Age of Empires Online was a 2011 massively multiplayer online real-time strategy game by Robot Entertainment and Gas Powered Games for the PC. The original developer of the Age of Empire games was Ensemble Studios. While I loved Age of Empires II (and had heard good things about the first game), Age of Empires III went in a direction I disliked. After many years with no sign of Age of Empires IV, I assumed others felt the same. The third game didn’t sell well enough, so the company was closed. However, there was secretly another project going on. Ensemble Studios was closed down but several members went on to create Robot Entertainment. What better way to startup a company then to continue a tried and true franchise? They eventually went off to make their own games with Gas Powered Games coming in to finish the game and release it.
What started out as Age of Empires IV, eventually became Age of Empires Online. Their aim was to return to the same great gameplay of Age of Empires II but add several forms of progression. There were the normal campaign story levels, but there were now other things to strive for as well. Each type of unit had a slot for a weapon and an armor piece, so players could slowly upgrade their units to make them more powerful. The player’s empire would gain levels from completing missions. Players got points from these levels that players could spend towards unlocking new buildings or tech upgrades for future missions.
By the time this game came out, I knew that real-time strategy wasn’t my favorite type of game. After completing the campaign, I didn’t like playing much multiplayer because it was becoming too fast for me. These extra progression features would allow me to stay interested in playing even if I wasn’t improving my skill level anymore. I didn’t have to worry about winning if I still got these extra rewards just for playing. That was my hope for the game.
When the game came out, I loved going through missions, leveling up, and upgrading my empire. Unfortunately, as I got further into the game, the missions started to become too difficult. Even though they were single player, I still needed to play at the top of my game to complete them. The developers didn’t go with the modern design philosophy, which is to include a difficulty setting. This way players like myself could still complete all the missions, just with fewer rewards. Instead, the developers continually added harder and harder content to the game. They never went back to add a way to make missions easier for slower players.
I did really like building up my empire, but eventually my progression was stopped. I could not get any more upgrades without finishing tougher missions. I know I could have gotten further if I really wanted to work hard at it, but I had no interest in doing that in a video game. I do that enough for work, not in my free time.
I still think many concepts of the game were great ideas, but it probably would have been better as a single player game. Multiplayer could be included, like the previous games, for online skirmishes between human players, but all these new game mechanics needed to be really tested in a single player setting. All they had to do was include a proper difficulty setting to the game. Lower skilled players like myself would take longer to get all the upgrades, but we’d still eventually get there. Highly skilled players could just focus on multiplayer.
Despite my disappointments with the game, I did get my money’s worth out of the game. The game had a hybrid free-to-play model. Players could do everything in the game, but there were several restrictions that would slow them down or make the game harder. I really enjoyed what I saw in the first ten empire levels, so I paid for the full version. Unfortunately, by around level twenty the missions became too tedious for me. Sadly, this may be the last Age of Empires game. Microsoft has only been re-releasing the old games. They are not making any new ones.