Getting Into Gaming: Age Of Empires II
When I was young, one of the first computer games I owned was Age of Empires I: Gold Edition. I played it for hours and worked out the easiest ways of racing ahead in terms of research and technology. I was always the first to reach the final age and to finish building my world wonder. So I thought I was relatively good at the game. It wasn’t until last year that I found out that building a massive stone wall and then establishing a pacifist agro-pastoral community with no intention of fighting in the war that was going on outside isn’t actually how you’re supposed to play. Apparently you’re actually supposed to join in the war… and win, ideally. Seemed simple enough. The objective was about as clear cut as it could be, and I have friends who swear by Age of Empires II as the quintessential RTS game. The historical setting, which makes it so distinctive in its genre, also made it a little more interesting to me than other games my friends had recommended (Sins of a Solar Empire case and point). So why not give it a shot?
As I hadn’t played in close on 10 years I thought it would be wise to run through the tutorial to remind myself of how the basics worked and learn whatever new things the updated game had to offer. Cue fun little history lesson about William Wallace and the Braveheart crowd, and then the tutorial started. Much of it was the same as I remembered: chop down trees, harvest berries, build stuff. I mass produced villagers like a pro and had every resource covered; a hive of productivity! But within about two minutes I had a list of reminders down the left side of my screen telling me I should be building a barracks and upgrading my military and trading with my allies. I managed to keep up during the tutorials, and managed to win each mini-scenario the way the game wanted me to. So I boldly moved on to the random map scenarios, thinking: “Eh, how hard could it be?”
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I tried to do what the tutorial had told me, really I did, but despite my best efforts, when 12 English pikemen arrived in my village, the only thing that saved me was that my Town Centre had good aim! So I thought maybe I should make some friends so that when the silly English knights came back I could call for backup. This worked reasonably well. The Turks accepted my offers (this would probably make a history teacher curl up and die) and changed their stance to ally. Next thing they were calling me to go to war with the English… which I couldn’t do! My military had been decimated by those pikemen and I had only managed to create another two knights and a handful of archers since. So I sat it out, hoping the Turks would obliterate the English. They were certainly more advanced and had a much bigger empire than the English had; easy game. Except that the English obviously realised this too, so they sent half their forces out to attack me while the Turks were busy attacking them. At that stage I gave up and quit the scenario. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very competitive, and I’m equally disinterested in being walked over by some hyper-aggressive pixels.
So far, I hadn’t exactly excelled at the game. But, I committed myself to trying to play the game properly. So that meant I still had one more thing to do: Campaign mode. I started with one that sounded nice and straightforward: escort Joan of Arc to safety past and through British and Burgundy troupes without getting killed. I think I over-thought this a little, trying to cut through forests and across rivers, ignoring the nicely laid out dirt road which ended up leading me exactly where I needed to go. But how was I to know that the road (which was full of highwaymen and broken bridges) was the safest route across the map? So it took me about 50% longer than it should’ve, but I quite enjoyed it! The campaign let me play as defensively as I wanted, without punishing me for it by invading my town and genociding my people. Although, Joan was far too keen to rush into battle and bash down walls for a woman in a sack-dress!
The other campaigns all seemed to be combat based, so in all honesty I decided to quit while I was ahead. I’d already established that I’m as useful in a time of war as a wooden house in veld fire season, and I was fairly sure the campaigns could only do more damage than the normal play mode! It clearly takes a certain kind of person to have the dedication and temperament to get really good at RTS games, neither of which seem to have been bestowed on me. And so, with that, I withdraw myself from the genre, having given it my best shot, but not really enjoying it while I did. I’m far too defensive and the game just doesn’t allow me to play that way. It’s eat or be eaten, and there simply is no space for the agro-pastoral pacifist in that universe.