Age of Empires: Online shareware edition

I love age of empires online! I’ve been playing since the closed beta, not every day but enough to know its a good solid RTS with a good sprinkling of MMO elements. The core gameplay is very similar to previous Age of Empires games but with a few twists.

Firstly you have a persistent home city, think of this as your MMO housing where you have all of your belongings. This acts as a quest hub, glorified menu and crafting centre. You can shuffle around all of the buildings to your heart’s content, buy or build vanity items using in-game coin and materials. This gives you the chance to customise your city to make it feel unique. Some of the buildings you put down where will act as quest hubs, for example when you unlock the Temple and build it a priest there will offer you priestly related quests. There are also rare buildings later that offer you rare quests and rewards. I haven’t been playing enough to get any of these but I’m well aware that they exist due to the spamming in trade chat. Buildings also serve the purpose of acting as a menu, clicking on the advisors hall for example allows you to select advisors which grant a buff for each Age. For example you might have the choice between your villagers gathering food 10% faster or buildings costing 10% less. They seem like valid choices which you can tailor to your desires. There is also a talent like system, my only grudge with this is that i seems rather shallow at the earlier levels and fans out later in the game. I suspect this is done on purpose to make sure that everyone covers certain bases. Finally this is where crafting takes place. You can create materials over time using buildings like saw mills which might produce one unit of wood every 30 minutes, these continue to work while you are offline but have a cap to the amount they can hold, a subtle way to get you online every day to harvest them. You can then create one-shot items that will give you a temporary buff or armor and gear to equip your units with. This is one of my favourite parts of the game, all of your units and buildings have various weapon, armor and special item slots which you can fill buffing the unit as you do. To top this off when you play with the units in-game they will actually wear the items you have equipped. For example as default most of the units wear little to no armor and have weedy little wooden weapons, it is very satisfying to see these little guys running around with huge tower shields and broadswords.

Missions are broken down in to a few types. General missions, challenge missions, non-travel missions and PvP: General missions are typical one-off missions to progress the story or to teach you to use new units at your command, typical RTS fair although some of the tougher ones later in the game do require co-op. Challenge missions are repeatable quests which get harder each time you do them, for example you might have to play a tower defence game with guard towers to protect a base, each time you replay the mission the time you have to survive for will be extended. Non-travel missions are like bonus missions which you complete whilst doing other quests, they might be to kill 50 wolves or 25 elite units. Finally you have the PvP missions which are give you bonuses for winning a PvP match. Whenever you complete any quests you get experience points, coin, rep tokens and a chest. Experience does exactly as you would expect, you collect it to level up. Coin is the general in-game currency, you spend this trading with other players or for low-level items. Rep tokens can be redeemed to buy level appropriate gear from whichever quest city you got the quest. Chests give you random items, gear, advisors or craft materials. Chests can also be found on every mission map protected by guardians, these are normally well worth hunting out after you have completed the mission itself.

Age of Empire itself is free to play, all of the basic content is there for you to play without spending a penny. You could happily play the game like this and never get bothered by someone trying to sell you things. You can however spend money and buy extra civilisations and bonus units. This model seems to be channelling the spirit of Shareware. You get a good full chapter of the game for free which everyone can try, if you like it you buy more content. This is exactly how the Free-to-play premium  model should be done. I hope Robot Entertainment and Gas Powered games the best of luck with this project as it deserves to do well.


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