Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
In 1998 came a sequel to Age of Empires, which has since gone on to become regarded as one of the quintessential RTS games you can play. Featuring a plethora of nations and civilizations to play as and simple, yet addictive game play, Age of Empires II certainly raised the genre’s bar for a long time to come.
By 2011’s standards, AOE2 looks dated, but in 1998 the detailed 2D graphics and clear presentation really made the game stand out. It revolutionised the user interface for RTS games and its ‘Rock paper scissors’ format for combat meant that it was a hit with those who appreciated a fast paced strategy game.
AOE2’s edge was its focus on history, something which really comes through when playing the game. Whether it be leading William Wallace and the Scots against the English in the tutorial campaign, or raising hell as Genghis Khan, AOE2 showed that RTS games grounded in historical settings could be not just enjoyable, but an absolute blast.
Castles and catapults, what more could a despot want?
At its core AOE2 is RTS game play refined to an art; base building, resource gathering and army training all feature, with a wide range of random maps and opposition choice. Its multiplayer also stood out as a testament to online play, supremely addictive and thrilling, AOE2 brought the best bits of the genre together for all out fun and mayhem.
Despite their being a huge total of 13 civilizations, from the Byzantines to the Chinese, the fact that the developers managed to differentiate each one substantially enough, meant that there is a wealth of content to explore by playing as different nations. You are required to play civilizations to their strengths and defend from their weaknesses, with each Civilization also getting unique units, this is where AOE2 really comes into its own.
William, fucking, Wallace, need I say more?
The key to the success of AOE2 is its accessibility, something meant in a positive light. The combat was not complicated, you build units which can defeat the enemies and march on their town. But this is not to the games detriment; it is genuinely fun to build a town and an army and to take on your opponent.
Since AOE2’s release it has spawned expansions and sequels, even a free to play online version, which is quite honestly an affront to the Age of Empires name. Although never quite reaching the enduring popularity of Blizzard’s Warcraft 3 and Starcraft, AOE2 was an RTS which showed that you didn’t have to set your game in a sci-fi, fantasy or futuristic world to succeed.