No it’s bigger than that!
By Kenny Newell
As seen on Age of Empires Online HeavenTo begin this preview of Age of Empires Online (AoEO). I need everyone to do something first. Open you brain and type the following “Format C:” This is because you need to erase all preconceptions that you have about traditional rts games. Over the last fifteen years the rts game package has mostly consisted of games that are released with campaigns and player vs. player content that is followed by expansion packs that add civilizations with more campaigns. Graphics, 3D models, physics engines, and additional mechanics have changed and revolutionized parts of the game, but this core structure has mostly stayed the same over time. This main formula has been very successful and is one of the main reasons the Age of Empires franchise has sold more that 20 million copies.There are some great polished rts games on the market that are fun to play and have very impressive features and campaigns (ex:SC2), but very few can claim to have revolutionized the rts genre. They play it safe and keep to the formula so they don’t ruffle the feathers of the fan base.The good news is that the developers at Robot Entertainment (RE) and Microsoft Gaming Studios (mgs) decided to craft a masterpiece that not only revolutionizes the rts genre, but might need to be in a category all its own. AoEO can’t be summed up with just three letters. “It’s bigger than that”. Let me explain. (This is going to take some more imagination) If you took all you know and expect from a previous AoE game fit it snugly in a shoebox. You’re now going to need a moving van to hold AoEO.The new AoEO has tons of customized equipment for units and buildings, custom advisers, consumables in battles, chat channels and social features, crafting, an evolving game economy with micro economies in cities, customizable capital cities that are persistent and online all of the time, and decorations / buildings and other vanity items for showing off your capital. The list goes on and on.Now let’s get to the genius part of it all. You can pick and choose what you like to do and forget the other parts of the game if you choose. If you are a hardcore traditional rts player who wants to just play pvp and doesn’t like decorating your city. Just forget it. It doesn’t affect the pvp part of the game. If you want to craft items and do co-op quests with friends and forget matchmaking. Go for it. If you like casual pvp games with friends and don’t like competitive random matchmaking. You can do that also. You aren’t forced to participate in the parts of the game you enjoy less. This is also valuable for the player that feels like crafting some days and battling others. You can play to your mood. You can be a casual player or go full tilt in all aspects of AoEO. The choice is yours.Did I mention a large part of this game will be free? No, this isn’t a typo. Free. Although the staff at mgs didn’t get into any particulars about pricing, they did make it clear that there are NO monthly fees and they will not nickel and dime players. This is a new game in concept, design, mechanics and pricing model. You will basically be able to buy content for the parts of the game that you enjoy the most. Impressive concept to say the least.The game was visually impressive and had an art style that blended a classic AoE look with a new style that should age well with time. Units are crisp and easy to distinguish from each other. The units also visually change in game when you upgrade them and add different equipment. Former players of the series will be familiar with the mini map and UI. It looks and feels like and AoE game.Now for a negative. I think that AoEO may be so progressive that it’s hard to explain the concept to people that haven’t seen or played it. I’ve heard it called a rtsmmo. Not really.. I think of monthly fees and a ton of time dedicated to MMOs. You don’t have to do either with AoEO. I’ve heard it called a social game, or browser game. There are social parts, but whoever called it a browser game needs to have their head examined. This is a premium AoE title. I think that the fact that AoEO has some mechanics of other genres it seems to wrongly get classified as all types of stuff.Therefore I shall suggest the following answer to the problem. The next time that RE or mgs hold a media event and it’s time for questions and answers at the end. Do the following. When someone asks a question about AoEO…. just say “No, It’s bigger than just that”· Is it a mmo? “No, it’s bigger than just that.”· Is this game a casual game that has crafting? “No, it’s bigger than just that.”· Is this a classic rts? “No, it’s bigger than just that.”· Is this a questing adventure game? “No it’s bigger than just that.”· Is this a game for hardcore competitive players? “No, it’s bigger than just that.”Then wrap up the night by telling them that you have created a whole new genre of game. You can call it C.O.R.T.S a Customizable Online Real-Time Strategy Game or C.E.R.T.S a Customizable Evolving Real-Time Strategy Game. Call it what you want. Just don’t try and put it in that little shoe box and define it with three letters. “No, we are bigger than that” AoEO is the new standard.Be looking for AoEO in 2011.RadioKenny