RPG fans like nothing more than to take control of a character or group of characters, and immerse themselves fully in a fantasy world where they can increase their character’s stats, find magical and rare weapons, and rescue a kingdom or two. It’s pure hero fantasy…and there’s nothing wrong with that!
Shining Force: The Legacy of Great Intention is a fantasy turn-based tactical RPG. It was developed by Climax Entertainment and Camelot Co. Ltd., and published by Sega in 1992 in Japan, and 1993 in North America and Europe. Released on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, it would later be released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 (under the title of Shining Force: Resurrection of Dark Dragon), Wii Virtual Console in 2007, iOS in 2010 (discontinued in 2015), and Windows, Linux and Mac (Steam) in 2011. It can also be found as part of the Sega Smash Pack Volume 1 on the Dreamcast, Sega Smash Volume 2 for Microsoft Windows, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for Xbox 360 and PlayStation3. For this review, I revisited the version found as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3.
Millenia ago, in the Kingdom of Rune, a battle between good and evil took place. Dark Dragon, who led the forces of evil, was defeated by the Warriors of Light who cast him into an alternate dimension. Dark Dragon vowed to return in 1000 years to once more wreak havoc in Rune. 1000 years later, in which time peace and tranquillity existed in Rune, the Kingdom of Runefaust attacked Rune hellbent on helping Dark Dragon to return.
A young man named Max, who lives in the Kingdom of Guardiana, is sent to defeat the evil warrior Kane and his army. Along with an army of his own, Max soon discovers that Darksol is behind the plot and pursues him throughout Rune to stop Dark Dragon’s ressurection.
Max (You): Max is human and an all-round fighter, both fast and accurate. If things are looking bleak during a battle, he can cast Egress to whisk your party away to safety. Be warned, if Max is defeated in battle, you automatically lose the confrontation, and are sent back to your last save spot minus half your gold! To prevent this, keep an eye on his health and don’t be afraid to use Egress or keep a supply of Angel Wings for each member of your party (Angel Wings have the same use as Egress).
Luke: Luke is a dwarf and a great warrior. He cannot cast spells and his movement is limited, but he is strong.
Ken: Ken is a centaur and a good fighter. Centaurs have quite a long movement range so be careful he doesn’t go too far and get separated from the group.
Tao: Tao is a young elf who is training to be a mage. As she gains experience, she will be able to cast spells from afar but she is weak in hand-to-hand combat. Make sure your protect her.
Hans: Hans the Elf is an archer, perfect for ranged attacks. Again, protect him from hand-to-hand combat.
Lowe: Lowe is a halfling priest. Although weak in attack, his skill lies in healing your party during battles.
There are nine other characters who will join your party along the but you’ll have to wait to meet them to find out who they are.
For the most part, the game takes place from an almost top-down view, in the traditional Japanese-style of RPGs. There are no labyrinths, and only a few puzzles to solve. You must make your way through various towns and through the overworld map in pursuit of Darksol. In the towns, you can talk to the citizens, some of whom offer insights to help you progress. You can buy and sell weapons and items from the shops to assist you on your quest. You can also find priests who can resurrect fallen characters, cure them of various ailments, promote those who have reached level 20, and record your progress.
Unlike many other RPGs, there are no random battle encounters as such, but there are areas where you can find battles should you wish to increase your stats before progressing in the game.
Battles take place on a square-grid system. Depending on their stats, characters can only move a certain number of squares at one time. Depending on your proximity to an enemy, you can either attack with a weapon, cast a spell, use an item or choose to do nothing. If you are adjacent to a member of your own party, you can swap items. This does not class as a move, and so items can be exchanged without losing your turn.
When an attack occurs, a beautifully animated action scene appears with a blue dialogue screen explaining damage inflicted or sustained, and experience points and money earned etc. When an enemy is hit by your weapon or spell, your attacking character will earn experience points for themselves. When an enemy is defeated, a larger amount of experience points will be awarded to your attacking character and the money earned will be added to your party’s kitty. For every 100 points accrued, that character will level-up increasing their attack, defence, MP, agility etc. Once a character reaches level 20, they can be promoted to a different class of fighter.
How Does It Handle?
With intuitive menu system that is identical to Shining in the Darkness (1991), you’ll have no issues learning to how to play this game. This instalment is linear in story so you won’t find yourself going back to the same areas to solve puzzles and gather dirty information which some feel make this game a bit too easy.
What can I say other than this game looks beautiful. The overworld map and village scenes are bright and vibrant, and detailed with clear distinction between the sprites and environment. The fight scenes are beautifully illustrated and animated with incredible looking sprites, action shots and backgrounds. I really cannot compliment this game enough on its graphics. For me, they are superior to games like Final Fantasy V (1992), Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992) and Paladin’s Quest (1992). However, by the time this game reached North America and Europe, the SNES was beginning to take the graphics up a notch with games like Secret of Mana (1993) and Illusion of Gaia (1993). Had Shining Force been released a year or two later, it would have looked a but dated.
The only thing that lets this game down for me, is the music. By 1992, both Nintendo and Sega had released games with fantastic 16-bit soundtracks like Super Mario World (1990) and Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) respectively. Now I know that these are different genres from Shining Force, but it is an indication of how good the music could be in games. I just feel that Shining Force loses a few marks in this department.
Not all your army will gain the highest possible levels. This means you may wish to play through again and ensure characters who didn’t achieve their potential, do so a second time round just to see what they are like. This adds some replay value to this game.
Did I Complete The Game?
What The Critics Said:
Mean Machines Sega: “A beautifully crafted piece of Megadrive software with just the right balance of action and adventure to satisfy all needs. Overall 91%”.
Sega Power: “A beautifully produced RPG. Great tactical battle sequences. Loads of unique, cute characters, speedy gameplay and lots to see ‘n’ do. Gorgeous to play and look at. Overall 89%”.
Megatech:“Finely presented combination of exploration and fighting leads Shining Force to victory. Overall 90%”.
Mega: “Huge, gorgeous looking, and absorbing. I’ll never scoff at an RPG again. Overall 92%”.
“Blood, death, war, rumpy-pumpy, TRIUMPH!!! I love this game. Shining Force looks beautiful with great graphics, illustrations and animations with plenty of different characters to get to know. The chess-like manoeuvring during battles is challenging and enables you to prepare your army for strategic assaults on the enemy. However, hardened RPG players may find this game a tad easy though.”
What are your memories of Shining Force? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
Every once in a while, a game comes along and raises the bar for video games everywhere. In the 70s there was Space Invaders, Pong, and Asteroids. In the 80s you had Pacman, Super Mario Bros. and Tetris. In 1991 Street Fighter II hit the arcade and was an instant hit with people lining up to spend their pocket money for a few minutes of intense action.
Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting is a competitive fighting game developed and published by Capcom for the arcade and released in 1992. It is part of a sub-series of Street Fighter II games along with Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers, Super Street Fighter Turbo, and Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition. I will not be reviewing each sub-series instalment individually, so they will all be lumped in together. For this review, I revisited Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting version that can be found of the SNES Mini.
Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting was also ported to the following:
1992 – Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum ZX and PC (DOS)
1994 – CPS Changer
1995 – Game Boy
1997 – Master System
1998 – Saturn and PlayStation
2004 – Mobile
2006 – PlayStation 2, XBox and PlayStation Portable
2018 – PlayStation 4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows
According to Street Fighter “canon”, Ryu won the first tournament by defeating Sagat. During the battle, Sagat was badly injured by Ryu, hence his chest scar, and suffered a mental breakdown. Later, the story seems to have changed a bit. Now, Sagat was winning the fight quite easily. When Ryu had been knocked down, Sagat offers a hand to help him up. Ryu, possibly affected by the darker nature of his martial art, takes advantage of this show of mercy and performs a Shoryuken to Sagat’s chest. Ryu goes on to win the tournament. Sagat melts away, is recruited by M. Bison and joins Shadaloo (Shadowloo – a powerful and deadly criminal organisation).
So, we find ourselves entering a second tournament. Who are the competitors?
Ryu is the champion of the first tournament and a student of Shotoken karate. Dedicating his entire life to martial arts, Ryu has no home, no family or friends. He wanders the globe testing his skills against other fighters.
Ken is also a student of Shotoken karate, but has a huge ego to match his fighting ability. In recent years, Ken has not been training as hard, and is not as sharp as he used to be. A challenge from fellow student Ryu prompts Ken back into action and he enters the tournament.
E. Honda is the greatest sumo wrestler of all time and has received the highly prestigious title of “Yokozuna” (Grand Champion). After hearing that the world doesn’t consider sumo wrestling a true sport, he has entered the tournament to prove himself.
Guile is ex-special forces. He was captured and imprisoned, along with co-pilot Charlie, during a mission to Cambodia (or Malaysia depending on which information you read). After months of imprisonment in the jungle, they escaped and began their long trek back to civilisation. Along the way Charlie died, and Guile has been seeking vengeance ever since.
Chun-Li is an undercover Interpol officer secretly tracking a smuggling organisation known as Shadowloo. The trail leads to the tournament in which she enters, believing that one of the Grand Masters (Balrog, Vega, Sagat or M. Bison) is responsible for her father’s death.
Blanka is somewhat of an enigma. From the rainforest of Brazil, he is the source of reported sightings of a creature that is half-man, half-beast. Recently he has been found wandering into cities and fighting whoever dares to confront him.
Zangief is a proud Russian. He loves his country and he loves fighting! One of his favourite pastimes is wrestling bears, hence the scars all over his body.
Dhalsim has spent a lifetime dedicating himself to yoga. He has a disciplined mind, but now he wishes to enter the tournament to test his fighting skills. Proving himself will help him gain a higher state of consciousness.
Balrog (based on boxer Mike Tyson) is a former Heavyweight boxing champion who has been banned from the ring for disobeying the rules. He is very strong and very aggressive, and fights in the streets of Las Vegas for money. He is also bodyguard to M. Bison.
Vega is a nobleman by birth, and has spent time blending Ninjitsu with skills learnt while he was a matador. He has been nicknamed the “Spanish Ninja”.
Sagat was once labelled “King of the Street Fighters” but has since lost this title due to being defeated by Ryu in the first tournament. Skilled in Muay Thai boxing, he plans to regain his title in this tournament.
M. Bison is a mysterious but powerful man. He is the leader of the criminal organisation Shadowloo and the ultimate boss that must be defeated to ensure victory.
Street Fighter II can be played in one or two-player modes. In one-player mode, once you have selected a fighter, you must battle your way through all the other opponents before fighting the Grand Masters: Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison. There are eight difficulty settings allowing for less experienced players to practice on easier settings. Each character has their own motivation for entering the tournament, and in order to see each character’s own unique ending, you need to defeat the game on at least level six (as I recall but I may be wrong).
Each character is distinct (although nowadays some argue a little stereotyped) and has their own individual fighting styles, except for Ken and Ryu who have the same Shotoken fighting style.
How Does It Handle?
Like all great games, Street Fighter II is easy to play but difficult to master. Once the fun of the one-player mode has been exhausted, Street Fighter II really comes into its own with a highly addictive two-player mode. All over the world, you can be guaranteed to bump into people who have memories and stories about rainy afternoons and late nights with friends playing into the the early hours of the morn. Additionally, during one and two-player modes, you can increase the fun and challenge even more by turning the time limit on or off, and increasing or decreasing the speed of the game.
The fights take place all over the world with beautifully illustrated and animated backdrops. The characters are highly detailed and are easily recognisable.
Music & SFX
The music is memorable, with each fighter having their own distinct tune. Some, annoyingly, get stuck in your head. Many of the phrases from the fighters such as hadouken, yoga flame and tiger uppercut have be one part of our everyday lexicon.
Did I Complete The Game?
I have completed the game in the sense that I have finished the game with all 12 characters and have seen their respective endings. However, I have not defeated the game with all 12 players on the hardest setting.
What The Critics Said:
Edge Magazine: “If you own SNES SFII it’s still a tricky decision whether you should buy Turbo: at current import prices, probably not. But if you’ve yet to be introduced to the genteel art of street-fighting, and have a few pounds to shed, SFII Turbo is the one to get. Overall 9/10“.
Gamepro:“Despite the minor quibbles with the AI of the computer, the repetitive crowd-noise effect, and the removal Re-Dizzy Combos from CE mode, SF II Turbo is worth every penny for its boss and speed features alone. Overall 5/5“.
Nintendo Power:“This game is a must have for all Super NES players who like action and competition. Overall 4/5“.
Electronic Games:“For those looking for a good fighting game, Street Fighter II is the best to date. Capcom should be proud. This translation has no equal. Overall 94%“.
Superplay:“Faults? Well, as a one-player game it’s superb, but inevitably has its limits – it’s the two-player game that makes it so great, even trouncing Super Tennis for laughs and general lasting interst. Overall 94%“.
Super NES Buyer’s Guide: “Spectacular graphics, great animations and realistic sounds make this a great game to get! Overall 9.3/10“.
Electronic Gaming Monthly: Steve: “All the moves, graphics, gameplay and sounds are rolled into a 16-Meg cartridge that will do anything but disappoint fans of the arcade original or fighting games in general. Awesome! Overall 9.5/10“.
N-Force: “The smooth animation’s poetry in motion, it’s martial art! Apart from minor control problems which will be remedied with the new joypad, this is everything you could ask for. If you’ve got a SNES you’ve got to get a copy. It’s the game of the year! Overall 96%”.
Megazone: “Street Fighter II is already and undoubted classic on the arcades and this classy conversion will be a smash hit for the Super Nintendo. Overall 95%“.
Best Game of the Year (All Games Systems) & (SNES) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992
Best Video Game Ending (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992
Joint winner of Best Video Game Babe (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992
Hottest New Character in a Video Game (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992
Best Trick That Didn’t Work (All Systems) – Electronic Gaming Monthly’s Best and Worst of 1992
According to Wikipedia, Street Fighter II won several more accolades, but as of yet, I have been unable to find the original magazines to verify.
“Memorable characters, memorable music, and fab gameplay. SFII has multiple difficulty levels, plenty of different characters to use, and a competitive two-player mode, giving this game huge replay value. SFII remains close to the hearts of gamers everywhere.”
What are your memories of Street Fighter II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
Adventure game creators have always sought to immerse gamers into their imaginary worlds but have sometimes been limited by technology. For example, I remember some early Spectrum games that were simply text based. Although they were fun, I never felt immersed in the game. Myst was the first game I played where I felt that the immersion experience was successful on me. Other people’s opinions may differ of course, but I can only tell you how I felt about it. I should also warn you that there is a spoiler near the end of the review.
Myst is a graphics adventure puzzle game developed by Cyan Inc. and published by Brøderbund Software. It was released for the Macintosh in 1993, Windows in 1994, 3DO in 1995, and PlayStation in 1996. A remake was released for Windows in 2000 and Macintosh in 2002, and the realMyst: Masterpiece Edition was released on Steam in 2014. The game was ported to many other platforms including Sega Saturn, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Android, iPhone, Nintendo 3DS, Jaguar CD, Amiga OS, CD-I, For this review, I replayed the original Windows version.
You play as an unnamed protagonist who has fallen into a fissure and appeared on a mysterious island. Where are you and how the hell do you leave?
As you explore the island you learn more about its history and the worlds you will soon visit. Some notes also offer hints to help you progress through the game. You soon learn that you need to gather blue and red pages and restore them to two books found in the observatory. Two brothers, Sirrus and Achenar, have been trapped inside these books. As each one speaks to you through garbled transmissions, they explain that the other brother is mad and has imprisoned them in their respective books. They both try to convince you to free them instead of the other brother, both claiming that the other brother murdered their father. To find the pages you must explore several other worlds and solve various puzzles.
How Does It Handle?
You are able to move and turn by using a cursor to click the route you wish to take or the direction you wish to turn. You can also interact with objects by clicking and dragging them.
One of the more interesting aspects of this game is that you are simply thrust into this game with virtually no back story and no idea what you have to do, and oddly, you cannot die! At first you are simply wandering around, searching for buildings to enter and objects to interact with. This can be quite off putting to some as it can take a while to understand what the hell is going on. Some of the puzzles are fun and challenging. Others are less obvious to solve. One annoying aspect of the game is having to return to the same worlds to collect the other page you didn’t collect on your first visit, as you can only pick up one at a time. For me, this is a cheap way of extending the life of the game.
The animations are not as smooth as modern games, and the 3D design of the worlds look dated, but I think the game has held up pretty well. The graphics really draw you in.
Music & SFX
Upon revisiting Myst 25 years later, I appreciate how the background music and minimalistic SFX bring an eerie air to the game adding to the feeling of being truly alone.
I remember when this game was released, and I played it with a school friend. However, we never got that far as it was a bit too difficult for our teenage brains. When I came back to it years later, I fared better having gained much experience with these sorts of games. Back then, I thought the graphics were out of this world.
There are four possible endings, with one of them being the true ending. However, the true ending is frustratingly and unsatisfyingly none existent and I found myself wandering Myst for some time before searching online to see if I had missed something. Nope, sure enough there is no ending. I guess I will have to play the sequel Myst: Riven, to see what happens next.
Did I Complete The Game?
Yes, but definitely needed help from the walkthrough on this on!
What The Critics Said:
Gamespot.com: “Myst is an immersive experience that draws you in and won’t let you go. Overall 8.9/10”
“This is a tough game and seems to be aimed towards more experience adventure gamers. However, I loved the concept of the game, and the ambient music and SFX immerses you into the game. I just feel it could have been so much better if more story was included. I also felt the way you can only carry one coloured page at a time, meaning you have to go through each world twice, was a cheap way to prolong the game. I mean, who can’t carry two pages!”
What are your memories of Myst? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
Age of Empires (AoE) allowed you to take part in the rise and domination of ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians, Yamato and Romans. The Roman Empire has now collapsed and a power vacuum has appeared in Europe. You can take control of civilisations such as the Mongols, Holy Roman Empire, Moors, and Franks, and follow the stories of some of history’s most famous leaders such as Joan of Arc, William Wallace, El Cid, Saladin, and Barbarossa. It’s time to shine up your armour, sharpen your weapons, and prepare to build an army capable of dominating your enemies. We are now in the Age of Kings!
The Age of Kings
Released in 1999, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is a real-time strategy game and the sequel to Age of Empires. It was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft (for Windows and Macintosh), and Konami ( for Playstation 2) for the 2001 port. A spin-off was created for the Nintendo DS in 2006. I chose to review the PC version.
If you are new to AoE, and even if you’re not, a tutorial campaign is available where you help William Wallace (1270-1305) and his armies defend their lands from English encroachment. Other campaigns include:
Joan of Arc (1412-1431): Help the French push the English out of France during the Hundred Years’ War.
Saladin (1137-1193): Fight with the Muslim armies and help expel the Crusaders from the Holy Lands.
Genghis Khan (1162-1227): Lead Khan’s army on their invasion of Europe.
Frederick Barbarossa (1122-1190): Lead the Teutonic expansion of the Holy Roman Empire.
As with AoE, you have the option to play Campaign or Random Map modes. In Campaign Mode, you are given a specific objective fitting with the storyline. You must send your villagers to collect resources (wood, food, gold and stone) in order to build a base and train an army. By gathering resources you will also be able to progress from the Dark Age through the Feudal and Castle Ages to the Renaissance. If resources are scarce, you can used trade cogs or the market to sell and buy materials.
In Random Map Mode, the computer generates a range of differing landscapes and conditions and you have the option of choosing between 13 civilisations. Once chosen, you can then opt who you compete against, as well as your own aand your opponent’s starting ages. You can win by either defeating your enemy, by building a Wonder that stands for 1000 years, or by collecting relics in a certain amount of time. The additional Deathmatch Mode starts you with an abundance of resources to quickly build a powerful army, and Regicide Mode sees you needing to kill the opponent’s king unit to win.
Before each campaign mission you are greeted with a screen showing text, illustrations, and voice over narrating the context of the mission. During the missions, some of the characters converse with each other offering hints to help find resources, make you aware of enemy locations, or simply helping to move the story along.
AoE II has also introduced counter-units to ensure more strategic gameplay. For example, infantry such as men-at-arms and swordsmen, are good against buildings but poor against cavalry. So how do you defeat cavalry? You train spearmen and pikemen who, in groups, make short work of cavalry. Each civilisation also has one or two special units. For example, the Britons have Longbowmen, archery units with an increased attack range. Like priests in AoE, monks can convert enemy units and heal your own. They are also able to pick up and carry relics back to their churches. These relics can offer bonuses such as giving you a slow but steady trickle of gold into your coffers.
Another new interesting feature is the option to garrison units in town centres, castles, archery ranges and guard towers. When you garrison archers and villagers into the aforementioned buildings, additional arrows will be fired to help defend your base.
Last, but not least, you are able to read a short history of all civilisations featured in the game. As a history buff I find this a neat little feature as it adds more context to the campaigns and offers further insight into civilisations that we didn’t learn about at school.
One more helpful feature is the town bell. By pressing the bell icon when the town centre is selected, villagers will automatically garrison in the nearest building, which is handy for when you are being attacked. Interestingly villagers are now male and female adding more realism to the game.
How Does It Handle?
The game is easy to learn and navigate but difficult to master. Attempting to master it is not for the faint hearted either. All actions are control by the mouse but you have the option to use hot keys which allow you to create units whilst your off monitoring another aspect of the game.
This game has tons of replay value. Once you’re bored with the expansion campaigns and random map modes, you can also play multiplayer online where the game really comes into its own, or so I am told.
What The Critics Said:
PC Zone:“Easy to learn, hard to master…detailed graphics and finely balanced units. Vastly improved single-player game…perhaps too similar to the original game. Overall 90%”
Gamespot: “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. Overall 9.1/10”
Wikipedia states that AoE II won several other awards but I have been unable to verify those claims.
In 2000, the Conquerors Expansion was released adding five new civilisations (Aztecs, Mayans, Spanish, Koreans and Huns) and four new campaigns:
Atilla the Hun (406-453): Follow Attila’s rise to power as he battles against a crumbling Roman Empire.
Montezuma (1466-1520): Ruler of the Tenochtitlán who must defend the Aztec Empire from Hernán Cortéz and the Spanish invasion.
El Cid (1043-1099): The Castillian knight who fought for both Christians and Muslims in Spain.
Battles of the Conquerors: A group of unrelated but famous historical battles including the Battle of Hastings (1066), the Battle of Tours (732), and the Battle of Yamazaki (1582).
The Conquerors introduces several new features and tweaks. New building styles and units indicative of the civilisations have been added such as the Eagle Warrior for the Aztecs. The addition of the King of the Hill, Defend the Wonder and Wonder Race scenarios, add new criteria for winning Random Map games. New winter and tropical maps have been included, and it is now possible to garrison infantry troops inside battering rams, increasing their speed and attack strength.
How Does It Handle?
AI has been improved to help manage your settlement. For example, villagers will automatically begin to collect the nearest resource once they have built a resource gathering site such as the lumber or gold mine sites. When building walls, villagers will spread out and build separate parts of the wall rather than massing on one block at a time. Also if more than one villager is sent to a farm, the second villager will automatically seed a new farm and begin to harvest food. Siege weapons such as mangonels and onagers will not automatically fire if they are at risk of hitting their own soldiers, which I know was something that annoyed a hell of a lot of gamers about AoE and AoE II.
What The Critics Said:
Gamespot: “Virtually every addition in The Conquerors helps make Age of Empires II a better, more thoroughly enjoyable game. Nevertheless, it’s true that the enhancements to the interface and the tweaks to the game’s balance are more obvious to more experienced Age of Kings players. This is largely because Age of Kings was an outstanding game to begin with – and as such, any improvements in an expansion pack such as The Conquerors understandably provide only a marginal improvement overall. At the same time, the multiple additions in The Conquerors add up to be more than enough to entice Age of Kings players to focus their attention on this ambitious, deeply strategic game once again – and for a long time. Overall 8.5/10”
According to Wikipedia, The Conquerors won PC Gamer US Best Expansion Pack of 2000, but I was unable to find the magazine to verify.
In 2013 another expansion pack, The Forgotten, developed by SkyBox Labs and Forgotten Empires, and published by Microsoft Studios, was released.
It introduced five new civilisations: Italians, Indians, Slavs, Magyars, and Incas. It also offered seven new campaigns which included:
Alaric of the Visigoths (370-410): Fighting back against the Romans.
Bari (c.800-Middle Ages): The fall of Rome left room for competing Italian states to try and gain power. Here is the story of one such Byzantine family.
Sforza (15th century): Sforza is a mercenary offering his services around Italy where they are needed. His fate is in your hands.
Dracula (1428-1477): The Story of Vlad the Impaler amidst incursions from the Ottoman Empire.
El Dorado (1540-41): Francisco Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro travel to South America in search of the Lost City of Gold hidden somewhere in the Amazonian rainforest.
Prithviraja III (reign c.1178-1192): Help Prithviraja III unite the warring clans of India.
Battles of the Forgotten: More independent historical battles including the Conquest of Cyprus (1570-73), Battle of Langshan Jiang (919), and Dos Pilas (629-761).
As well as new technologies and new units consistent with the new civilisations, it also introduced Capture the Relic and Treaty modes for Random Map games. Not only are new maps included but some maps have been expanded so that they are four times bigger than previous maps.
How Does It Handle?
The Forgotten fixed a few bugs noted from the Age of Kings and The Conquerers.
What The Critics Said:
I was unable to find critic reviews for The Forgotten, although it has had mostly positive ratings from users on Steam.
The African Kingdoms
In 2015 yet another expansion pack called The African Kingdoms was released.
It introduced four new civilisations (Berbers, Ethiopians, Malians, and the Portuguese). The new Campaigns included:
Sundjata (Malians c.1217-c.1255): The Ghanaian Empire has fallen leaving a power vacuum in West Africa. Help Sundjata build the Malian Empire and rule over West Africa.
Francisco de Almeida (c.1450-1510): Wars between the Moors and Christians have taken its toll on Portugal. They must branch out to find new sources of wealth unavailable to them in Europe. You must help push East to India.
Yodit (Ethiopans c.960): The Ethiopian Princess is accused of theft by her jealous nephew and is forced to flee her homeland. Help her regain her birth right.
Tariq ibn Ziyad (Berbers invasion of Spain and Portugal 711-718): Lead your army across the Strait of Gibraltar to wealth and glory in Iberia.
As well as the usual bug fixes, tweaks, new units and technologies, consistent with the new civilisations, and new maps; a new mode, Sudden Death mode, was added.
What The critics Said:
I was unable to find critic reviews of The African Kingdom, although it has had very positive ratings from users.
The Rise of the Rajas
Finally, in 2016, The Rise of the Rajas expansion pack was released.
It included four more civilisations (Burmese, Malay, Khmer and Vietnamese). The new campaigns were:
Bayinnaung (Burma 1516-1581): A warrior king is betrayed and assassinated. His devoted servant pledges to carry on his legacy and seeks to reunite south-east Asia and create an empire.
Suryavarman I (Cambodia 1002-1060): The Khmer Empire is in turmoil due to internal politics and warring factions. There are also external threats from the surrounding, hostile neighbours. You must help Suryavarman I rise to power, defeat the warring factions and restore the Khmer Empire to dominance.
Gajah Mada (Java 1290-1364): Prime Minister of Majapahit, Gajah Mada, plans to build an empire that will rule the archipelago. However, he has sworn an oath to the king. How will he reconcile his ambition and his loyalty?
Lê Lợi (Vietnam 1384-1433): Vietnam is in the midst of a civil war and the Ming Empire of China has intervened and seized control. Minor noble Lê Lợi must reunite the warring factions and regain independence.
As with the other expansions, many bug fixes and balance changes were made. A multitude of more maps were added, as well as the usualy building and unit style changes consistent with their respective civilisations.
What The Critics Said:
I was unable to find critic reviews of Rise of the Rajas, although it has had very positive ratings on from users on Steam.
How Does It Handle?
The campaigns are excellent and are far superior to AoE. Before each misson, the cut scenes really help set up each scenario, drawing the user into the story. The mix of different civilisations and empires rising and falling is based on real history, highlighting how violent our past was, and how things could easily have turned out differently for the winners and losers. Imagine if the Normans were defeated at the Battle of Hastings, or if the Aztecs were able to repel the Spanish invasions. History may have turned out very differently. The addition of the expansion packs focussing on the history of not just European empires, but Asian, African and South American empires as well, means that the history of those non-European empires can be brought to the western world, where these histories are not taught in mainstream education. Learning about other cultures and histories will only enrich us.
One of the downsides to AoE was that once you had an army of maxed out hoplites, you could pretty much win any scenario. The introduction of counter units in AoE II has added an extra challenge to the game, forcing players to use a plethora of different units in their armies in order to be successful.
The graphics of AoE II and all respective expansion packs are gorgeous. The lush green maps, arid deserts, and coastal areas are vastly improved from its predecessor. The buildings and units are more colourful and intricately illustrated, adding to the idea that technology has moved a long way since the Classical world. Although not perfect, and there are plenty of similarities, they have done a fine job in trying to create unique buildings and units distinctive to their respective civilisations.
The music has also been improved. Although the in-game background music isn’t designed to take your attention away from the action, the music adds a feeling of dread to the game, and is very atmospheric.
For me, what lets this game down, and this is why I have only given it four stars instead of five, is that I feel that this was made for hardcore real-time strategy gamers only. There is nothing wrong with that of course. What I mean is that I found the majority of the missions too difficult, even on the easiest difficulty setting. You barely have time to figure out your location before you are inundated with wave upon wave of attacks. In some cases I got the feeling that the game must be cheating as they seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of resources.
“Get good!” I hear some of the hardcore real-time strategists say.
You may be right. Maybe I need to get better, but surely that is why difficulty settings are there. I also found that some of the missions took over two hours to complete. That just seemed too long for me.
Did I Complete The Games?
I have completed the games, but I mostly had to use the resource cheats as even the standard difficulty setting proved too difficult for me on many occasions.
“All real-time strategists will love this game. The sequel and expansion packs are great value for money with tons of replay value. They are beautifully designed and very challenging. Too many similarities between units of different civilisations and the overall difficulty was too apparent to allow a clean sweep of five stars.”
What are your memories of Age of Empires II? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
 Shoemaker, R., ‘Reviews – Age of Empires II: Age of Kings’. PC Zone. (Xmas 1999). Issue 84:72-75.