The Flaws in Combat and Enemy Encounters in Dead Space 3

I originally wanted to title this "Dashing through the snow with a one-armed plasma cutter", but that was kinda long and silly. That, or "So long, space miner".

Dead Space 3 is a good game. It’s not as good as the first two, and has some questionable business practices with microtransactions, but it’s a fine game. A 3/5 stars, if you will. That’s a shame to me, as the first two are some of my favorite games this generation.

"I just cannot believe any of this voodoo bullshit!" Me neither Childs, me neither. Oh wait, wrong planet.

However, I was frankly disappointed with the enemy encounter design and handling of weapons in Dead Space 3. Dead Space 1 and 2 had huge varieties of enemies and tons of great weapons, allowing you to tackle enemies in numerous ways. In the first two games, you could carry 4 weapons, each with a specialized type of fire and use in combat. Weapons like the Line Gun, the pulse rifle, the Ripper, the Force Gun, and the quintessential Plasma Cutter made for exceptionally fun combat. Combined with the freakish horrors of the Necromorphs, Dead Space 1 and 2 crafted memorable experiences of creeping through derelict mining ships and blasting enemies in Zero-G.

For one thing, the enemy AI always seems to just barrel straight towards you faster than ever before, and with little variety in the enemy mix up. I think I saw the Pregnant twice in the whole game, along with the Divider and the Wheezer, of all enemies. Most encounters go as follows: Slashers, a Puker or two, maybe an Exploder, the little Swarmer guys occasionally, and the dead scientists, in various combos and amounts. That’s about it. It really felt like just a meat grinder of the same enemies, and same strategies to kill them, throughout the game. The human enemies aren't very good, and in my opinion do not belong in a Dead Space game.

Yeah, this guy right here.

In DS 1 & 2, the Leapers were more terrifying before due to their speed and agility. Now that almost every other enemy is faster, it removes some of the uniqueness and scariness from that particular enemy, reducing the tension of fights with it a little compared to before. The lack of mixing up enemies is also disappointing. It’s mostly just the regular Necromorphs and those dead scientists that morph depending on how their limbs are removed. That didn't freshen up combat like I’d hope they would, since you fall into a pattern of effectively dealing with them by taking off the head and two of the tentacles that sprout from the torso. By finding a strategy that worked, it was like reducing the enemy variety since that was the way I killed those enemies, causing them to respond the same way each time.

It’s not my job to create new combat scenarios for myself, that’s the game’s job.

Finally, I was most disappointed, and actually really sad about how the Stalker encounters play in Dead Space 3. In 2, the two sections they were in were high points for me and many people, because of their behavior. By not just running at you, by peeking around corners and scampering behind you, coupled with the fast and frantic charge left me shaken fighting them. They were unpredictable, and that scared me; it stands as a uniquely “Dead Space” moment for the franchise, and I was looking forward to the same high-tension scenarios in 3. However, in DS3, they just peek out from their boxes and charge in sequences. I think you fight them 3-4 times in DS3, and each time they would all run at me one after the other, with absolutely no pausing for effect, or scurrying off and letting me get lost in the maze trying to hunt them. Why do that when they literally throw themselves at me? It reduced the most terrifying enemy from Dead Space 2 into the blandest for me.

Now for the weapons. For the most part, I though the crafting system was fun and never required me to buy any microtransactions at all. However, I felt that the decision to limit players to 2 weapons and having universal ammo was a massive design flaw, and is my chief complaint with the game. I feel that it limits the player in how they approach combat, and removes some of the creativity by having fewer weapons and some of the tension that resulted from ammo management.

I read a quote from the lead UI designer Dino Ignacio from a Reddit thread before the game came out about the decision:

“…You only get two weapon slots this time but each weapon can have two sets of engine and tip combos. So effectively you have 4 weapons.”

Dino Ignacio, UI Lead
The BEST weapon in Dead Space 2, right next to the Contact Beam.

But that’s untrue from my point of view. In Dead Space 3, the different alternative fires from guns in the previous games can also be we. So, comparing the two games, I was using the Plasma Cutter (Because it’s Dead Space and that’s the proper way to play) and a crafted Line Gun in Dead Space 3. So that’s 2 weapons in total, compared to the Plasma Cutter, Ripper, Javelin Gun and Contact Beam I was using in Dead Space 2, all with useful and fun alternate fire modes that complimented the weapons perfectly.

By that logic, I was using 8 weapons in the previous two games, and I really liked that ability to diversify and try new weapons without feeling like I got stuck with one I didn't like until I found another Bench. That happened to me several times in Dead Space 3, where I decided I needed to change up my load out, but was so far from a Bench or trapped that I was forced to use my crafted gun when I no longer found it fun to use. To me, that is a much bitterer pill to swallow than optional microtransactions or lack of environmental diversity.

Dead Space was always about giving the player fun, unique weapons to combat myriad types of enemies that actually required strategy to fight them. In Dead Space 3, the lack of weapon options and homogeneity of enemy types, behavior, and encounters were truly disappointing, and left me baffled as to how such wonderful gameplay, demonstrated to be fun and effective at inspiring horror in two previous games was watered down for the third. By reducing the amount of weapons to two, the game effectively cuts the number of tools you have to handle enemies in half compared to the previous games. It really feels like one step forward and two steps back by giving you so much choice in picking weapon combinations, but then letting you only use two at a time.

Despite the fact that it was fun to play, Dead Space 3 really was a disappointment to me. It never reaches the gameplay highs of 2 or the truly creepy atmosphere of 1, and instead feels like a weird mash of both that doesn't hold up, letting you shoot dudes with a shotgun and SMG like a standard TPS, but also trying to unnerve you with enemies and spooky locales that aren't all that scary in comparison to DS1 or 2. Maybe instead of trying to have its cake and eat it too, Isaac should just sit on it instead. After all, that’s at least an entertaining story.

Start the Conversation

Hot Keys: Supreme Commander 2

Well, it’s that time of the week again. This week, it’s all about the zoom key with Supreme Commander 2.

Supreme Commander 2 is a game that I very much want to like, but never quite reached that point. It adheres strictly to RTS convention by having the player build up a base with tons of units, and then attack-move to go kill the opponent. Except that you’re opponent is on the other end of this insanely long map that can take anywhere from 5-10 real life minutes to traverse. See, the gimmick of the series is a focus on massive battles. Unit caps are set at 500, and you can control myriad air, land, and sea forces against your opponent as you both attempt to devise strategies to flank and decimate units, from a viewing angle like that of God himself. You also have a commander robot that can build and perform tons of combat roles through different upgrade paths. The game ends when your commander goes critical, turning it into a nuke. There are upgrades that will allow you to safely detach the head and have it turn into another unit, leaving your enemies to fry while you regroup.


There are also Experimental Units, which take tons of time to research and build. Consequently, they are the most powerful units in the game. The developers over at Gas Powered Games also took the experimental moniker and applied it to the unit designs themselves, which are crazy and awesome. There’s fire-breathing dinosaur robots, submarines that have crazy Kraken tentacles, tanks that are made of other tanks, and a cannon that shoots units across the battlefield. It’s completely nuts, and gives the game a unique feel to using them. I really enjoy the physical design of these units, and I wish they had been able to transfer that to the regular units as well.

An there’s one of my first problems: for as awesome as the Experimental Units are, getting them out takes a long time, and very specific tech paths to get to each. It’s understandable, because you can’t just have a Cybrannosaurus Rex come out in the first 15 minutes. Yet using the actual normal units, the ones that are supposed to be augmented by the Experimental Units, are just boring and sometimes difficult to use. There is something like 5 different types, including artillery, support, and attack and so on, but the actual effect these roles seem to have is minimal. I don’t feel the need to pick specific unit combos because they are just so disposable. It really feels like you are always waiting on meters to fill up so you can pump out another 3 measly units.


Also, building the units is a chore in and of itself. The buildings from which they come from are enormous, and take up a ton of space, but only make one unit at a time. I feel that if units came out in squads of 5 or 10, it would speed up the game so much, and trying to differentiate between individual buildings can be tricky. The AI pathfinding is nothing to write home about, and for a game that relies so heavily on sending hordes of units, it would be nice to have them all get there at the same time. I’ve had tons of problems with units just getting stuck on walls, and that should not happen in this kind of game!

It really should be like this all the time. If you're lucky, it takes about 30 minutes.

Overall the game just feels really slow. It kind of fits with the theme of commanding these insanely huge armies, but ultimately is a barrier to entry. Why waste 45 minutes getting to a point where it becomes fun, when I can play something like Dawn of War II or StarCraft and have an enjoyable 30 minutes? Also, why does this game have a unit cap? When the whole point is to build up huge forces, I don’t think I should be limited. It was fun for an afternoon, but that’s really all I wanted to play, despite my love for the Experimental Units and the Commander idea.

The campaign is also pretty weak, with very pretty but meaningless cutscenes about a war that brings these formerly peaceful factions against each other’s throats. Something that would have been cool would be to extend to some global domination game like MAG, but with the three different factions duking it out over the planet. Oh well, at least there’s a giant dinosaur robot in it.


Hot Keys: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

The best way I have ever heard someone describe an RTS is that it’s like a game of chess, but you also control everything surrounding actually fighting your opponent. You have to keep track of a million things at the same time, training units, gathering resources, scouting, attacking, retreating, researching, building, feinting, just to start. StarCraft II is a pinnacle of game design, where your skill can actually improve in very meaningful ways just by analyzing your play style and devising actual strategies.

The game is just so visually stimulating.

When I started playing, I was immediately put in Bronze, because I had never played an RTS really competitively before. I was just the guy that would put the AI on easy and turtle up a massive force to decimate opponents, and I was content with that. However, laddering in StarCraft drove me to push my skills and become better at the game, with help from both the TeamLiquid forums and watching Day9. These people have such a passion for the game that it becomes infectious, and after coming up with build orders and recognizing when to scout and engage, I rose up the ranks quickly. In fact, in two seasons I had gone from Bronze to Platinum league, and ended up placing in the Top 50 for my division.

If you don't know who this guy is, then you should.

What I find funny is that I have a lot to say about StarCraft II, but what I say means next to nothing compared to other, more dedicated players out there. People are able to make a living playing StarCraft II, training hours upon hours with such intense focus. Millions of people (myself included) have paid real money to WATCH the GSL, to admire the beautiful back and forth between pros. Watching them play reveals the true draw behind the game: the ability to push the games systems to the limit while coming up with tactics on the fly, and being rewarded (or not) depending on how you succeed.

The campaign tells a good story, the art style is colorful and fun, and everything that has been done with custom game creating and matchmaking makes it an enjoyable experience to play the game. With the way they have the leagues set up a player should have a 50/50 win/loss record, meaning you’ll never be placed against Diamond league if you’re in Silver. It also feels great to see your rank climb up to the top of the charts, and getting really good to a point where you can get into Diamond is actually manageable, but it takes a lot of practice.

It's guys like these that help keep the enthusiasm for StarCraft II alive and well.

I love StarCraft II. I love, love, love the game so much. Never before have I been so immersed in a game than this one. StarCraft II is perhaps the king of the RTS genre (although I think Brood War players may disagree), and the community and everything else surrounding the game is truly astonishing. The amount of support Blizzard has given to the game and the community is staggering, from updates to sponsored invitationals and televised championships, they have expertly poised the game to become the head of the E-sports movement, and the “Barcraft” scene that has developed recently is a great thing for connecting fans and getting to see some hot SCII action. In fact, GSL 2012 Season One is going on right now, so check it out! Good luck, have Batman.


Hot Keys: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II

Welcome to Hot Keys, where I profile different RTS's that I've played and (mostly) enjoyed. This week, it's all about the blood for the blood god with Warhammer 40K Dawn of War II.

Dawn of War II is unique among the RTS genre because it embraces a totally different style of strategy. Instead of doing the traditional base-building mechanic, it throws it completely out the window in favor of unit tactics and really intense micromanagement. Units cost lots of resources, so keeping them alive is paramount, which is why DoW II is such an impressive game. It manages to make base building feel old and outdated, because you’re able to jump right into the action capturing victory nodes, and resources, all while playing deadly cat-and-mouse with your opponent.

The graphics and effects look amazing, and battles can often tip based on how well you use your units.

Another thing it does right is the portrayal of the Warhammer 40K universe. I don’t play Warhammer 40K at all, but the setting and the fiction is so appealing that, just like Vinny, I have bought several 40K books (Eisenhorn is badass!), most of which are genuinely good reads.

The devs at Relic took this awesome fiction and made one of, if not the best, RTS campaign ever. Usually it’s no more than several skirmish scenarios with some pretense of a story, but Dawn of War II takes that and wraps the challenging and rewarding squad control in a really cool story. It takes you all over the 40K universe to different sectors and planets, and sees you defending a forge world from a massive Ork invasion, combined with the meddling Eldar and fearsome Tyranids (which Blizzard used as a template for the Zerg faction when making StarCraft). It’s just great.

The unit models are just perfect. SHPAYCE MURHREENS!!!

In the multiplayer, there is no base building at all, except for upgrading your central hub where units spawn out of, and resources are collected by capturing requisition and power nodes along the map, which generate resources over time. This leads to tense tactical encounters that depend heavily on unit position and equipment versus numbers. A standard squad of Space Marines has 3 of them to a squad, and this extends to all other units summoned. Similar to Relic’s previous RTS Company of Heroes, managing your units is vital, especially knowing when to retreat. There’s also a multiplayer mode where you team up with people online and pick a hero unit from each faction, and fight against waves of enemies Horde style. It’s really fun watching your marine jump 50 feet in the air and come crashing down on a group of Ork nobs, and the loot you pick up always gives you a reason to keep playing.

The loot and leveling systems are really in-depth and provide some great powers.

Overall, it’s just a really fun RTS with a unique spin on unit tactics, and all the art, sound, and production values really evoke the horror and beauty of the Warhammer 40K universe. The expansion pack, Chaos Rising doesn’t fail to disappoint. Chaos Rising is a great sequel, in that it continues the already great story of the Blood Angels, and introduces a corruption mechanic that creates a crazy dichotomy between unit powers and loot, whether you remain faithful to the Imperium, or fall into the grasp of Chaos, with each side having compelling powers and loot that force you to make more calculated decisions about which side you go with. There’s also the Retribution expansion that I haven’t played, but have also heard great things about. It’s just a phenomenal package, and I recommend all fans of RTS’s to give it a shot.


Hot Keys: Age of Empires III

Welcome to Hot Keys, a blog series about my love for and history playing RTS’s. This week, it’s the finale of the Age of Empires series, with the weakest entry in the trilogy, Age of Empires III.

Well, here we are at the end of the Age of Empires trilogy. Age of Empires III was an okay game, and that’s precisely what hurt it the most for me. It wasn’t straight up bad or broken, but the direction they went in did not suit the original formula of building up a civilization from scratch.

So AoE III was a huge disappointment coming off Age of Kings for me. This installment took the timeline to the “Age of Discovery”, with older factions like Vikings, Japanese, Saracens, etc. and replacing them with New World powers like Portugal and Spain. The gameplay was the same as always, except now instead of spawning on a map with a horse scout, you got a semi-hero unit in the form of a fur trapper-esque guide that could capture trading outposts, and was supposed to act as a hero unit to supplement your forces. However, I found him kind of useless, with such little health and unhelpful spells that didn’t make much of a dent against enemies.

Regiments and firing positions. Cool, I guess.

Also, the game had an odd supply system I never fully understood where you got certain cards that would act as supply drops from the home country to the Americas. There were cards that gave you like, 3 special elite cavalry, or a bunch of workers, or some soldiers. I actually never understood how to get these cards, since they came from a deck that each player had and couldn’t be reused. It seemed like a really rushed idea, since these cards were supposed to be used to give players a momentary edge, but none of the rewards were all that meaningful. I mean, what are 3 slightly, more powerful cavalry units going to do against 20 musketmen? Not much more than 3 regular units.

And, well, I don’t know…I just didn’t have that same wow factor that kept me hooked in the other two games. The FOV on the screen was smaller, due to a larger (in my opinion) bottom UI that made me feel like I couldn’t see enough of the screen. The units and factions, which were such an integral part of distinguishing them in II, were boilerplate and bland. What difference did it make if I played England or Spain? Flag design, sure, but everything about the game felt so bland and uninteresting. Knights and castles definitely worked better than muskets and trading outposts. There was a cool monster truck cheat code though, that I did enjoy. I think using that truck was the most fun I actually had in that game.

Take that, train!

In the end, I think the most damning thing I can say about this game is that I didn’t spend enough time with it to get something meaningful out of the game. One of the few innovations I remember liking was building up this little town they had in the menu that somehow affected what kinds of supply drops you could get during a match. It was complicated, and I never actually figured it out. It makes me sad knowing that the team at Ensemble probably rushed to get this game out, and before they could follow up on this picture they put in the game's art book were forced to do Halo Wars and were immediately disbanded afterwards. Think of it, AoE in SPACE! Oh well, games and studios come and go, but it’s the great things they did with I and II that I remember most, and those are products that stand the test of time.

Look at what could have been.

Thanks everyone for reading! And hey, if anyone out there actually liked this game, tell me why! It's always nice to have a perspective on things. Anyway, now that I’ve wrapped up this little miniseries about AoE, I can finally move on to some different and even more obscure RTS’s! Tune in next week for more!


Hot Keys: Age of Empires II: Age of Kings

Welcome to Hot Keys, a blog series about my love for and history playing RTS’s. This week, it’s the follow up the first Age of Empires: Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings.

Age of Empires 2 is my favorite RTS of all time, no question. It was such a monumental leap from the first AoE in every way: the graphics were a lot better, each civilization was more fleshed out and had actual appreciable differences, more units, more buildings, and on and on. I played this game for at least two years straight as my go-to PC game. As a child with a very short attention span, having something like this to alleviate boredom was just an amazing feat. This is going to be a little long in the tooth, but there are just so many things I love about this game, beginning with the opening cinematic:

This little short BLEW MY MIND. OH MAN LOOK AT ALL THOSE GUYS FIGHTING HOLY CRAP CATAPAULTS AAAAAHHHHH!!!!!! I watched this cinematic probably at least 50 times, and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen at that point. The actual game is a little scaled down from that video, but the tone it set was clear, that this game was going to be, “bigger, better, more badass” to borrow a phrase.

Age of Empires 2 is a much better RTS than the first ever was. Even at the time, I thought to myself how good the UI was (I was kind of a weird kid) and the big unit icons instead of the tiny ones from the first helped me learn building menu locations fast. There is just such an amazing depth to this game: all the factions had a big tech tree you could look at that included more research options akin to a Civilization game. Being able to build things like new bombard towers to shoot cannonballs as a defense were so cool and the buildings actually looked realistic. The art differences between the styles (Far East, Middle Eastern, Central and West European) were very vivid, and as you progressed your cities would start to look like actual cities.

Don't tell me this isn't eye-catching.

This is the game that taught me to strategize in RTS’s. Gone were the days of tricking unit caps and building only War Elephants (I still built appreciable numbers of them). I learned about sending my units in different waves, with swordsmen leading the front and my crossbowmen and siege engines in the back, while I tried to learn how to multitask with doing pincer formations with cavalry archers. The AI was much improved, and there were times that I would lose if didn’t try and follow a set strategy when I played, and that pressure to perform helped my game so much. Once I got so good at the game, I would have free-for-all games with 7 AI’s set on the hardest difficulty and would win most of the time.

Speaking of which, along with the AI improvements came improvements with their build orders, and that made winning harder. After 30 minutes, they would have encased their town center with walls and towers galore, with tons of buildings crammed in next to each other, so even if I managed to break through a wall with a trebuchet (the absolute best unit in the game) and started pouring in battering rams and catapults, it took so long to actually break through the secondary wall of buildings to get to the town center! The victory conditions were to either destroy the enemy town center or build a wonder, and nothing made me more anxious than the text popping up in the corner with a countdown clock until the wonder is completed, and I had to move to get there in time.

A typical Imperial Age forward outpost. Having renewable farms to provide food were a cornerstone on the street of victory.

There were games where it took well over 3 hours to clear every enemy building from these giant maps, since they could hide a forge in the corner of the map. There were literal sieges of bases that took tons of time to decimate the enemy walls while defending the weapons, and then initial skirmishes where retreating and reinforcing were the name of the game leading to full on assaults that lasted minutes. Watching hordes of my units slowly slog through enemy forces filled me with such pride for my skill, and seeing the victory screen where my superior tactics decimated 3 AI’s taking me on at once lived up to that opening intro promise of massive battles.

But the thing I enjoyed most was the units. At the time, that was a huge draw for me: what units I could build, how they all looked, what they upgraded to (a big part of making use of every troop type, so certain units didn’t become unusable at a certain point). It was so amazing to me that when an upgrade would finish it would apply to all units at the same time, and seeing basic club men turn into dudes with swords as they fought enemy club men was great. Also, each civilization had a unique unit that could only be built from castles, which were giant fortresses that cost tons of money and dozens of villagers to complete. For example, the Japanese had Samurai, the Vikings had Vikings, the Teutons had tank-like Teutonic Knights, etc. These units were drawn and animated well, and one of my fondest memories was building up a max unit cap of Elite Samurai and just destroying everything.

The music is very good. All that needs to be said.

This is one of my favorite games of all time, and cemented my love of the RTS genre. Commanding armies, managing an economy and upgrades, and doing it all on my own was so rewarding to me, which made my disappointment all the more painful with Age of Empires III. Thanks for reading, and next week I will round out the trilogy with Age of Empires III.


Hot Keys: Age of Empires

Hello everyone, and welcome to "Hot Keys", a blog series I'll be doing about my love and history with the RTS genre. I've been playing these games for a long time, and I'd like to share with everyone why I thought they were so amazing. Hopefully you'll enjoy it, and please direct all comments, questions, and critcisms to the comments section. And, now I present my first installment on the game that started it all: Age of Empires.

Have you ever played an RTS? If you have, then you know the feeling of constant anxiety, watching your mouse dance across the screen, clicking like mad and pressing buttons to gather resources to pump out units to go kill the other guy, while making sure he doesn't kill you first. Hopefully, like myself, you enjoy playing them. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the little unit icons and the dialogue they produce when clicked! All are part of the wonderful dance of death played online (or the versus AI, that's fine too) against some 5 year old Korean who will Zerg rush you into oblivion. I don't actually play on the Korean SCII servers, but I know this would happen.

This game had really cool art style, and watching it evolve over the course of the different ages was fascinating. Building an entire Greek civilization does wonders for an eight year old's ego.

Well, I love them so much I wanted to write about them, and reexamine my history of playing games. I play StarCraft II and Dawn of War II mostly nowadays, but looking back, I have played a ton of these games, starting with Ensemble Studios' groundbreaking title, Age of Empires. I remember first playing Age of Empires at my Uncle's house either in 1998 or 1999, and I remember the start screen, staring an indecipherable menus. I must have played with the menu alone for 10 minutes trying to play the game. Eventually, I clicked a button that put me in a game, and all I remember after that is asking to borrow the game to play at home, I loved it so much.

The original siege tank.

Age of Empires plays like a "normal" RTS. You have a town center to make villagers who can gather resources to build structures like barracks, a siege workshop, etc. to build units out of. One thing I remember liking a lot was that there were 4 art styles for the different factions (Egyptian, Asian, Greek, and Babylonian), and each style had 3 factions. My personal favorite was the Phoenicians, because they could train hoplite troops that upgraded into Phalanxes that looked so awesome, with their cool armor and lances, and they could make war elephants. That's right, WAR ELEPHANTS. They also had awesome galleons that could just wreck anything that came in their path. I would even just play the game just to look at all the different models, or would only build one type of unit (usually the aforementioned WAR ELEPHANTS) and try to win. The ballistas were also cool, since they were just autonomous crossbows of death that also made a great "whoosh" noise when they fired.

These guys are the best.

Another fun thing about Age of Empires is that, like most RTS's, had a unit cap. In this game is was capped at 50 units, including workers. However, if a unit was in the process of being trained when you hit the cap, it would just read 51/50 and you couldn't build any more units until it went under 50 again. This meant that if one were to say, oh, I don't know, try to train 15 extra catapults before the supply cap went from 49 to 50, one would end up with 15 catapults over the unit cap. Eventually, I started racing to see how many extra units I could pump out before I passed the cap, which meant that I had to click like crazy on all my buildings to build those extra units.

To add further intrigue, buildings could only queue up one unit at a time, and you had to re-click the building to build another unit! So I built like 50 stables or siege workshops in huge lines, trying to click on all of them before time ran out. This was before I knew what mouse sensitivity or hot keys were, so just imagine an eight year old kid mashing the left mouse button on a slow trackball mouse, trying to make that extra catapult to kill the enemies that barely built any defenses because back then AI was kinda crap. I had so much fun just turtling up and crushing non existent threats to my global domination, taking over all island maps, feeling like I was some heroic conqueror of the ancient world.

Rivers were so frustrating because you could only move units across the little marsh area, which did NOT help when enemy priests kept converting units as they marched along. That is why you bring archers and sweet ballistas to fight.

Age of Empires was my first foray into the RTS genre, and I continued along happily, until I somehow discovered that there was an Age of Empires II. No joke, the first time I ever found Wikipedia (back in like 2001), the first thing I looked up was Age of Empires, and I found that there was a second one. But that's a post for another day. Well, thanks for reading, and I hope I've made you understand just a little bit why this was such a great game. See you next time, where I will analyze the sequel: Age of Empires II: Age of Kings.