivated a huge number of people when they first came out, and for many it was their first taste of the RTS genre. Age of Empires Online is in many ways not very different from the earlier games – even though the graphic style and features might suggest a much more casual and simpler game.
The game does require you to put quite a few hours into it before unlocking enough content to actually get a full perspective of the gameplay, which might put some people off. However, nce you pass that hurdle you’ll hopefully get the AoE experience you remember – fun gameplay, but not the most difficult learning curve or gameplay that other more extensive RTS’ might have.
Through completing quests you will find and gain access to various types of items that you can equip your troops and buildings with. These items are not meant to be game breaking, meaning players on free accounts will still be able to compete with premium accounts. However, it would be silly to think that it won’t have any effect on the outcome of matches, as Microsoft obviously wants people to cough up for the premium content, which they wouldn’t do if the items were useless.
Anyway, let’s have a look at what features and content will be available to you…
- Normal gameplay and the use of all civilisations (starting with Greek and Egyptians).
- 40 hours of gameplay (We’re not sure what happens when you run out).
- Full campaigns.
- Co-Op Mode (90% of the campaign is co-opable).
- Limited PvP (random matchmaking).
- Crafting and use of gear and consumables (limited).
- Hundreds of quests.
- Able to hit max level with all civilisations.
- Full civilisation Tech Tree minus the premium Star Techs.
- Create and use Workshops and Crafting (Limited)
- Use common and uncommon gear (Higher gear won’t be equipable)
Though you’ll be able to play co-op and PvP as a free player, you won’t be able to set all the parameters of the PvP match. You’ll jump into a queue and be matched with someone of a similar level with no control over who, what type of game or what map.
- Use and equip rare and epic gear on your units, villagers, and buildings.
- Use Advisors, which will unlock unique units and civ powers.
- Unlock the Star Techs in the Tech Tree. A few examples of Star Techs are:
- Generating resources from your Market.
- Having troops heal themselves.
- Making your people immune to conversion in battle.
- Set PvP parameters. As a premium player, you gain access to the Arena and War Councils:
- The Arena gives you the ability to play PvP with a friend, in addition to the random PvP you’ll find in the Merc Hall.
- The War Council gives you the ability to select specific game types, map types, number of players, and so on, with other players, and you’ll be matched via our matchmaking system.
- More inventory slots – more than double that of free accounts.
- More Workshops to improve resource and material generation.
- More Craft Halls to enhance units.
- Empire points to buy items.
- Get resources when other people use your stores.
Booster and Vanity packs
There will initially be four types of content packs available.
- Premium Civilization Packs – $19.99 - These packs upgrade basic civilizations giving the player rare and powerful gear, the Advisor Hall (which lets you unlock Civilization Powers and Unique Units), upgraded tech tree, more PVP options, more inventory space, more workshops, more crafting halls, Empire points, and in-game stores.
- Pro Civilization Packs – $19.99 - Provides the same bonuses as the Premium Packs, but let you jump into the game at level 20.
- Booster Packs — $9.99 – Adds new storylines and game modes such as new co-op modes or campaigns. There won’t be any requirments when it comes to the packs, so you won’t need to buy pack A to be able to use pack B etc.
- Empire Extras — $4.99 – Vanity Packs add decorative and optional features you can use to improve the look of your capitol city. These will be things like shrubs, trees, plants, statues and so on.
2GHz CPU, 128 MB video card. 1 GB RAM (2 GB is recommended), 3 GB of hard drive space
AoE: Online will be available as download only via Games For Windows LIVE Marketplace and will be offered in English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish and supported by Windows XP, Vista and Win 7.