Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is a real-time strategy computer game set in the Middle Ages. Developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft, it is the second main title of the Age of Empires series and was released in 1999.
A remastered version was announced on August 21, 2017 and released on November 14, 2019.
The introduction to The Age of Kings is a cinematic lasting one minute and forty-six seconds. It was directed by Paul DeNigris.
The first scene is a room of two kings in the middle of a chess match, illuminated by a fireplace. The music at this point is slow-paced and consists solely of a harp. White makes the first move that the camera sees: a pawn going one space forward. This immediately reveals the game's symbolism: the camera subsequently cuts to a Knight trotting forward. The camera returns to White, who smiles contently at his opponent. Black looks worried, then he moves a knight forward, symbolizing four actual Knights galloping on a path. White moves his pawn again, and the camera cuts back to the first Knight, this time in the afternoon, who stops to lift the visor on his helmet and take a look at his surroundings.
Black then moves a rook forward, symbolizing five Villagers building a Tower. White responds by moving a pawn, symbolizing three Villagers setting up a Trebuchet for the Tower in the distance. Black then uses his knight to take out the pawn, symbolizing the four Knights seen earlier cutting the strings on the Trebuchet. White reacts with horror, while Black looks confident, and the music is growing increasingly tense. White moves a piece, Black slams a rook in White's territory, and then White responds by taking it out with his king, symbolizing an army with three Trebuchets. The Trebuchets hit part of a Castle and burn somebody, then the camera cuts to several soldiers applying a Battering Ram to a Gate. Several swordsmen pass through the Gate, but the Archers managed to take out one swordsman and a Knight. Three Knights kill three Archers, the camera cuts to some cavalry about to storm the Castle, and they engage with enemy Knights before the Castle gate.
The scene fades out and cuts to the next day. The music is calm and sorrowful. Dozens of corpses are rotting on the ground in front of the now smoking Castle. The camera fades to a lone survivor standing in the ruined Castle's courtyard. It fades again closer to the survivor, who is wounded and silently crying. He looks down at his tremoring hands, slowly opens them, and shows White's king piece, revealing that he was the one playing as Black. He finally drops the piece, which spins into a dark void before fading away completely. The title Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings appears, and then fades away.
The original cinematic was three minutes and nineteen seconds long. The designers put a bit of effort into thinking through the moves, and probably had a discussion about how the rules of chess differed in the medieval period, but they were also beholden to the Age of Empires-specific story beats that they needed to convey. Some moves they chose simply because of how impressive they would look visually, such as the rook symbolizing the Tower (even though a Tower can't "move"). Because the lone survivor's identity was ambiguous, the remastered cinematic features him wearing a crown instead of a helmet, confirming that he was the king playing as Black.
Due to its commercial success, an expansion pack was released; Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, followed by a Gold Edition, which bundled together the two games along with a bonus map and game matches recorded by Microsoft strategy experts.
In 2013, Age of Empires II HD was announced and given a release date of April 9, 2013 on the Steam digital distribution platform for Windows only.
The HD Edition includes both the original game and the expansion The Conquerors, as well as updated graphics for high-resolution displays. It also supports user-generated content through the Steam Workshop and multiplayer games provided through the Steam servers.
After more than a decade, another expansion pack, Age of Empires II HD: The Forgotten, was released. It had more bug fixes, advanced AIs and balancing. It required the HD version to be installed first.
Later, in 2015, the new expansion Age of Empires II HD: The African Kingdoms was released, bringing the total number of civilizations to 27.
The following year in 2016, Age of Empires II HD: Rise of the Rajas was released on the 19th of December, bringing the total number of civilizations to 31.
On November 14, 2019, the Definitive Edition was released, including all previous HD expansions and the brand new The Last Khans expansion content, brought the total number of civilizations to 35. The Definitive Edition includes fully remastered soundtrack, multiple quality of life improvements and significant graphical upgrades. It also support cross-play functionality between Microsoft Store and Steam versions. It also includes the Enhanced Graphics Pack that increases Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition to ultra-high fidelity resolution.
In 2021, the first expansion for the Definitive Edition was released on 26th of January, Lords of the West, bringing the total number of civilizations to 37. On August 10 2021, the second official expansion was released, Dawn of the Dukes, which includes 2 new civilizations, bringing the total number of civilizations to 39. The third expansion (Dynasties of India) will be released on April 28, 2022, bringing the total number of civilizations to 42.
The player has control over a society and guides them through four different time periods or "ages". The game begins in the Dark Age, where very few buildings and units are available. After a short time when requirements are met, the user gains the ability to advance their civilization beginning with the Feudal Age, where more upgrades, buildings, and units become available. The next age is the Castle Age, in which the powerful Castle may be built, and used to produce powerful units including the unique unit of each civilization. Finally, the user can reach the Imperial Age, which is reminiscent of the early years of the Renaissance. Once the user has reached the Imperial Age, they gain access to all the upgrades, units, and buildings that may be built and researched for their specific civilization.
The player directly controls Villagers, which are the most important economic unit in the game. The player has the power to order them to move or attack (all units except for Trade Carts, Transport Ships and Trade Cogs), construct new buildings, gather necessary resources (Villager units), and perform a range of other tasks, such as repair damaged buildings or garrison inside Castle or Town Center for safety.
While the isometric rendered landscape features elevations and terrain similar its predecessor, several improvements were made. Besides a more realistic rendering of object size, the map features a more varied terrain with additional texturing options. In the scenario editor, desert is replaced with dirt and has three different variations, based on the number it is given. Elevation texturing remains unchanged with the exception of mountains which now appears in the game. Units that attack from cliffs or a higher elevation still receives an attack bonus but units that attack on lower elevations or below a cliff now have a damage penalty instead of dealing normal damage.
Like its predecessor, there are four types of resources: wood, food, gold, and stone, all of which are required to advance through the ages, research new technologies, erecting structures and training units. Wood is used for building and repairing most structures, used to create Farms to provide food resources, and the production of ships, siege engines, and range units such as the various types of archers, and the skirmisher units. Stone is used for the construction of Castles, towers, Stone Walls, and after the first patch, used in the construction of Town Centers as well. Gold and food are used for constructing units and researching technologies. In most cases, these resources can be traded for one another at the Market, but with a small price: tariffs must be paid. Often, one of the difficulties of most scenarios or campaigns is that it usually has a small supply of a resource, often gold or stone which is usually controlled by the enemy, forcing players to exchange resources at the Market.
Wood is gathered from trees, which are one of the most common and most easily obtained resource. Gold and stone can be mined from deposits found throughout the map. They are often located near the vicinity of the player's starting Town Center. Although both gold and stone mines are easily depleted, players can produce an infinite supply of gold at a steady pace by building trade carts from the Market or cogs from the Dock to trade with other players and exchange it for stone at the Market. Acquiring Relics can also produce gold, though at a slightly slower rate. Food is found at the start of the game often in form of berry bushes that appear near the starting Town Center of each player as well as hunting animals (deer, boar, or sheep) or fishing along the shoreline. Although natural forms of food are easily exhausted, they can be replenished indefinitely by building Farms, creating Fishing Boats from the Dock and using them to build Fish Traps, provided that enough wood is stockpiled. To advance through the ages, certain requirements must be met, such as building certain structures and the payment of resources at the Town Center.
- Main article: Civilizations (Age of Empires II)
In the original The Age of Kings, the player can choose from 13 civilizations. Each has a distinct personality, with particular strengths and weaknesses patterned on the real civilizations. The civilization personality and gameplay balance is achieved through a unique mix of access to units and technologies (i.e., no one civilization has access to all units and technologies in standard gameplay). Each civilization also has unique units (ships and warriors) with more-or-less historically accurate names, e.g. Mameluke for the Saracens.
This is the first game in series in which each civilization has units speaking their own language, as well as their own unique Wonder design. The game's civilizations are sorted into four different architectural styles:
The game comes with five campaigns, all of which reflect some event in history, such as Joan of Arc leading the French to battle, or Genghis Khan's invasion of Eurasia. There is also a Standard Game feature, which pits a player against a set number of computer players for control of a map. The usual goal in standard games is to defeat any enemies and force them to surrender, but other goals, like building and protecting a special type of building (called a "Wonder"), also exist. Additionally, a "Deathmatch" game type gives the player stockpiled resources in the thousands from the beginning of the game to work with.
Campaigns consist of a series of scenarios of rising difficulty, depicting major events in the life of a famous historical character, e.g. a famous battle, the building of a famous monument, or some well-known anecdote. Only the William Wallace and Joan of Arc campaigns allow players to control the said character as a special unit, although Genghis Khan makes a short appearance at the start of his campaign, and in the final scenario of the Barbarossa campaign, the player can control a wagon carrying a barrel containing Barbarossa's dead body. The campaigns usually start with a range of existing resources, buildings, and units already in place, thus avoiding the laborious process of building a nation from nothing. The original game's campaigns include those of William Wallace (a tutorial campaign), Joan of Arc, Saladin, Genghis Khan, and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. Each campaign consists of 6 scenarios.
In multiplayer mode, up to eight players can simultaneously play against each other, or against computer players. While in multiplayer mode, you are not permitted to use the in-game cheats. Previously, Microsoft Zone was a popular online destination for multiplayer, but this service ended on 19 June 2006. Since then, Gamespy Arcade has been named the official matchmaking program by Microsoft. However, other 3rd party services have spawned due to player preference, and Gamespy Arcade's incompatibility with Windows Vista.
The current popular sites to play Age of Empires II online are Voobly or Gameranger.
With the release of Age of Empires II HD in April 2013, online play over a lobby system integrated into the Steam platform was made possible.
Starting with the Age of Kings, computer intelligence is more advanced compared to the previous edition. Instead of squandering villagers to spy on enemy positions, the computer would instead select a more capable military unit that has high range and speed if applicable. The computer will never send villagers to enemy territory unless constructing isolated military Outposts or resources are extremely scarce in their territory. Military units controlled by the computer are now less likely to move and distribute themselves equally around the map unlike in previous editions and are now more likely to remain coalesced in a particular location unless provoked by the enemy. If allied to the player, the computer will no longer change their diplomatic stance to enemy if under friendly fire by area of effect damage. Tributing resources to enemy players is now impossible from this edition onward.
- Main article: Technology (Age of Empires II)
Age of Empires II has a much more advanced and varied set of technology trees than the original Age of Empires. To acquire technology, the player must first construct buildings. Each building offers a range of technology which can be researched, for a price. Technologies build upon each other. As technologies are researched, a wider range of buildings and units become available. Technologies may benefit military units (by perhaps increasing their defense attributes), civil units (villagers can benefit from technologies that make them move faster and therefore collect resources more efficiently, etc.), or buildings (e.g. by researching technology that allows Castles and towers to fire at units at their base). Technologies vary greatly in benefits and costs.
In the game, technology plays a central role. Early in the game, players must constantly assess priorities and allocate scarce resources between creating new units, upgrading existing units, and researching to upgrade to the next Age. However, too much emphasis on researching technology and moving through the Ages without creating military can leave a nation defenseless. On the other hand, putting resources into a large population at the expense of progress can lead to defeat if the enemy has progressed and is able to field a small but more powerful attack force.
The number of technologies increases through the Ages, as does the price of said technologies. A special part of the game that was added in the expansion is that each civilization gets a unique technology in the Castle when it goes into the Castle age. This technology generally benefits the unique units of the civilization or enables some special upgrade which is not available to other civilizations. In addition to this, some civilizations also have some inbuilt technologies or upgrades. The special abilities of each civilization vary greatly and are roughly based on the specialties of the civilizations as they were in the 10th-14th century. For example, the Mongols can harvest meat 50% faster than other civilizations, the buildings of the Byzantines automatically get more hit points as they progress into the next age, and the Franks can build Castles for much less than other civilizations.
- Main article: Relic (Age of Empires II)
Relics are special unique items that are scattered around the map, and can only be picked up by monks. Once placed within a Monastery, a relic steadily generates free gold for the civilization that holds it (this reflects the historical realities of the power and influence that possessing famous relics brought to a church). To capture a relic from an enemy Monastery, the Monastery must be nearly destroyed. Once the Monastery has low enough hit points, the relic will then be expelled so that a player may capture it with a monk.
Monks are vulnerable units (they can only defend themselves by converting their assailant, which takes time). A monk carrying a relic will quickly attract enemy units, so strategies are needed to protect him (e.g. researching faster conversion and movement, sending monks in convoy so one can heal the other, protecting the monk with a military escort, etc.). If monks are ordered to move with a group of other units, the monks will move to the back of the formation. However, using the box formation will position the units so that they form a box around the monks, protecting them from all sides.
A possible victory condition is the collection of all relics or the construction of a Wonder. This is the case in several campaign scenarios. To win a relic victory, all the relics must be held for a specific uninterrupted period of time, depending on the size of the map.
- Main article: Wonder (Age of Empires II)
Wonders are massive structures that require large amounts of resources and time to build. If a player completes a Wonder, and it stands intact for an uninterrupted period of time, they win. If a Wonder is destroyed before the countdown is finished, the countdown resets. Each civilization has their own Wonder, typically a famous work of historical architecture, as opposed to the original Age of Empires, where each civilization's Wonder was based on their generic architecture. The Wonders in Age of Empires II are:
|Celts||Rock of Cashel|
|Franks||Notre Dame de Reims|
|Teutons||Maria Laach Abbey|
|Goths||Mausoleum of Theodoric|
|Vikings||Borgund Stave Church|
|Saracens||Great Mosque of Samarra|
|Chinese||Temple of Heaven|
|Mongols||Genghis Khan Tent|
* The English Wonder is a jumbling of a number of the sections of the real Aachen cathedral found elsewhere in the game (see below). In addition, the Dome of the Rock appears as a decorative building in the Saladin and Barbarossa campaigns as do the Pyramids at Giza, but neither can be built by any civilization. Another decorative Gothic Cathedral shown in the Joan of Arc and Barbarossa campaigns appears to be based on the Aachen Cathedral. Finally, in the Genghis Khan campaign the Great Wall of China is present, represented by several blocks of conventional walls united with defensive towers scattered throughout.
The following tracks appear on the audio part of the game CD, listed in order of playback. The tracks themselves are not separated, but are instead one long track with floating transitions. The names and times given here are taken from the "Music From The Ages" and "More Music From The Ages" CDs, two audio CDs featuring tracks from both Age of Empires II and The Conquerors expansion, usually only given away by Ensemble Studios as competition prizes. The tracks are composed by Stephen Rippy.
Track 2 (all songs combined into a single track):
- I Will Beat On Your Behind
- Drizzle (Firelight Smoove Mix)
- Machina del Diablo
- T Station
- Bass Bag (Album Version)
- Ride, Lawrence, Ride!
- Smells Like Crickets, Tastes Like Chicken
- Operation: Monkey
Additional tracks only available on computer/ingame:
- Quest For Butter (main title)
- ...Where Credit Is Due (credits)
- Uluzah (loss)
- Rich Corinthian Leather (elimination victory)
- Carne y Helado (economic victory)
Tracks only available in the Trial Version:
- Bust (Give The Drummer Some Mix)
- Gyam Shorts
- Neep Binny Nod
User Generated Content
- Main article: Scenario Editor (Age of Empires II)
The Age of Kings also includes a built-in scenario editor. It is similar to the one from Age of Empires, in which players can create their own series of custom made scenarios. The largest difference from the design of the editor of the first game is the use of Triggers. These consist of conditions and effects. The conditions basically perform a "If..." action, while the effects perform a "then..." action.
AI and Random Map scripting
The game CD comes with complete documentation for both Random map and AI scripting documentation present in the Docs folder. The scripting can be done in any text editor; however a special editor, named ScriptED, has been developed just for the AI scripting of this game. The scripted AI performs much better than the games' default AI. The most prominent community for scripting for Age of Empires II is AI scripters. Various other resources for scripting are also present on the internet. Back in 2000 a contest named AI Wars was held by Heavengames for AI scripting, nowadays regular tournaments take place at AI scripters.
An AI scripters league was also formed over at the The Rubber Emporium in January 2010 and has many of the latest and toughest scripts available for download.
The original release of the game had some crippling bugs which severely interfered with multiplayer mode. The inability to have a timely release for even the quick fixes, which would involve changing a few numbers in some cases such as the Teuton Town Center range, irritated many to no end. When a patch finally was made, Ensemble Studios advised that the fix would only be available as part of the expansion pack. As a significant number of irritated customers began to circulate illegal copies of the expansion pack, as well as discuss this on various popular forums dedicated to the game, Ensemble Studios finally announced that the patch would be released free of charge, on its own. On their official website, Ensemble Studios expressed their displeasure at people trying to get illegal copies of the expansion pack, because they felt something was owed them. The expansion pack was released on August 24, 2000, having the patched solution included in it. The patch by itself, was released a week later, on August 31, 2000, more than a year after the game shipped.
Matt Pritchard of Ensemble Studios stated in an article he wrote for Gamasutra, referring to the problems with not having a patch released sooner.
|“||1. We still don’t have a patch process
This was a problem area from the AoE Postmortem, and as of this writing it still has not been addressed. I outlined the reasons we needed a process to issue patches for our game in a timely manner in the AoE Postmortem. Additionally, a new reason reared its ugly head: cheating in multiplayer games. At first people found bugs in AoE and exploited them to win unfairly. Then it got even worse. Programs called “trainers” were developed that would actually modify the game’s code while it was running to allow players to cheat.Being the developer — not the publisher — of AoE, we don’t have the final decision if or when a patch is to be released. As a result, all during 1999 our reputation as developers was assaulted by fans who saw us as uncaring about the problems that were driving people away from online play of our games. The topic of cheating in multiplayer games is so extensive I hope to do an article on it in the near future.
Notable bugs and exploits
NOTE: These glitches have since been eliminated through patches.
Flare and Waypoint bug
One of the ways to crash the game in a multi-player game, was to set a flare or waypoint location at the southernmost point on the map. This seldom was done by accident, but was used by some players who wished to end the game before having to face defeat. It was, as with other cheats, mostly seen in the ranking games on the Zone.
If a player wished to irritate an opponent into abandoning a game, he could pause the game repeatedly without limitation. The opponent had no means of overcoming this behavior and could be forced to abort the game giving victory to the repeated pauser.
Fishing Boat bug
Construction of any building in the game was achieved by selecting it from a menu, which appeared once one or more villagers were selected. Once the desired structure was selected, the player had only to click at the desired location for it to be built, and if that area was clear of any trees or other obstacles, an outline of the building's dimensions would appear at that location. The villagers would then move directly to that location to start construction. In addition, other villagers could be selected by the player, who then clicked upon the outline, and would thus move to it to assist in its construction.
Although fishing ships did not receive the same build menu that the villagers did, they still counted as build units, and thus could be selected and sent to any build site initiated by a villager. Thus in areas where no villagers had the means to travel due to wolves, terrain, or enemy units blocking their path, they could still set out where a building was to be made, and if near water, a fishing boat could rush over and construct it. On certain maps this allowed for more rapid exploration and expansion, as well as the element of surprise in various situations, a player able to build structures which could produce military units.
Teuton Town Center exploit
All Town Centers had a defensive capability that enabled them to fire arrows at enemy units within range. A special characteristic of the Teuton civilization's Town Centers was a longer range than the other civilizations. In multi-player games, the tactical exploitation of this characteristic made the civilization unstoppable. At the start of a game, all players would have sufficient resources to build a new Town Center, would be provided with a number of villagers to collect the resources but would have no fighting units. If a Teuton player chose to start the construction of his Town Center near that of his opponent, the Teuton Town Center's range advantage would enable it to attack the opponent's Town Center and the opponent's villagers without coming under attack itself. Because there were no offensive units provided at the start, the Teuton player's opponent had no means of defending his Town Center from this attack and any non-combatant villagers he created would not survive long enough to collect the materials required to build a Barracks, Archery Range or Stable with which to build an offensive unit.
To indicate their unwillingness to play with this imbalance, many game hosts added "no Teutons" in the description of the games they hosted. For many who favored the Teuton civilization for its other special characteristics, this was an unwelcome consequence of the "bug". The patch fixed the problem by eliminating the Teuton Town Center's range bonus, and requiring the construction of all Town Centers to use 100 units of the less abundant stone rather than just the readily available wood resource.
Textures glitch/color fix
Windows 7 users that run the game normally would experience a texture different from Windows XP and Vista. Grass would look corrupted and water red, even affecting the minimap as the same colors would apply there. There are several ways this can be solved. The former is easier than the latter.
Patching the DirectDraw (with w7ddpatcher, for example) should fix the problem. This glitch also occurs on Windows Vista, and can be fixed by switching resolutions in-game.
Campaigns and Battles
Age of Empires II contains 5 campaigns, with 7 for the learning campaign, and the others with 6 battles, named after the leader of the army you will assume command of during the campaign. These are:
Each campaign gets progressively more difficult and each battle in each campaign is harder than the last. The first five battles in the William Wallace: Learning Campaign are about teaching new players how to play the game, although even veterans of Age of Empires will find it useful to practice the new formations and garrisoning options.
The Joan of Arc and William Wallace campaigns are the only campaigns that allow you to control the hero the campaign is named after, though Genghis Khan does make a brief appearance in his campaign.
An earlier version of the Joan of Arc campaign is available in one of the Alpha Versions of Age of Kings. At one point, British and Japanese campaigns were planned to be added (according to the AGE2 Design Document), but were replaced by the Barbarossa and Joan of Arc campaigns.
The William Wallace campaign also appears in the Trial Version which limited the game to the Castle Age.
|PC Gamer UK||91/100|
Upon release The Age of Kings received a positive reception from critics, with an average score of 92% at Game Rankings. Game Revolution noted that "AOE2 is the best looking of the 2D RTS games out there right now."
Gaming Age Review noted that the AI sometimes surrendered unexpectedly at the start of games, and was otherwise occasionally prone to serious mistakes.
Reviewers such as PC Gameworld's Scott R. Krol noted that the unit pathfinding and AI is vastly improved in AOE2 over previous real time strategy games.
- The PlayStation 2 version was released in Japan and Europe. Both were published by Konami.
- The Nintendo DS version was released in the US on February 15, 2006. It features a turn based battle mode rather than real time strategy genre used in the PC version.
- A Windows Mobile version exists for Pocket PC.
- A version for mobile phone exists (Subject to country).
- A version of this game was set for Sega Dreamcast but with the lack of popularity and sales of the console, the game was canned with only a demo existing.
- A version of Age of Empires II for Macintosh OS 8, 9 and X was published by MacSoft Game Studios.
- The intro cinematic in the HD Edition increased the framerate from 15fps to 30fps. Furthermore, the Microsoft Games logo was replaced with the Microsoft Studios logo and the Hidden Path Entertainment logo was added after the Ensemble Studios logo.
- "Age of Empires 2 HD Edition announced, will Rome onto Steam next month - EuroGamer
- MSN Zone - "CD games retiring"
- Suciu, Peter (4/30/01): Soundtracks on CD-ROM: Stirring Music That Accompanies the Interactive. Retrieved on 4/21/2007.
- Music4Games (1/2/06): Interview with Age of Empires III lead composer Stephen Rippy. Retrieved on 4/21/2007.
- ScriptED www.aiscripters.com, accessed 2008-02-21
- conference Jouni Smed, coauthor Hakonen Harri, Report No 553, Turku Centre for Computer Science September 2003 Towards a Definition of a Computer Game ISBN 952-12-1217-9, PDF format
- Don Potter, Artificial Intelligence: AOK2 2007-01-14. accessed 2007-03-12
- List of things that were patched
- Windows 7 fix for messed up colours / Old games like Age of Empires and Cossacks
- Game Revolution PC Review - Game Revolution: A Monarchist's Love Story accessed 2008-04-06, Johnny B. Oct 1999, Best of 1999, Game Revolution
- Gaming Age review- Age of Empires II accessed 2008-04-06, Ryan Thompson, Gaming Age review
- Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings accessed 2008-04-06, Scott R. Krol, 2002-05-04, PC Gameworld