Your Daily McMaster: the four wonders of Age of Empires Online

, | Games

I was pretty ambivalent about jumping into Age of Empires Online. I loved the first two games in the series, and I was on the fence about the third. But I had written off Age of Empires Online. Most of the press at launch was negative, tending to the word “grind”. If there’s one word to turn me off a game, it’s “grind”.

But then I actually played Age of Empires Online for about 16 hours. I’ve discovered four things to like.

After the jump, I get all listy with it.

1) The graphics are cartoony and fun, but don’t let that fool you. All of the strategy from the earlier games is here. The cartoon graphics, much like WoW, gives the game a broader base of hardware to work with while keeping a cool, visually appealing style. Another thing that makes the cartoon graphics work out so well is that it’s easy to tell units apart. With everything exaggerated I know exactly which unit is my Woad as compared to my Long Swordsman.

2) Skirmish mode adds so much value to this game that they could get away charging more for it, but I’m glad they don’t. For five bucks, you can unlock the ability to play alone or with friends against computer controlled opponents with all of your units unlocked. This instantly adds hours and hours to the gameplay. The best part, however, is that you also earn experience for playing against the AI.

3) Leveling is addictive and doesn’t really feel like a grind. Speaking with Kevin Perry during our latest podcast, he made a point of noting that the experience curve had been normalized and leveled out so you lose a lot of the feeling of “grind”. I have found this to be true. In the beginning, you gain just about a level a mission. This slows down greatly as the game advances but there’s actually a lot to do to keep you busy.

4) It’s free. When I say that, you may think “what’s the catch?” You’d be right to think that as most things aren’t really free. However, AoE Online has done a pretty good job of giving you a full featured game without you having to spend a dime. The only things you get for buying the civilizations are the ability to use advisors, equippable cards that give you a bonus based on what age you are currently in, and the use of higher level items. While these are nice, and I enjoy using them, they aren’t necessary to play the game.

Age of Empires Online is on Games for Windows Live and Steam. Try it out before you buy anything, as you can get a really good idea of what the game is like for free. If you have friends that play and have the skirmish mode, they can invite you to a game to see what that’s like as well.