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Age of Empires Online Reviewed, Again

A new feature called Alliance Wars allows you to join one of three alliances and compete for rank, points, and prestige.

When Age of Empires Online first opened its doors for beta testing, we were there.  When it launched, we were there.   But it didn’t take long before we were done with the game due to the lack of traditional Age of Empires feel, and no true free-to-play features.  Things are looking up for AoEO now that the game has received a major patch, and in a way it feels like a relaunch.  What’s new, what’s different, and why should you care about AoEO?

 

Actually Free-to-Play

Microsoft points, Steam wallets, gold, empire points… it was really too convoluted.  Now you only have to worry about two currencies.  Empire Points are what you use to buy booster packs, civilizations, and other goodies from the cash shop.  EP can also be used to buy customizations that I’ll touch on later.  Gold is used for buying in-game things from in-game merchants, and really isn’t much of a big deal.

Okay, why is the game actually F2P now?  You earn EP when you level up, and once your level is high enough you can start doing quests to earn EP.  You even earn EP from the new Alliance Wars.  Bottom line, you can actually play long enough and earn EP instead of being forced to buy.  After playing extensively, I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to get the most out of AoEO you’re going to need to get your hands on a premium civ, and you’re going to spend a very long time earning enough EP by simply playing in order to get that civ.  Follow @AgeofEmpires on twitter and you might get lucky and score a code if you missed our giveaway last week.

They make you work for those points early on.  Freeloaders expecting to walk in and have it all are going to be disappointed.  At first I thought it was way too slow, but the more you level the faster the points come in — and don’t forget, Alliance Wars (below) will give you lots of points. Put in the time, play a free civ for a while and maybe upgrade it when you’ve played long enough, and you’ll be just fine.

 

Want a trout for a club, or a rainbow shield? Now you can at Vanity Island!

Customize with Vanity Gear

In most RTS games, there isn’t much if any customization; In fact, you only know your units from the enemy by color.   One new feature I really love is vanity gear.  You can visit vanity island and purchase cosmetic gear for your units.  Rainbow shields, vegetables for weapons, voodoo masks, and dozens upon dozens of items to express yourself and your civilization in battle.  They’re affordable, can be assigned to units in a brand new tab that doesn’t take the place of other gear, and look great.

 

 

Choose your alliance and gain passive bonuses.

Alliance Wars

Quite possibly the biggest addition to the game is an actual end-game.  When you reach level 40 you can join one of three alliances and earn Alliance Points through quests, PvP, Skirmish, Defense of Crete, Legendaries, or donating materials.  Alliance points help determine your rank within your alliance, which in turn helps to determine how many Empire Points you can earn after each daily, weekly, or monthly contest.  Sabotage the other alliances, buy gear and items from your alliance, and receive passive bonuses to help you in the rest of your game.

Alliance Wars get the players involved with the game, with each other, and create a community.  Alliance Wars are the reason to keep playing and push to the end.

 

New Talent Trees and Balance

A lot of balance changes have been made, and AI continues to be an ongoing balancing act.  In the last two weeks alone I think we’ve seen the AI changed three times.  Players have complained it was too easy, too hard, and I can’t go a play-session without seeing someone screaming in general chat that they just lost.  The game is indeed more difficult, but I enjoy the challenge over simply plowing down the computer.

The new tech trees are also a big improvement. They’ve received an overhaul and they actually make sense now.  Units are automatically awarded to you when you reach a new tier, and you buy upgrades that can be researched during a match or a quest like you would in a game of StarCraft.    Each of the civs have premium abilities that can be unlocked when you buy the civ — you’ll see them as stars on the talent trees, and each of the civs have unique trees.

 

Worth Playing?

Definitely.  Age of Empires Online has come a long way, and I find myself wanting to log in and progress my civ so that I can join in on the Alliance Wars.  I love the vanity gear and the balance changes.  I should also mention that if you enjoy playing a more traditional game of Age of Empires, the champion mode of the arena allows you to simply play against friends and have all tech unlocked and available to you during that match.

To those who have never played Age of Empires Online, this is a game that offers you a persistent city to decorate, quests and challenges to complete, multiple modes to play with and against friends or other people, and an end-game struggle for dominance against other Alliances — and now it’s actually worth playing!

  • Adrian says:

    It’s great that AoEo is improved however my original experience was so average that even with a revamp I’m struggling to get excited. The biggest hurdle for me to get back into it is the Microsoft Live install. I only put this on to get access to AoEo and when I realised that there was a definite end point for the F2P aspect of the game I uninstalled both. I think I only really have time and space on my computer for Steam. Microsoft Live and EA Origins just aren’t compelling enough for me spare my all too precious SSD space.

  • Keen says:

    @Adrian: The games for windows software can be annoying. If you utilize the windows live login assistant service, you can launch AoEO through STEAM (AoEO is integrated with it nicely) and not even realize you’re using using games for windows. To me it’s like playing on my Xbox and PC at the same time when I see my Xbox live friends AND STEAM friends.

  • Intruder313 says:

    Sounds promising and I love “Vanity Island”. Older Brits are going to be thinking of Vic and Bob’s “Novelty Island” though!

  • cwtrex says:

    Chat settings:

    If you play the game and don’t see any chatter, you probably have the same problem I had.

    You need to change your privacy settings.

    If you have a xbox live account, head over to xbox.com and click on “My Account.” Then go to “Privacy and Online Settings.”

    Change who can contact you from friends to everyone.

    FYI: I believe I changed both options at the top to everyone just in case if you find you are still having problems.

  • Keen says:

    Yeah, keep in mind you can use your exact same Xbox Live account. Any settings carry over.

  • Zyler says:

    I did not expect much from this AOE at first. I judged it by looks alone.
    After you give it a try you notice its quite fun.

    However I do not like the changes they made to the techtree.
    Example: Celts civ lost 2 wall upgrades.

    I play this game on and off.

    Off topic:

    I also tried might and magic tactics. While I enjoyed the turn based combat with actual units on the field. Its just to expensive for my taste to buy extras that you need. (and you do need to buy extras otherwise its just a short demo)
    Hoping for a discount or station cash offer soon)

    Also really enjoying silent storm sentinels at the moment.

    Games I am hyped for that can not come soon enough: Guild wars 2 and Mechwarrior online.

  • Drathmar says:

    @Zyler: They are making a Mechwarrior online?

  • Zyler says:

    Yeah it will be a good year for Mech fans.

    Mechwarrior online (bought one of those founder packages)
    Mechwarrior tactics (more like tabletop turn based)
    Hawken (different company and more fast paced fps like gaming)

    Well it been long enough.
    While Armored Core can be fun its nothing compared to Mechwarrior.

    Offtopic: Playing Ghost recon online again. Ugh how they nerfed that pentagun to useless. Even the lvl 0 starting shotgun is great compared to it.
    But hey I’m having fun.

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