Revisiting another oldie here, and from my previous post you can probably guess that this revisiting didn't go as well as I hoped.
I touched on some of the game's irritating features in the previous post, so I'll just repeat them here, briefly.
- paper/rock/scissors mechanics. I hate those. It is understandable that a game like AoE2 has them because of it's 'historicity', but some great historic games don't have it, at least not to such a big extent. If you have a look at Medieval: Total War, for example. It is obvious you'll want to counter archers with cavalry, but not because they deal more damage, but because they are faster and can actually reach the enemy when they are running away. In the same way, using spearmen against cavalry is a good idea, but you can use them against infantry and it'll still work. In AoE2, a couple of spearmen will absolutely decimate your cavalry, and attacking a bunch of archers with your infantry is pure suicide. And matching cavalry with regular infantry will just result in a long fight with both sides getting some damage, but not enough to finish it quickly.
- the stances. Whichever you use, it's not going to work well because your units will either run after an enemy until they get killed, or stand in one space doing absolutely nothing.
- ALL THE FACTIONS ARE IDENTICAL. There are some minor differences (one unique unit per faction), but that doesn't change the fact that gameplay and strategies are EXACTLY the same for each of the many nations. Not to mention really silly features of this, such as the fact that the Japanese and Vikings have mostly the same kinds of units as, say, the Celts and Arabs.
- The music is really atrocious. I mean, for a 1999/2000 RTS game, it's really poor. I usually find that if a game really sucks, it at least has enjoyable music. Not AoE2. It sounds as if it was composed around 1996 at the most, and given that some games from that period have way better (even if not 'newer sounding', quality issues) music than AoE2, it begs the question - why is that?
So yeah, that's it, in a nutshell. It all amounts to this one capital concern of mine about the game, which is the fact that it basically got away with being an RTS inferior to ALL of it's predecessors, and still was popular with critics and players alike. I can't imagine why, unless the theme of it was found as unique and the whole attempt at historicity (from the perspective of titles such as the Total War series, an absolutely botched attempt) was considered to be innovative. But still, answer me this - how come a game which has so little differences in factions got made after Starcraft? How come such bad music was produced even though it was made after Total Annihilation, Red Alert and, again, Starcraft?
I think it all comes down to this - because of the similarity of factions, there is no lasting appeal in this game. No matter who you play, what type of gameplay you will choose, or which Single Player campaign you start, the game is going to play out almost EXACTLY the same. Age of Empires II definitely hasn't aged well, as I can think of at least several titles from around the same year as this game which do EVERYTHING better. And, most of all, are not boring as hell. Seriously, I cannot bear to play AoE2 anymore, because I am just so bored. There are no surprises left for me in the game, no new things to discover - not even a specific troop mix to experiment with, because of that god-damn rock-paper-scissors mechanic...
I played AoE2 for the first time around a few years after it's premiere. Back then I thought it wasn't very interesting or gripping and gave my borrowed copy back to the person who lended it to me. Now, six or seven years later, I feel kind of sorry that I didn't trust my memory of the game and bought it from an entertainment exchange a few months ago. Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds doesn't do a good job at being a good Star Wars game, but it does a waaaay better job of being a good game in general than the game it basically clones - Age of Empires 2. And since I own Galactic Battlegrounds, in hindsight, I really didn't need to get AoE2 - what do I need an inferior version of the same game for if I own a superior one?
Oh well, you have to pay for your mistakes, I guess. Good I only had to pay a small price for mine in this situation. Age of Empires 2 cannot get a better rating than a 5/10 from today's perspective. It simply feels so old, that if I was told that it was the first RTS game with no knowledge of my own on the topic, I would almost be able to believe it. Compared to games like Starcraft, Warcraft 3, Total Annihilation, Red Alert 2 or Tiberian Sun, it just plain sucks. It's boring, has no mechanisms which would make it stand out... it's RTS destilled to a soul-less, enjoyment-less, character-less form which simply isn't worth your time in today's day and age, even as a revisit. With no redeeming value in either the historical approach (which is nice in the History section of the main menu, but in the game itself it's just laughable), music or graphics, there's just nothing to look for here.
PS: ANY quasi-historical game which tries to be educational in any way should be immediately DAMNED TO HELL the moment it decides to put a horned viking helmet ON THE FRIGGIN' COVER, as well as putting a Viking unit in wearing such a helmet. Please, this is just embarassing...
PS2: I'm giving a chance to The Conquerors expansion for AoE2. From what I've seen for the first half hour of playing, there is NOTHING in the expansion which improves the game in any significant way, so do expect a short note when I'm finished with it, but don't expect a review, because most probably there will be nothing to write about other than "See my AoE2 review and add a 0.5 to the rating".