Age of Empires: The Age of Kings Review

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Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Backbone Vancouver

Platform: DS
Reviewed on DS

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings is one of the greatest real-time strategy franchises ever to grace the PC. This is Age of Empires, but this version is a turn-based strategy game on the DS. Players can rule as the great leader of one of five civilizations and strive to conquer the DS touch screen.

Kyle Ackerman

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings captures the essence of the Age of Empires series of PC real-time strategy games, including myriad units, town-building, wonders and a technology tree that carries the player through a series of ages. Each of the five civilizations (the Britons, the Franks, the Mongols, the Saracens and the Japanese) has bonuses, discounted units and a leader (such as Richard the Lionhearted or Saladin) with special powers. But fundamentally, this is a game of turn-based strategy on a handheld, more comparable to games like Advance Wars: Dual Strike than the PC's Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings



Campaign Extensively

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings offers a lot of gameplay, making it a great value proposition for the DS, and it sports a decent touch-screen interface, but has its share of problems. The game's biggest selling point is the extensive series of campaigns, supporting dozens of hours of play. There's one campaign for each of the game's five cultures, ostensibly ranging from very easy to very hard. I didn't find the difficulty particularly correlated with the game's labels, although some of the last missions in the fifth campaign were challenging. Like a real-time strategy game, most of play comes down to careful resource management and paying careful attention to the rock-paper-scissors relationship between different unit types.

Sadly, while the AI does passably well, it can't manage the game's tremendous complexity and isn't capable of offering much of a fight. Most campaign missions, therefore, involve either set piece battles where players can't build towns, or scenarios in which the player starts at a serious disadvantage. Furthermore, most missions have critical goals and optional goals (that, if completed, allow the player to unlock special units and maps), but aren't engaging from beginning to end. The first third of any battle is typically pivotal, while the last two-thirds of any battle involves simply playing out the inevitable.

A Crowded Field

The developers did an excellent job of creating an enormous number of units that look different, are well drawn and have a variety of clever animations. They are realistic looking, even on the tiny screen, and look great against the game's backgrounds. The decision to render the units realistic creates another problem, however. In heated battles, particular when attacking towns, there are so many units and buildings in a small area that it becomes almost impossible to distinguish the troops involved. Since overlooking an arbalest can mean the difference between victory and defeat, this is more than just an irritation. The clever menu screens and tapestry-like storytelling sequences on both sides of campaign missions, however, are well done.

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings is at its best when playing multiplayer games on the Empire map. The game will support up to four players, and while you can play against the AI, it is too easily defeated. But Age of Empires: The Age of Kings does support both hot-seat and local wireless games. This is where the game is at its best – there is a wonderful infrastructure and an incredible variety of units that support interesting strategies, when battling against other humans of comparable skills.

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings delivers a solid turn-based strategy experience on the DS, and offers plenty of play for the cash outlay, but won't be the discerning gamer's first choice for handheld strategy gaming.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 3, 2006 10:10 PM.

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