Age of Empires Online Review

Age of Empires Online (Available only on PC)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Genre: Online Strategy
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Robot Entertainment
Release Date: August 16th, 2011

Parent Talk: Unlike the more visually realistic entries in the series, AoE Online features cartoony graphics. There’s no gore to be found here.  Thus making for a perfect E10+ RTS.

Plays Like: Age of Empires II, StarCraft, with quite a few new ideas thrown in.

Review Basis: Played through a ton of quests, commanded every faction.

The Great:

An interesting idea. Robot Ent. took questing elements from an MMO and merged them with a well-balanced RTS.

The Good:

+ Impressive visual design.  While the polygon count is low and the game could run on virtually any hardware, the new cartoony graphics really fit what Robot Entertainment wanted. Characters animate well and your village units look very detailed and vibrant.

+ Quests.  As you acquire quests, AoE Online diversifies itself.  Your tasks span harvesting, building and conquering your opponent, participating in tower defense, racing, or something else outlandish.

+ Gear and customization.  Completing quests nets you experience and new items that allow your army to be customized. You can enhance one form of strategy or counter another.  Spears a problem? You can work on that.  RTS purists will dislike this, but it helps narrow the MMO-RTS gap and adds tremendous variety to PvP (player versus player).

+ An RTS at heart.  You’re expected to farm resources to build up an empire and create a vast armada before pursuing and smashing the enemy to smithereens.

The So-So:

+/- MMO-type capital city.  The capital city acts as your online avatar, the one and only way to differentiate yourself from everyone else.  Sadly there’s no benefit from it. It’s purely cosmetic.

The Bad:

– Co-op questing.  If you want to team up with someone on a quest, make sure you’re on an equal playing field. If either participant is at a higher level, said player won’t be given the quest objectives or even be told when the quest is finished.

– Path-finding issues everywhere.  While exploring, it’s not uncommon for your units to become stuck behind an object and no longer be useful.  There’s nothing worse than only half of your army being available.

– PvP matches are all over the place.  This is thanks to the bizarre pay-to-play.  Microsoft claims this is a free-to-play game, but it’s more like a glorified demo for each faction.  You miss out on so many items and abilities if you don’t pony up for a faction pack, thus many matches immediately become unbalanced.

The Ugly:

The lackluster AI is a huge blemish. If you send a small group of soldiers to attack an opponent, you expect that to happen. You should never have to micro-manage each battle because your men suddenly stop attacking or veer off into no-man’s land.

The Lowdown:

Age of Empires Online can be fun at times, but the problems weigh it down significantly. If Microsoft patches the game to fix these bugs and adjusts the payment plans, we might have another interesting RTS on our hands. As of now, investing is your call.

Average Score Scale: 6.0 (+/- 1) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 6/10 (Neutral)

Reason for +1 Inflation: Unique twist on a legendary RTS series

Reason for -1 Deflation: Too many bugs and confusing payment structure

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