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  1.                                                 AGE OF EMPIRES PACK
  2. -----What's Included?-----
  3. Age of Empires I
  4. Age of Empires I: Rise of Rome Expansion Pack
  5. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
  6. Age of Empires II: The Conquerors Expansion Pack
  7. Age of Empires III
  8. Age of Empires III: The Warchiefs Expansion Pack
  9. Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties Expansion Pacl
  10. Age of Mythology
  11. Age of Mythology: The Titans Expansion Pack
  12. + All Covers, Manuals, Patches and Cracks.
  13.  
  14. ...:::AGE OF EMPIRES I:::... [Developed by Ensemble Studios and Released 30th September 1997 by Microsoft Game Studios]
  15. ----Description-----
  16. Control your tribe with the mouse. Make them build houses, docks, farms, and temples. Advance your civilization through time by learning new skills . The game allows for the player to advance through the ages: stone age, tool age, bronze age. If the player would rather get away from the historical aspect, the game offers a random terrain generator and a custom scenario builder.
  17. The game has four resources: food, obtained by hunting, farming, or fishing; wood, which has to be logged by hand; stone, which has to be mined; and gold, which can either be mined or obtained through trade with other players
  18. As a real-time war game, Age naturally revolves around gathering resources and producing units.
  19.  
  20. -----Review----- [Reviewed by James Holland at PC Gamerworld on May 4th 2002, who gave it a score of 91%]
  21. Age of Empires takes place in the time before rifles, tanks, and grenades. It even precedes the Crusades and knights in shining armor. Humans have evolved beyond their Neanderthal ancestors and are ready to begin their journey into Civilization. It is the dawn of man, the Age of Empires.
  22.  
  23. Age of Empires is a real-time strategy game. There are 12 different cultures from which to choose. Some are better known than others, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Hittites, Babylonians, and Persians.
  24.  
  25. Each civilization has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. The Greeks for example suffer from a lack of archery units and inexpensive infantry. Their advantage, however, is that the higher level Greek infantry are faster than those of other cultures -- its give and take in Age of Empires. You'll have to choose your civilization wisely, and exploit their advantages to the fullest to stand a chance of winning.
  26.  
  27. Age of Empires features some welcome changes of pace in the real-time strategy arena. The first is the way in which a culture evolves. A system of Ages is used. The game usually starts in the Stone Age, which allows the player to build only a limited number of structures and military units.
  28.  
  29. To advance to the next era, a certain number of structures must be built, and a specific amount of resources collected. The ages are Stone, Tool, Bronze, and finally, Iron. With every advancement comes the ability to build more powerful structures and military units.
  30.  
  31. Age of Empires also features a series of unit, building and civilization advancements, similar to those of WarCraft2. These are called technology trees and are different for each civilization. Some cultures, no matter how advanced, simply cannot build certain types of units. One note: this is a configurable option. The player can play with or without the full technology tree option.
  32.  
  33. As an example, infantry units are initially limited to clubmen. To advance to Axemen, simply click on the barracks and select the upgrade. Of course, these advancements are not free. Each upgrade will cost the player some resources.
  34.  
  35. The resources used in Age of Empires are wood, food, gold, and stone. Villagers, very similar to Peons in WarCraft2, are used to gather these precious resources. Food can be gathered in a few different ways, such as hunting, farming, and fishing. Wood, stone, and gold must all be mined. The player will spend a great deal of time, in the early stages of the game, just building villagers and setting them to their resource gathering tasks.
  36.  
  37. Age of Empires provides several different ways in which a game can be won. I'm from the Non-Tactical school and prefer the old "build em up and knock em down" style of play. Brute force, that's my motto. I also rarely win, so with that in mind, I'll explain some of the options.
  38.  
  39. The player can of course win by eliminating all of his opponents. This may sound easy, but there is a great deal of unit options in Age of Empires, and he who builds smart will stand the better chance of victory. The famed "Tank Rush" tactic from Command and Conquer can be repelled easily with the right mix of defensive units.
  40.  
  41. There are three other ways to achieve victory in Age of Empires: ruins, wonders, and artifacts. The player can simply obtain all the ruins or artifacts on the map, and hold them for a set amount of time. The game can also be won by being the first to build and hold a wonder for 2000 years. This may sound like a long time, but in the game, it only equates to around 20 minutes. These victory conditions are fully configurable and can be set before the start of any game. Simply put; if you just want a slugfest, ruins, artifacts, and wonders can all be turned off.
  42.  
  43. The battles in Age of Empires are fun and engaging. Defensive towers and walls can be built to protect villages and resources. With one exception, there really isn't much new here. Position your troops and attack. Battles will most likely turn into melees, but, nonetheless, are still a blast. The exception I spoke of is the inclusion of the priest. This unit can convert enemies into friendlies. Although he has few hit points and is easily killed, the priest cannot be dismissed. In groups, he can be absolutely devastating to attacking forces. There is nothing more disheartening than to see expensive units converted to the other side and used against you.
  44.  
  45. The interface provided in Age of Empires is simple and easy to understand. The graphics are extremely detailed and have a hand-painted feel to them. It's rare to see a game this beautiful with such detailed unit movements. The musical score is also very well done, setting the perfect mood. The options are plentiful and varied, providing great replay value.
  46.  
  47. Age of Empires supports single player scenarios, random maps, or deathmatches. Multi-player deathmatch and coop play is also available, as well as a good map editor. For those wondering, Age of Empires plays very well over the Internet.
  48.  
  49. In spite of all that this game has going for it, there were a few problems. In the initial release, unit path finding was a big problem. There were a few other minor complaints as well, such as unit building limits. With the release of the 1.0A patch, most of these issues have been dealt with nicely, and are no longer problems.
  50.  
  51. My only real complaint is that upon completion of a task, villagers will just stand around doing nothing. This can lead to some annoying micro-management tactics.
  52.  
  53. Problems aside, Age of Empires is one of the most enjoyable and addictive real-time strategy games I've ever played. The only problem with games set in this time period is that there aren't enough of them. Age of Empires is a "must have" for any real-time strategy fan.
  54.  
  55. -----Minimum System Requirements-----
  56. # A multimedia PC with a Pentium 90 or faster processor.
  57. # Microsoft Windows 95 operating system or later, or Windows NT Workstation 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or later.
  58. # 16 megabytes (MB) of random access memory (RAM) for Windows 95, or 24 MB of RAM for Windows NT (or for an 8-player    multiplayer game in Windows 95/98).
  59. # 80 MB of available hard disk space.
  60. # 50 MB of available disk space for swap file.
  61. # A local Bus SVGA video adapter with 1 MB of Video RAM and a color SVGA monitor.
  62. # A keyboard and Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device.
  63. # A double-speed (2X) or faster CD-ROM drive for gameplay, or a quad-speed CD-ROM drive for cinematics.
  64. # A Windows-compatible sound card with speakers or headphones to hear sound playback.
  65. # A 28.8 kilobytes per second (KBPS) or faster modem for head-to-head or Internet play.
  66.  
  67.  
  68. ...:::AGE OF EMPIRES I: RISE OF ROME:::... [Developed by Ensemble Studios and Released October 31st 1998 by Microsoft Game Stuios]
  69. -----Description-----
  70. Rise of Rome is the expansion for the 1997 RTS hit Age of Empires. Along several bug fixes and new campaigns and maps, RoN included four new civilizations (Carthage, Macedonia, Palmyra and Roman) with a new building design, five new units (slingers, armored elephants, camel riders, fire galleys and scythe chariots) and four new technologies (logistics, martyrdom, medicine and tower shield).
  71. Gameplay was also tweaked, with the ability to queue production of units of the same type, the ability to use the "Home" key to circle through events, and also the possibility to change the population limit and a new map size "gigantic" was added.
  72.  
  73. -----Review----- [Reviewed by Nick A. Zaino III over at PC GamerWorld, on May 4 2002 and gave it a 93%]
  74. It's hard to imagine a game as expansive as the original Age of Empires. Twelve civilizations develop through four historical periods, from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, laying the foundations for technology and politics for all who will come later.
  75.  
  76. The Rise of Rome adds more options to a game already stuffed with them, and helps bring the game up to speed for the coming of Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, which begins in the Dark Ages. And there is enough in this pack to keep gamers busy until then. First, there are four new civilizations - Rome, Macedonia, Carthage, and Palmyra - each with their own strategic advantages and disadvantages.
  77.  
  78. The Romans are a powerful new civilization, producing arms and materials quickly and cheaply. A flood of quick Roman swordsman can devastate a Macedonian camp, but that can be balanced if Macedonia uses its defenses well. Slingers, with higher hit point damage, could significantly weaken the swordsman before they make it there, evening the score a bit. Macedonia can mount its own powerful attack with cheap siege units like catapults. Still, Rome's defenses can be fortified with a lot of cheap towers to counter this.
  79.  
  80. The slingers are new in the game, as are armored elephants, camel riders, scythe chariots on the ground, and fire galleys by sea. That makes the game a little more complex on all fronts, offensively and defensively. Fire galleys can be a powerful weapon by sea, but they have limited range, and can be handled easily enough from afar. But when backed by catapult triremes with a long range, they can wreak havoc.
  81.  
  82. There are also a few new twists logistically. Stronger units can be more easily converted through martyrdom, which allows a priest to sacrifice himself to automatically convert an enemy unit. And through a nifty bit of research, barrack units may count half as half units, which allows a player to build larger armies by exceeding the population limits.
  83.  
  84. Most of the new features add to the gameplay, with the exception of the new buildings. They offer more of a design update than a strategic advancement. There are new Roman temples and siege workshops, but they are just the Roman version of buildings from the existing game. Still, this seems necessary to accommodate the new civilizations, and the Roman Coliseum is a good addition to Wonders like the Pyramids and the Acropolis.
  85.  
  86. -----Minimum System Requirements-----
  87. # Multimedia PC with Pentium 90 MHz or higher processor (Pentium 120 MHz is required for gigantic maps)
  88. # Microsoft Windows 95 or later operating system, or Microsoft Windows NT Workstation operating system version 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or later
  89. # Microsoft Age of Empires 1.0
  90. # 16 megabytes (MB) of RAM for Windows 95 or later; 24 MB of RAM for Windows NT (or for an 8-player multiplayer game in Windows 95/98
  91. # 235 MB of available hard disk space for a typical install (an additional 50 MB of available hard disk space is required for the swap file)
  92. # Double-speed (2X) or faster CD-ROM drive for gameplay, or a quad-speed (4X) CD-ROM drive for videos
  93. # Local Bus Super VGA video adapter with 1 MB of Video RAM and a color SVGA monitor
  94. # Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device
  95. # DirectSound 5.0 API-compatible sound card with speakers or headphones for audio
  96. # 28.8 Kbps modem (or higher recommended) for Internet or head-to-head play
  97. # Internet access required for Internet play. May require payment of a separate fee to an Internet service provider (ISP). Connect time charges may apply.
  98. # To play on Zone.com, you need to have one of the following Web browsers: Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.02 or later or Netscape Communicator 4.0 or later
  99.  
  100. ...:::AGE OF EMPIRES II: THE AGE OF KINGS:::... [Developed by Ensemble Studios, Released on 30 September 1999 by Microsoft Game Studios]
  101. -----Description-----
  102. You have one thousand years to lead a civilization into greatness. Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings puts you in command of one of 13 civilizations from the fall of Rome through the Middle Ages. Each empire--including Franks, Japanese, Byzantines, Vikings, Mongols, and Celts--has different attributes, buildings, and technologies, as well as a unique combat unit based on its historical counterpart. Choose one of several ways to achieve world domination and ultimate victory: domination of enemy civilizations, economic victory through accumulation of wealth, and building and defending wonders of the world. This sequel keeps the epic scope of Age of Empires' gameplay while evolving the combat and economic features.
  103.  
  104. ----Review----- [Written by Greg Kasavin over at GameSPOT on October 12 1999 and gave it a 91%]
  105. It would be incorrect, but not entirely unreasonable, to claim that Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings and its isometric 2D playing field seem just like every other first-generation real-time strategy game ever made. Take away the historical context depicting a millennium of military progress since the Dark Ages, and you'd have a game in which you'd stockpile resources, grow your population, and augment your technology, all to amass an army with which to defeat your enemies as quickly as possible. But even as this model has remained historically relevant for as long as history has been documented, so too is it not liable to stop being the premise for computer games anytime soon. And if Age of Kings is any indication of how such real-time strategy games will continue to improve, then we couldn't be more fortunate.
  106.  
  107. Although Age of Kings runs at higher resolutions and looks cleaner and sharper than many of its similar predecessors, you'll find that there's nothing foreign about its appearance. Villagers, buildings, trees, the black fog of war, and everything else on the map will be immediately recognizable if you've played a real-time strategy game before. But even if you've played them all, you'll note several differences in Age of Kings' presentation that make it stand out against comparable games. For instance, all the buildings and units in Age of Kings are shown more or less to scale - town halls and castles nearly fill the screen and loom high above your people. There are four different styles of architecture in the game - Eastern, Middle Eastern, and Eastern and Western European - and although they appear identical in the Dark Ages, by the Imperial Age all four look entirely different and authentically beautiful. Unlike the architecture, your villagers and military units look the same no matter what civilization you choose. Fortunately, almost every one of them looks good, and there are plenty to choose from, such as swordsmen and archers on up to mounted knights and terrific war machines.
  108.  
  109. Age of Kings can look a little bland and washed out before you fill the screen with buildings and military units, but this same sparseness makes its interface clean and effective. The clearly depicted controls at the bottom of the screen and the familiar mouse functionality make this game very easy to pick up and play. Best of all are the descriptive floating help messages that thoroughly describe every unit and technology available, which you can toggle off once you begin to remember them. Your units move quickly and easily from point to point, and selecting a mixed group will automatically assign them to a logical formation, with tougher units in front and more vulnerable units in pursuit. Grouped units will also travel at the rate of the slowest member of the brigade, a feature that ultimately lets you coordinate attacks far more effectively than in most any other real-time strategy game. And as your soldiers fight and win, they quickly seek out the closest and most appropriate target, thus eliminating any tedious micromanagement and affording you the time to oversee something more complicated and tactically viable than a head-on assault. With floating help turned on and all your little units running around at once, Age of Kings can start to look a little cluttered. But it also looks its best at times like this, when the screen is so full of buildings and people you can begin to imagine how their historical equivalents once prospered.
  110.  
  111. Even so, you'd think with only four styles of architecture and one generic set of units, the 13 civilizations in Age of Kings would seem identical. And while some of them seem similar, it's to the designers' great credit that most of the civilizations manage to feel very different from one another in spite of any visual likeness. For one thing, each civilization's units speak in their native language, and while they don't say too many different things, it's great to listen to them anyway. Each civilization also has its own unique unit that emphasizes or augments that civilization's strengths, and this also helps distinguish each one from the other 12. Every civilization also has its unique advantages that refer to the historical culture's strengths. For instance, to emphasize the Byzantines' defensive power, their units for countering infantry, archers, and cavalry are cheaper to produce; and to suggest the Turks' scientific achievements, they can research gunpowder technologies at a lower cost than any other civilization. Such cultural distinctions are often subtle but become more noticeable later in the game, when the skillful player who takes greater advantage of his culture's offensive or defensive inclinations will soon find himself in the lead.
  112.  
  113. Then again, to build up your civilization to its strongest potential is by no means a simple feat, despite whatever luxuries the game's elegant interface provides. The original Age of Empires was criticized for combining the pretensions of a complicated turn-based strategy game like Civilization with real-time gameplay mechanics that were borrowed from Warcraft II. But Age of Kings makes good on the original's promises by providing a huge, branching technology tree and a correspondingly profound depth of gameplay that rivals virtually all similarly themed turn-based games. You must constantly reevaluate your priorities when gathering the game's four resources, since those priorities change as new technologies become available; and you must constantly make key tactical decisions based on the order in which you research particular technologies. You need to keep moving forward without spreading yourself too thin, although you're afforded some breathing time to get started early on since you can garrison your villagers within your town hall to defend against a preemptive attack. And yet throughout the game, Age of Kings' pacing is so fast and so exciting as to rival Blizzard's real-time strategy hits. Consequently, under no circumstances should you be prepared to win a war in Age of Kings without a fast hand on the mouse. But similarly, you're not going to win unless you think.
  114.  
  115. Even Blizzard's Starcraft confines you to a basic set of strategies, whose subtle variations separate the experts from the rest. However, in Age of Kings, your options tend to be more flexible. If your opponent is too focused on particular tactics, you can easily allocate your resources into countering whatever it is he's sending your way. Swarms of infantry can be stopped cold by a simple wall; a contingent of archers may kill a line of cavalry but would be hard pressed to damage even a single war machine. Swordsmen can deal with pikemen easily, but the pikemen's reach make them much more effective against units on horseback. At one time, games aspired to such principles with the rock-scissors-paper game as a model. But Age of Kings has so many variants on this theme that to even suggest a similarity between Ensemble's sequel and the old betting game would be to grossly undermine Age of Kings' intricacy. It doesn't take long to realize that Age of Kings is complicated, but your appreciation for its detail will only grow with time as you begin to understand that, unlike in most real-time strategy games, you really do have several distinctly different but equally viable routes toward victory.
  116.  
  117. There are also several different ways to play the game. You can use the random map generator to quickly create a custom-tailored, finely crafted map for up to eight players, or build your own map from scratch. You'll find a consistent challenge in taking on one or several computer opponents set to the default difficulty or above, although you'll soon learn of the computer's propensity to use guerilla tactics and fall prey to particular tricks. You can start with a ton of resources and just have at it in the deathmatch mode; you can set out to kill the enemy king in a regicide match; and you can play one of Age of Kings' five historical campaigns. These campaigns focus on such legendary leaders as Joan of Arc, Frederick Barbarossa, and Genghis Khan in a series of linked missions interjected with voice-over narration describing these figures' tribulations and victories. All five of these, including the William Wallace tutorial campaign, are fairly short and only begin to approach the sense of style and cohesion pioneered by Blizzard's real-time strategy campaigns.
  118.  
  119. But you'll enjoy playing a part in these characters' historical accomplishments anyway, even if the narrators' accents are a little heavy and the artwork depicting the outcome of each mission looks rushed. At any rate, unlike in Starcraft, the campaigns seem more peripheral in Age of Kings, because its historical context and 13 civilizations will keep you interested with or without a plot to back it all up. Of course, you can also play Age of Kings over the Internet, although Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone can't compare to Blizzard's refined Battle.net.
  120.  
  121. No matter how you play it, chances are good that you'll enjoy Age of Kings if not for its careful historical detail then because its context never takes precedence over the game's playability. And if you've ever liked any other real-time strategy game in this classical style, then you'll clearly see why this one deserves so much credit, even in direct comparison to the finest examples in its category.
  122.  
  123.  
  124. -----Minimum System Requirements-----
  125. # Multimedia PC with Pentium 166 MHZ or higher processor
  126. # Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows 98 operating system, or Windows NT Workstation operating system version 4.0 with Service Pack 5 or later
  127. # 32 megabytes (MB) of RAM
  128. # 200 MB of available hard disk space (an additional 100 MB of available hard disk space is required for the swap file)
  129. # Super VGA monitor capable of displaying 16-bit color at a screen resolution of 800 x 600 pixels
  130. # Local bus video adapter with 2 MB of video memory capable of displaying 16-bit color at a screen resolution of 800 x 600 pixels
  131. # Quad-speed or faster CD-ROM drive
  132. # Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device
  133. # Sound card with speakers or headphones recommended
  134. # 28.8 Kbps modem (or higher recommended) for Internet or head-to-head play
  135. # Internet access required for Internet play. May require payment of a separate fee to an Internet service provider (ISP). Connect time charges may apply.
  136.  
  137.  
  138. ...:::AGE OF EMPIRES II: THE CONQUERORS:::... [Developed by Ensemble Studios and Released on 24 August 2000 by Microsoft Game Studios]
  139. -----Description-----
  140. The Conquerors adds five new civilizations, including two from the americas, the Mayans and Aztecs. It also adds eleven new units such as the halberdier (an answer to the powerful paladins) and eagle warriors, which are used by the Mayans and Aztecs instead of stable units; a unique technology for each civilization including Kataparuto for the Japanese (increases Trebuchet fire rate and pack/unpack speed) and Zealotry for the Saracens (increases hit points for camels and mamelukes); and several new general technologies, such as Bloodlines, which increases the hit points of mounted units, and thumbring, which increases the rate of fire and accuracy of archers.
  141. Several game balancing tweaks have been added too, for example janissaries have had their attack increased, and mangonels don't auto attack if some of your units could be hurt.One of the biggest changes, however, is the villager AI has been changed so they now gather after making a drop off building...i.e. after making a lumber camp they will start to chop wood.
  142. AOK:TC also adds three new types of play, such as Wonder Race in which the goal is to build a wonder before anyone else.
  143.  
  144. -----Review----- [Written by Stephen Butts over at IGN on June 2 2002 and gave it an 82%]
  145. The Conquerors is an excellent example of adding tons of new features to a game without totally changing its character or throwing it totally out of balance. It brings a lot more to Age of Empires II than we expected and it does it all while preserving the character of the original. The game does alter a few rules and modifies a few units, but it's all done for the sake of more balanced gameplay. We've already written an extensive preview of the game and provided you with campaign overviews straight from the team at Ensemble. So we're not going to go into tons of detail about the basics here. But just to recap, there have been some notable additions to the game in terms of AI, a lessening of administrative headaches and a whole bunch of new races, units and technologies.
  146.  
  147. The new races are the most intriguing thing about the game. Five new civilizations have been added to the original thirteen included in the basic game. Overall, they fill in some holes left by the earlier civilizations. The Huns have excellent cavalry bonuses and are adept at lightning quick attacks on structures. They also do not need houses to support their population. The Spanish civilization is also predominated by horses and uses them as mounts for cannoneers and monks. Their technological superiority as well as their gold collection and construction bonuses makes them ideal for building elaborate cities. The Aztecs and Mayans both suffer from a lack of cavalry but both also have excellent foot substitutes. The Mayans also have an exceptional ranged unit in the Plumed Archer. The Aztecs benefit from shortened unit production time and gold collection bonuses. Last come the Koreans, whose emphasis on defense will put any attacker to the test. A few extra units have been included for all the civilizations as well. Halberdiers and Hussars are improved versions of Pikemen and Light Cavalry while Petards offer a cheap alternative to cumbersome siege weapons.
  148.  
  149. Each race also has its own unique technologies but for the most part, these just tend to fall into military advancements. The one exception is the Hunnish Atheism. This advance increases the time it takes rivals to construct wonders and halves the cost of Hunnish spies and treason. More interesting are the universal technologies added to the game. Bloodlines and Parthian Tactics are purely military advances, but there are some more subtle advances that you might want to concentrate on. Caravans increase the speed of trading vessels and Herbal Medicine helps garrisoned units heal faster. More impressive are the two religious advances -- Theocracy and Heresy. Theocracy allows you to convert enemy units while only forcing one Monk to loose faith. Heresy makes it impossible for enemy monks to convert your units. Instead of going over to the other side, your units merely die when converted.
  150.  
  151. The game comes with three six-mission campaigns. You should already know about the Attila the Hun Campaign, the Montezuma Campaign, and the El Cid Campaign. (Isn't saying the El Cid a little redundant?) In any case, each of the campaigns offers loads of new challenges for the seasoned Age player. As Attila the Hun, you'll have to refine your hit and run cavalry tactics as you scour across the fields of Central Europe. Montezuma will have to cope with the Aztec's lack of cavalry as he fights off the Spanish in dense tropical jungles. The Spanish leader El Cid must learn to fight with two very different types of armies -- the Spanish and the Moors. I was really irritated to see that there aren't any new campaigns for the Mayans or the Koreans, but there's so much else here, I can't really complain. I should also mention that a new tab has been added to the campaign overview button to tell you who your enemies are and where they're located.
  152.  
  153. The fourth campaign is just a loose selection of battles from the medieval period (although a few of them are really pushing into the Renaissance). The battles are a great quick fix for those of you who don't want to get too deep into the campaigns, but because they're so much shorter, they can kind of seem a little superficial and unrewarding. That's not to say they aren't well designed -- they've got lots of interesting mission variety. Lepanto, Tours and Noryang force you on the defensive as you fight off wave after wave of enemy attack. Agincourt and Kyoto present different challenges as you try to rescue your hero from being overwhelmed by enemies. Vinlandsaga you must help Erik the Red establish a colony in the "New World." Hastings and Manzikert are a lot more straightforward in that you must eliminate every living thing from the face of the earth. Remember that speech Mr. Teasedale gives at the beginning of Red Dawn? That's the kind of thing we're talking about here.
  154.  
  155. On the multiplayer and skirmish side of things, The Conquerors looks just as good. There are three brand new multiplayer game types. Although they're not really that interesting to me personally, they do offer a nice way to mix up the standard deathmatches of the previous game. In King of the Hill, you must maintain control of a Wonder in the center of the map. The Defend the Wonder game type begins late in the Imperial Age with tons of resources, units and technology. Now it's up to you to defend your Wonder from your enemies. This is a really great kickstart kind of setup. In the Wonder Race game, you and your enemies must compete to build a Wonder without ever coming to blows with each other. I know, I know, but some people like that kind of stuff. Like I said, these new game types aren't really my thing, but it is nice to have some other options when you're squaring off online. There are also some new advanced allied commands that are quite useful.
  156.  
  157. The new maps are good as well. Eight new maps and ten "real world" maps add a lot of variety to the multiplayer experience. The eight new maps are more like traditional levels in a shooter with all kinds of boundaries and limitations on movement. The importance of a strong naval force is a little better here than in the previous maps as well. The ten real world maps are based on locations as diverse as Texas and Norway. The maps are really nice but take a lot of geographic liberties for the sake of gameplay. By far, the best thing about the maps in this game are the inclusion of tropical and winter tilesets. Now you can get your Age on in dense jungles or frozen fjords.
  158.  
  159. One of my biggest complaints against Age of Empires II was that the villagers were often kind of thick-headed. I don't want them totally autonomous but sometimes they just didn't seem to take any steps to make things more convenient for me. Not so in The Conquerors -- these villagers are much smarter. Not only will they automatically begin harvesting a resource after building a resource camp. And when you order a resource gathering villager to construct a new building, they'll drop off their resources before going to construct the new building. The Conquerors also eases the horrible farm replanting headache that plagued the previous game. Now you can queue up 15 replants at your Mill. As a farm runs out, the Mill automatically replants it, leaving you to focus on kicking your enemies' into the dust.
  160.  
  161. There are a lot of other balancing issues in the game -- units changes, new civilizations restrictions and possibilities but if we went into everything that's new about this game, we'd be here all night. All too often expansions are just an excuse to cash in on a game's popularity and innovation almost seems to be an afterthought. I won't say that The Conquerors takes AOE to some whole new level -- it doesn't. But what it does is enlarge the game a little beyond its original scope. And even more surprising, manages to preserve the fun and enjoyment of the original without being a simple mission pack. The big question here is whether or not you liked Age of Empires II. If you did then Conquerors is more of what you love minus a lot of the management frustrations and with a whole lot more options.
  162.  
  163. -----Minimum System Requirements-----
  164. # Multimedia PC with Pentium 166 MHz or higher processor
  165. # Microsoft Windows 95 or later operating system, Microsoft Windows NT Workstation operating system version 4.0 with Service Pack 5 or later, or Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional operating system
  166. # 32 megabytes (MB) of RAM for Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows Millennium Edition (Me); 64 MB for Windows NT or Windows 2000
  167. # 100 MB of available hard disk space (an additional 100 MB of available hard disk space is required for the swap file)
  168. # Super VGA monitor capable of displaying 16-bit color at a screen resolution of 800 x 600 pixels
  169. # Local bus video adapter with 2 MB of video memory capable of displaying 16-bit color at a screen resolution of 800 x 600 pixels
  170. # Quad-speed or faster CD-ROM drive
  171. # Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device
  172. # Sound card with speakers or headphones for audio
  173. # 28,800 bits-per-second (bps) or faster modem for Internet or head-to-head play
  174. # Internet access required for Internet play. May require payment of a separate fee to an Internet service provider (ISP). Connect time charges may apply.
  175.  
  176. ...:::AGE OF EMPIRES III:::...  [Developed by Ensemble Studios and Released on October 18 2005 by Microsoft Game Studios]
  177. -----Description-----
  178. Age of Empires III is the latest installment in the series of very popular real-time strategy games. The main idea of the gameplay remains unchanged: with the limited amount of resources and a handful of settlers, you must think about the expansion of your colony. Besides the strong economic thread, you should also think about the development of your army.
  179. The game offers you a complex single-player campaign that is divided into three acts. You can also challenge yourself in the multiplayer mode where you can command one of the European powers (from French to Russian).
  180.  
  181. -----Review----- [Written by Greg Kasavin over at GameSPOT on October 14 2005 and gave it 82%]
  182. Six years have flown by since Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings became one of the definitive real-time strategy games on the market. Age of Kings typified this style of gaming in many respects, but it innovated and improved the style in many others, establishing the template for untold numbers of historic real-time strategy games to come. Coming off the successful spin-off that was Age of Mythology, Ensemble Studios is back with another installment in the series that put the developer's name on the map. Age of Empires III advances the series hundreds of years into the future, trading swordsmen and catapults for musketeers and cannons, while keeping the series' signature formula basically intact. What's more, the game features some gorgeous visuals and an interesting, inventive twist in its persistent "home city" system. So it's unfortunate that the actual meat-and-potatoes combat of Age of Empires III didn't turn out better, since what ought to be the most fun and exciting part of the game is actually the part that feels like it's seen the fewest improvements.
  183.  
  184. Make no mistake, Age of Empires III is still an impressive game overall. But fans with fond memories of the previous installment will be left feeling nostalgic for that game. Part of the reason may be purely subjective. The colonial setting of Age of Empires III, which focuses on hypothetical conflicts between European powers vying for control over the New World (that is, an unfettered North and South America), presents a subtler culture clash than, say, samurai fighting Persian war elephants. And the transition through five different ages that's presented in the game, culminating in the industrial age (when locomotives and mass production became a reality), aren't drastically different in gameplay terms, since the magic of gunpowder is available from the get-go. Nevertheless, one look at either Age III's majestic galleons firing all broadsides or horse-drawn cannons readying a deadly payload ought to be all the convincing you need that this is a welcomed direction for the series to take.
  185.  
  186. Eight different European civilizations are at the forefront of Age of Empires III, though mercenaries from other foreign nations sort of make cameo appearances, and various Native American tribes are also included. The usual suspects are here, like the British, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch. The Russians, the Portuguese, the Germans, and the Ottomans are also available, and each has certain key differences in its economy and military leanings. These differences are significant in practice, such as how the British automatically gain additional workers when they build new houses, or how the Russians may quickly train up large numbers of light infantry. But the eight cultures' personalities don't necessarily come across in combat, because most of the units and structures unique to each side aren't so unique as to be highly distinguishable, and many units and structures are shared in common across most sides. There are certainly exceptions--the Ottomans, with their heavy emphasis on gunpowder, bring to bear some of the biggest and baddest guns in the game, for instance. And, oddly enough, British longbows seem just as surprisingly deadly here as they did in Age II. It's probably just a necessary consequence of the setting, but don't expect for Age III's factions to blow your mind by how different or unusual they are. Fortunately, each one is complex enough and seems viable enough to where it's easy to find an early favorite and want to stick with it.
  187.  
  188. Age of Empires III is every bit the fully featured game you'd expect it to be, featuring a lengthy single-player campaign in three interconnected acts, each one a generation apart. There's a fully customizable skirmish mode with five difficulty settings for the computer opponent; there's the ability to play over a network; and, of course, there's the ESOnline player-matching service, where you can compete in ranked matches over the Internet, chat with other players, and more. There's also a scenario editor, in case you wish to create your own maps or campaigns, plus some encyclopedic information about all the game's units, structures, cultures, circumstances, and more. A tutorial is there to teach you the basics, and you can also play a practice match in which a fairly helpful narrator will gently remind you of the stuff you're basically forgetting to do.
  189.  
  190. When you get right down to it, Age of Empires III plays a lot like Age II. It's been simplified in a number of ways that fans of the past game will quickly notice and mostly appreciate, but the overall flow of gameplay remains very similar. You're put in charge of a fledgling colony in the New World, and you must deploy workers from your town center, who may build new structures and harvest the game's three resources: food, wood, and coin. Stone, which was a fourth resource in Age II, is no longer a factor, and you don't have to worry about creating resource drop-off sites this time around (settlers sent to chop wood, for instance, will just chop away without ever heading back to a town center or lumberyard). A marketplace structure centralizes economic upgrades, and mills and plantations can be built to produce an infinite supply of food and coin, respectively. So later on in a match, you can safely stop worrying about micromanaging your resource gathering--at least until your foes swoop in and damage your economic foundation.
  191.  
  192. Meanwhile, additional houses must be built to support a growing population, and walls and defensive structures may be used to repel guerilla tactics. Military forces mainly consist of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and they're trained from separate structures. Most military units can be queued up five at a time, so rather than produce musketeers one by one, you can build a group--provided you have the resources. Presumably this is so you can quickly marshal some defenses if caught off guard, but it's strange that the same amount of time is needed to train one soldier as is needed to train five. You can effectively get an interest-free loan by training your first troop, then waiting until he's almost ready before quickly queuing up four more.
  193.  
  194. So in an average match, you'll spend a considerable amount of time building up your base and your economy, eventually marshaling a mixed group of forces with which you'll try to overwhelm your enemy. Dancing between your economy and your military, as you micromanage each in turn, is the key to victory. While the game's interface makes it fairly easy to keep track of what's happening on these fronts, your manual dexterity is still key to success, both when preparing for combat and when engaged in it. A lot of buildup can end very quickly if opponents aren't evenly matched, while equally skilled opponents may be at each other's throats for longer than an hour in a typical Age of Empires III match.
  195.  
  196. The game offers plenty of interface features for letting you keep tabs on everything, but when you get down to the combat, things are more chaotic and less true-to-life than you'd probably expect. Groups of units automatically form columns, just as you'd assume (infantry in front, artillery in back), and they move at the rate of the slowest unit. Unfortunately, when ordered to attack, they still move at that same slowest rate. So to make your cavalry effectively charge into battle, you must order them separately from your crossbowmen, and so on.
  197.  
  198. The neatly arranged ranks immediately break apart when the battle begins, with riflemen fanning out to attack and horse riders clumping around their targets and swinging away, rather than charging through the ranks. Units can all turn on a dime, so cannons have no trouble hitting moving targets, and the game's stately ships display some shockingly absurd behavior when in close quarters or near shore. Most units appear small onscreen, so it can be difficult to keep track of individual combatants in a hectic battle, especially since the game's frame rate will noticeably bog down--even on fast machines--when the bullets start flying. So not only does the game favor whoever brings to bear the biggest force in the first place, but also it favors whoever's got the fastest trigger finger in the West, not to mention the best frame rate, since you'll need to finesse some of your units around the battlefield to make the most of them. Granted, this is nothing out of the ordinary for a real-time strategy game, but that's just the problem: You might reasonably expect the long-awaited sequel to one of the best real-time strategy games of all time to have provided a good solution for what many players have identified as one of the genre's setbacks.
  199.  
  200. The imperialistic premise of Age of Empires III sets up the game's most unique feature: the concept of you having a home city looking out for your fledgling colony. At any time during play, you may instantly cut to your home city, which will occasionally send you aid in the form of resource surpluses, economic and military upgrades, and reinforcements. You can gain access to these shipments by earning experience points, which happens automatically as you build up your base and--better yet--kill foes and blow up their buildings. Different shipments are available in different ages (at first you can get just modest economic boosts, while later you can get cannons and cavalry), and most may only be used once. So you constantly have to weigh strategic options, like whether it's best to request reinforcements to mount an offensive or best to keep the option around should your enemy mount an ambush. The shipments system is both easy to use and interesting, and it also thankfully promotes somewhat of a more aggressive, more forgiving style of play than Age of Empires II.
  201.  
  202. What's more, your home city is permanent in that the experience you earn from one match to the next all adds up, gradually giving you access to more and more shipment options. You unlock these as "cards" every time your home city gains an experience level. More-powerful cards are available only when your city reaches level 10 (which you can reach after about that number of matches), and stronger ones are available at level 25. Certain cards have prerequisites, too, so the system is similar to a skill tree in a role-playing game.
  203.  
  204. In fact, Age III likens the home city concept to creating a character in an RPG, although the game's thin attempts to let you personalize your home city won't do much to make you grow attached to the place. But unlocking new cards can be pretty rewarding. You're limited to no more than 20 cards in a given match, but since it's possible to unlock many more than that, the game also invites you to build different decks to suit different situations. For example, shipments of free caravels and galleons won't be of much use to you in the Great Plains, but they'd certainly help when battling in the Caribbean. All eight cultures have different cards available to them (though many cards are shared in common), and ultimately you can use this system to add some panache to your playing style. One possible side effect of this system, though, is that it encourages you to pick a side and stick with it. When playing online, you can't just pick a random civ like you could in previous Age games, and you might not even want to anymore since it's tempting to want all your experience points going in to one bucket.
  205.  
  206. Age III makes a number of other changes to the series, though these may seem less original if you've kept up with real-time strategy gaming. For example, new colonies start with an explorer, an unkillable hero character whom you should use to reveal the fog of war around your starting area and who can also collect treasures and earn you experience early on. You'll find bandit camps, wild critters, and more guarding various trinkets that can help give you an economic edge in the beginning. More importantly, the explorer gives you something to do besides waiting for your resources to add up in the early going. If your explorer loses all his hit points, he collapses and may either be ransomed back for some coin or recovered by friendly units. As mentioned, you may also ally yourself with various Native American tribes by building trading posts on their reservations. Perhaps in the spirit of political correctness, Native American buildings cannot be destroyed, but by crushing a foe's trading post, his ties with the tribe are severed. Native American tribes each have a handful of units and economic upgrades you may purchase if you like, diversifying your strategy. Trading posts may be used in other places.
  207.  
  208. In previous Age of Empires games, you could win a match by building and defending one of the wonders of the world, as opposed to just stomping all your opponents back to the Stone Age. For better or worse, in Age of Empires III, conquest is the only option...down to the very last man. Annoyingly, you need to completely decimate the enemy's side to win a match. The opponent is free to resign at any time, but when playing against sore losers on the Internet, matches might easily drag on for longer than necessary because some uppity person insists on scattering a handful of peasants behind trees and in the corners of the map. There are ways to reveal the enemy's position very late in the game, but why Age of Empires III matches don't end at the destruction of an enemy colony, as opposed to with genocide, isn't particularly clear. It's also somewhat frustrating that your home cities gain experience separately online and offline. Presumably this is to prevent cheating, but it still makes you feel like you're wasting your time playing skirmish matches offline when you could be gaining "real" experience playing against opponents online. It's actually possible to gain experience online playing against the computer, but only if there's at least one other player in the match.
  209.  
  210. Speaking of the computer opponents in Age of Empires III, they range from numbingly brain-dead at the "easy" setting to challenging at the "hard" and "expert" settings. In the Age of Empires tradition, the computer is incompetent in maps with a lot of naval warfare in them. However, on land-based maps, it can set up an economy very efficiently (at higher difficult settings), and it can harass you with greater numbers, both of which can more than compensate for the computer's lack of subtlety. Playing against the artificial intelligence is good for practice, but playing against real players definitely makes for a better experience. That applies to the game's campaign as well. Beginning with an adventure that takes you in search of the legendary Fountain of Youth, the fictitious campaign in Age of Empires III consists mainly of just the sort of missions you've come to expect, along with the less-than-stellar voice work and awkward cutscenes to move the story along. It would be unfair to dismiss the campaign outright, since it helps teach you the ropes and presents you with some unique situations, not to mention a high volume of different missions. But it's pretty standard for a real-time strategy game, and the swashbuckling high-adventure feel of the storyline seems better suited to Age of Mythology than to Age of Empires.
  211.  
  212. Were it not for the awkward unit behavior and frame rate issues, Age of Empires III would look truly amazing. Maps with water on them are especially dramatic, as you can see waves gently rocking massive warships, whose cannons make them shudder from side to side. Ships, as well as buildings, break apart in chunks, with lots of fire and smoke all around, making for a spectacular sight. There are plenty of subtle animations to appreciate among the other military units in the game, and there's a good amount of variety to the environments, from the lush jungles of South America on up to the frigid Yukon. The combat has some thrilling moments, such as when a cannonball sends infantry careening every which way, but until the big guns come in to the picture, it all looks pretty tame. It's worth noting that Age of Empires III does a good job of autodetecting the best graphical settings for your system, and despite all the visual wizardry going on, it runs reasonably well--even on fairly modest systems.
  213.  
  214. The game sounds great, too, though in real-time strategy tradition, you'll hear the same unit acknowledgments over and over (at least they're mostly spoken in their native languages). Cannon fire is particularly dramatic, and when one force or another wins a skirmish, it's exciting to see all the men stand and cheer. The game's musical score flits between the different cultures' sounds while sticking well to the overall theme.
  215.  
  216. Age of Empires III has some very big shoes to fill, and on top of that, the real-time strategy market has grown hugely competitive due in no small part to Ensemble Studios' previous accomplishments. This latest game offers a lot of what made Age II so great, and it's got plenty of depth and lasting appeal, despite how most matches tend to begin and ultimately pan out similarly. Age III does seem surprisingly rough around the edges in some respects, and those expecting the game to revolutionize or even refresh this style of gaming may come away disappointed that their high expectations weren't met. But those looking for a complex and interesting real-time strategy game with fantastic good looks and some historical flavor will find just what they want in Age of Empires III.
  217.  
  218. ----Minimum System Requirements-----
  219. # Microsoft Windows XP
  220. # A computer that has a 1.4 gigahertz (GHz) processor
  221. # 256 megabytes (MB) of system RAM
  222. # A hard disk that has at least 2 gigabytes (GB) of available space
  223. # A 32x speed CD drive
  224. # A 64 MB video card that supports Hardware Transform and Lighting
  225. # An audio card and speakers or headphones
  226. # A Microsoft mouse or a compatible pointing device
  227. # A 56.6 kilobytes per second (KBps) or faster Internet connection for online play
  228. # DirectX 9.0c
  229.  
  230. ...:::AGE OF EMPIRES III: THE WARCHEIFS:::... [Developed by Ensemble Studios and Released on October 17 2006 by Microsoft Game Studios]
  231. -----Description-----
  232. In the first add-on for Age of Empires III you continue to play the story of the Black-family. Now you begin as Nathaniel Black, son of Nonahkee - a Iroquois - as he struggles to find his place in the new world. And with the Independence War not far away the decision for whom his heart beats, doesn't get any easier. Later you take control over Chayton Black, grandson of Nathaniel who needs to take the side of the Sioux or his fellow settlers during the Black Hills Gold Rush.
  233. The add-on adds three new playable parties to the game (Aztecs, Iroquois and Sioux) as well as several new units and buildings to the existing parties like a Spy or a Saloon.
  234.  
  235. -----Review----- [Written by Tom Chick over at 1UP at 17 October 2006 and gave it a 90%]
  236. Age of Empires III: Another of the series' trademark straight-up historical real-time strategy games. But now, with the Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs expansion, developer Ensemble renege on its historical reverence by adding Native Americans -- who recruit bears and jaguars, dance around a magical fire, and get mighty hero units. This pack even throws in more pirates and cowboys, and adds ninjas. No joke. Ninjas.
  237.  
  238. Luckily, Ensemble's at its best when it cuts loose. The team's crowning achievement remains Age of Mythology, a giddy mix of whimsical fantasy, reverent history, and a veteran developer's years of experience with RTS games. WarChiefs pulls Age of Empires III closer to Age of Mythology by making some bold choices for how the new Sioux, Iroquois, and Aztecs play...and discarding entire sets of rules in favor of new ones. It's a great move.
  239.  
  240. Remember forts? Don't need 'em. Cavalry? What's a horse? Have a little invisibility to help you raid villagers. Stalemates got you down? Control more than half of the outposts on the map and declare a trade monopoly. You might have thought the Dutch and Ottomans in the original game broke the paradigm. Yeah, those were the days -- when something as simple as villagers costing gold instead of food was considered wacky.
  241.  
  242. The Iroquois are the most conventional Native Americans, able to hit hard as they age up and discover gunpowder. You might remember their mantlets, ideal for killing buildings from behind big wooden shields. This time, the Iroquois bring along battering rams, too. Their insta-building travois give them a great deal of flexibility and unpredictability. The Sioux are excellent raiders -- fast, elusive, and free of housing-imposed limits. Finally, the oddball Aztecs completely lack horses and gunpowder. Sure, you laugh now but wait until you've got a dozen Skull Knights backed by a couple of Warrior Priests knocking at the doors of your town center.
  243.  
  244. Plenty of other changes litter the game. The European civs get their share of tweaks, like Spies (great for killing Native American heroes and mercenaries) and a new agile artillery piece. Everyone gets mercenaries at the saloon, and new cards pepper the Home City screens. But these are, mostly, the same Europeans you've played all along.
  245.  
  246. But then you get to the Imperial Age: Now you're faced with the dilemma of going industrial to continue your economy or declaring a revolution -- which essentially breaks the game. It's the equivalent of knocking your pieces off the board and replacing them with battleships and machine guns and nothing but.
  247.  
  248. The revolution choice illustrates the real thrill here: discovering new ways to play a game you thought you knew. Your first reaction's probably "Wait a minute, so you're telling me the Sioux don't get any artillery? None at all? How in the name of Crazy Horse am I supposed to bring down a French fort?" This leads to discovering the power of a pack of villagers doing the torch dance at a fire pit -- something to the tune of triple-plus damage against buildings. At this point, WarChiefs turns into an exciting exercise in completely rethinking old strategies. And this, after all, is what the best expansion packs do: not just add, but entirely revise.
  249.  
  250. -----Minimum System Requirements-----
  251. # Requires Age of Empires III to play
  252. # Microsoft® Windows® XP or higher
  253. # PC with 1.4 GHz equivalent or higher processor
  254. # 256 MB of system RAM
  255. # 2 GB available hard disk space
  256. # 32x speed or faster CD-ROM drive
  257. # 64 MB video card with support for hardware transformation and lighting required
  258. # DirectX 9.0 or later
  259. # 56K dial-up Internet Access or LAN required for online/multiplayer
  260. # Sound card, speakers or headphones required for audio
  261. # Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device
  262.  
  263.  
  264. ...:::AGE OF EMPIRES III: THE ASIAN DYNASTIES:::... [Developed by Big Huge Games and Released on 23 OCtober 2007 by M$ Game Studios]
  265. -----Description-----
  266. The Asian Dynasties is the second expansion for Age of Empires III and requires the original game to play. Three civilizations have been added: The Chinese, the Japanese and the Indians, with news maps in Asia as well as new world maps. Each of the 3 civilizations comes with a new campaign, consisting of 5 scenarios each. All of them can build wonders to advance through the ages (5 each), explorers are called monks and they can build a consulate to form alliances with European nations, along with export as a new kind of resource. Minor civilizations included are Bhakti, the Jesuits, the Sufis, the Shaolin, the Udasi, and the Zen.
  267. Each of the civilizations comes with a different kind of gameplay, relating to the way new civilians enter the scene, food and resources gathering, specific strong units with special abilities and a variety of buildings and military units. Multiplayer comes with new maps and 4 new game modes: King of the Hill (keep an area occupied), Regicide (protect a single Regent unit and kill your opponent's to win the game), Treaty (games with periods of peace and blockades), and Treaty No-Blockade (identical to Treaty but without the blockades).
  268.  
  269. -----Review----- [Written by Jason Ocampo over at GameSPOT at October 23 2007 and gave it a 75%]
  270. Since Age of Empires debuted in 1997, the series has grown to become one of the pillars of real-time strategy gaming. Its success is in part due to the way the series has shifted historical periods. The first game covers antiquity, from the Stone Age to the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, Age of Empires II focuses on the medieval era. And 2005's Age of Empires III is about the era of European exploration and colonization. This brings us to Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties, the second expansion pack and the first game in the franchise not created by Ensemble Studios. Big Huge Games, creator of Rise of Nations and Rise of Legends, is responsible for The Asian Dynasties, and the company ably delivers a solid expansion.
  271.  
  272. What the expansion brings to the table are three new Asian civilizations--Japan, China, and India--as well as three campaigns built around them. The Japanese campaign deals with the Warring States period of rival Shogun; the Chinese campaign actually covers a naval expedition to the New World; and the Indian campaign is about throwing off the oppressive yoke of the East India Trading Company. The campaigns have their twists and turns, with a fair amount of betrayal going on, though the characters are drawn in such obviously black-and-white textures that it's not too hard to see the plot developments coming. For instance, most of the bad guys in the game speak with haughty, arrogant voices, while the good guys tend to be humbler and wiser.
  273.  
  274. The heart of the expansion is the three Asian civilizations, and Big Huge has done a good job in making them feel distinct from those seen in Age of Empires III. The Japanese are built around extremely powerful infantry units like samurai, while the Chinese and Indians can easily bring sheer mass to a battle in the form of large armies. The various economies reflect historical trends; for example, the Chinese and Indians can quickly boost their populations, giving them hordes of villagers to gather resources. One of the most important new features is actually the reintroduction of wonders to the game. Wonders are notable structures from history, and they played a significant role in the first two Age of Empires games, only to disappear in Age of Empires III. They're back in The Asian Dynasties, and each Asian civ has five to choose from. The ones that you select can help define your play style; we like the Chinese wonder that grants transcendence, or the ability to heal all your units instantly. That's particularly useful if you like to go on the offensive. Other wonders can boost resource gathering, grant free armies, and so on. Wonders are also important because they're the only way the Asian civilizations can advance from one technological age to another.
  275.  
  276. At the same time, the core game remains relatively the same. It's all about getting a large number of villagers out there gathering the three primary resources (food, wood, and gold) that are needed to build all your buildings, recruit your units, research your upgrades, and then advance to the next technological age to repeat the process all over again. The home cities concept is still here; you can request reinforcements or supplies from your civilization's capital. You do this by using special cards that you unlock. There are cards that can send military units, villagers, and resources, for example. You can also build custom decks that are designed for various strategies, like an economic deck that gives you bonus powers that aid your economy. Another unique aspect of the Asian civs is that they can use many of these cards twice, which can really help ramp up the size of an army or economy quickly. Serious players will no doubt spend lots of time analyzing the possible unlocks and building customized decks for different play styles, though you don't need to expend that much effort if you're a casual player, as the default deck is good enough.
  277.  
  278. One new feature is the foreign consulate, which allows Asian civilizations to ally with a European power and purchase reinforcements using tribute, which is a fourth resource that's unique to Asian civs. Tribute is basically a tax on your economy, and you can increase your rate of tribute at the price of a slightly slower economy, but what it does is allow you to purchase rare and powerful European units. The sudden appearance of a European army or navy to the battle can turn the tide of battle. Since you need to have Age of Empires III to play The Asian Dynasties, you can pit European and Asian civilizations against one another in skirmish or multiplayer modes on a wide variety of maps. Want to have Chinese warriors in New England? Go for it. The sides seem relatively well balanced even though they differ in how they advance from age to age. The Europeans tend to have a technological advantage, though the Asian civs tend to have a numerical one.
  279.  
  280. The Asian Dynasties does add some visual pizzazz in the form of architecture; the majestic wonders and buildings pop out on the screen. There's also plenty of variety among the units, from Indian war elephants to Chinese steppe riders and Japanese samurai. The music also offers some appropriately cultural queues (though it reuses much of the existing Age of Empires III score).
  281.  
  282. Like The WarChiefs expansion from last year, The Asian Dynasties does a good job of introducing distinct new civilizations to Age of Empires III--only this time, instead of Native American tribes, there are three iconic Asian civilizations to play with now. There's a fair amount here to dig into if you're a serious Age of Empires fan or someone who likes Asian civilization.
  283.  
  284.  
  285. -----Minimum System Requirements-----
  286. # Requires Age of Empires III to play
  287. # Microsoft® Windows® XP or higher
  288. # PC with 1.4 GHz equivalent or higher processor
  289. # 256 MB of system RAM
  290. # 2 GB available hard disk space
  291. # 64 MB 3D video card with support for hardware transformation and lighting
  292. # 56K dial-up Internet access or LAN for multiplayer
  293. # Sound card, speakers or headphones required for audio
  294. # Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device
  295.  
  296. ...:::AGE OF MYTHOLOGY:::...  [Developed by Ensemble Studios and Released on 1 November 2002 by Microsoft Game Studios]
  297. -----Description-----
  298. After battling through the Age of Empires, it is time to go deeper into the history of mankind, and play in the Ancient cities of the true gods.
  299. Choose your scenario from three, the ancient Greeks, the Norse or the Egyptians, and build your new world into a true kingdom fitting for the Gods that your follow. But be wary of the evil that lives around your kingdom, as they wish to destroy you and your God.
  300. Many elements of the Empires series feature here, including the many economic options, an epic battle system and random maps. New to the series is a full 3D graphics engine, increasing the level of detail to include certain weather effects and the ability to play during any time of the day or night.
  301. During battle, you have the ability to not only lead an army full of hundreds of warriors and mythological creatures of all types, but you can also call on your God to lend a helping hand for a short period of time.
  302.  
  303. -----Review----- [Written by Unknown over at Worth Playing on 21 January 2003 and gave it an 87%]
  304. Ensemble Studios is back, extending their “Ages” universe with Age of Mythology. There is no doubt that Ensemble knows their stuff, but Age of Mythology is their biggest project yet and features a full 3D graphics engine unlike AoM’s predecessors. But more impressive than the graphical overhaul is the fact that they’ve managed to polish the game play to a pristine shine, so much so that it is almost-immediately engrossing even to non-RTS gamers. Fans of Ensemble’s previous work will surely feel right at home with Age of Mythology, but be warned gentle travelers, for AoM marks a distinct change from the previous Ages games in the fact that it is based purely on mythical (duh) fiction, as opposed to realistic war reenactments. Minotaurs, trolls, and frost giants take the place of ho-hum soldiers, spearmen and archers. While ludicrously diehard fans of the series may be initially put-off by AoM’s unusual universe, it won’t take but a few minutes to realize that this is the product of years of refinement and as such is one of the more engrossing RTS titles currently on the market.
  305.  
  306. Age of Mythology will inevitably be compared to WarCraft III at some point, and for the most part it is a justified comparison. Like WCIII you’ll be able to play from the perspective of three unique factions: the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Norse. While a scant three factions may seem puny in contrast to past Age of Empire games you have to consider that each faction is completely unique, with their own set of visual models and game play dynamics. Over time your faction will ally itself with different gods taken from ancient mythology, each god that you ally yourself with will give you special abilities – like raining thunderbolts down on a group of hapless enemies, or simply raining water down on your crops and such to quickly produce food – on top of which each deity will grant you a one-time-only miracle that, if used properly, can sometimes turn the tide of war. In all, there are nine major gods, and 27 minor gods, all of which offer completely distinctive contributions to your cause.
  307.  
  308. In terms of AoM’s single player campaign you can expect 32 missions, each with their own unique objectives and some of which are incredibly inventive. The story revolves around Arkantos, the feared and revered leader of Atlantis, as he initially sieges war on the city of Troy and eventually finds himself in a save-the-world-from-obliteration plot where gods choose sides and men choose gods. Over the course of the campaign the story will unfold one slice at a time, all the while keeping you anxiously awaiting the next revelation.
  309.  
  310. Age of Mythology certainly has its head in the right place, effortlessly introducing new units and dynamics gradually as you progress. But the foundational mechanics of real-time strategy games is completely intact. You’ll still need to gather and conserve resources, keeping a large amount of wood, gold, and food to preserve your units is essential. But no longer do you need to worry about stockpiling stone like in the Age of Empires games, that resource is replaced by “favor.” Favor refers to the favor of the gods that you’ve aligned yourself with, the more favor you have the more mythological units you can summon.
  311.  
  312. Accumulating favor is a fairly simple task that is made interesting by the fact that each faction has their own method for obtaining it. The Greek villagers must be assigned to praying at temples in order to win favor of the god’s. The Egyptian faction earns favor by constructing progressively larger monuments. And the Norse win favor by waging war.
  313.  
  314. Perhaps one of the most interesting facets of AoM is in its utilization of different game play dynamics from faction to faction. All three cultures work to the same ends but by different means. Accumulating resources and keeping a steady flow of infantry construction is the name of the game here, but the way they go about it differs in method. For example, the Egyptians are able to construct buildings without using wood as the other two factions do, but the actual construction process is considerably longer in contrast. Before you are given free reign over a new faction you are given the opportunity to view a quick (and I do mean quick) tutorial that outlines the differences of the faction.
  315.  
  316. Strewn throughout each landscape are relics that offer unique advantages, and for this reason alone, it is a good idea to devote a few units to scouting the area. Only hero characters are able to actually retrieve these relics however. Hero units are also particularly useful for taking out myth units. But you’ll need a good balance of cavalry, foot soldiers, myth units, archers, and vehicle based troops in order to successfully take on a fleshed out opposing force. Because, while myth units may be nearly unstoppable against conventional forces they are vulnerable to hero units. And, while hero units can efficiently deal with myth units, a horde of conventional forces can easily deep-six hero units. So it is safe to assume that the “kill everything” dynamic of most RTS games is thrown out the window and instead Ensemble has chosen to focus more on strategy and less on brute force tactics.
  317.  
  318. But don’t go thinking that Ensemble has ditched that visceral and immense scope of combat that has helped to make the series so popular. Oh no, you’ll still be able to command legions of troops to clash against equally massive enemy armies and watch as bodies fall and few arise victorious. I guess it is the diversity in strategy that really sets this game apart from the crowd. If you prefer you can implement Sun Tzu tactics, surrounding small enemy encampments when you out number them 10 to 1, or going for straightforward frontal attacks followed by surprise attacks when you outnumber the resistance 5 to 1, etc. And while Age of Myth certainly caters to an assortment of preferential strategy there is no doubt that more thought out strategies will result in more victories in the art of war.
  319.  
  320. While the single-player campaign is great fun, offerings lots of diversity from mission to mission and plenty of overall lasting appeal, there is also the random map mode which is essentially the same as the one found in Age of Empires II, albeit with a considerably larger assortment of maps. Not to mention the conquest and death match modes which make for significant increases in the game’s replay value. Up to 11 computer controlled opponents can be included in these modes of play and you are also able to customize each one in terms of regulatory rules and difficulty settings, definitely a nice touch. And lets not forget online play where you can seek out an opponent of varying degrees of skills at literally any time of the day or night. Quite simply AoM has its bases covered with a fully-realized single player campaign and loads of multiplayer gaming bliss.
  321.  
  322. From a visual standpoint Age of Mythology succeeds in creating a believable world of myth that is brimming with lush scenery and overflowing with character. Every unit is adequately distinct aesthetically making carefully selected point-and-click affairs incredibly simple, though the hero units do tend to be somewhat lacking in terms of overall detail. The numerous battles that you’ll inevitably find yourself in are enacted in such a way that you really feel as if the units are aggressively tearing each other apart as opposed to watching a badly choreographed combat encounter. And each of the three factions are completely different visually, you won’t see any recycled character textures or designs, which is a good thing since only three controllable factions is a drop in the bucket compared to previous Ensemble RTS’s.
  323.  
  324. The audio presentation is decked out with an enchanting soundtrack that changes from faction to faction, lots of believable battle sound effects, and wholly respectable voice acting. Unfortunately AoM is something of a one-trick-pony in regards to audible unit reactions, fans of WarCraft III will scoff at this game’s scant two unit quips, but surprisingly the quick vocal confirmations from units never seem to graduate to the point of being annoying. There are lots of ambient sound effects that help to immerse you into its fictitious world and audible cues for off-screen events that help you to keep on top of what’s going on.
  325.  
  326. Clearly Ensemble has devoted a lot of talent to Age of Mythology, what was already an excellent RTS series is only exponentially improved with AoM. It goes without saying that if you are a strategy fan that this game should be in your library of titles, but what is really surprising is that AoM is also extremely accessible even to newcomers of the genre. Start saving those pesos hombres, because Age of Mythology is a do-not-miss-under-any-circumstances experience that will keep you glued to your monitor for ages.
  327.  
  328. -----Minimum System Requirements-----
  329. # Microsoft Windows 98, Windows ME, Microsoft Windows 2000 or Microsoft Windows XP
  330. # 128 megabytes (MB) of RAM.
  331. # Approximately 1.5 gigabytes (GB) of available hard-disk space.
  332. # 16 MB 3D video card is required; 32 MB video card is recommended.
  333. # DirectX 8.0-compatible sound card with speakers or headphones.
  334. # Multimedia computer with a Pentium 450 megahertz (MHz)-or-higher processor.
  335. # 4x CD-ROM.
  336. # Microsoft Mouse or other compatible pointing device.
  337. # A 56-kilobits-per-second (kbps) modem for multiplayer games with one to four players.
  338. # Broadband or local area network (LAN) for multiplayer games with five or more players.
  339.  
  340. ...:::AGE OF MYTHOLOGY: THE TITANS:::... [Developed by Ensemble Studios and Released September 30 2003 by M$ Game Studios]
  341. -----Desciprtion-----
  342. Age of Mythology: The Titans expansion pack adds a fourth mythology, the Atlanteans, to the existing Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythologies. A new single-player campaign opens another chapter to the franchise's expansive folklore along with the addition of new scenarios. Atlanteans have the power to call upon the might of the Titan gods--such as Atlas and Cronus--multiple times throughout the game and upgrade human units to heroes. The Titans introduces 12 new god powers, 15 new human units, and 10 formidable myth units.
  343.  
  344. ----Review----- [Written by Steev Butts over at IGN at September 29 2003 and gave it 89%]
  345. With three big expansions for each of the three major brands in the RTS market, it's been a very good year for strategy gamers. And while gamers have already been able to feast on the expansions for the Warcraft and Command and Conquer series, it's taken us just a bit longer us to finally get our hands on the expansion to Ensemble's Age of Mythology series. But as we suspected, it's an expansion well worth the wait.
  346.  
  347. Ten years after the fall of Atlantis, the House of Arkantos is again called to action. You play now as Kastor, son of Arkantos, the first game's hero. Arkantos has since transcended his mortal state and he and the god Poseidon move away leaving the Atlanteans to fend for themselves. On the heels of this abandonment, the Titans begin their rise to power. Formerly imprisoned during the Titanomachy, they're starting to break out and the Atlanteans see their salvation in an alliance with these ancient powers. Needless to say, this alliance isn't something that the other civilizations are anxious to support.
  348.  
  349. This is the basic background for the 12 missions of the single player campaign. And though you'll have the chance to take a commanding role leading the forces of the Norse and Egyptians, most of the time you'll be playing with the game's new Atlantean civilization. The missions retain the same sense of limited aim that was so refreshing in the core game. Rather than tasking you with eliminating all of your enemies, the missions in The Titans come with much less comprehensive goals. You'll need to rescue certain units, destroy particular structures or merely avoid destruction long enough to escape the level entirely.
  350.  
  351. The Atlanteans differ from the other cultures in a number of interesting ways. To begin with, all Atlantean units, including villagers, have the potential to become heroes. This makes them much more effective when dealing with the myth units of other civilizations and, since they're not limited to a set number of named heroes like the Greeks, you'll now be able to field as many heroes as the Egyptians and Norse did in the previous game.
  352.  
  353. To protect these hero units, you'll need to fend off attacks from enemy soldiers. Continuing the rock-paper-scissors design of the previous game, heroes kill myth units, myth units kill ordinary soldiers and ordinary soldiers kill heroes. On the myth side of things, the Atlanteans can field self-repairing automatons who are great at taking on enemy forces, flying Caladrians who can heal your units or satyrs who can throw spears at distant enemies. Nearly 12 other myth units round out the Atlantean forces. Human-wise, you'll be able to create the same types of units that comprise the infantry-cavalry-archer dynamic along with a few new siege weapons. I quite like the Fanatics, who are equipped to take down any non-ranged enemies and the equally all-purpose Contarius cavalry.
  354.  
  355. A handy repeat button lets you queue up a number of units and then lock that production sequence down. When the building completes the last unit in the series, it starts over again at the beginning. This is an awesome feature as it lets you focus on the tactics of battle while ensuring that a sufficient number of reserves are being built up at your base. Resource juggling can become a bit of an issue here but an awareness of your villagers and population cap can help you keep things in line.
  356.  
  357. Rather than gaining favor through worship, combat or construction like the other civilizations, the Atlanteans only generate favor through ownership of town centers. Since they can construct town centers in earlier ages than the other civilizations, they can get a real jump on favor collection. In terms of other resources, the Atlanteans don't require any special collection building to turn in resources. A new structure, called the economic center, provides all the upgrades that would normally be found at mines, granaries and mills. You can also now hover your mouse over a particular resource to see how many villagers are collecting from it.
  358.  
  359. The Titans take a role as the gods of the Atlanteans. Kronos is probably my personal favorite as he allows you limited control over space and time. Through his intervention you can immediately deconstruct any building on the map and repay its owner its build cost. Kronos also allows you to expend resources to teleport your own completed buildings to any point your heroes can see. Oranos' shockwave power is perfect for taking out small groups of units. You can also transport units between any of his sky passages located on the map. The third Titan, Gaia, can create forests for you to harvest and will automatically heal your buildings.
  360.  
  361. Other minor gods play important roles as well. As you advance through the ages you'll open up more and more of these lesser gods. Some, like Oceanus, grant you certain healing abilities. Other Titans have more directly destructive designs. Hyperion can target a group of units and make them hostile to all forces on the map, while Helios' vortex power will instantly transport all of your military units to a given location. The Atlanteans also benefit from reusable god powers. Though Prometheus' ability to grant hero status to regular units is exciting enough, the fact that you can use it a couple of times per game makes it even more attractive.
  362.  
  363. But though the Titans are the gods of the Atlanteans, the Titans of the game's title encompass a bit more. Each civilization in the game gets a new super Titan unit, accessible very late in the game. For the Norse, it's a large ice troll; for the Egyptians, it's a giant hawk-headed warrior. These monsters dwarf every other unit on the map, both in terms of size and strength. It's not rare to see heated multiplayer games where one side is desperately attacking enemy forces who are trying to dig up a Titan for their use.
  364.  
  365. While the Titans look great in action, you won't be seeing them nearly as much as the other cool units and effects in the game. Everything's rendered in such a way as to preserve continuity with the rest of the series and you'll be hard pressed to tell which units are new and which ones aren't. The real eye candy is reserved for god powers though. You definitely don't want to miss the warm rays that surround Gaia's lush spells or the bizarre blue energy that accompanies a building's time shift (complete with the pieces of the building falling together over time).
  366.  
  367. So far, so good, right? Well, if I had to find something wrong with the overall conception of the title, it would be that Ensemble's simply broadened one of the existing pantheons rather than incorporated something entirely new. Granted, the Norse, Greek and Egyptian mythologies have a tremendous resonance and are among the more complex belief systems to have survived. So the team at Ensemble has a limited field from which to pick the new civilization for the expansion.
  368.  
  369. Though the Atlanteans are definitely distinct, they do bear a strong resemblance, at least cosmetically, to the Greeks. How much better would it have been to include something much newer? Contemporary civilizations like the Celts, Indians or Persians have mythologies as exciting and intricate as the Greeks, Norse and Egyptians and I can't help but think that any of those civs would have made a more interesting choice than the Atlanteans. But perhaps that's something Ensemble is planning for a possible sequel. Perhaps they'll even go further east to encompass creatures and heroes from Far Eastern myths. Hint, hint.
  370.  
  371. There are also still a few features missing from the game. For one, I still can't fathom why Ensemble's done away with the excellent and informative post-battle stats screens for the single player campaign. Sure, not every mission requires you to go head-to-head with each of your rivals, but it would still be nice to see some info on how your economy and military stack up against those of your rivals.
  372.  
  373. Hotkey tips on mouse-overs would get players more familiar with the shortcuts they'll need to compete in multiplayer. That info is listed in the manual, of course, but it would be great to reinforce them with in-game tips. Player who bother to search for them will be rewarded with hotkeys for virtually every action in the game, from ordering construction to selecting buildings to queuing units.
  374.  
  375. Beyond that there were one or two other small gripes. Twice after loading a game, I found the objective banner completely disappeared. What's more, it appears as if the trigger to end the particular scenario also completely disappeared. Restarting the level from scratch corrected this problem in both cases and, if I hadn't wasted thirty minutes trying to achieve the objective anyway, I wouldn't even have bothered to mention it. I'd also like to see more continuity between the missions in terms of units. Since so many of your missions are near escapes, it would be great to reward players who manage to come through with most of their units still alive.
  376.  
  377. In terms of single player skirmish and multiplayer matches, the game offers a range of new personalities for AI opponents. Standard opponents are just that, the basis by which all the others are judged. Attackers start early and often with assaults on your base while conquerors prefer to build up massive armies before taking you on. Since they put almost no effort in to fortification, both personalities are susceptible to the same tactics they employ. Builders prefer to focus on the economy until quite late in the game when they are capable of fielding large armies very quickly. Protectors and defenders are more turtle-minded, with the main difference being whether or not they'll expand in to new areas or not.
  378.  
  379. Since the game isn't due out until Tuesday, we haven't had much luck finding online opponents. Still, the game's we've played on our LAN here at work have run quite smoothly. Ensemble has done much to streamline the interface of the multiplayer game, including options for quick match searches, new filters and even a friends lists complete within the ESO structure.
  380.  
  381. I had an absolute blast playing this game again. While you'll get around a dozen hours with the new single-player campaign, there are more than enough multiplayer options to keep you busy. But even if you never venture online, the $30 asking price is more than enough to justify the new units and new missions for fans of the game. Since it's unlikely that you've read this far without already being somewhat interested in the game to begin with, that's as good an endorsement as you're likely to get.
  382.  
  383. Sure, I'd still like to have seen a completely new civilization based on an entirely different set of myths, but The Titans serves as a nice coda to the previous game, which I'm not sure would've been possible if the series had branched out a bit more. In the end, the balance and personality are what keep me coming back for more.
  384.  
  385. -----Minimum System Requirements-----
  386. # Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows 2000 or Windows XP
  387. # Multimedia computer with a Pentium 450 MHz-or-higher processor.
  388. # 128 MB of RAM.
  389. # 16 MB 3D video card.
  390. # Approximately 450 MB of available hard-disk space.
  391. # 32x CD-ROM Drive.
  392. # 56.6 kbps or better for Internet play.
  393.  
  394. ....:::NOTES:::...
  395. Huge pack as the description proves and took me a long time to gather everything and doing all the cutting and pasting so I really hope at least one person appreciated it =]
  396. Enjoy ^_^