Age of Empires: The Age of Kings Impressions

We meet with Majesco to take a look at the latest work-in-progress version of this turn-based strategy game for the DS.

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During a meeting with Majesco earlier today we had an opportunity to check out the latest work-in-progress version of Age of Empires: The Age of Kings for the Nintendo DS. Based on Ensemble Studios' popular PC real-time strategy game of the same name, Age of Empires: The Age of Kings is a turn-based strategy game in which you'll assume control of one of five different civilizations vying for control of the known world. The Britons, Franks, Mongols, Saracens, and Japanese will each have a single-player campaign comprising up to six goal-based missions, and you'll also be able to go to war against up to three of your friends either wirelessly or via the game's hotseat mode.

The top screen is used to display information about units waging war on the touch screen.
The top screen is used to display information about units waging war on the touch screen.

When you're playing Age of Empires: The Age of Kings, the DS handheld's touch screen displays an isometric map of the battlefield, while the top screen displays unit information, tips from your combat advisor, and animations of battles between units. Age of Empires: The Age of Kings will feature more than 45 different units in total, including everything from monks and knights to samurai and horse archers. Each faction will also boast its own "hero" units, which have special powers that can affect entire battlefields. So expect appearances from the likes of Richard the Lionheart, Robin Hood, Joan of Arc, Saladin, and Genghis Khan.

There are some pretty obvious comparisons that can be made between Age of Empires: The Age of Kings and Intelligent Systems' Advance Wars games on the Game Boy Advance, but Backbone's game will offer a very different gameplay experience. You'll be constructing your own bases in Age of Empires: The Age of Kings, for example, incorporating buildings such as town centers, mines, universities, and "wonders" that each come with different benefits for your people. You'll also have to concern yourself with researching more than 50 different technologies as you progress through the game, which early on can simply mean getting leather soles for your soldiers' shoes or improving their armor, but later on might mean adding ballistics and siege craft to your arsenal. As you progress through each of Age of Empires: The Age of Kings' five campaigns you'll also be awarded empire points, which, like the points in Advance Wars, can be spent on unlocking new multiplayer maps and hero units.

Although best played against friends, Age of Empires: The Age of Kings' scenario mode will give you the option to play against up to three CPU enemies if you prefer. There were no options to alter the difficulty level of the artificially intelligent opponents in the version of the game that we saw, but there were five different enemy types to choose from, including offensive, defensive, and research-minded. You'll also have a plethora of gameplay options available to you ahead of every scenario battle, including different victory conditions, game durations, starting ages, random events, and fog-of-war and line-of-sight settings.

The isometric view looks real pretty but doesn't necessarily afford you the most practical view of the battlefield.
The isometric view looks real pretty but doesn't necessarily afford you the most practical view of the battlefield.

Although Age of Empires: The Age of Kings isn't currently scheduled for release until early 2006, a lot of the visual presentation in the work-in-progress version of the game that we saw was already quite easy on the eyes. The oversized individual units that represent large forces on the isometric map were somewhat problematic, though, not because they didn't look great, but because they became a little too difficult to distinguish from one another when they were grouped together, despite the inclusion of a brightly colored outline around each of them. We were also a little surprised by how little of each map we were able to see on the screen at any one time, and assuming that the maps get significantly larger than those we saw during our presentation, the game would definitely benefit from an option to zoom out for an overview of larger areas of the battlefield.

We'll bring you more information on Age of Empires: The Age of Kings as soon as it becomes available.

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