Despite the very solid design and some outstanding features and gameplay elements, you might be very frustrated with Age of Sail II because of all its technical problems.
Without a doubt, TalonSoft's Age of Sail II is the best serious simulation of fighting sail combat to date. However, since its competition includes lackluster games such as the original Age of Sail, Wooden Ships & Iron Men, and the Man of War games, being the best in its class doesn't necessarily say much about the game. Thus even though Age of Sail II can rightfully claim "best of breed" status, it does so in spite of numerous technical bugs and other flaws. Developed by Akella, which recently made the swashbuckling role-playing game Sea Dogs, Age of Sail II is a perfect example of a game that was released before it was finished or adequately play-tested.
Age of Sail II is the follow-up to the original game from 1997. The sequel is a fully 3D real-time naval combat game. It includes more than 100 individual historical scenarios and six campaigns (a seventh is included with the game's first patch), all taking place between 1775 and 1820. The scenarios range from small ship-to-ship actions, such as the Constitution vs. Guerriere, up to massive fleet battles like the battles of Camperdown and Cape St. Vincent. A handful of hypothetical scenarios are also included--one lets you see how a squadron of American ships-of-the-line would do in battle against British forces at the tail end of the War of 1812. No scenario editor is included in Age of Sail II, but the sheer number of scenarios available in the game is quite impressive.
A few of the campaigns are merely strings of scenarios sharing a common theme--for example, all of the major US-British engagements of the War of 1812--while others let you amass and manage a fleet through a course of several increasingly difficult engagements. Age of Sail II does not offer a randomly generated campaign (a prominent feature in the original Age of Sail), but the scripted campaigns included with the game are rather good for the most part.
Fans of the original Age of Sail will notice fairly quickly the major graphical improvements in the sequel. The 3D engine, which uses the same technology as in Sea Dogs, is stunning. Every ship in the game is highly detailed--right down to tiny sailors running about on the decks of each ship--and the battle damage sustained by the vessels is well depicted by the ripped sails, fires, and shattered hulls evident throughout the game. The engine does have a few minor problems, such as the polygonal clipping that occurs when ships sail too close to land--but by and large, the graphics in Age of Sail II are excellent. In addition, the music suits the theme well, and most of the sound effects are also very good, although the cannon sounds are a bit subdued. It's true that the game seems similar to Sea Dogs, which had a few awkward town sequences that didn't look as good as the ship-to-ship combat. But aside from having a similar 3D engine and theme, the tactical Age of Sail II has very little in common with the simpler, more character-driven Sea Dogs.
The landmasses are a new feature in Age of Sail II. In scenarios that take place within sight of land, an array of new elements come into play. Shallow water and shoals are treacherous hazards for commanders, and they add a welcome strategic consideration to many of the battles in the game. A depth-sounding feature lets you keep a lookout for shallow water.
Occasionally, when fighting near landmasses, you'll also face off against fortresses along the shore. A number of the scenarios in Age of Sail II include fortresses of varying strength, which is great for the sake of variety. Unfortunately, they do not always work properly or pose the significant threat that they should. In some missions, fortresses sit idly by without firing a single shot, while in others they inflict scarcely any damage at all.
Command and control in Age of Sail II is fairly intuitive. You can click on a ship on the screen or select its name from a ship list. For each ship, you can control what type of shot to use, where to aim, and a variety of other critical crew tasks. In fact, the crew allocation screen is one of the most useful features in the game. From here, you can assign a portion of your crew to repair damage, put out fires, or refloat a grounded ship. You can also control the size of your boarding parties and prize crews for capturing enemy ships. Some of the menu options on this screen are useless--for example, the gun repair option--but most of them are incredibly useful, especially in lengthy battles where active repair crews can mean the difference between victory and defeat.