In this second part of Six Months of AoE:O I'll be having a look in detail at the Premium Civilizations and what they offer in contrast to the free option. The Premium option not only adds features locked out of the free version of a Civ, but also changes some values on what you can equip, how many crafting schools you can take, and more. This one is going to be a doozy.
As you play through Age of Empires: Online you will get treasure chests and quest rewards. These can include any manner of loot in the game including gear for your buildings and units, advisers for your adviser hall, single use 'special ability' cards that can buff/debuff units or spawn a building or resource patch instantly, crafting materials and crafting recipes, etc. The first change from a free account to a Premium one that you will probably feel directly is the ability to equip items over the green rarity level. Fairly early on you will finish a quest that rewards you with the choice of a shiny blue Rare item, but as a free member you cannot equip it (although you can sell/trade it at your leisure). It's probably one of the more telling and in-your-face of the differences between premium and free, and if I know anything about loot lust it's probably the feature that sold the most amount of premium Civs. But is it as big a deal as you'd think?
Very early on in AoE:O you will receive the Gear Hall building for your town that allows you to equip items to your units and buildings. From a simple weapon upgrade for your spearmen to a modifier to siege damage for your town hall, you name it there's gear for it. The gear itself is tiered in a typical rpg-like colour-coded system, with grey being trash, white average, then green/blue/purple for magical items. A free account is locked out of equipping blue and purple items. Keep in mind, though, that other blue and purple items can be used by free users, such as blue and purple buildings and special ability cards, they are only locked out of blue and purple gear equips.
Nearly every item uses a percentile for upgrading, giving damage +14.1% or gathering speed +12.7% for example. The difference between a green and a blue/purple gear equip percentiles isn't really very pronounced, but blue and purple items tend to have more modifiers than their green counterparts. A green spear may give +14.1% damage and a blue one 14.8% damage and critical hit chance +2.2% for example. Purple items follow the same kind of rule above a blue item although purple items can have up to 3-4 additional modifiers or a steeper increase in damage/health percentile. Because the system uses a percentile as its upgrade modifier you would feel the difference between free and premium more in the later levels, when you are getting high percentile bonuses to already high values.
In gameplay terms, you hardly ever feel the effect of your equips. There are more noticeable modifiers, such as a Staff that empowers a Priest of Ra's empower dropoff ability where you can clearly see that extra +1 resource being dropped off on the UI as you play, but even things like build timer reductions aren't really felt as the percentiles are so low. I feel like the only place you can feel the difference is in a PvP match, where if you throw an equal number of green-equipped spearmen against a blue-purple equipped group the better equipped group will obviously edge it out, but because the difference in values are so small you would only really feel it in large-scale encounters.
Blue and purple gear is kind of rare and as you level you'll probably find that only a few of your many (many many) item slots are filled with blues and purples for a very long time, with a lot having to be filled with greens or simply remaining empty depending on your crafting abilities and raw luck. As such, a premium Civ will only realistically have a small gear advantage on the road from 1-40. This gear advantage will increase as you level due to the percentile system, and given time to fill all their slots with purples a premium user will have a fairly considerable gear advantage at max level. That said, it only really matters a great deal in PvP where that kind of difference can really be felt.
- Free Civs can equip up to green level items
- Premium Civs can equip all items up to purple rarity
- The gear lock-out does not apply to non-gear items (buildings/special ability cards/etc)
- Gear makes a very small difference as you level, more pronounced as you reach level cap
- Gear differences only really 'matter' in PvP, but aren't terribly noticeable until higher levels
A Bit of Advice...
A big part of the game that free users do not get to take advantage of is the Adviser Hall.
At level 10 a Premium Civ will gain access to an Adviser Hall that allows you to store and 'equip' advisers to your Civ. You can gain advisers in a variety of ways such as buying them from shops, getting them as loot drops from chests or as a quest reward. Free users will still get Adviser cards that they can sell/trade to other players as normal. There are tons of Adviser cards to collect and most of them have different colour-coded versions of themselves much like gear drops.
Advisers give your Civ a passive bonus when they are 'equipped' in the Adviser Hall. These bonuses are much like gear-based ones that can effect segments or the entirety of your Civ. One adviser could lower the food cost of all your infantry units for example, while another could lower the build time of all your buildings. Each Adviser has an Age level and only one Adviser can be slotted in each Age slot in the Adviser Hall. While you might have a collection of 20 or more great Advisers, only one can ever be equipped per Age slot, and thus only four in total once your Civ reaches the Fourth Age in the tech tree.
The Adviser Hall gives a premium Civ a way to subtly 'respec' their Civ between missions without having to reset their talent tree to get an edge in a specific area. Some missions might want you to build up a big economy, so equipping Advisers that pertain to the making of and gather output of Villagers would be more useful to equip than ones that boost your army, or you may need to quickly get a naval force up to defend against a sea invasion so Advisers that boost naval unit damage and build speed would be invaluable.
The most pronounced ability of an Adviser Hall however is the ability for some Advisers to give you the use of a special Elite unit type. You see most of these unit types as you level up, the game makes a point to show you them all early on in small quantities to make sure you know what you're missing out on. These units are similar to units you have access to without the Adviser card but slightly stronger and usually have a different rock/paper/scissors combination that your other units lack. Desert Swordsmen for example are kind of like +1 Axemen except they are also strong against buildings. These units are only ever Age 3 or Age 4 Advisers, so you won't ever have access to more than two at a time, they are built from Age 3 tech structures and are expensive to build in comparison to their counterparts. As these Advisers seem to be only available as random drops from chests (I've only found one so far) it can be hard to get them if you don't plan on paying out the nose by buying them from another player.
The Adviser Hall is useful for both leveling and for PvP. It can make some missions much easier if you tailor your Adviser Hall specifically for that mission, and can bolster your forces and allow you to tailor your strategy differently for PvP. It's one of those things that if you were ignorant of the feature and how it worked, you could probably live without it, but you would definitely miss it if it weren't there. The Adviser Hall gives the premium user some neat little bonuses and a good way to individualise and tailor their Civ to certain missions and opponents. Where the gear is obviously the most in-your-face of the changes, not having an Advisor Hall is probably the most important difference between the two.
- Free users do not have access to the Adviser Hall. They receive/sell/trade cards as normal.
- Adviser cards have colour-coded rarity levels as well as Age levels. Only one Adviser from each Age can be equipped at once at the Adviser Hall.
- Advisers give your Civ a passive bonus or access to Elite units.
- Elite units are slightly stronger copies of existing units with an additional benefit.
- The Adviser Hall allows you to better tailor your Civ for a specific mission or opponent.
As a free user you might think very early on "I wish I had more inventory space." Of course, this is a premium feature, but storage isn't the only building-based limitation. The basic gist of this feature is that a free user will find that certain things are much more of a commodity to them than a premium user. A free user can build less Storage, Collection and Crafting buildings.
Storage buildings are kind of self explanatory. They are basically your "bag" space. You start off with one 16-slot "bag" and can purchase more Storage building schematics of varying sizes or get them as drops from chests. A free user can only build two Storage buildings whereas a premium user can build five.
Crafting buildings are where you store recipes and make items for your chosen schools of craft. A free user can pick one crafting specialization and a premium user can pick two. When you lock in your choices you will receive the Crafting building as well as a free starter-recipe shop. You can reset your specializations and buy new ones at the cost of 400gold a respec and you lose your previous buildings.
While you can get crafting materials from quests and chests, Collection buildings can be built to give your Civ a steady income of a particular material over time. You can buy them with gold from shops or get them as drops from chests and when you place them you can set them to automatically generate materials for you. The lowest level materials take twenty minutes to make, but higher level materials take longer to generate. They can generate only 100 of a single material so you have to be sure to check back and empty the building out or it will fill up and no longer generate items until it's emptied. You can buy recipes for the buildings that allow them to make higher-level materials, but some rarer materials take specific buildings to generate them. I've currently come across the green and blue level crafting buildings, so I assume there are purple ones as well.
The availability of each Collection building varies depending on its quality as well as free/premium accounts.
- Green - Free: 3 - Premium: 8
- Blue - Free: 1 - Premium: 2
I assume the purple buildings, if there are any, are 0 and 1 for free and premium respectively, but don't hold me to that as I've yet to see a free user reach that level nor do I have any myself. This makes low-level materials pretty much a non-issue and a better source of income for Premium users where they are still a commodity for free users. The blue (and I assume purple as well) Collection buildings are a commodity for both free and premium users. It is entirely possibly (though not altogether practical for a free user due to limited inventory space) to buy every Collection building and pack up the ones you do not need into your inventory and place new ones as you need the materials.
The limits seem to be tied to how many crafting specializations you can pick, however, as you can be self-sufficient in one (as free) or two (as premium) specs with the Collection buildings allowed. Premium users could really have been self sufficient with less than eight low-level buildings, the extras serving mostly as income for trade or selling. Both free and premium users can of course trade others for materials they cannot make themselves.
- Free users get 2 Storage buildings, Premium get 5
- Free users can pick 1 Crafting spec and building, Premium can pick 2
- Free users get enough Collection buildings to be self sufficient in their 1 crafting spec
- Premium users get enough Collection buildings to be self sufficient in 2 crafting specs + a couple of additional low-level material buildings
Pay to Rank
PvP is a big part of any RTS, and it's no small wonder it is in AoE:O.
Any user of any level can play PvP. You can join a queue for quick-matches in 1v1 or 2v2 in the city of Sparta zone to win Sparta points. The quick matches do not discriminate between free and premium users, and as I noted earlier the difference between them isn't really such a huge deal at lower levels. Sparta points can get you weapons, armour, and other commodities like crafting materials. Most of the commodities can be gotten elsewhere in the game, but for those that like to play a lot of of it they can be a nice reward for enjoying PvP.
Ranked PvP is locked out for free users, which is started from Sparta the same as unranked quick matches. Ranked PvP unlocks at level 25 for premium users, where unranked matches can be played at any level for free and premium users. The difference between the two is, not surprisingly, Ranked PvP has leaderboards. Due to the random nature of loot and such, you can't really say that one version is more 'balanced' than the other, but at least ranked serves as a way to pull the more kitted-out premium users away from unranked matches and farming 'freebies' with the promise of a rank and more Sparta points.
Premium users can also the party functions to set up custom matches between friends with more control over the match parameters such as map size, team size, starting resources and how many resources there are on the map, etc. To be perfectly honest this could have been a standard feature, and it kinda sucks that it is premium only.
- Free users can't play ranked PvP or custom matches.
- Premium users can play ranked PvP from level 25 and custom matches.
- Nuff said.
This feature is a bit lower on the list because you will not encounter it until you are a fair bit into the 4th Age of your Civ. To put it very simply, there is an additional final tier to a premium users tech tree known as "Star Techs".
Star techs are very powerful end-of-tier tech routes that give fairly significant boosts to the tech they are linked to. They are typically expensive 3-point techs that give nice buffs such as lowered training time, cost, or bonuses to movement speed, health and so forth. While these Star Techs are strong, they still take up tech points and a premium user doesn't get any more tech points than a free user, so the premium user is always losing out on some basic tech in favour of strengthening their Civ in a couple of more focused directions according to their playstyle.
- Free users cannot spec into Star Tech
- Star Tech are expensive but powerful
- Premium users do not get any more tech points than free users, so +Star Tech = -Basic Tech
A Rich Man's World
There are many different kinds of currency in AoE:O. Some are universal between free and premium like gold and Sparta points, some are tied to paid content like Crete points, but only ones use is locked out for premium only: Empire Points.
You gain Empire points by completing quests and challenges as you level. Free users still gain Empire points, but they cannot buy anything with them unless they upgrade. Early on Empire points can buy you some Special Ability and Adviser cards as well as a "Lucky Chest" that can contain the loot of a regular chest or a large sum of gold. Empire points seem a little trivial for a paid benefit when you only see the first Empire shop but Empire Points are also used to buy the very best items and gear from the end-game shops as well, so they do become very important. It's good that the Empire Points are given to free members as well because if they choose to upgrade at a later time they won't be behind on their end-game currency. Considering all the end-game gear is blue and purple and the other benefit to them is the chance of a quick influx of gold, it makes more sense for them to be a premium currency.
- Both free and premium users gain Empire Points, only premium users can use them.
- Empire Points are used for basic premium items, 'gambling' and end-game equipment
Phew... I think that's everything.
As you can see there are a lot of functional differences between a free and premium Civ. Staying as a free Civ is definitely possible but it will get increasingly agonizing as you get loot and Adviser drops that fill your smaller inventory. Even as a premium user I haven't used crafting too much, although it is useful for filling out inventory spots that might be empty or making some extra coin to make powering up a little easier on you. In fact, a lot of the features are just usability ones. Even the Adviser Hall is a tool to make your leveling a little easier as you can change up your bonuses to suit missions.
There are very few of these additions that I would consider 'well everybody should just have this as standard.' The custom PvP with friends is one of those. Most of the others aren't too heinous. You could make a point for the Star Techs but you lose a fair amount of tech points to your base tech so it's not so bad. Max level is clearly a premium user's world, though, regardless of Star Tech availability. Premium users getting 8 low level Collecting buildings is kinda strange, they could have probably lived with 5 or 6, but I guess a little free coin over time isn't that big a deal in the long run (materials sell for a very low amount of gold in comparison to how long they take to build).
In all, a premium account eases the road to 40 and opens up the endgame for you. The free user option is entirely possible to level with but after a while it'll probably get on your nerves that there's all this usability stuff you are missing out on. There also doesn't seem to be much of an endgame for a free user since all the endgame stuff is, not surprisingly, blue and purple gear and Advisers. If you like the game enough to make it a fair distance through the free user experience and enjoy what you see, you probably owe it to yourself to throw down $20 for a premium Civ. If you like the game that much, you'll probably like it more when you get more breathing room and options to play with.
Price could be a point of contention, of course. From my experience if you're only planning on paying once for this game, a premium Civ is the way to go. The road to 40 is a long one, and you will probably exhaust yourself on a single Civ without having to pay for another. Playing both Civs to around level 10 before making a decision on which you like better is the key here, as they do play fairly differently. While I think personally that the game with both Civs unlocked is $40 worth of content from what I've played it's probably safer to just throw down for one Civ unless you're really sure you're gonna mess with both Civs either at the same time or at some point in the future. There's no point in paying for content you don't get around to playing, right?
One thing I will say about the pricing is that $20 for each individual Civ feels a little off. While I think there's $40 worth of game there I don't think that it's quite an even split like that. The leveling of both the Civs is practically mirrored, and you're playing basically the same game over with a different ruleset and coat of paint. It gives me a gut feeling that they probably should have charged a little less per subsequent Civ after the first, but I guess if they did that they'd bump the cost of the first Civ so that could be a turnoff in and of itself. A lot of people would probably skip a second Civ if they knew that was what they were getting. I guess in the end it's all perspective. If you bought both you might be content with the amount of content you get, while if you only bought one a second $20 might seem a bit much to throw down. The human mind is weird like that.
- Free Civs are probably not worth playing all the way to 40
- Premium Civs ease the road to 40 usability-wise and open up the endgame
- You could do worse than buy a single Premium Civ if you like the free game enough
- Buying a second Civ after playing a single one to 40 could feel a little weird, but at that point you're qualified to know if you want any more
That's it! I really hope this monster of a post doesn't die on me when I click that button. Anyway, catastrophes aside, next time I'll be having a look at each Civ in a little more detail, starting with the Egyptians. Hope you liked what you read (maybe I should have split this into two posts...), comments and questions are always welcome as usual.
Thanks for reading!