Updated: March 11, 2017
Age of Empires II, released in 1999, revitalized in 2013, kept alive and kicking and awesome ever since. Last year or so, I reviewed this fabulous game, the summary of memories and many thousands of hours of fun, also focusing on The Forgotten expansion pack, which was brought to us just recently. There are few games that receive active development roughly two decades after they have been released. This be one of them.
The second-to-latest expansion pack is called The African Kingdoms, and it introduces four new civilizations, a new campaign, new maps, new common and specialized units, new technologies, new game types, even new fauna. Of course, it does not end there. But wait! What about Rise of the Rajas, you may ask? Well, in due course, children, in due course. No need to rush. Let's have a little review, shall we?
I started by exploring the new nations, which include the Portuguese, the Ethiopians, the Malians, and the Berbers. Of course, you also get a fresh new architecture style. The Malians and the Berbers proved out to be fairly mellow, run-of-the-mill civilizations, without any immediate advantages. The Portuguese are a sea-faring nation, and playing on a land-only map, they are quite disadvantaged. I tried and got pwned, feeling rather inadequate at the end of a rather simple moderate-difficulty game.
To compensate, I went into a foray with the Ethiopians. They may not have powerful units, but they can produce infantry cheap and fast, and in sufficient numbers, they will easily overwhelm any foe. At some point, I had three castles generating Shotel Warriors one every three seconds or so, and within a minute, I had an army of about 45 soldiers waiting to rush my enemy. And I wrote no rush earlier. Hue hue. Zerg rush! Repeat this, and if you have enough resources, you will win, which is what I did. A slightly messy victory with numerous casualties, but a most satisfying one.
Then, I replayed a few of the old maps with the old civilizations, just to see what gives. The Franks are still an excellent knight-and-castle nation, and you can use the cavalry to harass enemy villages while your own build a wedge of cheap castles. A static siege of attrition ensues. The Mayans many not have horses, but they are brutally efficient, especially their Eagle Scouts. Once you upgrade them to their best level, they are ruthless, fast and almost invincible. You do not look feel like you're missing anything at all.
The Goths and the Celts seem tamer than before, but then it could just be my gaming style. Some really new interesting maps out there, including two settlements in the Budapest duel, makes sense right, and some would-be real geography regions with mountains, plus depleted and limited resources. It seems the AI struggles more with a spartan beginning than me. Playing a game with just 3-4 villagers from the start gave me such a huge advantage over both the Italians and the Koreans, they never ended up building any army before my ragged force of archers, spearmen, swordsmen, and skirmishes destroyed their entire work force. After that, it was an uneventful game without a single loss.
It has been 16-17 years since this game was created, and yet I'm playing it, if not daily then weekly. Nothing like a bit of fast-paced real time strategy to refresh your brain and eyesight, and make your dreams deeper and more satisfying. Plus, the balance of aesthetics, war tactics, resource harvesting, and just pure simple dynamics of running your own pretty little town center is just magical. This game deserves to last forever.
I have nothing but utmost praise for The African Kingdoms. It's a worthy little refresh to a sublime title, adding fresh new passion to people hooked into this elegant, unbeatable formula. If you have Steam, then you might as well invest in this package. It's not expensive, it does not try to be fancy, yet it provides so much more than the new, flashy, heavy garbage disguised as games.
If you're a fan, I probably need not convince you, just pique your curiosity. Again, it's not like there will be any major change in what Age of Empires does. It's still chop wood, mine gold, farm, train soldiers, and fight the other side, but it just does not get boring. There's something elemental about this game. And the sprinkling of new technologies and nations makes the discovery exciting all over again. Giddy, childish, irrational, splendid. Just bloody amazing. Oh, Rise of the Rajas is on my todo list. Bought already and slaying hours like a champ. So there shall be some more words and even more screenshots coming your way soon. Stay tight.