Age of Empires: Online dawns on PC

Microsoft announces new downloadable strategy game from former Ensemble Studios devs Robot Entertainment.

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GamesCom 2010 has yet to officially open its doors, but already announcements of new titles are making their way out of Cologne, Germany. Yesterday, THQ revealed development of Red Faction: Battlegrounds, a downloadable vehicle combat game from its THQ Digital studio in Warrington, England. Now, the latest announcement comes courtesy of Microsoft, who is bringing back its Age of Empires property in the form of Age of Empires: Online.

Welcome to the Beard Age.
Welcome to the Beard Age.

This upcoming PC exclusive marks a reunion of sorts, as it's being developed by Robot Entertainment, a shop started by former members of longtime Age of Empires developer Ensemble Studios. Microsoft closed Ensemble in 2008 shortly before the release of Halo: Wars, its final project. Even after the closure of the studio, there was little doubt that the Redmond company would continue to release new games in the Age of Empires series after director of Microsoft's Games for Windows PC label Kevin Unangst confirmed the franchise still had "future potential."

Age of Empires: Online is described by Microsoft as a more "social" take on the strategy franchise, with the ability to play cooperatively and a "persistent online capital city that lives and grows even when you’re offline." In addition to these new social elements, the game features a more stylized aesthetic than previous titles in the series. A FAQ section on the official site seems to address a number of issues series fans might have with this new direction.

Age of Empires: Online is a Games for Windows Live exclusive and will be released as a downloadable title in 2011. A request to Microsoft for a clarification on the game's "free-to-play experiences" had not been returned to GameSpot as of press time.

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