As a member of the Escapist Publisher’s Club, I was given a key awhile ago to the closed beta for Age of Empires Online. When I first heard that title my thought was “Oh wow, a strategy game that you can play online? Yeah, it’s not like we’ve had that since 1995.” So I wasn’t very intrigued.
But once I actually put my code in and gave it a look I realized what they meant by online.
In short terms, the game is an MMO RTS. You have a capital city where you handle your experience points and unlockable items and collect quests from NPCs with glowing gold exclamation points over their heads. Then you go to your quest log and choose to begin a quest, which sends you to a closed-off RTS level.
As far as the RPG elements go, you gain items from your missions and can equip those items to your general units in order to give them bonuses. Maybe a special spear you can give to your spearmen to give them +10% damage, or special tools to give to your workers to make them more efficient. Stuff like that. You also gain skill points whenever you level up, which you can spend in big tech trees to unlock more bonuses and different units.
It all reminds me of the upgrading and researching in the campaign of Starcraft II, except in this game it seems a lot more expansive.
What also sets this apart from Starcraft II is that there are apparently cooperative missions. I haven’t gotten to them myself, but I have seen a lot of people in the chat room spamming “LFG [insert mission here]” and stuff like that.
The reason I haven’t gotten very far is because I’ve always felt a bit deterred from the Age of Empires games. It’s not because I think they’re bad; I’m just never really sure what I’m doing. In Warcraft and Starcraft I can easily optimize my workers and units (at least to a degree) and it’s not too hard for me to strategize. That’s probably because I’ve been playing those games for a very long time. But with Age of Empires I can’t really tell how to go about things properly.
There are four resource types and there are multiple ways to get some of them. I’m never sure how many workers I should have farming or lumberjacking (is that a word?) or gold mining. I’m not sure what buildings I should build in what order and when I should start making troops. It seems like I would have to do some research to learn all this, which is why I’m probably never going to be that invested in the franchise. It’s the same reason I don’t like fighting games. I like games where I can learn by doing, not by reading and researching.
Admittedly this hasn’t been much of a problem up to now in my AoE Online campaign, since the game has a very gentle learning curve, but it bothers me nonetheless.
Don’t think that means this is a bad game, though. On the contrary, I think this is a really cool concept. We’ve seen MMO RPGs, MMO shooters, and even MMO brawlers, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen an MMO RTS before. And so far I like what I see.
When the game is fully released it’s going to be free-to-play, so you won’t really have any excuse not to play it. If you’ve never played an RTS before I’d suggest you check it out when it comes out (I’ll post here when that time comes, don’t worry about having to check up on it).