Review in progress: Age of Empires Online

Is this free-to-play real-time strategy game really free to play? We're looking into it.

I know what you're thinking: There can't be a review in progress for Age of Empires Online; it's free-to-play, and GameSpot doesn't review free-to-play games. Wrong. At least as of sometime next week when our review of Age of Empires Online is expected to post. We've largely ignored free-to-play games in the past, but they're becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from retail games, and more importantly, some of them are a lot of fun. Reviews for these games won't be radically different from those that you already see on GameSpot, but there will undoubtedly be some subtle differences. Value for money isn't a consideration when a game costs nothing to play, for example, but whether or not these games can really be enjoyed for free definitely is.

These advisor bonuses are available only when you play as a premium civilization.

There's no doubt that you can have fun playing Age of Empires Online without spending any money whatsoever, but both the promotion and pricing of its premium content options are aggressive. After choosing to play as either the Greeks (which I'm playing as currently) or the Egyptians, the game rarely misses an opportunity to remind you that for only $20 you can upgrade your chosen civilization to a premium civilization. What does that $20 buy you? You can use/equip rare and epic loot items that otherwise just sit in your inventory waiting to be sold, your inventory expands from a maximum of two warehouses to five, and otherwise unavailable buildings for your city grant you access to party PVP options and additional unit types and crafting options, to name but a few.

I spent maybe seven or eight hours playing for free before going premium, and right now I feel like that $20 was well spent. Other premium options right now include the Egyptian premium civilization for $20, a horde mode of sorts set on the island of Crete for $10, and four Empire Extras packs containing statues and plants for your customizable hub city that run $5 each. Launch offers include buying both premium civilizations and the Crete pack for $40, or paying $100 for everything that's available now and everything that's released in the next six months. Since I opted for that last option, I can tell you that this isn't just the most expensive free-to-play game I've ever played (World of Tanks is the only other one that I've spent money on to date); it's one of the most expensive games I've ever played, period.

Enemy AI isn't great, but it sure is aggressive.

Fortunately, I'm enjoying my time with Age of Empires Online. I like the colorful and cartoony visual style, the uncomplicated RTS gameplay, and the way that MMO staples like crafting, leveling, skill tree, questing, and loot have been incorporated. Repeatable quests are an MMO trope that I'm far less excited about, but they at least afford an opportunity to level up and grab more loot for my units if I get stuck on one of the more challenging campaign quests. For the moment, I'm also not having much fun with PVP. Almost every time I try it I get randomly matched up against an enemy several levels higher than I am, so not only are most of these guys better than me (I freely admit that my tendency to turtle doesn't seem well suited to AOE Online and I'm having trouble adjusting), but they're coming at me with units sporting better gear and, worse still, units that I don't even have access to yet. I daresay the odds will change in my favor at some point (I'm currently level 20, and the level cap is 40), but I don't particularly want to be matched up with opponents who are lower level than I am either.

Before delivering the full review next week I need to spend some more time with the Greek campaign, check out the Egyptians, get into some more PVP battles, and take advantage of the co-op option, which--based on what I read in the ever-present chat window--can make some of the challenging quests significantly easier. If you're already playing and happen to be on the Athens server, feel free to look me up and lend a hand. I'm playing as JusticeCovert.

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Discussion

18 comments
sorcererxx12
sorcererxx12

@it009x9281 now i see why you would pay for a better tank faster. I played for about 6 hours and was able to get two 2nd level tanks but 3rd level seems like an eternity to play for. Anyway, the game is a lot of fun even at 2nd level since the game puts you in battels that match your level.

it009x9281
it009x9281

@sorcererxx12 1200hrs spent in world of tanks and only at teir 8 tank lvl so will see u in WoT!

sorcererxx12
sorcererxx12

James00715 from what i've read and played (lvl 17) you CANNOT equip epic gear even if you find it during the game, unless you buy a booster pack. Well, this article sure got me curious about world of tanks :)

Yams1980
Yams1980

F2P is basically a demo game till you pay and unlock it. Looks like you can't equip epics and other things making the free part really impossible.

MaDaStar
MaDaStar

I'm pretty sure that Gamespot will deliver a low score on this game. I love it, but from a critic standpoint there are many weak points about AoE Online. You do need to buy a Premium civ to truly enjoy the game, and the Skirmish Hall should have been included at launch. PvP matching is horrible, seldom are the matches equal. I slaughtered my first opponent because he was no where near my level. I was humiliated on my next match for the same reason. However, I still feel that this is an excellent Age of Empires game, but the complaints about pricing, AI, and (for the time being) lack of features, are indeed justified.

James00715
James00715

Like I said in a forum post. They really shouldn't advertise it F2P. You can get to level 40 for free, but you won't have a very good experience with all the various limitations. If you think of it as a $20 budget game, you will be a lot happier overall. The booster packs do add epic items, but they are just alternatives to the epic items you can get in the base game.

Vampiro_HuntT3R
Vampiro_HuntT3R

I love it. Yet I won't pay $100 to play this game. I would have bought it if it were one time payment. But I know there will be more packs like these and I cant afford to lose that much of money on a game. They should have just charged us once for the game and let us play for free instead of selling everything in small packs. Also, they could make money through selling expansion packs, which would have increased the odds of an expansion pack. When I say expansion pack, I dont mean what they are offering right now. By expansion pack, I mean hell of a lot new areas, quests, level cap increased and a lot of bugs fixed, new features and such.

AntiH3ro97
AntiH3ro97

I would loooove more F2P content coverage!

ggregd
ggregd

You can have some fun playing this for a while, but it's not long before you start to feel limited. Then you find they're charging twice as much as you would reasonably pay for a complete game.

what520
what520

I spent a total of about five hours trying to install and activate. I'd fix one thing, and then something else would break. I'd finally get my Windows ID working, and then activation would fail. I could get a key on one screen, but after a fourth reinstall, the "get activation key" button disappeared. Clicking on "help" or "resolve" links resulted in a "whoops - you've found a glitch in the system" error, with no options for further support. Screw this - any game that uses the Windows Live Marketplace is NOT WORTH IT.

godluigi100
godluigi100

When a big game reviewing site does press on F2P games to me it makes the F2P games feel less special. But thats just my opinion and what do i know?

illmatic87
illmatic87

Is Gamespot going to consistently review Free to Play games from now on? I know we may as well just try it out, but most seem to demand abit of time for them to become enjoyable/rewarding, but time is money--it's just hard to know if a F2P game is worth your while. F2P coverage has been lacking on this site and more would be very much welcome..

sabas10
sabas10

Its a nice game, but a REAL skirmish mode is needed to make it a real AoE for me. If it gets a good skirmish mode, where you can play with you friend, I will buy the upgrades immediatly.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

@James00715: That was due to the technical limitation at the time. Both AoM and AoE3 had more unique civs (more-so AoM). If AoE1 or 2 were to be remade, they would obviously have more unique civs and units. The interesting thing is, even though AoE2 is so outdated and as you say, the civs are too similar - it is still considered the best game in the entire franchise, and many people still play it these days.

James00715
James00715

@Scorpion1813 I think the gameplay is better than Age 2. The civs are way more different than each other. You don't just have all the same tech tree and units with minor differences. There are unique units and builds with different uses. So the only real downside is the fact there's only 2 civs right now. Hopefully in a year, there will be a good number to add some variety.

Scorpion1813
Scorpion1813

I think the final review should at least mention how difficult people are finding using GFWL. A lot of people, myself included, have had numerous problems with it. Heck, I even had to create a new Hotmail / Windows Live account just to buy something in the game. Surprising how hard Microsoft have made it for their customers to give them money. As for the art style, I hate it. I much prefer the traditional AoE style and it's one of the reasons I got into the series in the first place. As for gameplay, I find some of the quests a little repetitive. And I find the Capitol City too be a little boring - they should have added some elements from city-building games. Nothing too complex, but enough to feel like we are making a difference and actually progressing. While I am enjoying my time playing AoE Online, I'm already starting to get bored (compared to the fact I still play AoK, AoM, and AoE3 from time-to-time). I would much rather have had AoE4 or a remake of AoE1.

Author_Jerry
Author_Jerry

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]