Six Months of AoE:Online - October Patch

It's patch time again, a little earlier than I would have expected it. To be quite honest I haven't had much time to play AoE:O lately due to the massive influx of other games coming out at this time of the year, and probably won't for a good while yet (Dark Souls and Skyrim are going to eat me alive). The monthly patches give me a bit of incentive to play it more though, and this months patch brings with it the Persian civ in all its Pro glory.

Patch Highlights

While the Pro Persia civilization is the highlight of the patch GasPowered and ROBOT are definitely not slacking or resting on laurels when it comes to these monthly updates. You can read the hefty set of notes here. Just like with the September update they have kinda gone out of their way to increase usability and make some of the quests and AI a little more balanced for the average user.

There are three big things that catch my eye in the notes.

  • The first is the change to ranked PvP only requiring level 20 rather than 25. This is, of course, a change immediately related to the Pro Persia DLC (that starts at level 20) allowing a Persian Civ to 100% jump straight in to the game proper from a single purchase. While opening up ranked to lower levels seems like an obvious good thing it has some caveats for non-Pro Civ players. While the Pro Civ starts out at 20 with all of its 'tutorial' missions done and all tech unlocked (as well as a very healthy starting set of gear for their entire army and buildings) there is no guarantee this will be the same case for a non-Pro Civ. Depending on how many repeatable quests you grind on you could be well into the 20s before you finish the Age 4 quests that unlock the Wonder, and you may not be entirely comfortable resetting your entire tech tree to afford the Age 4 units, and entirely possible that you don't have a full set of kit in your Gear Hall. TL;DR, a non-Pro Civ is generally at an immediate disadvantage entering level 20 ranked PvP. There are disadvantages to being a Pro Civ also, but I'll talk about them more in the next blog which will be all about Pro Persia (and what a Pro Civ is).
  • The second big thing is the leaning toward promoting co-op play. Participating in co-op will earn you Empire Points even if you aren't on the quest you are helping someone out with, and both players get the random chests from killing Guardians on the map. It gives people incentive and reward for playing missions with others. The community aspect kinda needs this boost since most people, myself included, seem to play the game as a glorified single player game.
  • The third big thing, and kind of exciting from a personal perspective, is the line about the tweaked party UI noting that one of the reasons for the change is so it can 'support more players down the line'. 3v3 and 4v4 AoE is really fun and I hope this large game support comes sooner rather than later!

The rest of the notes focus on... well, actually they aren't really very focused. If you could pick something about the game out of a hat they've probably fixed or tweaked that part at least a little. To be frank the game did release a little broken in the form of AI problems which are slowly being ironed out, and the UI the game started with feels a little basic compared to the little fixes and tweaks they've made over the last couple of months.

I've seen it's all too easy for an MMO developer to release a game (and trust me, I have played many more MMO's than a sane person should) and not really fix many fundamentals like ugly bits of UI, pathing and AI, and other niggling 'unimportant' things for a very long time since they are focused more on future content releases and only fix the most exploitive and crippling bugs but it seems like GasPowered and ROBOT have been putting a lot of effort all over the front and back ends of their game. It's refreshing to see and I hope they keep it up.

Mistake... Or Gauging Interest?

A footnote to the patch is the (unintentional?) teasing of a piece of paid content coming very soon: the Skirmish Hall. The very bottom of the patch notes highlights a known issue that a loading screen splash for next months paid content is currently in the game somewhere. I have seen the loading screen splash they mentioned in the patch notes about the Skirmish Hall and, damn my fast computer, I didn't get to read it all in detail.

From what I could glean the Skirmish Hall is a mode played by up to 4 players in matches that support 8 Civs (perhaps it will support 8 players at a later date?). Whether this is a strict 4 human v 4 AI or can be set up manually is unknown. The main draw to this mode, apart from the higher player count, seems to be that you can play the mode at any level and use any prefab high-level Civ. I would assume this would be regardless of whether you actually own a premium version of that Civ but maybe that's just wishful thinking! This could be a great mode for anyone who is into playing skirmish against AI and PvP in AoE but doesn't really care about questing and crafting or want to shell out the time and money required to play all the Civs to 40 to be able to have meaningful quickmatches with them.

So What Did My Season Pass Get Me?

The value-for-money ticker this month is a bit weird because of the nature of Pro Civs. I'll detail what makes a Pro Civ 'pro' in the next blog but the basic gist is that it starts at level 20 with some good gear, assuming you have a degree of skill at the game that doesn't require tutorial levels. Persia was the only piece of paid content this patch.

The Pro Persia Civ could be seen as a cash grab, as you're basically paying them to skip 20 levels of content and come out geared to the teeth and ready to go. There are a few Persia-specific quests but mostly you'll be using the shared zones from 20-40. The Persians play differently enough and have enough to make them interesting of their own right to justify them in my mind as a purchase as much as Egypt and Greece but if having 20 levels of content played for you isn't worth the portion that you would have paid for the existing Civs pre-20 content then they may be a little bit of a hard-sell. That said, they're throwing out Pro Persia for half price for a short time, which seems like a better deal to me for someone buying them from scratch. For someone that bought a season pass though, I kind of feel like it devalues my purchase. Did I pay the equivalent of $20 up front for Persia and got screwed out of $10 because I bought it early? It seems like a kick in the teeth at this stage, but I really won't know until we reach the end of the six months and I can tally up the total worth.

Next Time...

Next post I make will be all about Pro Persia and Pro Civs in general, as I feel like they need a whole blog all to themselves. Having played a handful of missions with them I can safely say they are a lot different to play than Egypt at least! They seem to hold a middle-ground mechanics-wise to Egypt and Greece (the former being mechanics and economy and the latter army management and brute force) and have unique units and mechanics that are either completely polarizing as to what strategy they require while also having units and mechanics that are extremely versatile in any situation, making them seem a very reactionary Civ.

Thanks for reading!

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Six Months of AoE:Online - September Patch

A patch rolled out a couple of days ago for AoE:O. Unfortunately it didn't include a new Civ but it did fix some misc bugs, added a few little extra bits of content and cleaned up the UI and usability a little bit. You can check the notes out here.

The first thing you'll see when you start up the game is that there is a button for the Empire Handbook on the title screen. While the Empire Handbook could always be accessed from the menu in-game, having the instruction manual up front and in-your-face is definitely aimed at having players new to the game and genre actually look at it instead of diving in and wondering what the faintest idea of the game is about.

The second thing you see after you log in is this:

Are you Pro-Persia?

The Persians definitely look pro compared to the mail skirt and dress-and-cane combo of the existing Civs. Apparently they are the next item on the list for release, which hopefully will come out before the end of October. If this is true and monthly updates like this one are commonplace it bodes well for the support of the game. It's especially good that the content in the update is part paid and part free, a trend that I hope continues in subsequent patches.

The patch introduces a series of Legendary Quest lines and Items to the game, which is a free update than anyone can take advantage of. Previously the coloured item threshold was topped at purple (Epic) items but the patch introduces the orange Legendary tier, officially catching it up to modern MMO's everywhere. These items are of course endgame content so I haven't had any chance to look at the quest lines or items myself, but they promise the quest lines to be 'very hard' which I hope actually means 'very hard' in a strategic and micro/macro skill sense and not just a 'we're taking advantage of our already utterly ruthless quest AI and turning it into hardmode content'.

Speaking of ruthless AI, they did fix and clean up a lot of AI and quest issues in the patch including making the AI a little smarter on maps with specific objectives which was always a little bit of a problem. Sometimes you were told to gather a certain amount of a specific resource and such and the AI was bent on doing their old 'make a block of units and storm your town' rather than actually defending resource points or bothering to stop or harass your storehouses or fishing boats, which has been changed now. As many of these missions are daily quests it makes them much more interesting to play, although some might bemoan the change because those quests were typically a quick and easy chunk of exp. Wimps.

The new shop icons make it easier to see what you're getting and spending at a glance

Another big part of the update were some usability and UI cleanups which are extremely welcome. Some of the highlights for me:

  • Being able to equip items without having to go back to your main city. This is such a good change as it was annoying to have to open up your map, go back to town, equip an item or two and then transport back to the quest hub map you got those items at. You can press G to open the inventory anywhere you are (except on a quest and in PvP of course) and equip items straight from your bags.
  • A 'Return to Capital City' button on the Escape menu. Again, having to navigate multiple menus to get back home was a bit annoying and this button also serves as a 'Quit to Town' button if you want to quit a mission but don't necessarily want to log out entirely.
  • Shops have more distinct icons above them in regards to what they offer and what currency they use. It's now much easier to differentiate crafting shops from some item shops and blueprint shops which all used to have the same icon. A little currency icon on the bottom right of the icon lets you know whether that shop uses gold or specific Empire/City/Sparta points at a glance.
  • Minimap changes for certain resources. This may not be huge for a lot of people but I certainly like it. The minimap in AoE:O is always kind of cluttered with all the different icons for resources, buildings, units and terrain. The change makes Berry Bushes, Huntables and enemy units easier to distinguish by changing their colours to not all be red. You'd think someone would notice that earlier right?

All of the above stuff, as well as the usual general bug fixes, are free updates. I did say this patch included paid content too, which of course I received for being a season pass holder. What was it do you ask?

Totally worth it, that's what!

Another vanity shop with decorations for your town. This time it's a bunch of animal Topiaries. Money well spent!

As well as all the above there were also a couple of additional things that Mr Cash Shop gave me when I logged in that originated from I-don't-know-where. If I had to guess it may either be a free little something that everyone gets with the September update or perhaps a bonus for 'paying' customers that have spent money in one way or another on the game. Both my Greek and Egypt Civs got the same two rewards.

One was a choice of a decorative statue of a Spearman or a statue of a Hypaspist (units of Egypt and Greece respectively) for your town and the other was an Age 4 Adviser: The Golden Hippikon. The Golden Hippikon allows you to train snazzy gold-armoured Hippikons at Age 4. Hippikons are usually an Age 4 Greek-only unit and the Golden Hippikons seem like the same kind of unit only with a different skin, as the name might entail. As I haven't got to Age 4 as Greeks yet I can't reliably say if they are stronger than a normal Hippikon (I'd assume so since Greeks gain nothing but a sweet looking skin for taking this Adviser), but the plus side is that Egypt can learn this Adviser to gain access to the Hippikon unit where they otherwise would not be able to. I'm not entirely sure if this is a great idea on a balance perspective but it is an Age 4 Adviser and Age 4 Advisers have some pretty nice bonuses that you'll be giving up for a chance to take this unit to battle.

As far as monthly updates go, this one was pretty decent and changed the game in meaningful ways. Legendary items will give me some things to strive for at cap and all the usability/UI/AI changes are great even if they don't fix every single issue. I'm looking forward to seeing if the monthly thing keeps up, and definitely looking forward to the Persian Civ, hopefully within a months time.

Thanks for reading!

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Six Months of AoE:Online - Part 3

Hey guys!

In this edition of Six Months of AoE:O I'll be looking at the Egyptian Civilization in a little more detail. I picked the Egyptians initially because of their interesting mechanics that make them play much differently to the more straightforward Greeks. That and war elephants, can't forget the war elephants.

Walk Like An Egyptian

Halfway!

The Egyptian Civ in AoE:O is the more complex of the two available in the game at present. Their early game units are weaker toe-to-toe than the Greek units, but their late-game units are incredibly powerful (and expensive). To help them out a little with affording these expensive endgame units and to even the playing field in lower tech tiers the Egyptians have access to Priests, which are also pivotal in reaching the higher tech tiers.

The Egyptians are not as good in a straight-up fight early on as the Greeks are but they can mass early tier units incredibly quickly. Although this can be used to be aggressively as a rushing technique the Egyptian play style gravitates a little more toward being defensive early on and quickly building up a huge economy to advance in tech tiers faster than your opponent to sledgehammer the enemy with their meaty high-tier units and annoying Priest units. They are also better at obtaining victory through Wonder production due to their strong economy and fast-building capabilities.

Build More Religion

Religion is the pivotal focus of the Egyptian Civilization. While the Greek Civ simply spends resources to advance in tech tiers the Egyptian Age advancements are tied to religious buildings that train their useful Priest units and upgrades for them. There are three different kinds of Priest that the Egyptians have access to.

-Priestess of Ra-

In most cases the Egyptians will start with one Priestess of Ra to kick-start their economy, although they require a Temple of Ra (which advances tech to Age 2) to build. The Priestess is probably the most important part of the Egyptian Civs game as they are the only Priest type that can heal in combat and also the only kind that can provide the Empowered buff. Their healing powers can even up fights early on, making your low-tier infantry much more efficient, and become a serious problem for an opponent when they're providing even more survivability to your already chunky late-game units. With upgrades their healing power and range is increased and the 2nd Age movement speed tech makes them run about as fast as War Elephants which is awesome for keeping your late game army mobile.

The Empower ability is what gives the generally weaker Egyptian Civ its edge. A Priestess of Ra can be used on buildings to provide the Empower buff to that building. Empower can provide the following benefits to a building:

  • Empower Dropoff - A Priestess channeling Empower on a resource dropoff point (such as a Town Centre, Storehouse or Dock) boosts the amount of resources dropped off by your villagers at that building by a percentage. This is what gives the Egyptians an economic edge: they literally get more resources than a Greek Civ. This makes Economy talents that raise the percentage of resources dropped off even more valuable to an Egyptian because the Empower buff is cumulative with those bonuses. Priestess gear can also make Empower Dropoff even stronger and is highly recommended.
  • Empower Construction - A Priestess channeling Empower on a building under construction by villagers makes it build slightly faster. This buff stacks with the amount of villagers building the structure to make it build even faster. Suffice to say, this ability is useful for high tech buildings which take ages to make and even low-tier buildings like Storehouses and Houses build lightning-fast when a Priestess is Empowering them.
  • Empower Training - An Empowered building that is researching tech or training units builds both faster than a non-Empowered structure. Egyptians build units and tech faster than a Greek Civ, which can give them an advantage of numbers to compensate for their weaker units. Note that this also works when upgrading a structure to a higher tier, like a guard tower or wall.

Empower bonuses also stack. For example, an empowered Town Centre will research tech faster, train villagers faster, and Empower resource dropoffs all with a single Priestess. The duality of the Priestess as an economy booster as well as a tech and army booster make it extremely important and valuable to playing Egyptians well.

-Priest of Set-

Priests of Set are built from a Temple of Set which advances tech to Age 3. Priests of Set can heal units when out of combat and cast Chaos on enemy units while in combat. They aren't exactly as pivotal as a Priestess of Ra, but can be useful for certain tactics. Priests of Set channel Chaos on enemy units and make them go Insane after a random amount of time depending on the units resistance to the spell. As a rule, higher tech units take a longer channel for the Chaos spell to proc on them. Insane units will attack any unit, friend or foe.

In a pitched battle this sometimes isn't quite as useful as the nearest units to the Insane unit are usually ones of your own anyway, but with proper control a Priest of Set can Chaos backline units to give you an edge in a fight. With upgrades you can do some really sneaky stuff like run them up to an opponents unguarded Storehouse and Chaos a few villagers, causing the Insane villagers to kill other gatherers.

-Priest of Ptah-

Priests of Ptah are trained at a Temple of Ptah which advances tech to Age 4, the final tech tier. Priests of Ptah are an annoying thorn in your opponents side. They are similar to a Priest of Set in that they can only heal out of combat and cast a spell in combat. Their spell is Conversion which, as you might have guessed, converts enemy units and buildings (!) to your side. Like a Priest of Set, the Conversion spell takes a random amount of time depending on the resistance of the unit or building to the spell. Converting villagers takes a very short amount of time, whereas converting a Town Centre takes a very very long time (and a very very silly opponent to pull off).

Ptah Priests are very useful in combat as they can literally bolster your army with enemy units in the middle of a fight. Other fun uses include ninja-converting Storehouses so that enemy gatherers cannot drop off resources at optimal points. Converting enemy tech and unit producing structures is possible but difficult to pull off. That said, an opponent who clusters his Houses away from the rest of their buildings and undefended could find themselves supply capped when you convert a bunch of them to your own.

The Army of the Shifting Sands

The army make-up of the Egyptians is kind of lopsided. Their early tier units are incredibly cheap and relatively weak, but their late-tier units are monstrously beefy and powerful. If you had to draw a little comparison to other RTS's, the Egyptian army is similar to that of the Zerg from Starcraft or the Tyranids from Dawn of War, the 'lings and 'gaunts of those armies being cheap and plentiful where the Broodlords and Carnefex are soul-crushingly expensive and strong.

-Age 1 and 2: Early Game-

The early tier units of the Egyptians are weaker than their Greek counterparts both in damage and health pool. In the early game an Egyptian isn't exactly the best at a frontal assault: None of their units are very sturdy or good against buildings, so unless they are backed up by a lot of Priestess' assaulting bases can be a costly strategy. With the Priestess' to back them up an Egyptian army block can be hard to move though and are better at assaulting bases than Greeks, and are especially strong if it is defending an attack behind walls and towers and can reinforce quickly. With Camel Riders an Egyptian is well equipped to counter cavalry harassment (Camel Riders are strong against other cavalry) and make harassment moves of their own, which is advised to keep your economic edge. Their available units lean toward a defensive strategy, but large blocks of infantry supported by a lot of Priestess' can be effective as an aggressive tactic.

The only offensive naval unit you have in the early game are Tiremes, which are only really useful at defending your other naval units. They are not particularly effective against any unit type but have no inherent weaknesses either.

Spearmen - Basic infantry unit. Strong against cavalry. Blocks of spearmen are good at cost-effectively weathering a cavalry-based attack, but not much else.

Axemen - Basic infantry unit. Strong against infantry. These will be your mainstay units early on as early pushes are generally infantry-based. Pretty solid with Priestess backup.

Slingers - Basic ranged unit. Strong against ranged. Slingers can be hard to use effectively as intended because their rock-paper-scissors is a little wonky and requires a fair bit of control. Slingers are an incredibly cheap way of dealing with mounted archers in the later game.

Camel Rider - Basic cavalry unit. Strong against cavalry. Camel riders are extremely fast and are your go-to unit for defending cavalry-based harassment and harassing enemy storehouses. They are not very sturdy so using them as a hammer in your army block is ill advised most of the time.

Tireme - Basic naval unit. Jack-of-all-trades, Tiremes are neither great or terrible against anything except of course enemy Fireships. They are your only choice for sea-based defence in early game and are best used for defending your fishing boats early on.

-Age 3: Mid-game-

Mid-game is where an Egyptian army starts to get some meat on its bones. Egyptian mid-game has excellent harassment options in the Priest of Set and Chariot Archers. Chariot Archers are a great overall unit, they are fast, strong, and can kite effectively. With Chariot Archers and Camel Riders the Egyptians can gain a lot of map control in the mid-game to resource-starve their opponents and quickly retreat if things get dicey. They also gain access to War Elephants, which are the Egyptians main hammer unit. They can have trouble against large blocks of enemy cavalry, although with Priestess' healing them their splash damage can equalise things, and they rip through pretty much any other unit and building. The downside of course is that they cost an arm and a leg and take a long time to train. Egypt also get siege towers in this Age, and are cheaper and slower alternatives to War Elephants for breaking down walls, buildings and defensive structures. They are painfully slow and vulnerable but are a cheaper way of quickly breaking a wall and harassing inside a base.

On the naval front Egypt gains the Fireship in Age 3. Fireships are excellent against all other ships. Whether defending or attacking, Fireships make short work of any and all enemy ships from fishing boats to siege ships. Whoever has more Fireships has naval superiority, to put it bluntly.

Chariot Archer - Ranged Cavalry unit. Extremely fast, extremely effective at harass. Can kite infantry units exceptionally well.

War Elephant - The hammer of the Egyptian army. Huge health pool, huge splash damage, effective against everything, faster than infantry but slower than light cavalry. Painfully expensive, susceptible to siege. Are technically weak to enemy cavalry, but splash damage equalises the matchup in a pitched fight.

Siege Tower - Effective against buildings. Cheaper to make than a War Elephant but without the additional perks of ability to be healed and being able to attack enemy units. Extremely slow and vulnerable.

Fireship - Naval superiority unit. Demolishes any type of ship in a few shots. Weak against... other Fireships.

-Age 4: Late game-

Age 4 is the big pay off for an Egyptians patience and economy building even though their biggest spike in strength happens in Age 3. Egyptians gain Elephant Archers in Age 4, which are basically ranged War Elephants that are a little less adept at smashing buildings. Elephant Archers make infantry blocks nigh on useless unless they are hard countered by enemy cavalry, but with Egypt's light cavalry hit squads and War Elephants this shouldn't be as much of a problem. Catapults are made available, as well as Catapult Tiremes, which are land and sea-based siege units respectively. Siege is good against any unit and building and causes splash damage with the downside of being slow and having a low rate of fire. Palintonons are the final Age 4 unit, and if you've played Starcraft then the comparison here is simple: they're Siege Tanks. Palintonons are even slower than catapults but have insanely long range (as long as you have vision from another source) and literally drop buildings in a couple of shots, as well as being effective against any type of unit and causing splash damage. Like Siege Tanks they need a little time to set up and so are vulnerable to flanking attacks.

Elephant Archer - Extremely powerful heavy ranged cavalry. All the perks of a War Elephant, at range, without the building-crushing abilities. Destroy infantry blocks, susceptible to enemy cavalry and siege.

Catapult - Basic ranged siege unit. Cheaper than a Palintonon, shorter range and less effective against buildings (but still very effective!). Strong against all units, deals splash damage.

Palintonon - Heavy siege unit. Longest range in the game, slow and takes time to set up. Demolishes buildings, strong against all units, deals splash damage.

Catapult Tireme - E'rybody look at me, I'm a catapult on a boat. Good at bombarding enemy buildings from the sea, make sure they're supported by Fireships though.

Jewels of the Nile - Outfitting the Egyptians

Econ-based gear is very valuable

As you can probably tell by now, Egypt is a very econ-driven Civilization. Its weak units are cheap and fast to produce, its strong units incredibly expensive. With that in mind, when gearing out your Egyptians, choosing advisers, talents and crafting specializations you should lean toward ones that will make your economy and economy management better. Being richer than your opponent and spending those resources wisely is a big part of what Egyptians are all about. Good gear for your Priests and Villagers should have things like Empower bonuses, spell rate increases, and movement speed and gathering bonuses. Talents that raise the percentage of resources your Villagers can carry and drop off are valuable as well. In later levels it can be worth investing in Market talents, as the Star Talent for Markets give you passive resource generation, not to mention a healthy and steady source of gold.

My current choice of Advisers

Having one of your crafting specializations as Religion helps out a lot with gearing your Priests with handy items and has some awesome economy-based special skill cards like Discover Mine, which can give you a boost to early economy. Craftsmen is another good choice to boost your economy, or Construction if you want quick and strong defences and fortresses.

When picking Advisers, I like to pick ones that make key units cheaper and more effective. Advisers that help your Villagers and Priests in some way are great, as are ones that reduce costs of your expensive units (Trainer Thoth for example reduces the food cost of all units, which helps early on and scales well in late game). I tend to pick an econ or unit-based Adviser over the Elite Unit Advisers so far, as they seem more important to how the Civ plays. Elite Units are Age 3 units which doesn't help at all with bolstering your early game and eat into your late-game unit spending, so they seem counter-productive.

Closing Thoughts

Hoped you like the fairly brief overview of the Egyptian Civ. Playing 20 levels of them and getting to try out all their units I've come to like them a lot. The Empower mechanic as well as the payoff for good macro in the form of really satisfying endgame units make for a cool experience. I think, from what I've played so far of the Greeks, that Egypt is the more forgiving PvE race, at least early on. The Priestesses kinda offset the weakness of your troops in situations where you make a lot of them for your infantry blocks, and being able to heal meaty units like the War Elephant in combat makes them really hard to lose.

In PvP though it feels like it's the other way around. Egypt needs to constantly be on top of defending their precious economy and watching out for Priestess snipes while making a decent enough army to hold off any pushes until Age 3, unless you go the PvE zerg-with-Priestesses-and-Axemen route which can work against some opponents.

Looking forward, I'm going to start playing the Greek Civ and jotting down my thoughts in smaller posts as I play through the missions. Hopefully there'll be something substantial there before the Persians and Celts are released (apparently both before the end of the year) with all the other games distracting me from AoE:O.

Thanks for reading!

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Six Months of AoE:Online - Part 2

Welcome back!

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.

Loot Lust

Epic Villagers make Epic Economy

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.

It's not all armour and weapons

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.

Bonuses like Empower Dropoff are more noticeable as you play

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.

-TL;DR-

  • 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.

The colourful Advisers give you a wealth of choice

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.

Some Advisers, like So-crates here, are Civ specific

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.

-TL;DR-

  • 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.

Property Value

I got space, I know how to use it

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.

Craft more Religion!

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
Collection buildings continue to harvest even if you're offline

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.

-TL;DR-

  • 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.

I'm not going to do a 'this is Sparta' jo... DAMN IT

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.

-TL;DR-

  • Free users can't play ranked PvP or custom matches.
  • Premium users can play ranked PvP from level 25 and custom matches.
  • Nuff said.

Future Tech

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".

Did I mention Star Techs are pretty good?

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.

-TL;DR-

  • 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.

The initial Empire Store is cheap enough not to eat into your endgame funds too much

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.

-TL;DR-

  • 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

Conclusions

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.

-TL;DR-

  • 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

Next time...

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!

1 Comments

Six Months of AoE:Online - Part 1

Hey guys!

This is the first part of my quest to survive Age of Empires: Online as a Season Pass user over the next six months. In this introductory edition I'm going to quickly cover what the Season Pass has gotten me so far.

One of the first things you notice in Age of Empires: Online after you start the game is the Marketplace building. It's a quick and simple (some might say nefarious) way of purchasing any of the premium content in the game. As you can see in the picture to the right, I currently own everything so far for buying the Season Pass. This includes (currency in US$):

She takes Premium, dude! PREMIUUUUM!
  • Premium Greece Civilization ($20)
  • Premium Egypt Civilization ($20)
  • Defence of Crete (Booster) ($10)
  • Startling Statuary (Empire Extras) ($5)
  • Glorious Gardening (Empire Extras) ($5)
  • Bountiful Bushes (Empire Extras) ($5)
  • Ornate Ornaments (Empire Extras) ($5)

All up that's US$70 worth of stuff. Well, the 'worth' bit is a little questionable, but let's just roll with the assumption that, based on current content, I'm pretty close to fully paying off that Season Pass already without even getting to the point where I'll be 'paying' an extra 40 for the two upcoming Civs. Even if they're the only extra things coming in the next six months I'm getting some of the Empire Extras for free. I feel a little more justified... Just a little.

Premium Advantages

The most self-explanatory things on the list are the premium packages for the Civilizations. In the next edition of this blog I'll go over what you get from a premium Civ in more detail and the differences between a free and premium Civilization, but for now I'll just note that for being the most expensive things on the list they definitely return the most value for money, at least individually.

We Heard You Like Horde Mode

The next on the list is the Defence of Crete Booster Pack. This pack behaves more or less like console DLC that most of you would be used to by now. It's a little extra content for a little extra cash. The Crete pack adds a wave-based survival mode to the game. This mode has several different difficulty levels that are tiered for the level of your Civilization. Each level bracket gives you increasing amounts of rewards, and you can play earlier or later tiers if you want a cakewalk or a challenge. You can also scale up the amount of waves of enemies you will have to survive which also scales up the rewards and loot you receive if you win. There are nine different maps to choose from, each having their own unique layout and theme with a decent split between land and sea-based invasions. Lastly, you can do these missions in co-op if you don't want to go alone.

Epic Temples

The rewards for passing each individual mission include the general exp/gold/treasure chest rewards that you get from normal missions, as well as unique crafting materials and unique "epic" decorations for your town. The unique materials are used to craft recipes that are only available in the Crete stores. The island of Crete itself is open to both premium and free Civs, even for those that don't own the Booster Pack. If you don't buy the Booster, you can still get a single daily quest from the island that allows you to do one low-level, low-wave mission per day, and everyone has access to the special Crete reward stores on the island.

The Stores on Crete sell unique advisers, consumables and crafting recipes as well as rare and epic armour and weapons. Only the armour and weapons actually require you to spend Crete Points, the others can be bought with gold, although the crafting recipes are useless to people who haven't bought the Booster as the materials are only available from doing the survival missions (the 'demo' daily only rewards a very small amount of Crete points). The weapons and armour do cost a lot of Crete points, and take a fair amount of grinding and farming the missions to acquire. It is technically possible for a player who doesn't pay for the Booster pack to afford the items by doing the daily every single day, but it would literally take them over a year to afford the most expensive pieces on offer. Moral: if you don't buy the Booster, don't bother doing the daily every day for anything more than for the fun of it.

$10 or 400 days, your choice!

Playing the missions themselves can be pretty intense, especially on the high-wave co-op versions, and can get really challenging if you aren't exactly an AoE expert. They open themselves to a lot of different strategies and can be pretty fun. If the difficulty spike of the main missions is anything to go by, the hardest waves of this mode could be positively brutal. The rewards for continually doing the survival missions are quite good, and the weapons and armour are powerful but require a lot of time and effort to acquire. In all it's a pretty good addition to the main game that you can play as little or as much as you like throughout the entire 40 levels of your Civ, and caters for solo and co-op players of really any skill level.

If you're on the fence about getting this, just play the daily a few times to see if you're really into it. The daily is basically the lowest level option with the lowest number of waves on, arguably, one of the easier maps in the pool. If you're really into it it can serve as a good leveling alternative and give some fun co-op experiences, and the loot is a nice bonus. The loot isn't exactly better or worse than what you would get as drops at the same level of quests in the main quest lines, but they are strong and a good reward for simply playing if you have fun in the survival mode. If you don't really like the daily and are only interested in the loot, be advised you can get similar loot from random treasure chests and it can take a fair amount of grind to afford the Crete epics.

Overall, the value of this content is based entirely on how much you'll play it. If you like the mode it's a rewarding piece of content with enough variation that you can play on and off from the moment you get your first soldier units right up and beyond the level cap. If you don't like the mode, you can comfortably ignore its existence.

Vanity Items: Town Version

Hats! Wait... No. As much as it'd be hilarious to be able to buy funny hats and angel wings and Chun Li skins for your individual unit types a la standard free2play model, Age of Empires: Online's vanity items are relegated to making your home town looking fancy. There are four different shops available at launch and each of them cost US$5. Each of the four shops have a different assortment of buildings, statues, fountains, plants and trees for you to lay out on your town to spruce it up a little.

It's a gold-sink, and not just for your wallet

In Age of Empires: Online, you can basically pack up any building into a blueprint that you can store in your inventory and place anywhere you like on your town map. It's a cool little customizability tool that can give your town some personality for when friends visit your town. When you get one (or more) of the shops you can plonk it down where you please and buy other features to give your town more character. These features are bought with gold that you get from quests and selling items and such. They can be as cheap as 10 gold each for things like vases and flagpoles, and up to 25k gold for giant ornate statues. Each shop has only 10 unique features that you can buy from it.

Something else that kind of sours it on these shops is that you can obtain some really cool looking town features as rewards for doing tough challenges in the game. All the big things like pyramids, shrines, temples and such seem to be in this category, where the paid shops give you things like fountains and bushes and smaller statues. I'm kinda hoping at this point that a little more worthwhile content comes out so that I can write these shops off as getting them for free with my Season Pass, because I will probably end up using them at some point but wouldn't have paid US$5 for each of them.

My (poorly laid-out) Egyptian Town

As these shops double as a gold sink, it is kind of hard to recommend you buy them at all unless you're really into making your town look nice, and even then only if you like spending a whole lot of money to spend a whole lot of gold. I guess at low levels these shops seem more heinous because you don't even have enough gold to throw around to afford the features let alone town essentials as well. I guess when my Civ's get higher level and have gold and materials to throw away I'll actually use these and make my town a little more respectable than it is at the moment (which is a total mess, admittedly!). US$2 a shop might have seemed more reasonable if you're really into fancy junk (I know people have paid more for less in other free2play markets).

Next Time...

For the next part of Six Months of AoE:Online I'll be looking at the Premium Civilization bonuses and comparing a free account to a premium one in more detail. If you have any questions, suggestions, comments, tips on how to get the editor to not be a bit of an arse with my images, feel free to comment below!

Thanks for reading!

5 Comments

When a plan comes together...

Or in this case "when a spontaneous purchase warrants further action."

Age of Empires Online made more buzz upon its release because of its strange experimental pricing model rather than the game itself. It would be nice to think that opinions on the matter were evenly split between 'cautiously optimistic' and 'burn it, BURN IT ALL!' but the internet is never really so kind. It is a shame really, since the pricing model does have at least some benefits as an alternative to the standard format that rests somewhere between the traditional boxed and free2play/microtransaction formats.

Free to Pay?

Age of Empires Online is a kind of throwback to the classic style of real-time-strategy of its predecessors that mixes in a healthy amount of MMORPG trappings like as leveling, quests, colour-coded loot, talent-like tech trees, crafting, and more. It is a free2play game from level 1 to its cap of 40, but some content is locked out if you do not purchase a particular race (or Civilization) as a premium package. While it's certainly possible to level both Civs to max level as a free member, the premium content is far too appetizing to ignore, making the free portion of the game (although a substantial amount of content for nothing) feel like a massive demo that is constantly prompting you to throw down some money for the juicy parts. The money you are throwing down, of course, is more substantial than your typical microtransaction: US$20 for a single Civ. This is where the opinions of the pricing model diverge.

Some people are uncomfortable with the thought of paying that much money to 'unlock content' in a free game, given that unlocking both of the Civs costs US$40, which is just a little less than the average American pays for a new release PC game. At some point a third Civ will be released, bumping the cost of this 'free2play' game to US$60, and so on and so forth as more content is released over time. For people used to having content graded as 'it's free and you pay for bonuses and vanity items' or 'you pay $50-60 and get what the game gives you' this model can feel radical and incredulous, as if you are being forced to pay an astounding amount of money for a game that advertises itself as 'free'.

Personally, I see it as a step between a standard free model and boxed model, in that you can pick and choose the content you want to play when you want to play it (whether it is priced 'correctly' is another matter entirely). If you stop playing during or after you level a $20 Civ, you may count yourself lucky you didn't have to pay full box price for all that content that you didn't play, but still feel you got your moneys worth for what you did pay for.

I think $20 is the most that a majority of people who play this game will pay when you consider exactly how much time and effort it takes to level a Civ to 40, let alone to continue afterward and get the best collections of items and such for ranked PVP matches, and then do the same over again with a second Civ. With the attention span of modern and casual gamers, leveling two Civs may well be beyond most, and there are two more Civs in the burner for release before the first 6 month 'season' of content is over. Which brings me to the point of this blog.

The Antithesis of Frugal

At release, there were two package deals in the Age of Empires Online store. One was for US$40 and provided you with both premium Civs currently available (Greece and Egypt) and they threw in the first 'booster' DLC pack, Defense of Crete (a wave-based survival mode), for free. The second was a Season Pass for US$100. This included all current paid content for the game, and all the content that was going to be released in the first 6 months of the games cycle, which includes two additional Civs and 'more' as-of-yet unannounced content.

I played Age of Empires Online for around 7 levels before I decided I was going to throw down some money for it. I was really enjoying what was on offer (old-style base-building RTS are a guilty pleasure of mine). I saw that the Celts were one of the next Civs going to be released. I figured I'd be throwing down a little more money at the game at some point. I made a spontaneous purchase:

I got the Season Pass.

Living in Australia, the season pass cost me roughly AU$127 (with some remaining points on XBL account). To put it in perspective, the average Australian pays anywhere from AU$70-100 on a new release if they don't import. Not that that's a justification for my purchase or anything. It was totally spontaneous. Was it worth it? I'm still not sure whether I regret it or not yet...

But I will in 6 months

Rather than just telling people a simple 'lamentation' or 'joy' on the subject in 6 months time, I thought I'd start a regular blog on Age of Empires Online and how my experience has been as a Season Pass owner, as well as a video diary and possible livestream of sorts for those that don't enjoy walls of text as soon as I get that stuff set up. Hopefully it will be enlightening on what you actually get for your money and my personal impressions of the content as soon as things get added to the game.

Expect more soon!

2 Comments

ETriple

I've been gone a long time, it seems. I hadn't really noticed how much time has passed since my last blog. This is, of course, testament to the incredible time-sucking powers of World of Warcraft, but that's not all I've been doing all this time (although admittedly it's been most of what I've been doing all this time). 
 
I guess I should get the WoW section out of the way first though. I started playing WoW a few months ago, mostly because the MMORPG's I was playing at the time were getting kinda old. Well, one was getting kinda old and the other was just bad. My IRL friends (why does it always feel weird to say that?) had been constantly asking me to join them in Azeroth, and as I really had nothing better to do I finally caved in.  In the few short months I've played WoW, I think I've seen most of what it has to offer, in terms of old and new content. Of course, it's made much easier to do by being able to duo level 60 raid dungeons that were designed for forty well-geared players at the time of their inception, but nonetheless experienced it I have. I recently downed the Lich King himself, and while it was an elating feeling at the time, shortly after I was left thinking, 'so what now?' I am at the point in progression that I don't think many surpass, at least not those that have been playing for a little as I have. I am pretty much unable to get better gear until my guild can defeat the Lich King in 25-man mode, which kinda sucks. My continued enjoyment is stifled by others, others who I've grown pretty fond of in that time, which is giving me conflicting feelings. As such, my interest in the game is waning, and I'll probably quit soon... right after I get the last three Marks of Sanctification I need to make all my tier 10 pieces ilvl264.
 
Other than WoW, I had been studying and finally completed my editing course. Slow clap... NOW!
 
WoW had been sucking most of my recreational time, so other games have really been put on the backburner. I bought Super Street Fighter 4, for the PS3 this time because I am far too poor for an arcade stick and the 360 controller is no good at all from past experience. In that way, the PS3 had been seeing much more use than my 360 than in months past. I turned on my 360 yesterday and was met with a handful of updates and the realisation that I hadn't played anything on it since Bioshock 2, which was still sitting, unfinished, in the drive. To remedy this, I bought Doom 2 for XBLA, and it promptly froze on the ninth stage of the campaign. And the game doesn't autosave. FFFFFFUUUUUU-
 
I was kinda thinking long and hard about what title to put on this blog to make it seem timely and relevant, so here's the part of the blog that relates to that:
 
Every year, E3 comes around, and like many I get pretty hyped for it. As I live in Australia, though, my excitement for E3 is a little detached. Sure, there are videos and trailers of new games pouring out like chocolate from the pipes of Willy Wonka's factory, but there is only one thing I really look forward to at E3, and that's the press conferences. Not only is it where the really significant announcements and reveals are generally made, but they are always a hotbed of amusing quotes, laughable live demos, and just plain silliness. Nothing had really topped the 2006 Sony presentation ( RIIIIIIIIDGE RACERRRRRR), but I have high hopes that something amusing and/or exciting will come out of the conferences each year. They haven't let me down so far, and with two full hours of Nintendo, I'm sure they won't this year either.
 
One thing that I am upset about at this year's E3 is the lack of Arenanet on the showfloor. The news surrounding Guild Wars 2 is really heating up lately, and the more I read the more it sounds like the best game ever, period. Words can be bent, though, and as an MMO junkie I have a healthy amount of pessimism stored up in me, so not being able to actually see the game being played until Gamescom is torture. I want to want that game, but it seems far too ambitious for it's own good.

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The blog where I talk about Final Fantasy 13

For a genre of games that has always been about it's grindy repetitive combat and straight-as-a-die narrative involving a general mishmash of cliches, stereotypes, and plain weird Japanesism, Final Fantasy 13 does a good job of mixing up the formula a little without the pretense of you knowing there's going to be smoke and mirrors flung liberally around the two main parts of the game: the story and the combat. 
 
The game is relentless in that regard, continually pushing you down it's narrative path. There's no need to sit on the world map for hours alternating left and right and mashing x to become powerful enough for the next encounter. There's no need to travel to different out-of-the-way towns that serve no purpose other than to provide you with items you don't really need. There's no time for sleeping at an inn, or watching 16bit girls in bikini's dance to midi tunes, or to skip rope. The story, the characters, and their path to the game's conclusion, simply do not allow for it. Final Fantasy 13 is what all JRPG's are: a tightly focused narrative path with interlaced battles and a healthy dose of post-game grind. It merely strips away all the useless junk that tries to make you think otherwise and streamlines it to a point where all that stuff is unnecessary. 
 
It's a pity, though, that the game doesn't reach it's legs for a good amount of the ~50 hours you'll spend on it to see the ending. Early fights are boring because of the limited tools you have available, which is a very stark contrast and at extreme odds to fights later on in the game when you have the entire mechanic set at your disposal. The game allows for many different party configurations, play styles and tactics, and it's a real shame it constricts you so much in early parts of the game. The two-person-party sequences are welcome, in that they give the character's individual tales a more personal edge that makes none of the cast a throwaway character. The dynamics of a party of two in combat are not entirely without merit, as they make you try different kinds of tactics and learn new tricks with the duo provided, which gives you a better understanding of the combat when you finally do get your third party member, but these 'tutorial' stages definitely overstay their welcome.  
 
Final Fantasy 13 does two things well: its character-driven story and it's malleable, surprisingly deep and flashy combat. That should be enough to make it a pretty damn good JRPG, but it drags its feet for altogether too long. This is why it's disappointing... not the notion that a group of people on a perilous quest to save the world on a deadline should have time to run in circles on a forest texture while playing a card game with a bystander who has nothing interesting to say.
 
Now that that's over with, it's back to repetitive token grinding in the ninth circle of hell for me. There's something strangely hypnotic about it... Please send help.
 
PS: Happy Undead Jesus Day for those who celebrate it!

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Happy New Ye...! Oh wait...

So i just noticed I haven't blogged since last year. Man, time flies. 
 
I guess the reason for this is because nothing too exciting has happened lately to warrant a blog. I guess nothing too special has happened yet either, but I picked up Bioshock 2 and the original Bioshock a couple of days ago. Yes, that's right. I hadn't played Bioshock until a couple of days ago (not counting the demo I downloaded quite some years ago, of course). I just wrapped it up today, and I have to say that it holds up pretty well. I'll probably go back and mop up some achievements (I missed a massive three on my first playthrough) after I dig my teeth into the sequel, which just finished installing on my 360 as I type this. 
 
I also have some rather exciting news. 
 
I FOUND MURAMASA: THE DEMON BLADE FOR SALE IN AUSTRALIA
 
The only copy on the shelf at some backwater JB Hifi is now mine, after searching every EB, GAME, and department store and coming up with nada. In a strange twist, I only just bought Odin Sphere, its spiritual predecessor (in artstyle at least), a few weeks ago as well.  That's two 'sequels' of fairly old games I never got around to playing when they were released. Now I just need to bother finishing a second run of Mass Effect and pick up Mass Effect 2 and I'll be running the trifecta... 
 
PS: Bayonetta is a game deserving of more than a footnote, but here are two final words: it's awesome.

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Just a heads up

A jewel of it's time, Vagrant Story just went up on the PAL PSN store for a quite affordable AU$9.99. It's a great price for one of the more stand-out and unique RPG's on the JRPG-saturated PS1. Maybe the year of gaming isn't over for me just yet!

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