The Age of Empires series has been entertaining real-time strategy fans for 14 years. But rather than simply churn out another clone, the developers have done things differently this time around by revamping the visuals and adding online functionality.
Co-op play, player vs player, online trading and in-game chat transform this once stuffy genre into something instantly appealing. Indeed, with so many multiplayer options, quest to take on and shiny loot to grab - not to mention precious experience points to gather to bolster your capital city - Age of Empires Online at times feels more like an MMO than a straight-up RTS.
Its cartoon-tinged visuals might make the game look as if it's aimed at the casual market - especially as they look to have been heavily influenced by Disney's The Emperor's New Groove. However, a cursory glance at the sprawling tech tree reveals that Age of Empires Online is actually a complex beast.
Resource gathering and unit building have always been the bedrock on which the vast majority of real-time strategy titles have been built - and it's no different here. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most frustrating aspects of the game.
It's incredibly hard to keep tabs on all your units as they go about their business - despite the best efforts of the small map in the corner of the screen. Sending units out to work the land efficiently while simultaneously leading several small armies into battle can be a monumental pain because there is just so much going on.
It should also be noted that Age of Empires Online follows a free-to-play model - something which is a blessing and a curse. The plus points come from the fact you'll enjoy hours of entertainment on the cheap. But the flip side to the free fun is that those who don't invest will miss out on a variety of features, including enhanced multiplayer options, extra workshops, a fully-fledged tech tree, additional inventory space, new storylines and powerful epic gear.
To be honest, I would rather just pay a one-off fee to experience the full game but love it or hate it, this freemium model is unfortunately here to stay.
But all things considered, Age Of Empires Online is still definitely worth a look - even if it's only for a quick peek. Just be prepared to throw cash at it if you want to experience everything the game has to offer.