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Review by: Dan Simpson
Published: August 31, 2000
The Age of Empires series has undergone a steady stream of improvements. Many reviewers found the first title lacking in numerous areas and thought that perhaps it didn’t live up to its billing as “Civilization meets Warcraft.” The Rise of Rome add-on fixed many of its shortcomings, however, and its sequel, the Age of Kings, added a new depth of play to the series. Now arrives The Conquerors, the latest expansion in the Age of Empires series.
Age of Empires II has 13 well-balanced civilizations, with each country having several advantages over the others, allowing for every empire to be distinct and different in their own way. For example, the Britons can create the Longbowmen, and their shepherds work faster. The Conquerors adds the Koreans, Huns, Aztecs, Mayans and Spanish to the mix. Additionally, each culture is given their own new technology, which serves to further sharpen the differences between the various factions. The new nationalities are great, but what impacts the game even more are their unique technologies, which influence the ways in which a civilization is played. For instance, when the Spanish learn Supremacy, their peasants’ fighting skills increase such that they can survive longer as front line builders. There are also new units and technologies that almost everyone can get, such as the Hussars–the ultimate light cavalry.
The Conquerors adds new real world maps such as Texas, Britain and Italy. There are also new types of maps, including the very interesting Nomad, where players begin at scattered locations. When I played Nomad, I accidentally built my city right next to the enemy; an odd situation, but it certainly made going to war easier. There are also new maps where your units leave footprints in the snow and, in a great play of realism, carts put down wheel tracks. To match the Aztecs and Mayans, there is the Yucatan style, where turkeys replace sheep while fierce jaguars prowl the jungles. In addition to the new map types, there are also new methods to play the game: King of the Hill, where there is a wonder in the center of the map and you must try to capture it; Wonder Race, where you can only win by building a wonder; and Defend the Wonder, where you start with a wonder and everyone else tries to destroy it. Finally, in team battles, there is the new “last man standing” option, where once your team wins, your allies become your enemies.
The reason the add-on is called The Conquerors is found within the expansion’s four new campaigns: El Cid, Montezuma, Attila the Hun and the Battle of the Conquerors. The first three place you as their respective leader attempting to defeat his enemies: El Cid fights against corruption in Spain, Montezuma fears Quetzalcotl’s return, and Attila the Hun desires to ravage the Roman Empire. These play similarly to their Age of Kings predecessors, giving you a hero and a series of objectives to accomplish in order to proceed to the next scenario. The Battle of the Conquerors, however, is different, placing you in the middle of just one battle, such as the Frankish victory over the Moors at Tours and the Turkish invasion of the Byzantine Empire. One welcome addition to the campaigns is the variable difficulty level, which was previously only available in standard random games.
Not every change is an addition; some are merely tweaks to the existing architecture done for play balance reasons. Several of the original civilizations have been redesigned, as some were too powerful or too weak. A few were powered down, such as the Chinese having less wood at the beginning, while others gain a new bonus, such as the Goth hunters being able to carry +15 meat. Most of the units move faster and some are more powerful. Another nice change is the smarter siege units, which no longer auto-fire if they would harm friendly units.
Some of the best improvements in The Conquerors are among the subtlest. The most useful addition is the farm queue. Previously in Age of Kings, a player would have to manually rebuild a farm every time it was exhausted. This could lead to some interesting situations if someone was too busy attacking an enemy to realize their economy had just collapsed. To rectify this situation, Ensemble has provided the highly useful farm queue, which allows players to “stack” new farms in the Mill, so that when a farm is exhausted, the villagers quickly create a new one. Further, villagers now work smarter. Once they finish constructing a mine, they will immediately go mining at the nearby gold or stone deposit. The same holds true for lumber camps, mills and even town centers. These two improvements make the economic side of The Conquerors proceed much more smoothly and evenly, letting the player focus on other things, such as surviving an onslaught of Korean War Wagons.
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