In 2006 Majesco Entertainment released a version of Age of Empires for the DS. In the process of porting the game from the PC it moved from an RTS game to a turn-based game. I have to say that this was a very good move. As much as I like the idea behind RTS games I always find that once you reach a certain point of domination in these games you no longer have the time to properly manage your empire on your own. Moving to a turn-based ensures that you will have the time to look over all of your empire and make better tactical decisions.
- According to Majesco these are the selling points of the game:
- Command one of five different civilizations: the Britons, Franks, Mongols, Saracens, and Japanese.
- Take control of special â€˜Heroâ€™ units like Richard the Lionheart, Minamoto Yoshitsune, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Saladin among others who command special â€˜heroâ€™ powers affecting the entire battlefield.
- Command over 65 different types of units from bowmen and monks to hand cannoneers, mercenaries and samurai.
- Turn-based combat, new to the Age of Empires franchise, keeps the battle moving at the player-preferred pace.
- Players construct & upgrade buildings like town centers, mines, universities and â€˜wondersâ€™ to help units learn new skills and create resources for their civilizations.
- Players research over 50 different technologies like chemistry, ballistics, siege craft and spying among others to take their civilization into the next age.
- Get help from the new Combat Advisor who provides advice on certain campaign strategies and an indication of how the battle will go.
- Multiplayer scenarios allowing up to 4 players to battle each other wirelessly.
- Gain Empire Points to unlock maps & units and improve Emperor Rank.
The game has five single player campaigns with each one based on a given hero. They range in difficulty from the tutorial level Joan of Arc to the hard level of Richard the Lionhearted. As you complete each mission in the campaign another one unlocks. The early campaigns have five missions each while harder ones will have more.
What I found very entertaining is that some of the campaign end missions are played through twice, once from each side. For example, the final mission in the Minamoto Yoshitsune (Japan) campaign has you defending Japan from an invasion of Mongol hordes led by Genghis Khan (Mongol). When you play the final Mongol mission it is the exact same mission as the one you played from the Japanese perspective but now you are the Mongol hordes attacking Japan!
Each civilization in the game has certain bonuses and penalties associated with it. Their associated hero also has powers that are different than those of the other heroes in the game. These bonuses and penalties are realistic and add some realism to a game that is otherwise entirely unrealistic.
- Civilization Bonuses
- Britons: Mining
- Franks: Farming
- Mongols: Technology
- Saracens: Mining
- Japanese: Farming
Even though both the Japanese and the Franks both gain bonuses from Farming they do not play the same. For one thing the powers of their heroes are different and the other thing is that they have differing lists of discounted units.
- Unit Discounts and Buildings
- Britons: Archery Range, Church, Crossbow, Arbalest, Longsword, 2-handed, Champion
- Franks: Stable, Castle, Knight, Cavalier, Paladin, Monk
- Mongols: Stable, Blacksmith, Scout Cavalry, Light Cavalry, Horse Archer
- Saracens: Stable, Market, Horse Archer, Onager, Bombard, Light Cavalry
- Japanese: Mills, Mines, Spearmen, Pikemen, Crossbow, Arbalest, Hand Cannoneer
Each civilization also one unit that is unique to them. These special units can only be built once you construct a castle. Castles become available once you enter the "Castle" Age of the game.
Through the Ages
The game covers four ages of civilization. Some missions start at higher ages while others start at level one.
The lowest age in the game is the Dark Age. During this age you are very limited in what you can build. Aside from mines, mills and farms (which are the buildings that give you resources) the only buildings you can build are stables and barracks. Lucky for you the Dark Age does not last very long and you will quickly move on to the Feudal Age.
The Feudal Age brings you the ability to construct the very important blacksmith shop. After building this you will be able to research many technologies that will increase the effectiveness of your troops. You will also gain the ability to construct archery ranges, markets and towers to aid in the defense of your town.
You will spend a good deal of time in the Feudal Age before you advance to the Castle Age. Like the Feudal Age before it you will gain the ability to construct a building that will open up new research options: the university. You will also be able to construct castles, churches and siege workshops. Castles become very effective strategic strong points, build them on the end of a bridge and your opponent will have a very hard time taking you out.
After the Castle Age comes the Imperial Age, where you gain the ability to build Wonders. These wonders bring in bonus resources to your empire. No other buildings become available but new technologies do.
When playing the game you can either use the stylus or the control pad and buttons. I tended to use both. Selecting and moving units is fairly simple though you do need to be careful when moving into areas that you can not see because running into a unit you could not see results in your unit ending its turn.
Terrain is important as placing a unit on top of a mountain will allow you to see and attack further and better plan your moves. In contrast, placing a unit in the woods will hinder their vision and their missile range. Nothing is better than having a ranged unit on top of a mountain firing on ranged units in the valley that can not return fire!
Which brings me to the combat system.
When you enter battle with another unit they get to hit you back after taking damage (unless they are destroyed). Some units have special combat powers that allow them to hit very hard even when wounded. Others can heal themselves between battles.
Before you commit to battle your battle advisor will appear on the top screen with the attack and defense scores of both units. Below that he will either give you a stirring speech on how your units will destroy the enemy, warn you of an even battle or even tell you that your men do not want to throw away their lives needlessly.
Once you enter combat a short animation will play on the top screen and the results of combat will soon be displayed. These animations can be turned off via the options menu.
Combat is short and satisfying. As long as you take terrain into account (yours and theirs) you can easily guess which battles are worth entering before you even see the combat advisor screen.
The campaign missions are fun but not overly challenging. Even the hard level missions are not all that hard. The ones with fog-of-war can be difficult the first time through but, once you know the map, the mission becomes a lot easier.
The multi-player is a good option for when you want a stronger opponent. You can play with up to four players via local wi-fi but using the hot seat feature is just as good (if not better considering it is turn-based). There are many maps to choose from and you can add in some CPU players of varying difficulty levels to round out the game.
I picked this up new for only $12. For that price it is well worth buying. Some have called this game Advance Wars: The Middle Ages and they are not that far off in saying so. Game play is very similar to what you get in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin just not as polished. If you like turn-based strategy games on the DS than you should consider adding this game to your collection.
- The Good
- One of the few turn-based strategy games on the DS
- Interesting mix of civilizations
- The Bad
- Missions are not very hard
- Some missions are more of a puzzle than a strategy contest (only one optimal solution)
- No map maker feature
- The Ugly
- Bonus items purchased through a point system
- Point system is based on logging in hours of game play time
- Hot seat game play does not have a splash screen in-between turns so the previous player can get a look at your holdings before they find you on the map.
All in all the game is good. Adding a custom map maker feature would add hundreds of hours of game play to the title but the existing maps are good enough.