Age of Empires: The Age of Kings Hands-On

The classic PC real-time strategy series goes turn-based on the DS. Read our hands-on report of this brand-new revision.

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We were surprised by the announcement that Age of Empires: The Age of Kings was headed to the DS, since when we think of the title, we think of the deep and sophisticated real-time strategy series for the PC. How could such a complex and fast-paced game, which requires precise mouse-and-keyboard controls and quite a bit of micromanagement, be successfully translated to a portable system? Well, it looks like the developers of the DS version had a good answer to this question, because the DS version of Age of Kings seems very well suited to the platform on first impression.

We got a chance to play a work-in-progress version of the game at E3, and the first thing we noticed is that Age of Empires has gone turn-based here. So it's no longer a fast-paced RTS that requires you to constantly keep track of a thousand different details. It's now a turn-based experience that you can play at your own pace, strategizing for as long as you need to before committing your forces. As a result of that major difference, Age of Empires for the DS ends up playing more like Advance Wars than like Age of Empires...though, of course, the historical theme certainly sets this one apart.

You'll be able to play as a number of distinct factions in the game, including the Britons, the Franks, the Mongols, the Saracens, and the Japanese. Each will have its own unique strengths and units, as the game will feature about 45 different units in all, such as swordsmen, cavalry, crossbowmen, pikemen, catapults, and many more. In addition, you may research a different technology each turn, and there's a ton to choose from, letting you bolster your military might or your economics. One issue we noted with this build was that it didn't seem to explain what any of the research upgrades would actually do. However, we expect something like that to be addressed. We also had a little trouble trying to discern some of our units from one another when they were all clumped up. But other than that, the game's interface was intuitive and easy to get into.

The bottom screen of the DS is where most of the strategic gameplay takes place. As you guide your units around, the top screen displays useful stats and information about what's happening in context, such as whether the different terrain will confer defensive bonuses, and so forth. When units attack one another, the top screen switches to an Advance Wars-style look at the outcome, and these sequences look quite nice. Cavalry charge the ranks of swordsmen, archers rain arrows on their foes, and more. The animation is smooth and good-looking, and we could easily tell the difference between the Briton units we were playing as and the Saracen foes we were fighting against.

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings looks like just the sort of PC-to-portable translation you'd hope for. The game seems to take all the core elements of the Age of Empires experience and translates them effectively to a portable, turn-based format. We're not sure how much depth and detail the game will ultimately have, but considering that the economic and research elements have been integrated into the design, we're pretty sure this one won't be a cinch. At the same time, Age of Empires for the DS doesn't seem too complicated for its own good, and we appreciated that the pace seemed quite brisk. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information on this one.

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