Review by Zeran_kariashi
Age of Mythology Online minus the myth units
When I heard about Age of Empires Online, I was initially excited. I've been a fan of the series and it's Spin-offs since the very beginning, and while the AoM:Titans x-pack and Age of Empires 3 were a bit lack luster compared to AoM and AoE2, respectively, they were playable. I came into the game willing to give it a try, though thus far I've been EXTREMELY unimpressed.
The Game has 2 parts the RTS component and the MMO component. I'll cover those separately.
Sadly to say, the RTS part of AoEO is basically Age of Mythologies, but minus the god powers, myth units and requiring you to pay 20 bucks PER civ to get each civ's full tech tree.
You also have to pay to be able to equip rare quality or above items to your civ. These items are similar to the God/Lesser God civ bonus's you get in AoM. Each unit/building type has several slots that can be equipped with certain items that increase their effectiveness in particular ways, and each type of item for a slot has several different modifiers. You can get items that reduce the cost of a type of building while increasing it's HP slightly, and/or decreasing it's build time. The More power the item the higher the bonus or number of less bonus' it can have. While you can equip common and uncommon as a free civ, they are woefully underpowered compared to Epic items premium can get. This can lead to very imbalanced PVP, more on that later.
The Units. Each Civ gets a tiny handful of units. They're somewhat similar atm.
Greeks get a spear man (anti-horse), Archer (anti-infantry), swordsman (Hypocast or something similar), that's very good against infantry (it has a slight aoe in it's frontal arc), their basic horse man is good against siege and archers, and then they have a heavier swordsman that's reasonably good at everything, but it costs you 20 bucks to get access to that one. They also have some siege weapons and monk types later in the tech tree. The greeks are fairly sturdy but a little more expensive and slower then Egyptian units.
The Egyptians play exactly like a Ra Egyptians from AoM (minus myth units of course). They get Priests in age 1 that can empower buildings (without items, increases effectiveness by 10%) and heal. And can convert at higher ages. They get a spear man (anti-cavalry), an axeman (anti-infantry), a slinger (anti-archer), their cavalry is mostly archer based. Like the greeks they get a good against everything unit (if you pay 20 bucks), and a siege unit. Their units are cheaper and slightly faster then greek units, but more fragile in combat.
Now, if you're getting that for free, it's not so bad, but 90% of people that play RTS are going to do it for the PVP, and this is where the game model falters. Premium Civs (20 bucks each), have full access to their tech trees including several special advisor units that are extremely powerful, as well as a few extra passive civ techs that only premium can get. They can also use items of any quality which the difference between green and blue isn't too much, but the difference between green and purple is HUGE. Unless you're opponent is just completely horrible at the game, and you're very good, or he just made very very poor item choices, 9/10 a premium will win. This leads to another problem in the PVP matchmaking...it just randomly throws 2 people together, with no consideration for free/premium or even the difference in levels between your civs. It's entirely possible to be a Free10 and get put up against a premium 40, who can literally wipe you out with a handful of his advisor units. And even if you try to rush them to keep them from getting to age 3 (which a 10 can't upgrade to), his units will most likely have the best epic items money can buy and will stream roll you even if you grossly outnumber them, WITH COUNTER UNITS.
It also lacks a built-in skirmish mode. Which is in development and WILL cost money to use.
Now to change focus, we'll look at the "MMO" aspect of it.
Your civ has a home city, that functions somewhat like the Home cities from AoE3. Except that your tech tree is directly tied to the level of your home city and you don't get shipments, you simply have the things available for construction or research at the appropriate ages. Each time you level, you get civ points that can be used to unlock techs, which gives a bit of customization to your civs. This determines not only which units you have available, but also what buildings and unit boosting techs, there's also a few passive techs that require a premium civ. You level up by taking quests and going on missions that are as varied as (Build so many buildings in the time limit, save so many villagers, survive for X minutes, kill/save some merchants, wipe out the enemy, gather so many resources) which gives xp and there's usually hidden treasures that can give you materials to use in your home city, items for use on your civs, or items to sell in your city to get gold.
As you progress through the single player portion, you unlock various buildings that you can build in your home city. Some produce resources, some produce items that can be used in battle (somewhat similar to god powers from AoM, actually), some produce items you can use to boost your unit's stats. Free players can have 2 of each category of building, but your ability to make or buy things is EXTREMELY limited. Most of the stuff you'll have available will be unusable till you shell out 20 bucks (per civ). Setting up shops can be profitable, as people who visit your city can buy stuff and you earn a percentage of the item price, but ultimately, unless you pay for a civ, gold is of very little use, you'll cap out on things to buy long before you finish the single player quest line.
Some of the MMO aspects are, you have basically full control of what your city looks like, with exception to the terrain, which is randomly generated when you first create the city. This allows you to make attractive cities with numerous shops to attract people to come and visit and spend money so you can buy those super rare godly items that will make you nigh invincible in PVP. There's also co-op quests you can do with other people as well as elite mode quests. There's a chat box for the server available at all times, allowing to you to shoot the breeze while doing boring missions, or to trade or find co-op partners.
However, it does have some issues. One, it's basically a blatant rip off of certain Facebook games. Two: Bots, 5 year olds and trade spam usually fill up chat boxes unless you make extremely liberal use of the ignore function. 3, In order to get more then 20% usage of your home city, you have to shell out 20 bucks (per civ).
In Summary. The game does have some potential, though as most people have stated, it's pricing model is extremely misguided. While there are vanity packs that do make sense to charge individually for, the game itself it's HIGHLY expensive. Making you pay for each part of the game individually is incredibly dumb. Atm, There's a "discount" option that for 100 bucks, you can get premium versions of both current and the next 2 civs, and all of the extra content slated for release in the next 6 months. Most game critics have agreed that this makes Age of Empires Online the most most expensive, mediocre RTS ever made.
Going back to the title.
Unless you don't care at all about pvp, and just like socializing that while doing EXTREMELY boring and repetitive objectives, which most of your options locked out, I'd recommend just buying Age of Mythology (not the Titans X-pack). The game is about 10 bucks or less now. Gives the exact same RTS experience in a much more balanced setting, gives the full tech trees for 3 civs, a single player campaign of similar length to AoEO's quest line, pretty much identical graphics, MUCH better pvp, a built-in skirmish mode, all for half the price of a single premium civ. If you want to socialize...go play Farmville, or some of the other Facebook games, it's literally the exact same thing, without the AoE name.
Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Product Release: Age of Empires Online (US, 08/16/11)
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