I like to think of myself as an avid strategy gamer.
I’ve played just about every good strategy game – not only from since I was born, but from well before. That may not be a bold statement, but that doesn’t make it any less true – and it all stems right from the very beginning, from the first game I ever played.
When I was even younger than I am now, living in rural South Australia – where the internet consisted of smoke signals and carrier pigeons, and computers were few and far between – I was lucky enough to have one computer and precisely one game: Age of Empires. Little did I know that from the moment I turned that game on, I had started a love of strategy games that I doubt will ever die. It’s as if I heard “Wololo” and all my clothes suddenly changed color, never to switch back again.
Right now is normally where I would say that Age of Empires set a level for real-time strategy that very few games have ever been able to reach; but that simply isn’t true. Every Age of Empires game since has been better than the original, because of the simple fact that the original created a robust and open concept that could be built off of for over a decade. It acts as the foundation for a series that stands as a beacon of real time strategy, and to me personally as a triumph in gaming.
The first and most important reason for this is the apparent simplicity of Age of Empires. There are so very few fundamental skills required to be able to play. A person could sit down and by the end of their first game know how to play without help from anyone else. I say that out of experience as well, because whenever a mate came to my house, it was mandatory for them to play Age of Empires – whether they wanted to or not. I was determined to share this game with as many people as I could, and be able to discuss it with absolutely everyone I knew.
Straight from the get go it’s easy for almost any person to figure out what they are meant to do: build villagers and gather resources so that you can build more stuff, because who doesn’t like building stuff? You start at such a simple level, with so few things to build or research, that it’s incredibly easy for anyone to figure out what it is they’re meant to do. From here you slowly but surely build up your city and army until you’re ready to beat the snot out of everyone else on the map.
I made that sound a bit more action packed then it really is, because perhaps the one flaw that Age of Empires has is its combat.
I’m not going to try and argue that the fighting is complicated with a lot of depth, because it just isn’t. It’s basically a case of who has the best units or who has the most. Sure good micro helps, but it’s definitely not how you win. It’s getting to the units that’s the real battle. Managing your nation properly and building a strong economy are how you succeed, because whilst it might be your soldiers fighting, you can’t train or upgrade them without the required resources. This is most certainly a game focused around your resource management skills, not your ridiculous StarCraft style macro.
Any Age of Empires player knows that there’s nothing quite so satisfying as building a city from nothing, starting with a town centre and a few villagers but ending with a sprawling mass of buildings and an army of legions and centurions that can roll over your enemies is still the best feeling I can get from any game. You know that the time you’ve invested hasn’t been for nothing, that you’ve accomplished some massive task handed down to you from what feels like a divine level. No other game can really match that sheer feeling of success that runs through your veins when you win a hard fought match that could’ve potentially lasted for hours.
It’s equally possible that the entire game could be over in 20 minutes. There are so many different ways to play and enjoy Age of Empires that almost any style of RTS player can feel at home. You could rush your opponents if you want, ending the game as quickly as possible, or turtle yourself behind walls so that your enemies throw themselves against you and never manage to break through. Personally I build up the strongest economy possible and then Blitzkrieg style rush my opponent, but the choice is up to you.
I feel like I’m running the risk of making Age of Empires sound like an RTS game designed for beginners that doesn’t actually require much skill, and as such doesn’t reward experienced players. Whilst it may be true that to simply jump and play the game to a competent level is easy for any gamer, the skill ceiling is extremely high. You’ll continually learn new things no matter how long you play for, whether it be a random bit of tech or a new rush strategy that lets you take another player completely by surprise. Every time you play you’re adding constantly to a growing base of knowledge that lends itself to almost every other game in the genre.
Every year myself and my old mates come together and play a tournament among ourselves. It amazes me that rather than declining, our skills have only gotten better over the years. We’ve gone from bumbling little kids that knew how to play Age of Empires but didn’t really know anything about proper strategy, to players that, without wanting to blow my own trumpet, could probably beat pretty much anyone.
It’s because of Age of Empires that I can jump into just about any RTS and know exactly what I’m meant to do. It should be a must for anybody calling themselves a gamer, because it may be that after playing it, just like me, you’ll be hooked for life. And if you don’t, I might just have to start chanting “Wololo” until you do.