We’ll probably be mostly covering AoE Online over at RTS Guru, but seeing how it’s shaping up to be a pretty interesting MMORTS, I thought I’d take some time this week to lay out some knowledge about the upcoming title. I’ve spent a little time in the beta now, and I’m happy to report that even with the cartoon graphical style Age of Empires Online seems a lot like the days of old for the franchise, with a nifty new “massive” feel added in on top. It’s shaping up to be a pretty fun and addictive game, but one that there isn’t a whole lot of chatter about just yet. In essence it seems like a return to form for the Age franchise, but in an entirely new package that has some folks worried about the dreaded Microsoft “Cash Grab”. So let’s talk about a few things I didn’t know concerning the title, and feel free to discuss and add to this list below.
No “Cash Shop”, Just Content Packs
It seems that Robot Entertainment, Microsoft and Gas Powered Games know a thing or two about the way your average online gamer thinks. F2P evokes immediate dread of “Pay to Win” mentality or wallet-emptying necessary items. In truth though, AoEO is aiming to have none of that. There will be a store accessible from your capitol city, but by and large the only things you’ll find within will be additional content. More missions, units with unique styles, and so forth. Basically it seems like AoEO is being set up to thrive mostly off of downloadable content while being free to download and play. So long as any purchased units and whatnot don’t completely skew the playing field in PvP matches, I think players will be decidedly happy with the way the game handles its revenue model. We just have to wait and see what winds up in that store once it officially launches.
It’s actually a little “Massive”
The game’s deceiving at first, since you’ll spend your beginning hours playing mostly solo only seeing other people via the chat where hundreds of players flock to hock wares. But after you’ve made your way through the tutorial missions (whether you’re Greek or Egyptian) the whole game opens up to many more multi-player possibilities. No, you won’t be seeing hundreds of player cities in one massive real-time world, but you will group up for missions, visit other players’ cities and buy from them and sell to them, and you will eventually fight other players should you choose to do so. Is it “massive” like World of Warcraft’s seamless world? Not a chance. But there is a sense connectedness between players, you can make allies and enemies, and you will become rich or poor through trade eventually. And hey, it’s still a damn site more “massive” than most browser-based MMORTS games out there.
The Art Style is Misleading
You may at first look at screenshots and video and think: “Oh great, they Farmvill-ified Age.” But fear not, almost as soon as you begin playing you’ll realize that AoEO is still the same deep and fully-featured RTS at heart. Everything from resource management to defense building and zerging is present here. There are strengths and weaknesses to every unit type, and each mission presents a unique set of goals and strategizing opportunities for the player. There’s also a huge list of “talents” to learn as you level your civilization, from the economic to the militaristic sort. This isn’t some crappy monetized version of Age… this is the logical evolution of a franchise that needed rebooting, and all the old stalwart features are there waiting for you.
Gear is Here
This could be a plus or a negative depending on the player, but one of the ways in which Age is being “MMO-ized” comes in the form of gear. You’ll get tons from missions, more from crafting, and it will all be sold back and forth across the community as well. There’s different types of armor and weapons for your spearmen, and protective walls for your buildings, as well as oodles of boosts and buffs for even your townsfolk. Once you equip something it’s there permanently until you replace it and every unit created of that type will have the boosts. So if you have a helm for your spearmen that gives them 10% damage mitigation, it works across all spearmen. It’s pretty handy stuff and my only worry is that PvP will become more about gear than strategy. But I haven’t played long enough to know if that’s truly the case.
It’s Actually Good
This might not have any business being a List item all on its own but I feel it bears mentioning. When I heard Microsoft was commissioning the Age series to see resurrection as a F2P MMORTS, I immediately had nightmares of one of my most revered franchises taking on the guise of a Facebook game. I have the same fears for the still forthcoming Civilization Facebook adaptation. But once I got in and started playing, most of those fears disappeared. It’s polished, it’s fun, and it’s deep. I’ll be intrigued to see how the premium content shakes out, and even more intrigued to see how GPG keeps evolving the “MMO” part of the title. But for now I’ll rest easy knowing that AoEO is a lot of fun, retains the flavor of the originals and has cost me nothing so far. I can’t really be mad about that.