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Review – Age of Empires: Age of Kings (and Crashing)

posted on February 21st, 2008 by golden jew

I hate to lead with such a petty slam against Age of Empires on the DS, but the fact of the matter is, the game is crash-tastic. I experienced two irritating crashes during campaigns (if you watch animated battles, the game can crash. This is worked around by disabling animated battles, which you will eventually want to do anyway). Another crash came upon completing a particularly long scenario: the screen just went black and never loaded the victory page.

A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir to a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deni’st the least syllable of thy addition.

As I recounted these PC-like gaming experiences to Jay, he frantically asked if I had tried to put my name in, which was a three letter word (Jew, of course). Apparently the game can’t support three letter words (which is a damn shame, with so many quality ones out there, like “poo” and “ass”). In fact, it can’t support them to the point it breaks your game and you have to send it back. Yikes. I dodged this bullet because I was playing my roommate’s copy, and his profile was already set to an Age of Empires acceptable five letter word. [For a less happy ending, ask Pat how his game went.]

Getting past the fact that this game’s QA cycle was apparently as extensive as as an MMO’s, and the fact that the save features are confusing and nonexistent (and there’s no auto-save to rescue you from the game’s crashing, which might have been redeeming), Age of Empires was like crack to me. For someone who gets frustrated at the largely cutesy and gimmicky DS games, having a bona fide turn based strategy game born from an RTS to enjoy was fantastic.

Yes, you heard correctly. Although the computer based Age of Empires is an RTS, for whatever number of reasons, the DS version is changed to a turn based strategy. This is actually a good thing, because the end result, when it’s not crashing, is a fairly well balanced, surprisingly deep strategy game.

The slimmed down DS version features five civilizations (each with a unique unit and specific discounts/penalties/bonuses), a wide array of units that I won’t even try to count, and a large number of scenario maps. On the empire building side, you have 14 buildings, ranging from resource collectors to defensive structures and unit training. Each building unlocks technologies for research, or units produced (or both). There are four ages, and the tech trees for the later ages are quite extensive.

On the military front, the game uses a general rock/paper/scissors, with cavalry beating infantry, infantry beating pikemen, and pikemen beating cavalry. Of course, there are also ranged units that come in a variety of flavors, terrain advantages, and lots of other goodies to keep you busy. Units have a huge number of special abilities–unfortunately, I didn’t have the manual, and while the in-game encyclopedia is happy to explain to me the historical origin of skirmishers, it doesn’t explain what their special ability “skirmishing,” does. In most cases, the skills are self explanatory, but to see when they activate requires animated battles, which can, as previously discussed, crash the DS.

I can’t remember the last time Bush showed me a relic or even a moderately valuable antique.

Every race has a hero, which you play as during the campaign, and which you start with in single or multiplayer maps (this can be disabled). Each hero has a bevy of abilities, and while some are quite good and others not so much, no hero seems to be particularly over or under powered. The heroes are nicely balanced in that they are durable, but not unstoppable, and through heavy use of them the player runs the risk of a savvy opponent taking them out.

For those of us rolling solo, the campaigns are the way to go. There are five campaigns (one for each civilization) with around six or seven maps each, each one a historical battle, with the final one being a “what if this person actually won this critical moment of their lives instead of dying horribly.” An interesting aspect of the game is that you actually play a number of these maps from both sides, which I found to be very cool, and also helpful the second time around as you better know the terrain and the battle.

Unfortunately, the campaigns are all the single player fun you’re going to get out of this game, unless you’re mentally handicapped. The AI is absolutely horrific. This is balanced during the campaigns due to their overwhelming numerical advantage and entrenched cities, but in random games, it’s a turkey shoot. This is a damn shame, because there are quite a few maps one can play, so you’ll need to find a friend and play it on multiplayer to get further mileage out of the game.

On the whole, if you are a strategy player and aware of the many ways the game can crash, this is a great pickup for the DS. If you have friends for multiplayer, you’ll get that much more fun out of the game. It’s flawed, certainly, and I wouldn’t disagree with anyone who shunned it for that fact: a console game should not crash as much as this game does. I’m almost certainly influenced by the fact I borrowed, and did not buy the game. But despite all of its flaws, I enjoyed it so much that I nearly missed my metro stop multiple times, and a two hour flight flew by. If that’s not an endorsement of a game’s fun factor, I don’t know what is.

1 Comments

  1. pat said on February 27, 2008:

    you will notice my name, “pat” has three letters. apparently, combining a three letter username with the “save and quit” option turns the game cartridge into a relatively useless (because of it lack of heft) paperweight. i checked the majesco forum and they said they were looking into the issue and replacing “bricked” carts. i mailed it in and had it replaced, but lost my saves. the replacement had some warning about not using the “save and quit” option. thanks for the timely advice majesco!!

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