Age of Empires II Unveiled

Ensemble Studios' flagship title gets star treatment by Microsoft. We've got the latest news and screens inside.

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As reported Wednesday in GameSpot News, Microsoft showed a preliminary version of Ensemble Studios' Age of Empires II at Gamestock 98.

The game promises to improve in many ways upon its predecessor. The most intriguing area of improvement is the attempt to strengthen the diplomatic and trade options. Ensemble's Bruce Shelley stated that the title will feature a more advanced trade model - including land-based trade via caravans and off-map sea trading. To reflect the changes to the economic model, gold will no longer be a resource that is available for mining (it will be replaced by ore). Instead, your kingdom will generate gold through its economy.

AOEII will begin shortly after the fall of Rome and end shortly before the discovery of the New World (roughly 450AD to 1450AD). There will be 13 civilizations to choose from, each featuring one unique unit. Only six of these civilizations, however, were announced: Teutonic, Japanese, Byzantine, Viking, Celt, and Mongol. Players will again move through different "ages."

In AOEII, the player proceeds from the Dark Age to the Feudal Age, the Castle Age, and the Gunpowder Age. The technology tree will also be deeper, allowing players to focus on different strengths and styles of play (Ensemble is promising over 100 research options).

Combat options will be expanded with the ability to create formations and garrison units and to choose the direction they face. Ships can be boarded and captured, and Ensemble is also promising an improved AI and many unit behavior choices (such as guard and patrol).

The most immediately impressive element of AOEII, however, is the graphics. Buildings are now to scale, and Shelley claimed that maps will be up to 300 percent larger than those that existed in AOE, taking units over eight minutes to walk the length of a map. But with buildings taking up the majority of the viewing field, how will you ever be able to track units? According to Shelley, the map will now rotate.

Of course, the game is still in its formative stages, and any of the information presented here is subject to change. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more on Age of Empires II as it develops.

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