I am absolutely horrible at Age of Empires II.
I didn’t used to be. Back in 1999, this real-time strategy title was the backbone of much of my gaming time for a good long while, and I commanded empires that were as prosperous as they were mighty. A lot of gamers were hooked on this title due to its slick interface, ease of play, and the “Civilization-lite” progression through four eras that gave you a sense of time passing. It’s easily been the most popular and long-lasting of the Age of Empires series, with a HD edition in 2013 and an upcoming “Definitive Edition” that’s due later this year. That’s not even counting the official expansions for the game, the most recent of which was 2016 (!).
With Age of Empires IV on the way for… sometime in the future… I took advantage of a Steam sale to pick up the HD edition and give this old favorite a whirl. This is when I discovered that I am just rubbish at playing this game in 2019. I even scaled back the difficulty and still saw other empires racing ahead of me in ages and military might as I struggled to remember all of the different tech upgrades.
It’s still a great game, don’t get me wrong. It looks good (if tiny) and it’s quite simple to assign villagers to various tasks, build up defenses, and create impressive-looking armies. The mechanics were fine, and while I wished that I could zoom in at a resolution that pictured my village and citizens as something larger than individual atoms, it was quite playable indeed. The music, the sounds, the different civilization units — all of these were (and are) great.
So what’s the problem? I think it comes down to balance. There are two factors to balance in Age of Empires II: advancing through ages to get better buildings/units and creating a large enough standing army to defend and conquer. The former requires a lot of villagers to establish a strong economy and plenty of resources spent on upgrades, buildings, and age advancement, while the later asks for those same resources to throw toward the military. But how to balance it, I don’t know. I didn’t do my research and I had no idea how many villagers, farms, etc., I should have going to create a good rate of progress without completely ignoring the military. Feels like there should be a set ratio or pattern, and without that, I was either progressing too slowly or ignoring my defenses.
Still, I love how alive a town feels in this game. I kind of care about all of my people as the villagers tend to sheep and hide out in the town center when it comes under attack. I really appreciate the ability to build up walls, gates, towers, and other castle-like defenses to help keep invaders from simply rofflestomping all over my lands. And I had a good time creating a number of my favorite unit, the Janissaries, that could fire off impressive waves of rifle-like attacks at the foe.
I just wish I didn’t stink so much at it. Oh well, no time to really invest in getting it right, because the Summer of the RTS demands my attention move on to another game!