Age of Empires: You rule for free

Age of Empires: You rule for free

Conquer the world, free and online. In August, Microsoft Studios and Gas Powered Games launched a new free-to-play format of the historical Age of Empires (originally released in 1997) utilizing Games for Windows Live.

Unlike other real-time strategy (RTS) games such as Tribal Wars (reviewed June 9-15), this downloadable version of Age of Empires found at is not a massive multi-player game that requires interaction with other players to be successful.

There is interaction through Windows Live, of course. You can choose to go on quests with friends also playing the game or not. Parents concerned about other MMORTS – massive multiplayer online real-time strategy games – can breathe easier if kiddos are playing AofE because the social component is not imperative for a winning time.

Instead AofE is more of a single-player, role playing game, rated E10+ for everyone over the age of 10 because of the mild violence. You are battling and killing people. However, careful planning and tactful maneuvering is required in this warring epic. It’s a battling, thinking game, which beats the heck out of the no-thought-shoot-’em-up games. If the kids wanna shoot ’em up, at least this war requires thought to do it.

The game also takes on the “freemium” model with upgrades at a premium. In other words, if addiction is a possibility, be forewarned it may cost you more than your time.

Apparently this “Biggest Age of Empires Game of All Time” where “You Rule” has 40 hours of free game time allowing you to create a bustling Greek empire, but your performance and experience can be enhanced even before you slay your first opponent with booster packs.

Premium purchases, $20 or less, get you rare and epic gear, armored beasts like elephants and civilization powers, immunities, player-to-player gaming, increased inventory space, unit enhancements like missiles, infantry or increased crafting for more production in your capital city. You can also purchase the ability to spend Empire Points, which are awarded when you have multiple civilizations. And then there are booster packs providing new gaming modes and enhanced story lines.

It’s easy enough to get started on AofE. Just go to the AofE Web site and download the game. It took between three and four minutes to download the 54 mb file, (Gamemakers suggest a 2.5 GB hard drive and broadband Internet connection) which was just long enough for me to watch the trailer while it downloaded.

In the trailer – cute, really cute –armored, sword swinging cartoon Greek soldiers sneak up on a tented community of camel riding Egyptians and the battle ensues. There is hand-to-hand combat but no gruesome bloodshed. Clearly seen with one final blow to the jaw of an Egyptian’s head, knocking out his tooth, the Egyptians are defeated. Imagery shows a community built brick by brick but in fast-time to demonstrate the premise of the game – civilization building to dominate the world.

Once downloaded, a screen invited me to “play now.” I clicked and got another screen indicating that further game patches were being downloaded (30 minutes time) and while that was happening I was asked if I wanted to purchase the “Defense of Crete Booster Pack.” Aha, the freemium model kicks in right from the start.

Despite the option to pay, you can launch a Greek civilization without spending a dime. I did, after entering my Windows Live data, credit card information and the product code, only available once you enter your credit card info. If you are downloading this game, you’ll need to get the product code to play. The game is available at retail outlets and includes some of the “premium” content not available upon online download.Choose from a historic setting or a storyline to create your own scenarios and with little resources, begin building your empire, establishing villages, going on quests and adventures and coming in contact with historic, peculiar and quirky characters. You conquer, increase your loot and become a civilization even when you’re not online.

If ever there was a “pretty” video game, this one is. The graphics are hand-drawn, detailed and compelling. Combined with an original music score, it’s a game smart kiddos will enjoy for long-time play. Parents, just keep an eye on gaming dollars. Rumor has it that two more civilizations, in addition to the Greek and Egyptian civilizations, will be offered by the end of 2011 for purchase. Since it took your credit card to launch the game, purchase power is in the hands of your young player.