August 22, 2011 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Microsoft released Age of Empires Online last week -- a free-to-play realtime strategy game, and it's getting some pretty good press.

It's technically free to play, but premium content is available for a fee. The Ars Technica review seems to indicate that the cheap bastards aren't at a huge disadvantage to the people who pony up the dough.

"[T]he matching system, which developers have named Live Trueskill, takes into account whether players have access to premium content when matching for PvP (both 1v1 and 2v2, ranked and unranked). Having the best possible techs and gear may make the game more fun for some, and at a cost of $20 per premium civilization, it's not an outrageous cost. But it's never necessary."

Oh, and, Windows only, naturally.
posted by crunchland (39 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm... I got an installation error. I'm interested, but not interested enough to spend time troubleshooting it.
posted by Jahaza at 3:46 PM on August 22, 2011

Oh, and, Windows only, naturally.

There's nothing natural about Windows only.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:48 PM on August 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

There's nothing natural about Windows only.

Let me know when Sony releases Uncharted 3 on 360.
posted by kmz at 3:51 PM on August 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

Oh, and, Windows only, naturally.

Wololo, wololo!
posted by The Tensor at 4:15 PM on August 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

*hoplite converted*
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 4:17 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and, Windows only, naturally.

30 minutes later and still (not) downloading. So no, not even in Windows.
posted by Ardiril at 4:49 PM on August 22, 2011

I like Age of Empires and am disappointed this is Windows-only. Even on my Mac I have Office, although I can't seem to get Word to open these days. Why can't Microsoft and Apple just get along?
posted by Hoopo at 4:52 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

You would think that by now, Microsoft would have mastered file downloading.
posted by Ardiril at 4:53 PM on August 22, 2011

I just got a Mac and now I too am one of those smug entitled gamers who says "no Mac version? Oh well". Too bad, because I have a friend who worked on this game and I'm really curious how it turned out. (Sadly, Macs are still not a big game market: see my self link blog post about Steam Mac stats. 5% of Steam users run MacOS, and most of them don't have acceptable graphics hardware.)

BTW, this new game isn't just Windows, it's the much maligned Games-for-Windows platform.
posted by Nelson at 5:07 PM on August 22, 2011

A PvP game that charges you money for in game advantages? No thanks.

It's not about the money. This whole approach to PvP game design is flawed.
posted by yifes at 5:07 PM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Played it for a little, its more cartoony than the original Age of Empires. I really wish that Age of Empires would be available on Steam. I miss playing those games for hours with my friends.
posted by lilkeith07 at 5:26 PM on August 22, 2011

Any news on the hardware requirements? I looked around the site, and couldn't find anything. I'm willing to bet that the setup they assume players will have is a lot better than mine, but it would be nice if they laid out what I'd need to play.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:53 PM on August 22, 2011

Macs branded intel/AMD processors with custom casing and OS. Microsoft just wants you to buy a license of Windows for it so you can bootcamp or whatever.
posted by porpoise at 5:58 PM on August 22, 2011

Ghidorah: "Any news on the hardware requirements? I looked around the site, and couldn't find anything. I'm willing to bet that the setup they assume players will have is a lot better than mine, but it would be nice if they laid out what I'd need to play"

This is from the Games For Windows Marketplace:

OS: Windows XP® , Windows Vista® , Windows® 7
Processor: 2.0GHz Intel® (any dual core)
Video Card: 128MB
Hard Drive Space: 2GB
posted by lilkeith07 at 6:00 PM on August 22, 2011

I will kill you, Lord Yifes! With this sword. I got it from my father's...MASTERCARD!!!
posted by Xoebe at 6:49 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't know, as I have an Ono Sendai a Mac, but if the terms of the game were "Here, blow a bunch of money on being Egyptian, or blow a bunch of money on being Hittite... but not both at once", I'd be OK with it, as a miniatures gamer specializing in ancient armies. At least I wouldn't have to paint the little fuckers...
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:00 PM on August 22, 2011

Greatest game of all time. Man I hope this gets ported to OSX or iOS.
posted by stp123 at 8:02 PM on August 22, 2011

A Microsoft game that only runs on a Microsoft OS; I'm outraged. They should immediately port it to my personal preference in platform.
posted by octothorpe at 8:47 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Meh. Age of Empires is fun, although the last version sucked badly. I have no interest in playing a pay to play version.

Funny story - my son used to sit on my lap when he was 3ish and help me play AoE. He would go and visit his mother, who was at this time developing a deep and weird Christianity. He would tell her how he played "Age of Empires" with his dad, but she heard him say "Age of Vampires" and could only assume the worst.

She filed an immediate motion to remove the boy from my custody and further enjoin me from teaching my son the bloody and violent tradition of Satanic Vampiry. I could go on - she sure did - but you can use your imagination.

That was a fun hearing. She got thrown out on her ear, but I couldn't get lawyers fees. Sucks to pay for someone elses idiocy.

Anyway, a much better - and exceedingly violent and dark - game is due to be released any minute now.

The much anticipated sequel to Deus Ex. Ars also reviews it, and recommended it.

No mac version though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:01 PM on August 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Their answer to "what's to prevent players from buying their way to the top?" is telling. You can get all sorts of great stuff as one of the free civilizations, but you can't use it until you fork over the requisite amount of money to upgrade. So yeah, you do have to buy your way to the top. Somebody missed the lesson about free to play games and microtransactions. Yes, they're bundling them into packages, but honestly, it's the same thing. They're selling power. Which makes me never want to play this, as I'll always be disadvantaged to whoever is willing to plunk down more coin.

Which is a shame, as it looked like I finally had a reason to get boot camp working. Back to AOE II, I suppose. Fear my longbowmen.
posted by Hactar at 9:13 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love AOE3, and I've been looking for a reason to finally install SP3, and when this prompted me to do just that, I figured, "what the hell". SP3 went in fine, and then there was the Hotfix I had to d/l & install so the game would work (a few minutes, because we're still going from Windows Update), then AOE had to install. After 15 minutes, the GF started tapping her foot so we went out to dinner. Back home an hour later and the install is done, and now I've started it and it's downloading patches. 47% so far (it's been about 10 minutes).

Steam, of course; XBL, duh; Origin, we'll see, but "Games for Windows"... no, sorry, you guys are failing at this big-time. Just, stop. You guys totally suck at this.
posted by Lukenlogs at 9:17 PM on August 22, 2011

Wood, please.
posted by not_on_display at 9:28 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is apparently still in beta and requires a key code...snooze.
posted by Locobot at 10:48 PM on August 22, 2011

I had my account info stored w/MS when I dl'd the Viva Pinata demo. I didn't like it as much as I thought. A long time went by, I had even deleted the demo off my drive at that point.

Then one day, a charge on my card. 140 or whatever? Something insane like that. Pretty much all I had in checking had been run down. MS? WTF? I go log in, somehow my account was hacked. And then my card info was used to buy MS points. Thankfully they restored my credit the next day. It was a weird thing. I'm not sure if it was a glitch on their end or it was hacked. Either way I pulled off my card info from their servers and am NEVER using WFL again. It really is a horrible platform... Fuck that shit.
posted by symbioid at 10:50 PM on August 22, 2011

It's a shame cuz the game is fucking gorgeous and I kinda would like to play it, too :\
posted by symbioid at 10:52 PM on August 22, 2011

You mean 6 stone please, not_on_display.

Call me when we set up a MeFite round. I'm Chinese and I'll pay for my Elite Chu ku no
posted by infini at 1:44 AM on August 23, 2011

If I can take a moment to wade past the Mac jizz in the doorway and wade into the room with the actual conversation, I can only mention my disappointment at the route they've gone down with this incarnation of AoE. I thought AoE II was an upgrade on AoE I, but the Age of Mythology was a bit of a detour - sure, the graphics were gorgeous, bu they seemed to go further down the route of a cheating AI, which I detest, and it seemed too easy to end up with no-loss or no-win minimax options compared to AoE II; I did appreciate more diversity in armies, though; it bugged me in AoE II that you'd have this diversity in special units and bonuses and backstories, but 90% of the units were identical.

And the Titans expansion was just absurd. Turtle, build Titan, butcher opposition.

AoE III's shipments and cards seemed as much like a nod to collectible card games or something, which was a turn-off, but the building and unit diversity was great; on the other hand it felt like it inherited too many of Mythology's balance and munchkin problems.

I was really intrigued to see what AoE IV was going to look like, and how they were going to handle what would presumably 20th-century combat options. And AoE V was supposed to be set in the future. And instead there's this online junk.

I like being able to play games without other people, dammit. The Oatmeal's comment is timely if unoriginal, but I'm not really that interested in EVERY. FUCKING. GAME. BEING. FUCKING. ONLINE. FUCKING. PVP. FUCKING. FOREVER. I would cheerfully pop the testicles of Cormack or whichever shithead made Quake 3 effectively multiplayer only, and later editions of UT likewise. It seemed to run up a flag for every lazy shitcock who couldn't be bothered developing an AI or writing out a plot for their game to rally around. Games get shorter and shorter and thinner and thinner and I'm supposed to feel like a $US60 game is a great buy because when I've completed the joke 4 hour "single player campaign" I can go an immerse myself in a world of people who think Tourettes is lifestyle aspiration rather than a disorder?

Fuck you, Microsoft. I want my fucking AoE IV, from Ensemble Studios. You shitheads.
posted by rodgerd at 2:02 AM on August 23, 2011 [7 favorites]

This started downloading the Games For Windows Live installer, so I stopped it. You have to be really sure you want GFWL in your life before going for this game.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:01 AM on August 23, 2011

Oh my god, I spent entire days playing the original AoE and the expansions with a high school friend other 30+ year old guys over direct dial-up. It was awesome. What a great game.

Fixed That For Myself.
posted by marxchivist at 3:16 AM on August 23, 2011

*Offers rodgerd some pie... with ice cream*
posted by infini at 3:40 AM on August 23, 2011

I have to say, from what I've seen free-to-play games are never worth what you pay for them (even if you don't spend any money in-game, and excepting the games that are actually free, like nethack.) The problem is that the need for the developers to get paid usually leads to them undermining the most important game mechanic. What is the most important mechanic in a primarily PVP RTS? The game balance. What is fundamentally undermined if you can buy yourself any kind of advantage? The game balance.

It's the same thing with MMOs where you can pay for better character advancement. That's the entire point of an MMO. Most of the MMOs I've seen that include paid character advancement usually have terrible free advancement rates and/or gameplay - if advancing for free was fun, why would anyone pay? But once you've bought your way to the late game, what do you have? An advanced character in a game designed to prevent you from ever getting anywhere on your own. What's the point?

Ultimately, it's best to just stay away. The price-to-enter on a decent game is usually less than people will spend on a free-to-play they get invested in, and in the end you haven't bought into a game that wasn't designed with your entertainment first in mind.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:43 AM on August 23, 2011

One freemium PvP game that does seem to be working well is World of Tanks. I haven't played it myself, but I've been following Tobold's experience of the game and it sounds like it's pretty good. You absolutely can pay to be better in the PvP game, and they are charging a lot for some stuff: $50+ for special tanks. But apparently it's still fun and the players who don't pay don't feel ridiculously disadvantaged. Really WoT deserves its own post, just pointing it out in this thread to say the freemium thing in PvP apparently can work.
posted by Nelson at 7:53 AM on August 23, 2011

GFWL is awful. I bought the other day Dawn of War II without knowing about the added baggage and between being assigned a stupid nickname (instead of being asked to fill it in) and changing it, GFWL's overriding my default browser in favor of IE and some design issues it cost me half an hour.

That said, I'd play an Age of Empires Online that was AoE with non-cheating AI and improved interface. And centurions.
posted by ersatz at 9:32 AM on August 23, 2011

Ironically, TF2 was worth more money when it had less content.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:23 AM on August 23, 2011

League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth are two Free to Play games which are certainly worth more than the $0 cost of entry.

In fact, Heroes of Newerth used to cost $40 a year ago and it was a bargain at that - in many ways, it has an interface and game experience more polished than what Valve or Blizzard is able to put out. Ability to reconnect to games if someone DCs, searchable list within the game UI of all game replays ever played and ability to watch them, replay compatibility between versions, ability to skip backwards and forwards at will in replays, server hosted games instead of P2P hosting allowing far greater stability... the list of areas which Blizzard must play catch up in is astounding. In the year since then, there has been a lot more content and the game has gone free to play, matching the business model that Riot uses for League of Legends, which is another game that is well worth playing.

Mitrovarr: It is possible to maintain PVP balance in a free to play model, as above - the developers earn money via microtransactions, yes, but they absolutely do not affect balance in any meaningful way, and both games have highly competitive tournaments (like DOTA2) which would not be possible if it was simply a case of paying money for in game advantage.

Both League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth operate on a model that restricts new players to a pool of heroes that rotate every week, and you can "buy" a hero to play on a permanent basis once you've found one you like and have earned enough currency. The majority of the content, however, is in paid skins - that alter the look of your character, but do not affect the gameplay in any way. In League of Legends, there's a rune system where you can purchase runes that do improve your character slightly (as an example, a character with max runspeed runes moves something like 2% faster than a character with the basic and easily attainable runspeed runes).... however, you will almost certainly never be faced with this disadvantage, because of the matchmaking system - newer characters play each other, and they will almost certainly be using the same level of runes.

Basically, these two games set the standard for how Free to Play games should be monetized - at its core, there should be a strong and competitive gaming scene. The money will be made off players who want to pay for variety (having a wider pool of different heroes to pick) and for players who want to pay for uniqueness (having heroes that look different to other people playing the same hero). But at any point, a player who has spent $0 in Heroes of Newerth will be on exactly the same power level as a player who has spent $300.

In League of Legends, you can pay money to advance your character quicker and get more runes - however, all it means is that you get matched up to higher level players anyway. The game experience is the same for everyone at max level with max runes, it's just a matter of how quickly you get there, and balance does not matter except at the top level anyway.
posted by xdvesper at 8:17 PM on August 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

xdvesper: In League of Legends, you can pay money to advance your character quicker and get more runes - however, all it means is that you get matched up to higher level players anyway. The game experience is the same for everyone at max level with max runes, it's just a matter of how quickly you get there, and balance does not matter except at the top level anyway.

What's that you said? "The entire early part of the game is a series of unpleasant chores designed to force you to pay the developer to skip it?" That's what I heard.

If people are willing to pay real money to skip large parts of the game, that is a sign that it has huge defects. There's no way that would work unless major parts of the game are simply not fun, at least to replay. My guess is that it probably uses the standard fun-drainers that all MMOs seem to use - a glacial EXP gain rate and low probability rates on drops. Those are unpleasant and abusive tactics that are used to make games more addictive without making them more fun.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:30 PM on August 23, 2011

Mitrovarr: It just sounds like you're commenting on the game without understanding it. I'm sure you wouldn't have made this comment if you had picked up the game. Where did anyone say that the early part of the game is a series of unpleasant chores? The game is just as enjoyable at level 1 compared to level 30, and plays out exactly the same way. The only difference is at level 1 you're likely to be facing a bunch of level 1 players, who have just started the game, and at level 30 you're likely to be facing a bunch of level 30 players, who have been playing the game for a year... exactly as intended. Arguably, I had more fun at level 1 than at level 15 because I could stomp on new players and was slightly disappointed when I started levelling up... but I digress. The levelling mechanic conveniently acts as a sorting mechanic as well, to ensure newbies play with newbies and vice versa. It's like comparing Basic Catan to Cities and Knights - sure, Cities and Knights expansion adds a bunch of extra mechanics. But it's in no way a strictly superior game, many people still play Basic because it plays differently - not worse - just different. A low level game in League of Legends plays differently because no one has Flash, for example, and when it is unlocked at higher tiers, it substantially changes the game - some would argue for the better and some would argue for the worse. But no one would say that a game without Flash is an unpleasant chore.

Plenty of people would be happy to play those games even if we were forever level 1, with no possibility of level or rune advancement - because the game is "complete" as it is. /shrug/ As I said, at its core, this new model relies on having a core game that is complete and competitive, and adding visual / cosmetic / variety that can be purchased with in game currency and with real money, and it has succeeded.
posted by xdvesper at 10:53 PM on August 23, 2011

I think in your rush to dismiss League of Legends you misheard, Mitrovarr. There's no progression through zones or drops. It's not an MMO. If anything, paying for faster XP advance puts a n00bie at a disadvantage: they get levelled up higher and start playing with more experienced people before they really know how to play.
posted by Nelson at 8:28 AM on August 24, 2011

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