Players: 1 to 8 Player Game | Release Date: 09/30/99 | Genre: RTS
Microsoft jumped into real time strategy games with the well-received Age of Empires. It offered a unique view to real time strategy with the ability to choose from different civilizations with varied unit and technology advancement. Age of Empires 2 retains all these elements with new civilizations to choose from with new units, sounds, and a graphical overhaul as well.
While many of the units retain similar abilities to the original game, new units are introduced as well. Each civilization has its own special unit that is more powerful than the run of the mill squads. Microsoft also broke the gender barrier by randomly producing male and female units. (Both have the same abilities) New units include trade caravans, cannoneers, battering rams, and others. A nasty new unit is the Trebuchet, which is a cart that sets up into a catapult to destroy unprotected buildings. Also added are new technological advancements as well as new formations in which your units march.
The music and sounds in the game are rich and varied. Gone are the foggy sounding unit responses. While the units still reply unintelligibly, it is clear sounding and goes along nicely with the game. The background music is perfect. It fits the game to a "T" and makes you want to turn it up even louder. Bird calls and fish splashing only add to the richness of the game. The music does a great job of pulling you deeper into the medieval world.
Finally the graphics are greatly enhanced. In the first Age of Empires, the units were the size of giants in relation to the buildings. Now, the buildings are larger and fit nicely with the units. They are not so big to take away from the view of the game field. Vines grow up the sides of buildings and towers. When a unit goes behind a building, an outline of the unit becomes visible in the color of the controlling player. Units also have much improved animation in relation to fishing, farming, building, etc... Gates open and close for units to pass through and seagulls circle the fishing ships and docks looking for scraps of food. The landscapes are rich in detail and size.
Multiplaying is still a great aspect of the game. There is nothing like getting together with some friends and conquering the world. Multi-play still takes place on the Zone, or over modem. The single player campaigns, that are included, allow you to take control of well-known characters such as William Wallace and Joan of Arc. Also included is the Map Editor, which is not too difficult to use and allows for anything you could ever possibly imagine. If you were a fan of the first game, Age of Empires, or missed it but love real time strategy games, I highly recommend Age of Empires 2.