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Review by: Pete Hines
Published: November 16, 1997
Age of Empires (AoE) covers the period from 5000 B.C. to 800 A.D. and the 12 ancient cultures that ruled most of what was then the “known world.” For the first three thousand years, the Sumerians and Egyptians were the two predominant civilizations, but soon thereafter numerous cultures sprung up and the fight for survival and supremacy was on. In AoE, your job is to pick a culture and lead it from its fledgling beginnings to the top of the food chain and status as rulers extraordinaire in this age of empires. The game is really a kind of cross between Warcraft 2 and Civilization, and the influences of both can be seen throughout.
Each civilization has its own culture, strengths, and weaknesses that affect how each plays the game. For example, Sumerians have their farm production doubled, higher villager hit points, and quicker fire rates for some of the larger military units. On the other hand, Chosons have better range for their towers and can create priests more cheaply. Depending on which culture you choose, you’ll be able to construct different unit types as you move through the ages (Stone, Tool, Bronze, and Iron). So, as the Hittites you can build guard towers and war elephants while the Minoans can’t, but they can have fishing ships and juggernauts.
Moving from one age to the next is like advancing in technology. You’ll be able to build newer and better structures and more useful and powerful military units. For each civilization, the stone age offers simple and basic structures like a town center, granary, dock, storage pit, barracks, and housing. With these, you’ll be able to begin the simple process of having villagers forage for basic resources like food, wood, stone, and gold. Food is gathered in a number of ways, including hunting, fishing, picking berries, and farming. Wood is gathered by sending villagers to chop down trees. Stone and gold are obtained in a similar fashion, by mining it from appropriate areas. Stockpiling resources is the key to advancing from one age to the next and expanding the size and efficiency of your empire.
Town centers are where you produce the villagers that are the backbone of your empire. In addition to gathering resources, they can be ordered to repair buildings and boats or build structures, either alone or in unison with other villagers. Buildings require a given amount of resources be used up front, whether it be wood, stone, or what have you. So once you build it, you don’t have to worry about the upkeep (except for repairing damage due to attacks). Structures vary in usage and scope as you move through the ages, but each plays an important role in building a successful empire. Barracks are the only way you can build military units and the successive related military structures as you move through the ages. Granaries allow for food storage and also enable you to build markets, temples, and government centers as you get into the tool and bronze ages. Some structures can perform technological upgrades that improve your units, like better armor or stronger weapons or improved capacity in gathering resources.
Although it was not the most popular form of negotiating (finishing a distant second to combat), you can always use diplomacy to forge alliances and choose whom you do and do not want to fight. There are three stances that can exist between two civilizations: ally, neutral, and enemy. Enemy means that your military units will attack on sight any buildings, structures, or villagers from the civilization in question. In neutral stance, the military will attack opposing structures and military units, but not villagers. You won’t attack anything that belongs to an ally. Diplomacy can be a useful tool in limiting the number of other empires you have to “worry” about. Being allies also has other benefits, like the ability to share information on areas of the map that are explored (once writing is researched). Of course, the more powerful you are, the more selective you can be about which civilizations to crush and which to befriend. Tributes, a friendly word for bribes, were often used to smooth over tense situations or obtain favors. As in, “Here’s 200 gold for not unleashing those elephant archers on me, spend it in good health.”
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