Age of Empires II Expansion: The Conquerors

a game by Ensemble Studios, Microsoft Games
Platform: PC
Genre: Strategy/War
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 2 reviews
User Rating: 7.0/10 - 12 votes
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See also: Age of Empires Series

The Age Of Empires series is becoming something of a trusty old dog. You've enjoyed its company for a few years now and you've grown comfortable with it. Not only does it look just like all the other dogs in the neighbourhood (no fancy 3D shenanigans from this beast), it's also somewhat predictable, and the last thing you'd expect it to do is learn any new tricks. But let's face it, that's what gives this series its appeal. It might only sport a tired old three-quarter isometric view, but then again you don't have to readapt your old flight-sim keyboard claw just so you can move the game camera and give orders at the same time. And, unlike some young RTS upstarts I could mention, it still has a healthy dose of resource management, which, believe it or not, some players still enjoy.

On the evidence of the beta version we received, The Conquerors sticks firmly to that tried and trusted formula. It would be wrong though to assume that this expansion CD is just more Age Of Kings campaigns given a bit of spit and polish. As was the case with the Rise Of Rome expansion for the original Age Of Empires, Ensemble has packaged up a smorgasbord of enhancements and extras that will have seasoned fans salivating from the moment they read the box blurb.

So What's New?

The most obvious addition, as you'd expect, is a set of four single-player campaigns. While the Age Of Kings campaigns focused very much on the underdog (William Wallace, Joan of Arc, et al), Conquerors turns its attention to some of history's more successful bullies. So this time you get to play with the likes of Attila the Hun and EL Cid. As before, the campaign games are strung together with a series of vignettes outlining the story in a "Meanwhile, back at the farm..." kind of way. Unfortunately, the actors providing the voice-overs have once again all been hired from the Dick Van Dyke School of Crap Accents.

In Search Of New Civilisations

New campaign games are all well and good, but let's face it, they don't add that much longevity. Fortunately, Conquerors adds some spice to the standard single and multiplayer games by sprinkling in a mix of new races, units and technologies.

One of Age Of Kings's strengths is that the civilisations are distinguished not just by different colour schemes and graphics, but also by the technologies and unit types available to them. This is also the case with the five additional civilisations (Aztecs, Huns, Koreans, Mayans, and Spanish) that are included in Conquerors. Huns for example, on account of their being nomadic and preferring to sleep on their horses (or with them, depending on their personal preferences), do not have the ability to build houses. Instead they begin each game with a pre-set limit to their total population. The net result of these differences is that playing each civilisation is a unique experience, and you really do have to use your brain to take advantage of their strengths or overcome their weaknesses. Of the new civilisations, only the South American races are blessed with new graphics.

What's really going to breathe new life into your multiplayer games though, are the new game types. King Of The Hill places a monument at the centre of the map and has the players ranged round the outside. To win, all you have to do is capture the monument and hold it for 500 years. Simple? Well, not quite. The monument is always difficult to get to in the first place. It might, for example, be on an island in a large expanse of water. So first you have to figure the best way to get to it. Then defending it isn't quite as straightforward as it might at first I appear either. That's largely because you are not permitted to build in the immediate vicinity of the monument, so you can't simply capture it and wall it off.

The other two new games seem to have been designed for those who love resource management and those who don't. Wonder Race does away with combat altogether, and has everybody living in peace and harmony. Well, almost. There's still something of a competitive spirit among neighbouring civilisations as they race to be the first to build a wonder and win the game. It's all about how quickly you can gather those resources and how well you spend them.

If you're an aficionado of big battles and the Wonder Race game sounds as if it will bore you to tears, then Defend The Wonder was made for you. In this game variation every civilisation begins in the Imperial Age, and all with a ton of resources to encourage rapid build up of forces. One player though, begins in a walled-off area with a wonder at the centre, and has to protect it for 500 years. Meanwhile, the other players are doing their level best to get together some heavy siege machinery with which to break in and spoil the party. Because of the high-tech level everybody starts at and the lack of any need to research advanced weaponry, this game type makes for some truly spectacular battle sequences.

New And Improved

So, you can see that there are a lot of clearly visible additions packed into Conquerors. What is likely to really make a long-term difference to extending the life of AOK are the improvements that have been made under the bonnet. There are 16 major areas of improvement over the gameplay and features in AOK.

Some of the improvements demonstrate Ensemble Studios' commitment to playing its own games to destruction and ironing out the wrinkles. For example, let's take the situation in which you have grouped together infantry with a heavy weapons platform. How often have you watched in horror when, on first encountering an enemy group, your HWP stupidly joins in the action, wiping out half your own infantry with friendly fire. It's an AI oversight that many RTS designers are guilty of. In Conquerors, siege weapons like Mangonels will hold their fire if they are likely to injure your own troops.

Speaking of sieges, these become both more realistic and more complex. You can now garrison foot soldiers inside battering rams, which has the dual benefit of giving the ram more oomph and providing your troops with protection during the approach to an enemy wall.

There are some interesting additions to the resource management side of things too. Now, when a villager has finished constructing a building, instead of idly standing around watching everybody else working, he'll set off and perform an action appropriate to that building. So, in AOK you might have set a villager to work chopping trees and subsequently had another villager building a Lumber Camp. Now you simply get the first villager to build the Lumber Camp near the tree line, safe in the knowledge that as soon as he's done he'll begin chopping away.

One major time-saver is that, once you have built a Mill, you can queue farms, so that any you already have will be automatically replanted, even if you are tending to a battle on the far side of the map.

As you can see then, Conquerors stretches the term "expansion" somewhat. The Age Of Empires series might be a bit of a trusty old dog, but it can still surprise you every now and then by getting itself over a few fences rather than just looking on pathetically at all the younger dogs on the other side. As to whether AOE will finally get itself onto the 3D bandwagon - well, I guess we're going to have to wait for Empires III to find that out.

Download Age of Empires II Expansion: The Conquerors

Game Reviews

Overview

How do you improve on perfection? The same way you eat an elephant, one small bite at a time. Age of Empires II Expansion: The Conquerors does not boast any huge spectacular changes from Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, but gives a lot of great little extras. With five new civilizations to choose from (Aztecs, Huns, Koreans, Mayans, and the Spanish), it is almost impossible to pick a favorite one to play -- I currently have four favorites with the Korean and the Spanish topping the list. It is a really huge dilemma: so many civilizations, so little time. All the civilizations are now better balanced. There is a unique technology available for research for every civilization, just like each one has at least one unique unit. Each civilization poses new challenges and new opportunities. There is really no way to determine which civilization is "best." A lot depends on how you like to play and what types of units you use most effectively.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Gameplay has been improved with the ability to queue the rebuilding of farms and the ability to immediately start villagers collecting resources once they have built a collection-type building. These small enhancements make a lot of sense. For example, once you build a mine, the workers start mining -- likewise for gathering food and cutting wood. This improves the villagers’ productivity and makes it so you do not have to do so much babysitting to keep your workforce active (you know how villagers like to slack off). With these improvements, I did not have to use the "idle villager" button as much any more.

There are four new campaigns to test your mettle: Attila the Hun, El Cid, Montezuma, and Battles of the Conquerors. Each is simple enough to play right away on the easy setting, yet still provides lots of challenges as the difficulty level increases. How good are you? There is only one way to find out. Once you’ve installed this expansion, jump into a random map and see the new terrain types and unique map types. There are some surprises, so be ready to laugh, "ya’ll" (hint hint).

Graphics

Graphics quality has not changed much, but of course, with new civilizations, there’s new artwork. I like the Korean civilization artwork a lot -- nice animation on the war cart. You will notice that there are minor tweaks to the user interface but not much of a change at first glance.

Audio

Audio is right on track -- the new civilizations have great sounds just like the original game. I generally turn down the music in most games, but not this one. The one thing I would like to see is the sounds as wav files on the CD so I could assign them as system sounds on my computer. I would really like to have original clean clips.

System Requirements

If you can run Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, you can run the expansion, provided you have the additional hard drive space: 50 MB for a minimal install or 200 MB for a full install. I recommend the full install for best performance. AOEII: The Conquerors is an expansion pack and requires Age of Kings to play.

Documentation

My review copy did not come with a "Quick Reference Card" but I have been told that the retail version does. This is my favorite part of documentation for all the Age of Empires games. It gives you a quick look at the technology trees and what you need to build to get the stuff you need to become a "King."

Bottom Line

If you play Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, this expansion package is a must. I highly recommend this game and this expansion pack to anyone who plays computer games. If you have not tried Age of Empires: The Age of Kings, this is the time to get both the game and expansion package. Rule well, make good decisions, and you will live to reign supreme. Choose poorly and you will be trampled into dust and spread to the four corners of the earth.

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