The Age of Kings is set in the Middle Ages and contains thirteen playable civilizations. They are the Britons, Byzantines, Celts, Goths, Teutons, Franks, Mongols, Chinese, Japanese, Persians, Saracens, Turks and the Vikings. Players aim to gather resources, which they use to build towns, create armies, and defeat their enemies. There are five historically-based campaigns, which constrict the player to specialized and story-backed conditions. There are three additional single-player game modes, and multiplayer is supported. Despite using the same game engine and similar code to its predecessor, development of The Age of Kings took a year longer than expected, forcing Ensemble Studios to release Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome in 1998 instead. The design team focused on resolving significant issues in Age of Empires, but noted on release that some problems remained.
Reception of The Age of Kings was positive. The significant number of new features was praised, as were the gameplay improvements. Some reviewers were critical of the presentation of units—they were seen as bland and uninteresting—while others considered The Age of Kings to be overly similar to its predecessor, Age of Empires. Three months after its release, two million copies of The Age of Kings had been shipped, and it topped sales charts in seven countries. The game won multiple awards and has had a significant impact on future games in its genre.
The Age of Kings focuses on building towns, gathering resources, creating armies, and destroying enemy units and buildings. Players conquer rival towns and empires as they advance one of 13 civilizations through four "Ages": the Dark Age, the Feudal Age, the Castle Age (The Middle Ages), and the Imperial Age, reminiscent of the Renaissance—a 1000 year timeframe. Advancing to a new Age unlocks new units, structures, and technologies, but players must pay a sum of resources to advance to the next age (typically food and gold) once certain buildings from their current age are constructed.
The most important economic building is the Town Center, where villagers are created, all types of resources can be stored, some technologies are researched, and the player can advance to the next Age. The Town Center can fire arrows at enemy units within range if villagers or archers are garrisoned while under attack. Other economic buildings available include storage buildings for resources, farms, docks (the dock may also produce several military ships), and houses to support a higher population.
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