It should be happy times. Age of Empires, one of the most beloved real-time strategy franchises of the past 15 years makes it return with the newly announced Age of Empires: Castle Siege coming from Microsoft Studios and Smoking Gun Interactive. However, the latest installment in the series signals a departure from the series norm, with a new focus on the mobile and tablet market. Including those dreaded microtransactions.
Billed as bringing "a fast-paced experience to touch-based screens while delivering all the strategy and combat Age of Empires is renowned for," there is a clear aim with Age of Empires: Castle Siege to take advantage of the mobile market. The decision to make the game available only on Windows based PCs, Tablets and Phones will mean the exposure of the game is somewhat limited over releasing on multiple platforms such as Android and iOS.
There are obvious concerns here about the affect of condensing the core experience of a full-on Age of Empires game down to suit mobile devices, and especially the focus on a touch-based control scheme. It remains to be seen how well the control scheme will be implemented and whether much will be lost in the move away from the exacting control of a keyboard and mouse-based system. None of that means Age of Empires: Castle Siege can’t be fun of course, but I would expect a very different experience to the one this game will evoke memories of.
Age of Empires: Castle Siege takes on a more cartoonish art style than the original Age of Empires trilogy, and is quite reminiscent of not only the latest game in the series, Age of Empires Online, but also Kingdom Rush which was a big hit on tablet and mobile devices. The hope here is that the essence of Age of Empires survives and there is a promise of still being able to build an empire, defend it and also hit out at those pesky enemies in Age of Empires: Castle Siege.
There will be six playable civilizations for Age of Empires: Castle Siege with the Britons, Byzantines, Franks, Kievan Rus, Saracens and the Teutonic Order all playable. Each civilizations comes complete with their own unique units to differentiate them and will hopefully add more gameplay variety. The addition of heroes also sees a slight parallel with Kingdom Rush, the heroes in this instance are based on real historical figures, with the likes of Richard the Lionheart and Charlemagne being deployable.
Once nice touch is the ability to take part in historical battles, from the Fall of Constantinople to the Siege of Marienburg. So far there are only 10 historical battles to play, but if expanded it could be a very nice feature to play around with.
In-game purchases, or microtransactions, will be a feature for Age of Empires: Castle Siege it seems. Currently the details haven’t been outlined past the idea that they will enable players to "accelerate gameplay." Game saves will be playable across multiple Windows 8 devices, with cross-play against friends also possible. Players can also form alliances with their friends on Xbox Live, though quite what this means isn’t covered. It could signal a referral system for gaining extra unlocks, or possibly just linking up with other owners of the game.
I have a soft spot for the Age of Empires series and long for more games in the franchise, as it introduced me to the realms of real-time strategy and strategy games in general. Unfortunately a mobile targeted game with microtransactions and a focus on Xbox Live friends is not the game I had dreamed of. I’d love to be proven wrong.
Age of Empires: Castle Siege seems set for a September release on Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8, no pricing information has been revealed as of yet.