Age of Empires Online
|Age of Empires Online|
Gas Powered Games
|Publisher(s)||Microsoft Game Studios|
|Series||Age of Empires|
|Engine||BANG with Havok physics|
|Release date(s)||August 16, 2011|
|Genre(s)||Massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game|
Age of Empires Online was a massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game released on August 16, 2011 through digital distribution and optical discs. Based upon the gameplay of the Age of Empires series, it was originally being developed by Robot Entertainment, but on February 24, 2011, it was announced that Gas Powered Games, the creators of Supreme Commander, had taken over production. The game is published by Microsoft.
The game was free-to-play—it was free for users to play, with the additional option of earning or purchasing premium content. Premium content may include access to many special items and blueprints, and more quests and features. Also, booster packs are now available, such as Defense of Crete and Skirmish. The former gives the player the ability to play in a survival type mode game, while the latter allows up to four humans versus up to four CPU opponents in a more traditional skirmish game-mode. The modes can be played in either single-player or co-op. The game also features several player versus player (PvP) modes for up to four people with the option of a PvP "Champion mode" which fully unlocks the players' tech tree and renders the gear for aesthetics only.
On March 27, 2012, the game premiered on Steam after a major overhaul patch which addressed complaints of an "MMO-like grind" and many other features, along with the debut of the Celtic civilization. On June 15, 2012 the premium content system was changed by offering the option to purchase all past and future content through "Empire points" earned in game, or by purchasing the points directly with real world money. With this change the player now has the option to earn all premium content for free.
As of 3 January 2013[update], Microsoft has ceased further development on the game and no new content will be released. However, the existing content and servers will continue to function and be supported. A Microsoft representative later announced on the official forums that on August 22, 2013, the Games for Windows – Live Marketplace would be shut down, leaving the game only accessible by current or former players, thus meaning no new players can register and download the game as of that date. Empire Points can still be earned through gameplay, but the ability to purchase them is also being removed as well. In September 2013, it was announced that the game would remain functional until July 1, 2014 when the service would be shut down. The closure was due to the content being too expensive to maintain. On July 1, the shutdown took place as planned.
Age of Empires Online, like its predecessors, is a real-time based strategy videogame. The game features much of the gameplay of past games in the series, with the addition of a massive multiplayer online gaming element. The player possesses a capital city for each started civilization, that continues to exist when the player is offline. Also, the game features a great quantity of new content, such as the ability to craft items with earned materials and trading with other players.
The main gameplay revolves around the player being able to develop a civilization from its birth to its peak and fall. To assure victory, the player must gather resources to spend on new units, buildings and more advanced technology. Resources must also be preserved, as no new resources become available as the game progresses. A major component of the game is the advancement through four ages with each advancement bringing new technologies, weapons, and units.
Civilian units, called villagers, are used to gather resources. Resources can be used to train units, construct buildings, and research technologies. The game offers four types of resources: Food, wood, gold and stone. Food is obtained by hunting animals, gathering berries, harvesting livestock, farming and fishing. Wood is gathered by chopping down trees. Gold is obtained from either gold mines or through trade and stone is collected from stone mines. Villagers require depository buildings; a town center, dock, storehouse, or for the Babylonians, an ox cart, where they can store gathered resources. Each civilization can research upgrades that increase the rate of resource gathering.
Players can construct a market for trade; enabling them to either trade wood, stone, and food for gold, and use gold to buy other resources. Market prices fluctuate with every transaction (supply vs. demand). Furthermore, markets and docks can generate gold, by sending trade units (caravans or merchant transports) to visit own or allied town centers and ports. Once the trade units return, gold is added to the stockpile with the amount of earned gold being related to the distance traveled.
Age of Empires Online includes five classes of military units: Infantry, archers, cavalry, siege weaponry, and naval units. All military classes are developed to maintain a balance on gameplay, and thus avoiding visible advantages between civilizations. As an example, a unit powerful against buildings can be weak against a certain kind of cavalry. Unique units are available for the Greek, Egyptian, Celts, and Persian civilizations, either from the start of the game or through advisor cards. These civilization-specific units are generally more powerful, but can still be vulnerable to certain units. The priest is a special kind of military unit that has the ability to convert enemy units to the player's civilization, and to heal allied units.
Every player has a limit to the total number of units they can create—a population limit—but may not immediately use the entire potential population. The population limit increases with the number of houses or town centers in the player's village to a maximum of 200, with each house contributing five (or ten for the Norse) and each town center contributing 20 to the limit. There are two important features for unit management: The idle villager button, which helps players identify villagers that have not been assigned a task, and the town bell, which sends all of the player's villagers into the nearest town center, fortress or tower for safety.
The buildings in Age of Empires Online are either economic or military buildings. Buildings can research technologies and upgrades that increase economic, military or unit-based efficiency, as well as provide resources for the player. Each civilization has unique buildings, but some are common for all civilizations; the most important of these being the town center, where villagers are created, resources are stored, some technologies researched and in which the player can advance to the next age. The town center can fire arrows at enemy units within range. Other economic buildings available include the storehouse for resources, farms, docks (the dock may also produce several military ships), and houses to support a higher population.
Military buildings include unit-producing buildings such as barracks, archery ranges, stables, and fortresses, as well as defensive buildings such as walls and towers. Military buildings can perform research to improve the abilities of military units, increasing their strength, defensive capabilities, or other attributes. The fortress is a powerful defensive building which can train a variety of units, including the civilization's unique units, and fires arrows at enemy units within range. It can only be built after a player has reached the third age. There are two other important defensive buildings: Walls and towers. Walls are used to prevent access for enemy units to an enclosed area, while friendly units can traverse the walls through inserted gates. Towers are equipped with the ability to fire arrows at enemy units, or garrison friendly units for protection, and can be used in conjunction with walls in establishing defense lines. Watch posts are used for extendings the line of sight.
The capital city is similar to the "Home city" concept implemented in Age of Empires III. The city functions as the player's home base for their civilization. It continues to exist even when the player logs out of the game, though it cannot be attacked or altered by other players. Through the capital city, the player can manage quests, improve technologies, send mail, craft items, participate in player to player trade, acquire and equip new gear for individual units, and visit other player's cities. Stores built within the city can be visited by other players and currency used for the items purchased will add to the player's funds. Unlike the home city from Age of Empires III where you can only customize the look of buildings, the capital city is completely customizable; buildings and rewards can be placed anywhere on the city map as the player chooses. Players can add buildings, rewards, houses as well as statues and bushes along with other things to decorate their capital city. "Vanity Island" exist to add new bushes and statues for the player to use to decorate their capital city. The city is also used as a gateway to other AI controlled cities within the region, where a player can visit and acquire new quests and items. The capital city also has many different buildings that the player can build. Craft schools, built from the city, produce gear and consumables for the player to use. Additionally, Microsoft released a crafting app for Windows Phone which a player can use to assist in crafting within the game.
Quests are the main PvE aspect of the game. Quests generally involve fighting and defeating the AI player. They are similar to the campaigns in previous Age of Empires games. They are completed when the objectives are met. Objectives in quests vary greatly, some quests involve defeating enemies, others involve protecting a building or unit, and some involve collecting a certain amount of resources while defending from the enemy. Quest rewards include experience points, gold, empire points, chests, and sometimes gear. Certain quests also have a co-op option, which allows the player to do the quest with another player to help them. Certain quests also have an "elite" version, which allows for the player to gain a greater amount of rewards, but is more difficult presenting the player with a greater challenge.
The different civilizations also have different quest lines, e.g. the Celts have 80 unique quests that the other civilizations do not possess.
In June 2012, a free endgame content pack called "alliance wars" was released. The content is designated towards level 40 players, and consists of team-based competition revolving around three separate alliances. Players are able to align themselves with a particular alliance and complete quests for powerful rewards and passive bonuses. Contests are also held at daily, weekly, and monthly intervals.
Player versus player, or PvP, is another aspect of the game. PvP in this game can be started in one of two ways: By using Sparta PvP to find a random match, or by using the arena in the capital city to play against a party member. Sparta PvP can be accessed by visiting the Sparta region in the world map. In Sparta PvP, there are two different types of PvP options. Standard PvP is the first option and allows the player to use star techs from their tech-tree as well as any gear and advisors that they have equipped in their capital city. This PvP option was first to be released. Champion mode PvP is the second Sparta PvP option. This is also sometimes known as ranked PvP while Standard PvP is known as unranked PvP. In this PvP option all gears, star techs and advisors are disabled and cannot be used to start the players off at an even footing. All gears equipped will provide the units with a cosmetic change but will not affect their stats like they would normally do in PvE missions.
In Sparta PvP, the player starts off with a minimal amount of resources, a few villagers and their scout. Map selection is random and cannot be chosen by either players. Champion mode PvP results will also determine your TrueSkill ranking which is used to determine a player's rank globally as well as to help find the player a match and opponents for PvP. Currently, in Sparta PvP, there is an option for 1v1 PvP and 2v2 PvP. Rewards from Sparta PvP include experience points, empire points, gold and Sparta points which can be used in the stores in Sparta for chests, gear and consumables.
PvP is also accessible through the Arena in the player's capital city. While identical to Sparta PvP in many ways, Arena PvP can differ in many ways. In Arena PvP, you can play against any human opponent in your party as well as choose the map and teams (if it is a 2v2 match) before starting the game. Arena PvP will not affect your Sparta PvP Trueskill ranking. Finally, arena PvP also does not provide any rewards to the winning player. The August 2012 update also added a new spectator mode option for Arena PvP and the October 2012 update made Arena PvP (Standard or Champion mode) free for all players.
Currently six civilizations are available. Premium civilizations start at level 1 and are the Greeks, Egyptians, and Celts. Pro civilizations start at level 20 and are the Persians, Babylonians and the Norse. Each civilization has technologies and units that are unique to them, so that no civilization possesses all the technologies or units possible within the game.
Age of Empires Online, under the working title Project S, was to be the first game developed by Robot Entertainment, a company founded by 45 of the 110 former staff members of Ensemble Studios, who created the Age of Empires series. The game was officially announced on August 16, 2010. Robot was hired by Microsoft to develop the game over a 24-month period. The entire studio team focused on it as their sole project, in an effort to earn startup funds for Robot's future projects.
During early production, Age of Empires Online was originally called Age of Empires IV. The development team had noticed that over the years many other RTS game developers had moved away from the "economic game". The team felt that Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings had blended the economic and military aspects of the game perfectly, so they decided to play test it with hindsight. They noticed that many features from the game had been lost or changed over time for its successors. It was during this time the team decided to do an "Age of Kings style gameplay in an Age of Empires setting". The designers were surprised that fans of the series were most fond of the simpler aspects of the previous titles. Former Age of Empires II lead designer Ian M. Fischer stated, "When we started floating some of the early [AoEO] out to people other pieces fell into place – I cannot tell you how many times I have had someone email me or talk to me at a show and mention how much they loved the villagers carrying big hunks of meat in the original Age or the priest "wololo"". From that point on, one of the goals was to invoke nostalgia from fans of the series when playing the game, despite the newer and updated features.
The decision to make the game online-only was based in part on the success of Age of Empires II and the popularity of its online integration with MSN Gaming Zone. Since online player interaction through the game was made a priority by the studio, two iterations of the game had to be created; a server version and a client version. This resulted in a heavily modified version of the BANG engine used in previous games of the series, along with requiring large amounts of additional sever code and infrastructure to be implemented. Excluding the tools, Age of Empires Online contains over 1.2 million lines of code.
In designing the new look for the game, Robot had six artists come together to create a new art style which would look similar to the previous games from the series, yet look more "visually appealing", "timeless", and "bright". Among the art team was Ensemble Studios' first artist Brad Crow, who had worked on every Age of Empires game produced by the studio. The team implemented several ideas to give the game an improved core visual interface over that of its predecessors such as; increasing the field of view so that the player was able to see more on the screen, a tighter user interface to allow more of the field of play to be visible, a new building design to make them encompass less screen space - while also making them look more unique, and giving each unit a unique look and animation making them more easily distinguishable from each other.
The music and sound for the game was developed by GL33k and veteran video game composer Chris Rickwood. In composing the music, Rickwood strove to keep it in the spirit of Stephen Rippy's and Kevin McMullan's work from the prior games of the series.
On February 24, 2011, it was announced - first via Chris Taylor's Facebook page - that Gas Powered Games had taken over development from Robot Entertainment. According to a blog post that appeared on the game's website, Gas Powered Games was already working on the game behind the scenes, creating content packs and moving to take over as lead developers, which was planned for some time. The game was released on August 16, 2011 with the Greek and Egyptian civilizations, followed by the Persians during the holiday. The Celts was postponed to March 2012, and was the first out of the four civilizations solely created from start to finish by Gas Powered Games since taking over development.
Support phase and closure
On January 3, 2013, it was announced by AOEO Trajan (Kevin Perry) via the official community blog that Age of Empires Online had finished its development stage and was entering its support phase, and in September 2013 Microsoft Studios announced that the Age of Empires Online servers would be shut down on July 1, 2014. Producer Kevin Perry gave a presentation at the 2013 Game Developers Conference explaining the reasons for AoEO's closure and why he believed its business model ultimately failed, that being mostly due to the content being too expensive to create for the small daily active userbase.
At launch, the game offered premium content to players in the form of micro-transactions. As part of the game's launch on Steam in March 2012, prices were lowered and Steam offered all premium content and booster packs in the game for a discount through the "All in Wonder Bundle". The developers later announced that in June 2012, the previous purchasing system would be discontinued, while all past and future premium content will be purchased through "Empire points" earned through gameplay. The option to purchase the points with real money is also available. On June 14, 2012 the summer patch went into place removing the original purchasing system for premium content and implemented the new "Empire points" system - making the game fully free to play.
Premium civilizations allow a player access to rare, epic and legendary quality items and allow the use of advisors, which give unique benefits to their civilization, such as new unit types or better existing units. Premium civilizations also raise item storage capacity to a maximum of 96 slots and give access to the full tech tree. Pro civilizations are only available by purchase, and start off at level 20 and have no beginner quests, but otherwise function like Premium civilizations. Booster and Vanity packs are also available.
Booster packs allow for the player to enjoy and experience new very customizable PvE gameplay. These booster packs add new content to the game as well as offering the player a way to test strategies and gain experience points to level up, gold and empires points. These booster packs also have quests that allow for the player to construct new vanity statues to decorate their capital city with. The booster packs also give the player advisors and gear that can not otherwise be collected by the player.
The Defense of Crete booster pack is the first booster pack to be released for Age of Empires Online. This booster pack allows the player to play PvE missions that is similar to classic tower defense games. In these missions, the player must defend the wonder from waves of enemies that are being to destroy it.
The Skirmish booster pack is the second booster pack to be released for Age of Empires Online. The Skirmish booster pack adds allows the player to choose every element of PvE gameplay in Age of Empires Online. This allows the player to customize amount of player resources, select maps, map size, victory condition, map resources, difficulty of the CPU players, civilization to be used to the computer player, number of human as well as computer players and the AI/strategy that will be used by the computer player(s). In Skirmish mode, all units and ages are automatically unlocked for the player(s) to use in battle regardless of the player's level. Not all technologies are unlocked for the player to use however, and the technologies that a player can use depends on the what the player has already unlocked in their technology trees. The Skirmish hall can be accessed in the Cyprus region in the world map after the player has purchased the booster pack. By winning a Skirmish match, the player(s) receive a reward of experience points, coin, empire points and chests. Rewards are based on the difficulty, map size, number of starting resources, number of allies and enemies, etc. In addition to this, there are several global quests that the player can complete by playing skirmish matches. Completing these quests are the only way to get certain advisors and statues to decorate you capital city with. Currently, the player is able to fight on over 20 maps. Skirmish supports 4 player co-op against up to 4 computer players. The Skirmish pack allows the player to battle 9 unique computer opponents, 8 with unique tactics and one with random tactics. For computer players, there are currently 5 different difficulty levels ranging from unstoppable (hardest) to weak (weakest). The difficulty level also determines what gear the computer player's units will be using with weak using uncommon gears to unstoppable using epic gears. A typical Skirmish match begins with the player starting off at the selected starting age, resources, a scout and a few villagers. A game is complete when the player meets the victory condition, which could either be a standard victory (destroy all enemy town centers), conquest (kill and destroy all units) or wonder victory (be the first to complete a wonder or kill all units).
At launch, there were several vanity packs for the game, These packs provided the player with blueprints to stores that allowed the player to purchase new items to use to customize and decorate their capital city with in-game gold. The vanity packs have since been discontinued and are no longer available for purchase due to the launch of "Vanity Island", an island where players can visit to buy city decorations and vanity gear using their Empire Points. However, players who had already purchased the Vanity packs can continue to use them.
Age of Empires Online received mixed reviews, garnering an aggregated review score of 70 on Metacritic. Some critics praise the co-operative missions, graphics, and familiar Age of Empires gameplay. However, many critics were critical of the price of the game's premium content.
Justin Calvert of GameSpot gave the game a 6.5/10, noting the PvP matchmaking system, enemy AI, and pricing as weak points, but stated, "Age of Empires Online effectively infuses its conventional real-time strategy gameplay with massively multiplayer online-style loot and leveling mechanics." IGN gave the game a 7/10, with reviewer Nick Kolan critical of the game's best features being restricted to the premium content purchases. However, Kolan closed by saying, "For all its flaws, I can’t help but like Age of Empires Online. Caught somewhere between massively-multiplayer online role-playing game and hardcore competitive real-time strategy, Age of Empires Online delivers some of the most addictive parts of both." PC Magazine gave the game 3.5 out of 5 stars, and complimented the in-game artwork as "well done" and "nicely scalable", but felt the free to play aspect should have offered more to the player. Reviewer Matthew Murray wrote, "Age of Empires Online is highly enjoyable, and I found myself afflicted with one-more-turn-itis when a fiendish mission objective captivated (or frustrated) me. That’s not the case with every game I play—and it’s not nothing."
GameSpy reviewer Mike Sharkey panned the game in his initial review, but after the game received a major overhaul patch he later stated, "Well, AoE Online is now on Steam, and courtesy of a massive spring patch, the vast majority of the problems I had with it have been addressed." PC Gamer initially gave the game a 65/100 at launch, but later reviewed the specific DLC Celts campaign giving it a score of 90/100 and calling it, "The best free RTS gaming you'll find, the Celts bring AoEO two steps closer to greatness." PC Gamer later summarized the game's major complaints during its initial launch and noted that many of them were addressed or improved by the developers.
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