At the age of twenty five, my childhood memories have started slipping away from me. My seventh birthday is no different. I don’t remember what we ate, cake would probably be a safe guess. I don’t even remember who came to my birthday. But there is one thing, one moment of that day that I remember as though it was just last week, and its name is Age of Empires.
This game. Oh, this game! From the moment I started playing it I was entranced. I had never experienced a strategy game before, and this was one of the best of its time. I don’t know whose idea it was to buy it for me, but god bless them. They even brought out an expansion that just added hundreds more hours to my total play time. But enough of this nostalgia-gasm, time to get to the actual game.
The game follows the basic building strategy game archetype; you start with a town centre, a handful of workers, and a few resources, and then it’s you against the other teams to be the winner, be it through conquest, or some other game winning goal. It combined good graphics (for the time) with a well-balanced computer enemy/enemies, and a pretty damn decent variety of units to create, each with their own uses.
What Age of Empires did differently to most war strategy games, however, was implement the idea of you progressing through large significant time periods. What was genius about this was that it meant that you needed to progress through the ages and research technology in order to be strong enough to win. This brought a whole new part to the game for you as the player to have to take into account while playing.
Now, I understand that there were games that did this before Age of Empires, and I’m certainly not saying that Age of Empires were the first to do this, but they were by far one of the most, if not the most successful at the time. It was this wonderfully crafted, well rounded, fun game that helped this type of strategy game become popular. Strategy games like this were just starting to emerge and become their own highly respected genre, and Age of Empires is one of the games that solidified this status.
I have no doubt that they got their inspiration from games like the original Civilization game that came out several years before. But there were key differences. Civilization is more of a “hard-core” strategy game. It can take you a while to get used to the game, figure out its tricks, and what the best path to take might be. The problem with that is, once you figure out these things, you can just replicate it into every game in Civilization and win 99% of the time. Now obviously, all games have tricks but this kind of playing, to me, is stale and boring, it takes away the joy of playing the game. Age of Empires, however, is more versatile than that. It can be played pretty much how ever you want to play it and you can still win, if you play well.
What’s so important about this difference is that it opens up the game and the genre as a whole to those who have either never played strategy games before, or had played before and didn’t like how punishing they could be if you play the game “wrong”. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Civilization games. But, if it wasn’t for Age of Empires opening the door to this genre for me, I might have never played them or enjoyed them as much.
The nostalgia in me is very strong with this game, and I am aware that it might not be the best strategy game ever made, but this game, in my opinion is one of the roots of the ever growing and evolving strategy genre tree… oh and if you decide to play this game and feel like just having some fun, type in “BIGDADDY” and let the carnage begin!