A few months back we had the chance to play in the *[Age of Empires Online](http://www.mmogames.com/game/age-of-empires-online) (AoEO)* Closed Beta, and we wrote a [short preview](http://www.mmogames.com/gamenews/3650/age-of-empires-online-closed-beta-preview-mmogames-com) praising the standard of excellence it offered the Free to Play MMO. In short, the quality level offered in AoEO was outstanding — leagues ahead of other MMORTS titles — and we couldn't wait to play the final release.
Now that we have, we’ve come to the conclusion that we were right. AoEO is leagues ahead of the pack, and rightly so. Without damaging the stalwart reputation of the offline Age of Empires strategy games, *Gas Powered Games* have created a visually stunning, pick-up-and-play [MMORTS](http://www.mmogames.com/strategygames) that stays true to the original series in both concept and design, while simultaneously making it available to a much wider audience.
If I were to assume that you’ve never played an Age of Empires game before, then I’d begin by informing you of its presence within the video game industry this past decade and more. I’d tell you that it largely considered as one of the pioneers of the RTS genre, and that millions of people consider it the finest on offer.
I’d then go on to tell you that playing and Age of Empires game is quite simple: you begin by choosing an army — say, the Egyptians or the Greeks — then by building a city. Your city would first need workers, people to harvest food, gold and lumber so that your city could grow. Then, you’d likely need to begin preparing a defence, so that should an enemy player decide to attack you (or you them) in hope of finishing the game before you’ve had a chance to grow too powerful, you’d be able to fend of the attack and survive.
I’d then recommend that you begin advancing your technology so that you can begin creating buildings and units of a more advanced age. And from there, the rest would be up to you.
This is how RTS games function on the most basic level, and it how missions, or ‘quests’ function in AoEO. Most of the time spent playing AoEO is, naturally, within scenarios just like this one, but unlike standard RTS games, in which *all* of your time is spent in scenarios like this, AoEO has much more to offer.
This gameplay is simple and polished and closely follows the lead of previous titles in the series with one crucial difference: character progression. While your ‘character’ in AoEO is represented by your capital city, the elements of progression are very similar to those found in an [MMORPG](http://www.mmogames.com/mmorpggames): completing missions will increase your level, increasing your level will allow you to distribute skill points in the areas you feel best suit your style of play, and will ultimately unlock new missions and equipment.
You can even equip weapons and items that will boost the effectiveness of your troops and buildings, and outside of missions, your static capital city will continue to grow as you build new buildings, offering you more choice and diversity in the missions to follow.
So, in essence, AoEO is combining two genres: the RPG and RTS, and using both within the confines of an MMO — a massively, multiplayer, online game — which in turn offers a fresh and dynamic gameplay experience that strives for excellence and doesn’t fall short one bit.
**SO”¦ IT’S FREE?**
So, how can a game with so much polish and capability be free? Well, the short answer is that it isn’t. If you choose to play AoEO, at some point, you’re probably going to have to pay. You don’t have to buy the game, and you don’t have to pay a fee each month to play it. Instead, you’ll be required to access additional content.
And that important. As gamers, we don’t always want to pay, but I’m sure you could agree, sometimes we do. Have you ever bought gold in World of Warcraft? Maybe. You shouldn’t have; it illegal and morally wrong as it disrupts the balance of the game, but in AoEO it doesn’t. It been specifically designed to make sure that it doesn’t, and while it could be argued that this means it isn’t free, that would be a mistake. It is free. You can start playing right now. But if you’re still playing next month, you might want to consider giving the developers some money for their trouble. At least this way you can choose what to spend it on.
— *Cody Hargreaves*